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July 1, 2009

Book Notes - Jessica Hopper ("The Girls' Guide to Rocking")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

I am the uncle of several nieces and have several friends with young girls, so I am always on the lookout for books that empower young women. Jessica Hopper's The Girls' Guide to Rocking offers great council for young women interested in starting a band, from choosing instruments and a band name to recording music to booking gigs and sending out PR notices.

Hopper keeps the tone light, funny, and accessible to younger readers, but many of this encyclopedic book's tips could be profitable to musicians of any age (or sex).

In her own words, here is Jessica Hopper's Book Notes music playlist for her book, The Girls' Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom:

To misquote our dear Mr. Plant, in the days of my youth I was told what it was to be to be in a band. According to my 9th grade BFF's older brother and his mean acid-dealer cohorts (they were on the hippie/hesher margin), being in a band meant studying the masters and regurgitating them with virtuosity. Houses of the Holy was their cathedral, Babes in Toyland's To Mother was mine. Even though my friend and I had started a band—the very same day she got her drums—in fact, a band which we rehearsed daily after school—the boys would occasion downstairs to pronounce us NOT A BAND and pop quiz-like questions ("Can you play a G7?") to show their TOTAL DOMINION AS RIFF MASTERS AND POSSESSORS OF KNOWLEDGE AND RIGHTFUL HEIRS TO ALL ROCK HISTORY.

I'd prefer to engage in some revisionist history and say I was able to shrug it off and find solace in my Bikini Kill tape, secure in the knowledge they were idiots because they idolized Jim Morrison. I didn't. I was mortified, marginalized and mildly terrified. Given that those boys were total dicks, they presented a terrible song—"Stairway to Heaven"-- as sacrosanct proof of why Zeppelin was the alpha and the omega—well, it was enough to make me swear them off entirely. Hearing "Immigrant Song" from How The West Was Won some 12 years later made me realize I'd made a grave mistake.

Last spring, I was four months into the six that had been given me to write my book, four months that had been more leisurely than diligent, when I got a call that my dad was in the hospital. An hour later I was on a plane to Los Angeles, where I would stay for the next 11 weeks, not tending to the book at all, not thinking book like thoughts, mostly just stunned and sad and frozen and pulling over the rental car to bawl because Bobby Caldwell's "Open Your Eyes" was playing and I could only hear the sadness and not the redemption after the key change. Once my dad got all-fine, I returned home to Chicago with the book on hold, looming, painfully aware of mortality and…my deadline. After a week home, I called my editor who informed me that if my book was to come out in 2009, she needed the manuscript in 5 weeks.

Due to my new deadline, I was going to be writing at least 12-14 hours a day (that turned out to be a conservative estimate) in order to meet my contractual obligations. I had to stay pumped; yes, "stay pumped" makes it sound like I wrote it while on a Stairmaster, but I was going writing regardless of whether I felt creative, or inclined at all. I needed the most nuclear-grade motivating force I could tap into, a constant reminder of why I wanted to write this book and who it was for and why I would have killed for such a book when I was 15. What better way to summon the 15-yr-old-girl-with-a-guitar-and-something-to-prove than to stir ancient resentments with a whole lotta Led? And so began the rule: If it is daylight, Led Zeppelin will be played.

The play list was as so, in order:

Led Zeppelin minus "You Shook Me" and "Dazed and Confused"

Led Zeppelin IV minus "Stairway to Heaven"
BBC Sessions disc one only

"Bonzo's Montreaux" off Coda

Led Zeppelin II side 2 only, with "Ramble On" & "Moby Dick" twice

Led Zeppelin III minus "Out On The Tiles", "That's The Way" & "Hats Off"

Physical Graffiti minus side three
"Achilles Last Stand" & "Candy Store Rock" from Presence

"Bonzo's Montreaux" off Coda (twice)
("Bonzo's Montreaux" served as the reminder to eat lunch/dinner if I hadn't already, hence multiple appearances.)

The daylight Zeppelin plan worked on several levels—one being purely Pavlovian— If you can hear the sound of Jimmy Paige, you are writing at a swift clip. Secondly, I conjured all the adolescent rage I needed to fuel 3,000 words a day by keeping the boot of my 9th grade oppressors pressed firmly to my own neck and P.S. Here's a guide to whats the best Zeppelin albums to start with and here's a sidebar about why Bonzo's drums sounded like they did live AND recorded and another one about Jimmy Paige's guitar tone and 288 PAGES OF PERMISSION AND ENCOURAGEMENT AND HOW TO BE YOUR OWN LED ZEPPELIN, OK?

It wasn't so much a "I'll-Show-You-Haters-of-Yore!" shaking my fist at the sky/teen patriarchy move as it sounds. Somewhere fairly early on in the 350+ hours of my Zep-a-thon I repossessed Led Zeppelin from the legacy of mean, acid-dealing 11th grade boys who first proffered them. I went through something resembling the Kubler-Ross stages of grief cycle: I was mad that I spent over a decade feeling like—believing—that Led Zeppelin (standing in for all of all of rock history (to borrow from G. Marcus)) didn't belong to me, that they belonged to the dudes; We got Dig Me Out and they got Physical Graffiti and we called it even.

After that came the denial—which rotated around the thought that LaBelle were the best and most powerful band ever, that Nightbirds was better than Coda. Depression: "Will there ever be a girl Led Zeppelin? F**k…The Donnas aren't even good anymore and Sandy West is dead."

Then there was the moment of acceptance, when it all clicked--total oneness with the Zep, the koan of the Bonzone was upon me; Led Zeppelin was mine.

Jessica Hopper and The Girls' Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom links:

the book's website
the author's blog
the author's book tour events
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book
infomercial for the book
infomercial for the book
infomercial for the book
infomercial for the book
order a signed copy of the book

AfterEllen review
Ask Joey Garr review
Broadsheet review
Buzzine review
Chicagoist review
Diana Page Jordan review
Life, Words, & Rock 'n' Roll review
PopWatch review
Rocks Off review
Tres Sugar review

Girls Rock Girls Rule interview with the author
Lost in a Supermarket profile of the author
Sharp Darts profile of the author
Time Out Chicago interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks