Thursday, September 10

The Girls' Guide to Rocking

How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom
by Jessica Harper
Workman Publishing 2009

I'm really torn over this book. On the one hand, this book is a perfect tonic for all those girls (like the author) who were told or felt that the world of Rock & Roll and all it has to offer is a secret club populated by boys who insist that "Stairway to Heaven" is be-all, end-all in rock. To every girl told that their hands are too small to play bass, or that girl drummers aren't powerful enough, or that girls just don't know how to rock, this books sets out not only to dispel these notions but serves as a how-to guide for overcoming all obstacles. Grrl Power! Rawk out!

On the other hand, if I saw a book like this directed to boys I would worry about the viability of Rock & Roll as having any relevance in the world. It's not necessarily a gender thing but a recognition that a particular era in popular music had reached a point where it can be sanitized and taught to tweens and teens in the same way one might package a book on puberty or hygiene or on dealing with peer pressure. It takes some of the spirit out of rock's rebellious nature to say "Here, a step-by-step guide on how to be a rebel! Urgh!"

Hopper gets off on the right foot by focusing on the instruments, with clear nuts-and-bolts information on everything from how to shop for gear to how to achieve specific sounds from the classic instruments. There's a nod to playing what you know, meaning that any instrument (except perhaps the tuba) can rock, and that a good part of what's involved is attitude and experience. It isn't written down in an insulting way, just straightforward here's-what-you-need-to-know-to-get-started.

The next sections cover putting a band together and learning how to gig, how to move on to recording songs, the basics of playing live, and the business end of things including how to book tours. The appendices include a list of influential artists of both genders, movies centered around music, and some basics for using GarageBand software. It's a well-rounded package that could yield some decent results if taken to heart.

My hesitation is two-fold. First, there's no way for me, as an adult male, to actually follow this book and gauge its success. Second, a good deal of what makes Rock & Roll is the drive and desire that cannot be taught. And worse, in today's climate where over-produced, flaccid American Idol-style pop rules the airwaves, when a package deal like Hannah Montana is a role model for girls, it's difficult to believe there are many book-reading girls who might be driven to start something as quaint (they might say 'antiquated') as a Rock band. Besides, why go through all the trouble to pay for equipment and lessons, taking the time to form a band and struggle with that dynamic, spending years to stand in front of an audience to rock out badly when all you need to do is invite a few friends over and have them watch you flail on RockBand? Why spend months, maybe years, learning how to play classic rock at someone's backyard party when you can wail within minutes?

Still, as I remain conflicted, The Girls' Guide to Rocking does provide a solid foundation in the fundamentals and includes a lot of inspirational sidebars about the women of rock who have made their mark over the past 40-plus years. For some girls it might just be the sort of eye-opening they never realized they needed to see beyond the commercially-produced haze of contemporary music.
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