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The First Col­lec­tion of Crit­i­cism by a Liv­ing Fe­male Rock Critic byJ es­sica Hopper ,F eather­proo fB ooks, 250 pages What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween rock crit­i­cism and rock ’n’ roll it­self? The for­mer is men writ­ing about mu­sic writ­ten by men. The lat­ter is mu­sic writ­ten by men about women. Jes­sica Hopper protests the sec­ond premise while oblit­er­at­ing the first in The First Col­lec­tion of Crit­i­cism by a Liv­ing Fe­male Rock Critic. The book brings to­gether some 40 of Hopper’s es­says, pub­lished since 2002 in news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, and blogs in­clud­ing the

Vil­lage Voice, Spin mag­a­zine, and Buz­zFeed and on her own blog, tiny­luck­y­ge­nius. Hopper’s fem­i­nist take, built on youth­ful de­vo­tion to the band Bikini Kill, the riot grrrl move­ment, and a long­ing for punk’s early au­then­tic­ity, can be seen as a gen­er­a­tional prod­uct. But it also speaks to the en­tirety of rock ’n’ roll and its decades-long history, filled with sex­ist tropes and out-and-out misog­yny.

Rock’s gen­der stereo­types — boy gui­tarists and girl groupies — were set long be­fore Mick Jag­ger sang “Un­der My Thumb” in 1966. Early rock ’n’ roll was about girls who were “heart­break­ers,” “run-arounds,” and “teen an­gels.” Songs were mostly about the suf­fer­ing these fe­male con­ven­tions caused boy rock­ers. Hopper finds that things haven’t changed that much. In “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t,” a 2003 piece she wrote for the now de­funct mag­a­zine Punk Planet, she’s chal­lenged by a boy she knows on a Seat­tle dance floor who de­clares that if she has a prob­lem with emo (emo­tional mu­sic that Hopper de­scribes as “my­opic ... re­la­tional eu­lo­gies”), she has a prob­lem with the en­tire history of rock mu­sic. “I know. I do,” is her an­swer. She goes on to ex­plain, “I sim­ply can­not sub­stan­ti­ate the ef­fort the ef­fort it takes to give a fly­ing [ex­ple­tive] about the genre/plague that we know as emo or my­opic songs that don’t con­sider the world be­yond boy bod­ies, their bro­ken hearts or their vans.”

Hopper’s ad­mis­sion that she has a prob­lem with rock’s en­tire history doesn’t pre­clude her love of the mu­sic. Her dec­la­ra­tion about mu­sic that is nar­rowly fo­cused on mas­cu­line emo­tion comes in a mo­ment when mu­sic as­serts its power in her life. She’s at a show hear­ing post-punk band Strike Any­where’s “Re­fusal,” a song, she writes, “that of­fers sol­i­dar­ity with the fem­i­nist move­ment and bears wit­ness to the strug­gles in­her­ent to women’s lives.” She’s brought to tears by the song. “I’ve been go­ing to three shows a week for the last decade and the num­ber of times I’ve heard women’s re­al­ity ac­knowl­edged or por­trayed in a song sung by a male-fronted band was at zero and hold­ing. This song was the first.”

Hopper, like many of us, no mat­ter the gen­er­a­tion, grew up fas­ci­nated with the mu­sic of her times, even if that meant lov­ing Michael Jack­son. “Thriller had taught me what it meant to have mu­sic be your whole life, to be a de­voted fan; Thriller was the first al­bum that was all mine, not my par­ents’,” she wrote in a 2009 piece for the Vil­lage Voice that chron­i­cled a visit to Jack­son’s boy­hood home of Gary, In­di­ana, af­ter his death. She ad­mits that as a teen in 1991 she had the names of her fa­vorite bands scrawled on the toe caps of her Con­verse high tops — “Fugazi” on the left, “Di­nosaur” (for the band Di­nosaur Jr.) on the right. Hopper grew up when punk and the riot grrrl move­ment were giv­ing new voice to fe­male mu­si­cians. As a six­teen-year-old high school stu­dent with her own fanzine en­ti­tled Hit It Or Quit It, she had gar­nered enough at­ten­tion that she was fea­tured in a 1992 Newsweek mag­a­zine piece, “Revo­lu­tion, Girl Style” that called the riot grrrl move­ment “a new fem­i­nist voice for the video-age gen­er­a­tion.” Hopper’s con­tri­bu­tion was about the male back­lash her en­thu­si­asm for this mu­sic had gen­er­ated, from hav­ing slurs like “fem­i­nazi” scrawled on her locker to get­ting ac­costed by a guy in the high school news­pa­per’s dark­room. Now a se­nior editor at Pitch­fork, a pop­u­lar online in­de­pen­dent mu­sic site, Hopper has been on the pro­mo­tional and per­for­mance side of the mu­sic as well. In 2009, she pub­lished the mu­sic busi­ness how-to The Girls’ Guide to Rock­ing: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Star­dom (Work­man).

De­spite her fem­i­nist views, or maybe be­cause of them, Hopper is one of our most as­tute observers of rock cul­ture. Her pieces do the things that great rock writ­ing does: per­son­al­ize its energy and emo­tion, iden­tify with its in­no­cence and its ar­ro­gance, and cry foul when sens­ing some­thing in­au­then­tic. In ad­dress­ing ev­ery­thing from Bruce Spring­steen’s “Rac­ing in the Street” to Los An­ge­les’ sto­ried all-ages per­for­mance venue The Smell, she sees over­ar­ch­ing cul­tural themes rep­re­sented in the mu­sic and its fol­low­ers. She writes from the per­spec­tive that mu­sic fills our needs, be they dis­trac­tion or sal­va­tion. She rec­og­nizes that our at­tach­ment to mu­sic is about iden­tity — iden­ti­fy­ing with ex­pe­ri­ence, sen­sa­tion, and emo­tion — and that it’s also about fandom, the abil­ity to per­son­ally con­nect with mu­si­cians through their mu­sic no mat­ter how dif­fer­ent or dis­tant their lives may be. Even as she takes down Mi­ley Cyrus’

Bangerz disc, she rec­og­nizes that Cyrus’ meta­mor­pho­sis from clean teen to sex-driven adult is a re­sult of our hav­ing “goaded her” into what we want her to be.

Hopper ad­mits the ti­tle of her col­lec­tion is not quite ac­cu­rate, cit­ing a very few women crit­ics with books be­fore her. Declar­ing that she’s the best fe­male rock critic of the last few gen­er­a­tions, though true, misses the point, as does putting her in the com­pany of Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, Greil Mar­cus, and other male crit­ics whose work is some­thing of an art in it­self. Her idea of “rock-critic be­hav­ior,” she says, is “like nor­mal mu­sic-fan be­hav­ior, but sub­stan­tially more piti­ful and in­dul­gent.” It’s this emo­tion and in­dul­gence, both au­then­tic as any true love, that make Hopper’s words so easy to iden­tify with, re­gard­less of our gen­der. — Bill Kohlhaase

Pedi­gree byP atrick Mo­di­ano, trans­lated by Mark Poliz­zotti ,Y ale Univer­sit yP ress, 130 pages

Paris Nocturne byP atrick Mo­di­ano, trans­lated by Phoebe We­ston-Evans ,Y ale Univer­sit yP ress, 160 pages The first few pages of Pedi­gree, a short memoir by re­cent No­bel Lau­re­ate Pa­trick Mo­di­ano, read al­most like a point­less ex­er­cise. Mo­di­ano gives a dry recita­tion of names of the peo­ple his mother and his fa­ther as­so­ci­ated with in Paris dur­ing the Oc­cu­pa­tion. Grad­u­ally, a con­nec­tion emerges be­tween this litany of names and the ob­ses­sions in Mo­di­ano’s fic­tion, no­tably in Miss­ing Per­son and in the re­cently trans­lated

Sus­pended Sen­tences and Paris Nocturne. Mo­di­ano’s fic­tion of­ten fea­tures a young man walk­ing through a maze of seem­ingly el­lip­ti­cal Paris streets, in search of the past. Some names from his fic­tion even show up in the memoir.

In Pedi­gree, Mo­di­ano oc­ca­sion­ally writes down a name, be­cause that’s all that’s left of some­one his fa­ther knew — he can’t find out any more in­for­ma­tion about the per­son other than their name. Mo­di­ano apol­o­gizes for throw­ing so many names our way. “I hope I can be for­given all these names, and oth­ers to fol­low. I’m a dog who pre­tends to have a pedi­gree. My mother and fa­ther didn’t be­long to any par­tic­u­lar mi­lieu. So aim­less were they, so un­set­tled, that I’m strain­ing to find a few mark­ers, a few bea­cons in this quick­sand.” He doesn’t stop dol­ing out the names, but he makes another con­fes­sion: “I’m writ­ing these pages the way one com­piles a re­port or ré­sumé, as doc­u­men­ta­tion and to have done with a life that wasn’t my own.”

A turn­ing point comes when Mo­di­ano abruptly men­tions the death, in 1957, of his ten-year-old brother, Rudy. He writes that his brother’s death is the only thing that “truly mat­ters” to him in this book. Nat­u­rally, we ex­pect him to re­turn to this sub­ject, but he never does, ex­cept in a dev­as­tat­ing im­age. Years later, his fa­ther, now re­mar­ried to the “er­satz Mylène De­mon­geot,” de­mol­ishes the in­ner stair­case that con­nects his fourth-floor apart­ment to the third-floor apart­ment that Mo­di­ano lives in with his mother. In the rub­ble, a teenage Mo­di­ano finds child­hood books and post­cards, which were once sent to his brother, all torn up.

Mo­di­ano’s mother was a theater ac­tress who was mostly ab­sent dur­ing his child­hood. He de­scribes her as “a pretty girl with an arid heart.” When she shows up dur­ing his late teenage years, she nags him to ask his fa­ther for money. The re­quests don’t usu­ally work, and Mo­di­ano’s fa­ther be­gins to con­fine his meet­ings with him to in­creas­ingly re­mote cafés very early in the morn­ing. In or­der to sur­vive, Mo­di­ano and his mother oc­ca­sion­ally steal things they can pawn. Mo­di­ano as­serts, how­ever, that af­ter he be­gan writ­ing his first novel, he never stole again.

What be­gan as an ex­er­cise in com­pi­la­tion gath­ers emo­tional power as the book pro­gresses in this crys­talline trans­la­tion by Mark Poliz­zotti. Af­ter en­dur­ing a num­ber of board­ing schools and the pen­ni­less­ness of liv­ing with his mother, Mo­di­ano con­sid­ers leav­ing his poor par­ents and Paris be­hind. His fa­ther isn’t done with him, how­ever. He wants his son drafted into the army. The in­clu­sion of letters from his fa­ther, and one fi­nal re­ply from the son, adds bru­tal force to a nar­ra­tive that is oth­er­wise writ­ten mat­ter-of-factly.

Literature, not sur­pris­ingly, pro­vided an es­cape for Mo­di­ano from his dreary per­sonal life, even­tu­ally be­com­ing his vo­ca­tion. For decades, he re­mained ob­sessed with the elu­sive­ness of the past. He went on to win the 2014 No­bel Prize in literature, ac­cord­ing to the Academy, “for the art of mem­ory with which he has evoked the most un­gras­pable hu­man des­tinies and un­cov­ered the life-world of the oc­cu­pa­tion.” Read­ing Paris Nocturne not long af­ter Pedi­gree ,Iwas struck by how Mo­di­ano’s life story in­forms his fic­tion and gives it depth. The memoir is a map, and once you’ve read it, you are no longer a tourist walk­ing in the strange land of Mo­di­ano’s fic­tion — now there are land­marks and fa­mil­iar places you can re­visit from a fresh an­gle.

In the novel, a sea-green car hits a young man, not yet twenty-one, walk­ing on a road. He spends some time re­cov­er­ing in a clinic, and on his way out, an older man pays him off for the in­juries and the in­con­ve­nience. In­stead of con­tin­u­ing with his life, how­ever, the nar­ra­tor views the ac­ci­dent as a break from his old life and spends his days look­ing for the driver of the sea-green car. The driver, an enig­matic woman named Jac­que­line Beauser­gent, re­minds him of some­one from his child­hood. The nar­ra­tor also wants to re­turn the money to her, even though he could clearly use it.

The “sad­dest event” in the nar­ra­tor’s life, when his fa­ther tries to have him ar­rested, is ref­er­enced in both this novel and in the memoir. From the memoir, we know what pre­cip­i­tated the event. Mo­di­ano’s mother needed money and urged him to knock at his fa­ther’s door. I won­dered if the af­ter­math led to an es­trange­ment with his mother as well. One of the most haunting episodes in Paris Nocturne is when the nar­ra­tor sees an old woman stand­ing out­side his apart­ment build­ing on a num­ber of evenings. One night, she ap­proaches him and tries to scratch his face. In a dream, a po­lice su­per­in­ten­dent tells the nar­ra­tor that this woman claims to be his mother, but that her pa­pers say oth­er­wise. There is no fur­ther men­tion in the novel of who this woman is, but there are clues in these two phrases: “be­neath this ag­gres­sion there was some­thing false, like the life­less per­for­mance of a bad ac­tress”; she has “over­played the part.” We can’t es­cape the feel­ing that this char­ac­ter rep­re­sents Mo­di­ano’s mother in her penury.

It’s com­mon in Mo­di­ano’s fic­tion for a per­son to “van­ish with­out a trace.” In Paris Nocturne, the nar­ra­tor’s fa­ther has van­ished. All that’s left are some names, with which he tries to res­ur­rect a lost world, much as Mo­di­ano tries to tease out his per­sonal history in Pedi­gree. The nar­ra­tor of Paris Nocturne tells us that when he was a boy, his dog died, but he had no place to bury him — not a plot of land, not even a gar­den. It is in his fic­tional land­scape that Mo­di­ano puts the mem­ory of that dog to rest, thus giv­ing him a proper burial and an im­mor­tal­ity of sorts. In Pedi­gree, he does the same for his mother and his fa­ther. — Priyanka Ku­mar

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