Here She Comes Now (eds.) Jeff Gordinier & Marc Weingarten. Icon.
Music plays a very important part in our lives, especially when we are young and looking for role models. From an early age we have favourite artists, buy their records and put posters of them up on the bedroom wall. Here She Comes Now is a collection of 22 essays by (mainly) female American writers about the female singers who influenced their early lives. The book is not an attempt to write about the greatest female singers of all time (hence no Joni Mitchell) but to give individual accounts of a wide range of influential artists.
There certainly is an extensive range of singers from Country music queen, Dolly Parton to the largely forgotten folk singer -songwriter Judee Sill. Most of the artists are American but Britain is represented by Poly Styrene (lead singer of punk band X-Ray Spex), Kate Bush, PJ Harvey and Sandy Denny. Bjork (Iceland) and Sinead O’Connor (Ireland) make up the rest of the world. Most genres of music are featured including Jazz (Nina Simone), Country (June Carter Cash and Dolly Parton) Punk (Poly Styrene and Patti Smith) and Soul (Aretha Franklin).
What comes across in this book is the incredible sense of teenage angst which Americans seem to revel in. I doubt if growing up in England is that different but we tend not to articulate our feelings to such a degree as out American cousins. Each essay is fairly short, around 10 pages and is well written by a range of up and coming writers most of whom have contributed to the New York Times. The writers all pick out something from the lives of their stars to which they can identify. It might be that they came from a poor background (Dolly Parton and Tina Turner), sing about former lovers (Taylor Swift) or dare to be different (Kate Bush and Bjork).
The essay I enjoyed the most was the one by Daniel Waters who takes us back on his own personal journey in the 1970s in search of punk. He grew up in the USA where he read about this new British musical phenomena but was unable to hear the music as it was not stocked in American record shops or played on US radio. In the pre-internet/Facebook/Spotify era music was very much an underground movement. It was only when he moved to Canada was he able to purchase X-Ray Spex’s LP Germfree Adolescents and thrill to the vocals of Poly Styrene.
This is a highly readable book to which most music fans will be able to relate. You may not always agree with the enthusiasms of all the writers. Lisa Catherine Harper pours her heart out over her adoration for Kate Bush but has to concede that not everyone gets Kate and I have to agree. These are original and insightful essays which could spawn further editions of this book.
With so many great female musicians featured it is difficult to choose one for a video but I have to come down in favour of punk and Poly Styrene. Here is some archive film of Poly performing her theme song, Oh Bondage, Up Yours! from 1977.