Girls with an Axl to Grind

Article excerpt

THIS 500-page doorstop does not look encouraging. Before reading it you have to get past the pseudo-Sex Pistols cover, with its torn strips of text glued over an out-of-focus, angry young guitar-wielding woman: copyright, every second Women In Rock Book that's published. Still, we all know what you shouldn't judge a book by. This is not a WIRB, but an anthology of rock criticism by female writers from the Sixties to the Nineties. "Essential reading for all women who love music," announces the blurb. "Essential reading for all people who love to read about music" would be considerably more accurate.

So what's the point of an exclusively female anthology? Is it merely separatism? In a few pieces the gender issue is irrelevant: there's no reason why they couldn't have been written by a man. In others, a feminist voice makes the odd call for attention, prompted by the sight of Motley Crue's groupies or of the comparatively celibate Fela Kuti's 27 wives.

But the best pieces engage with the man's man's man's world of pop bravely and honestly, detailing the paradox of "loving a double dose of what's supposed to be bad for you: on the one hand, a pop fantasy that can dehumanise; on the other a feminist ideology that declares dangerous what most attracts you". Rather than condemning or ignoring sexist lyrics, the book tackles the more difficult task of investigating why women continue to buy records that are stuffed with them. Ice Cube's misogyny is scrutinised (or rather, the listener's relationship with it), and Mary Gaitskill contributes a controversial defence of Guns N' Roses, a band who have nearly run out of oppressed minorities to abuse. "I imagine that girls, even more so than boys, could look at Axl Rose and feel intense delight at seeing him embody their unexpressed ferocity, and experience it temporarily through him."

It's refreshing to read a book as much about the appreciator as the appreciated. Intuitive and intellectual, subjective and analytical, it examines the role of the fan with a respect customarily reserved for famous personalities. …