November 10, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Courtney E. Smith's essay collection Record Collecting for Girls is as much memoir as it is an ode to music. At a time when music-related nonfiction is dominated by men like Nick Hornby, Chuck Klosterman, Rob Sheffield, and Steve Almond, this book offers a different, yet refreshing and entertaining perspective.
Vanity Fair wrote of the book:
"Girl music nerds have been debating Beatles versus Stones and curating their collections for as long as male music snobs, but that perspective has been on low rotation; hail, hail, Courtney E. Smith’s Record Collecting for Girls, a mix tape of female rock history, playlists for getting busy and coping with heartbreak, and essential info such as how to decode a dude's CD collection (Yo La Tengo = romantically hapless; Leonard Cohen = asshole)."
During the course of writing and editing Record Collecting for Girls I listened to a lot of music - largely the stuff I was writing about at the time. A lot of writers find it distracting, but I had the songs, their back stories, and so many random facts about the bands memorized by the time I got down to writing that it didn't even enter my consciousness. Almost everything I listened to obsessively made it into the book in some form or another. These are a few songs that meant a lot to me but didn't make the cut.
1. Rolling Stones "Under My Thumb"
When this book was just a gleam in my eye one of the things I knew I wanted to write about was Beatles vs. Stones. I checked out every book I could find on the two bands from the Los Feliz branch of the LA library. While I was finding my voice and convincing myself that writing a book wasn't a terrible idea, I spent a lot of time reading about, talking about, and listening to the Beatles and the Stones. I'm a Beatles person and this Stones song kills me. It's horrible, lyrically, and absolutely impossible not to dance to. It is the song I love to hate to love.
2. Arcade Fire "Ready to Start"
In the course of writing my book I moved from LA to a small suburb north of Houston to save money and hide from the world while I finished it. I had a quick, six-month due date to meet and work in LA was drying up. The Arcade Fire's The Suburbs came out while I was in no-man's land in Texas. I am not an Arcade Fire fan, but the aesthetics they crafted that album with really spoke to my location. I found myself obsessed. I feel like something about Win Butler's suburban Houston experience is captured here, but maybe not. All suburbs are basically the same series of housing developments and strip malls, after all.
3. Marianne Faithfull "Sister Morphine"
I had the idea to write about rock 'n roll consorts while reading Marianne Faithfull's autobiography to research the Stones from a different point of view. She was so raw and straight-forward. I loved her voice so much that I wanted to listen to all of her music. Her take on the Stones inspired me to read the works of a lot of other ladies from her time period to get inside their heads and see a different take on the famous musicians they were involved with. From her body of music I found myself most captivated by her cover of "Sister Morphine." There's a completeness to her writing this song and giving it to the Stones, after Mick & Keith wrote the song that started her career but her version has so much more grit than theirs.
4. Marvin Gaye "Ain't That Peculiar"
I read The Supremes: A Saga of Motown Dreams, Successes, and Betrayal when I was writing about girl groups. I didn't end up using them as my example from the '60s, opting instead to focus on the Crystals, but some of the ancillary stories about Marvin Gaye in that book got me back into listening to him. I'm still addicted to "Ain't That Peculiar." I listen to it at least once a week.
5. Bat for Lashes "Moon and Moon"
In my essay about break-ups I talk about a guy sending me Blur's "To The End" and how terrible/wonderful it was. What I didn't mention was that we broke up not a month before I wrote that essay. It was writing kismet. I was in the editing stages and, at the request of my editor, needed to add an essay on break-ups. It was the one topic she felt I hadn't addressed. Not that I hadn't tried - originally I did write about one with someone else in the form of a playlist, but it came out so violently that I thought, and still think, that if anyone saw that they'd think I was an insane person. And while the track he sent me was seminal in my mind, the track I chose for myself while I scripted the first of our break up negotiation letters was "Moon and Moon." I listened to it dozens of times on repeat. I can hardly stand it now.
6. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings "How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?"
What I learned while writing my first book is how deeply lonely the process is. Even if you talk about it with your friends all the time, they're still not seeing everything you do because you know it's not ready. You go from that period of being the center of attention to your lit agent and editor while they discuss offers and ideas to hardly hearing from them. No commitments about marketing or promotion are made to you because no one knows how this thing is going to turn out. You're on an island, on your own. Especially during the editing process, I found myself returning to this song a lot. My editor and I worked in an unorthodox way, one essay at a time until they were polished to both of our satisfaction. We'd spend entire weekends emailing changes back and forth to each other. It felt like I was forever waiting for the next email, or the next mental breakthrough to address her concept edit. This was my theme for the lulls.
7. Le Tigre "Deceptacon"
The editing process is brutal. This was the song I busted out when I needed to energize myself. There were a whole slew of lady songs actually, but this was always choice #1 for those moments you've got to get out of your chair, look away from the marked up Word Doc, and shake it around the living room before you get yourself back on track.
Courtney E. Smith and Record Collecting for Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a Time links:
Another Rainy Saturday interview with the author
Feminist Music Geek interview with the author
The Hairpin interview with the author
Library Journal interview with the author
The Owl Mag interview with the author
Publishers Weekly interview with the author
Rock Book Show interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists