Rock & Roll Hearts

Two books look at the his and hers of pop music fandom.

A female rock critic pal insisted that whatever I write, I must not say that "girls don't make lists"--they do, of course. But most of the book's writings seem motivated out of a very different impulse than canon-building. If the Christgau-vian critic soberly assesses an album's merits and tells you if it makes the cut or not, many of the critics in this volume take pop music as an opportunity to theorize on the complicated pleasures and problems of pop fandom. Aesthetic merit isn't irrelevant to the issues raised by fandom, but it's not always the trump card, either. That's why Rock She Wrote is important for reasons other than gender; it offers a much more flexible model of pop culture writing, one based more in ideas about desire and pleasure than the criteria of aesthetic judgment of traditional models of criticism.

Some of the book's best pieces are analyses of the culture of rock & roll, and psycho-social investigations into the conflicted experience of being a fan of what is often politically retrograde music. Powers and McDonnell have emphasized writing that either celebrates strong, form-challenging music--by women or men--or that investigates troubling and fascinating contradictions in female listening pleasure. Why is novelist Mary Gaitskill turned on by Axl Rose, the racist, sexist singer for Guns N' Roses? Why does critic Joan Morgan ultimately give in (to a point) to the formal skill behind Ice Cube's misogynistic lyrics? Why does onetime Sassy writer Christina Kelly hate going backstage? What is Creem reporter Jaan Uhelszki doing getting lessons on make-up from Kiss's Gene Simmons?

Rock She Wrote offers dozens of witty, probing and exuberant engagements with every aspect of pop music and the pop industry, raising many new questions about gender and rock & roll for each one it answers. It's a great read, and a valuable rethinking of the position of pop music in our lives, suggesting that our most inexplicable or embarrassing flashes of desire--directed at or filtered through a pop song-- deserve to be embraced as part of critical practice, rather than banished from it. CP

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