Music critic Jessica Hopper’s new book, The Girls’ Guide to Rocking, is a spectacularly comprehensive how-to manual for young women (ages 10-16) yearning to stomp onstage and shred. We talked to her about being in a band with your friends, boys who are into the Doors, and the future of rock n’roll. (Hopper will read from the book on Saturday at Littlefield in Brooklyn, where she’ll be joined by These Are Powers, Katie Stelmanis, and the Ghost Bees.
The L: As a critic and a writer, you typically write for an older, probably more male audience. Was it a challenge to get the tone of the book right?
Jessica Hopper: That was one of my publisher’s concerns. They were like ‘Obviously, you can write, but can you write for someone who’s in sixth grade?’ They had me write the entire book proposal and some other stuff in the tone of the book. I thought it was going to be harder, but it’s mostly that you just can’t make snarky in-jokes and you can’t make cultural references unless you’re positive that everyone will get them. Like, Elvis, the Beatles, or shoes–something that everyone knows. The tricky thing is that the book is for ages 10 to 16, and probably skews a little bit older than that. But if you’re writing a book for 10 year olds, they don’t want a book for 10 year olds. They want a book for 12 year olds, and 12 year olds want a book for 14 or 15 year olds, and if you’re writing for 14 or 15, you’re writing for 16, and if you’re writing for 16, you’re writing for 18. So basically I was writing for an 18 year old who can’t drive and doesn’t have any of their own money. Some of that was tricky to figure out, because there are all these givens, as an adult musician, that you forget about when you crossover into the grown-up realm. It’s like, oh, that’s right, your time is not your own; if you have any money, you probably have very little, or you’re asking to borrow it; you probably don’t have a practice space; you can’t drive. All these things – in some ways, it simplifies the situation, but in another way, I had to find a way for kids to do this, and to explain how to do it. What if the only room they have where they could potentially practice is their bedroom? Let’s figure out a way they can do it in there, quietly. I had to bring in some of my friends who helped me be resourceful, and I asked my friends who had started playing young, even younger than I did, about what they did, what were their various conundrums were, just to make sure I had everything addressed. In another way, it wasn’t that hard, because I was doing a fanzine [Hit It or Quit It] at 15, so all of my early triumphs and sorrows of being in a band, I still have a document of those.
The L: Did you find yourself going back through things you had written at that age?
JH: I skimmed through it. Mostly I just had to think about it a lot. What was it like then? How hard was it for me to be friends with my bandmates, or bandmates with my friends? It’s the first time you do a lot of things – the details are etched in your mind. I couldn’t tell you the kinds of details about my last three bands as I can my first three. But it’s so embarrassing to read old Hit It or Quit Its, I can’t even tell you. I feel like I only learned ‘how to write’ in the last four years – my editors at the [Chicago] Reader whipped me into some kind of shape. But the stuff I wrote then – I turn crimson. I’m like ‘I can’t believe these still exist in the world.’ But at the same time, it was really useful, because it was like ‘Oh my gosh, that’s right, I couldn’t find anyone to be in a stable band lineup with. I was bouncing from band to band, because my friend who was the drummer always insisted on having whoever was her boyfriend that week by our bassist, and he was always some bossy kid with a mohawk who was into Beat Happening.
The L: I know that guy.
JH: I think we’ve all played in a band with that guy. Or dated him in tenth grade.