Book Reviews -- She's A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll by Gillian G. Gaar

Article excerpt

Gillian G. Gaar. She's A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll. Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 1992, Illustrated. 467 pp. Paperback, $16.95.

Adapting the title from The Crystals' 1962 hit song to a female model, Seattle journalist and rock newspaper editor Gillian G. Gaar presents a revisionist history of women's influence in American popular music since 1950. Perhaps the author should have entitled her study The Rebel Girl in honor of I.W.W. heroine Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and in recognition of Joe Hill's song of that title. The second verse of Hill's tune is especially appropriate with regard to Gaar's perspective about the male-dominated commercial recording industry: "And the grafters in terror are trembling/When her spite and defiance she'll hurl/For the only and thoroughbred lady? Is The Rebel Girl."

Examinations of women rock performers are not uncommon. Two of the most interesting studies are Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound by Alaa Betrock (Delilah 1982) and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?/Girl Groups from the '50s On... by Charlotte Greig (Virago 1989.) Rather than focusing on groups, though, Gaar expands her perspective to include individual artists (Dustry Springfield, Janis Joplin and Sinead O'Connor), singer/songwriters (Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading), women's magazine founders (Lori Twerskyi) and recent record company initiators (Lisa Fancher and Judy Dlugacz). Gaar contends that rock journalists and popular culture historians have either totally ignored or inadequately chronicled the contributions of women in rock. The breadth of Gaar's perspective -- from "Big Mama" Thornton, Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker in the 1950s to Madonna, Janet Jackson and Queen Latifah in the 1990s -- and the detail of her interviews, commentaries, research and insights make She's A Rebel a distinctive sociological contribution.

Does this competently conceived study miss any bases or overlook any key persons? Yes. The shortcomings are found in historical imbalance and biographical omissions. …