Behold, a photo of the raffle prize I brought to last week's staged reading of my newest play, Carmenta (themed raffle prizes being one of the charms of the San Francisco Olympians Festival).
Carmenta is a play about motherhood, rock music, and the turns a woman's life can take, so my prize was a book called Record Collecting for Girls and a handwritten playlist of songs that fit the play's mood. Female singers, jangly guitars, '90s nostalgia, empowering and/or mystical lyrics, and no love songs or breakup songs. I call it Songs for Amazing Comet Girls (after a line in the play) -- listen on Spotify or just reference the list of song titles below:
- “Feed the Tree” - Belly
- “Can’t Be Sure” - The Sundays
- “Gepetto” - Belly
- “Running Up That Hill” - Kate Bush
- “Dog Days Are Over” - Florence & the Machine
- “Winter” - Tori Amos
- “Dreams” - The Cranberries
- “Not Too Soon” - Throwing Muses
- “Wonder” - Natalie Merchant
- “Ray of Light” - Madonna
Record Collecting for Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a Time by Courtney E. Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Courtney E. Smith has definite music-nerd cred. She owns hundreds of records, she loves pop-music history, and she used to promote upcoming indie bands at MTV. Unfortunately, all that music cred doesn’t automatically make someone a good music writer. Yes, yes, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”—Smith even uses this quote in her book, crediting it to Elvis Costello, her all-time favorite musician. But clearly some people are better music-writers (or architecture-dancers) than others. Describing her love for Costello’s music, Smith resorts to banalities like “I found myself really getting into his clever lyrics. His songs are so easy to fall in love with.” Surely it’s possible to come up with livelier commentary than that.
I picked up Record Collecting for Girls because I’ve been thinking a lot about how women make and listen to music (my new play Carmenta touches on that theme, and I’ve been diving into NPR’s Turning the Tables project). As such, it’s kind of unfortunate how many of these essays are about men. Smith’s tone is somewhere between “cool big sister” and “one of the boys.” She obviously wants young women to explore their musical passions and to hold their own with other music nerds (who tend to be male). But I wish there was more in here about music-related experiences she has had on her own or with female friends, rather than with crushes or boyfriends.
And yes, I know this is intended as a light, fun memoir/essay collection, not a how-to book, a scholarly study of how women relate to pop music, or an in-depth work of music criticism. All the same, I feel like I read better pop-culture writing on the Internet every day. The online personal-essay boom produced lots of deep, funny, vulnerable writing, and Smith just can’t compete. For instance, one essay here is about how you should never date a guy who loves the Smiths. Isn’t there something amusingly Freudian about a woman named Smith who distrusts men who like The Smiths? But she never gets to that deeper level, she just keeps sniping about Morrissey.