PRINT October 1997


Trouble Girls

Rock was once guys in all their babeness: adorable bundles of desire, rhythm, and rebellion. Women listened, got sung about, and watched the lucky guys flaunt their, uh, performative powers. Well, times have changed and women are making music and getting famous doing it. And this prominence has led us to look more rigorously at the less visible women who paved the way when being female in rock sucked. Yes, rock is being historicized. But history is always tricky. Because there’s never just one story that explains the world to itself.

But this kind of storying is a relatively newfangled paradigm, especially amid the fickle soundscapes of rock. So it’s particularly pleasing to come upon TROUBLE GIRLS: THE ROLLING STONE BOOK OF WOMEN IN ROCK (Random House), written and edited by women about women. It’s also ironically satisfying that this collection of essays emanates from Rolling Stone, which has long reflected the male-dominated rock culture in, shall we say, a rather unexamined fashion. Ranging from literal, bio-heavy accounts to stylishly speculative meditations, Trouble Girls is a giant fifty-six-essay collection that talks about who’s hot and who’s not and why. From Donna Gaines’ powerfully evocative “Girl Groups: A Ballad of Codependency,” to Ann Powers’ “The Love You Make,” a poignant study of fans and groupies, to Katherine Dieckmann’s meeting with the wily and enchanting train wreck that was and may still be Courtney Love, to Terri Sutton’s compelling brainstorming in “The Soft Boys: The New Man in Rock,” this anthology asks us to consider not only sexuality and rock, but also journalism itself—a practice that all too often reduces the complexities of culture to buzzwords, and even worse reaffirms its old adage that a human being is just an item wrapped in skin. But with their inquisitive candor and quirky vigilance, these essays, gathered by Barbara O’Dair, now editor of US, work hard to avoid glib categorizations and taste mongering. They talk about gender, race, rhythm, class, laughter, and the body and suggest numerous ways that sex and power are played out in the compelling pileup of noise that may or may not be called rock. From the ethereal meanderings of the clear-voiced ladies of the lowlands, to raucous post-punksters, to R&B warblers, to modish dancemeisters, to smoky chanteuses, to girl bands, to girl and boy bands, to global pop stars, to gender-bending grrrls, to hip-hop wordsmiths, and boho ironists, these artists, in their diversity, implode the notion of a singular “women’s music,” suggesting instead a multitude of lived experiences reflected through a growing range of sonic activities. Rock on.

Barbara Kruger