Joe’s Jukebox – “Women Who Rock”

Welcome to another installment of “Joe’s Jukebox,” a new series highlighting the library’s most marvelous musical materials– presented by Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian, Joe O’Brien.

Women’s History Month may have ended a couple weeks ago, but of course that doesn’t mean we can’t continue appreciating all the contributions women have made to our culture. And you can read about some of music’s most indomitable women in this book, Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce, Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl, edited by Evelyn McDonnell and published in 2018. 

It includes over 100 essays, each about a woman who has left her unique fingerprints in the pages of music history. And while the book’s called Women Who Rock, we’re not just talking strictly about rock musicians; more like women who “rock” in the sense that they made waves, pulled no punches, and did it loudly and proudly. It starts with legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, it ends with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, and in between there’s Patsy Cline, Nina Simone, Odetta, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Salt-N-Pepa, Selena, Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, Missy Elliott, Laura Jane Grace, Amy Winehouse, M.I.A., and Lady Gaga…just to name a few.

All the short essays in Women Who Rock come from accomplished writers, such as Ann Powers, Daphne A. Brooks, and Gillian Gaar, and they’re accompanied by gorgeous illustrations of each musician. Although you may have already heard much about the iconic ladies in this book over the years, the essays offer sharp and fresh insights about them. Plus, not all the subjects in here are exactly household names; personally, I was happy to be introduced to musicians I wasn’t familiar with before, such as Alice Bag, and Angelique Kidjo.

So whether you’re a casual music fan or a serious one, whether you’d want to read the whole thing cover to cover or just flip through to check out the subjects that pique your interest, I highly recommend Women Who Rock. It’s currently in our print collection, though if our copy’s currently unavailable you can always request one from a number of other BCCLS libraries. 

And if you read this book and then want to dive even deeper into these women’s stories, we also have no shortage of books written about or by many of the musicians in it. We have biographies on the likes of Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Odetta, and Joni Mitchell. We have memoirs and autobiographies by the women themselves, like Face It by Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir by Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn, Resistance by Tori Amos, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and the wonderfully-titled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones

We have a memoir written by Loretta Lynn about her friendship with Patsy Cline called Me & Patsy: Kickin’ Up Dust. Speaking of country music legends, we have Dolly Parton, Songteller, which I wrote about in more detail in another one of these blog posts. If you’re interested in learning more about the contributions of Black women to rock music, we have Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll by Maureen Mahon, with sections on influential artists like Big Mama Thornton and Tina Turner. Or if you want to examine Beyonce’s work through a Black feminist perspective, we have Beyonce in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley.

Again, all of these books are in our print collection, with many also available from other BCCLS libraries, or as ebooks or audiobooks from Overdrive and Hoopla Digital. And of course, hours and hours of the actual music recorded by these women who rock can be streamed on Hoopla Digital, or borrowed on CD from select BCCLS libraries. That’s all for now, but til next time, remember: Sisters are doin it for themselves, standing on their own two feet, and ringin’ on their own bells…

Joe’s Jukebox – “How to Write One Song”

Welcome to another installment of “Joe’s Jukebox,” a new series highlighting the library’s most marvelous musical materials– presented by Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian, Joe O’Brien.

Over the past few months, I’ve been enthusiastically recommending this book that came out late last year called How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy. If you don’t know, Jeff Tweedy has been an accomplished musician for over 30 years now, first as a member of the band Uncle Tupelo, and then later with Wilco, the band behind fantastic albums like Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost is Born, and The Whole Love, to name just a few. 

He also wrote a memoir back in 2018 called Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), which I loved, and which I would highly recommend if you’re already familiar with, and interested in, his work. But How to Write One Song I would recommend even if you’ve never heard of Jeff Tweedy. The book contains, just as the title suggests, all sorts of tips on songwriting, although a lot of the advice in here could also be applied to just about any kind of creative process. If you are a songwriter though, as I often like to fancy myself, you couldn’t find a better source than this. Not only is Jeff Tweedy someone who’s written dozens and dozens of incredible songs in his life, he’s also an excellent prose writer who’s able to convey his own creative processes in clear and inspiring ways. Check out these excerpts from a couple of my favorite passages:

“…find some way to sidestep the part of your brain that wants perfection, or needs to be rewarded right away with a ‘creation’ that it deems ‘good’– something that supports an ideal vision of yourself as someone who’s serious and smart and accomplished. Basically, you have to…have a party and not invite any part of your psyche that feels a need to judge what you make as a reflection of you…

“…I think it’s a skill that one would more likely relearn than learn. Kids are, in my experience, usually able to commit to creating in a way almost completely devoid of judgment.  I love watching kids sprawled out on a carpet drawing or coloring. To me, it’s the ideal creative state, and it’s what I strive for more than any other aspect of what I do…

“I don’t like every song I write, but I like that I wrote it. I know that for every four or five songs I write, I’m going to have one that means a lot to me, and it wouldn’t have come to me if I hadn’t written the other four songs, if I hadn’t practiced getting to that place. A place that’s as close to coloring on the floor as I can get.”

Again, even if you’ve never heard of Jeff Tweedy before, or heard any of his songs…even if you’re not a songwriter per se, but as long as you want to get better at any creative pursuit– drawing, painting, poetry, sculpture, whatever it is– there’s a wealth of valuable information in here. Plus, it’s a very slim book that you can read super-quickly. And of course, it is also in our print collection here at the Livingston Public Library— though if our copy is currently unavailable, we can get one from one of our fellow libraries in the BCCLS consortium. How to Write One Song is also available as an audiobook or an eBook from Overdrive, with your Livingston Library card. You can also borrow all the great Wilco albums I mentioned earlier– not to mention a bunch of great music Jeff Tweedy recorded with Uncle Tupelo, and as a solo artist– through streaming or downloading on Hoopla Digital, or on CD through BCCLS.

Til next time: Remember to remember me, standing still in your past, floating fast like a hummingbird…