Record Collecting For Girls by Courtney E. Smith

Posted August 15, 2011 by Meoskop in Book Reviews, Memoirs, Nonfiction / 5 Comments

Against a black background, a red silhouette of a girl with large white headphones onI feel bad about this review and I haven’t even written it yet.  Let’s preface everything by saying I hope between the time I write this (May) and the book’s release (September) the publisher seriously reconsiders both the marketing and the cover copy. Record Collecting For Girls absolutely fails to deliver what it promises.

On the positive side, the design is fantastic. Arresting, visually assertive, all around excellent cover work. As well, the first chapter is fantastic. While reading it I was planning who to buy the book for at Christmas, who’d talk with me about it first. It was the proverbial hit single of a dog album. The rest of Record Collecting For Girls took me from irritation to rage and then to resigned disillusionment.

The cover promises “Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd One Album At A Time,” It also vows “Gives Readers Tips For Curating A Real Record Collection.” That bit is a complete joke. Smith doesn’t believe in record collections, she believes in Hype Machine and extra hard drives and pirating singles instead of evaluating albums. Her records and CDs have been boxed for years, by book’s end she is discarding them. This is not a girl’s guide to a broad appreciation of music, it’s a long recitation of the romantic failings in Smith’s life and what she chose to listen to while she got over them. Let’s go chapter by chapter.

  • Record Collecting For Girls will sell a lot of copies as a Kindle sample. It’s funny, focused, and correct in stating music conversation is dominated by the male perspective. Someone should take this chapter and write the book it belongs in.
  • Top Five Lists does feel like a springboard to a real conversation about music as Smith explains how (to hold her own with boys) she came to her cutting edge choices of Elvis Costello, REM, Sleater-Kinney, Stevie Nicks and Fiona Apple. Here, among all these (white) critical darlings, you start to realize that you’re going to Epcot instead of on a World Tour. (Fiona, Stevie, not your fault.)
  • Where Have All The Girl Bands Gone? Mixing a small bit of info about the Go-Go’s with an assertion that The Bangles were underrated Smith takes a drive by at Phil Spector’s influence and name drops some early punk and post Lilith Fair without really exploring much of it. Sex sells. Unless you’re the Dixie Chicks.
  • My Scrobble, Myself. How to see what boys like to listen to and evaluate what you’re listening to.
  • Making Out With Romeo And Juliet. How to decide what to play while trying to get laid, by a boy, and how to impress that boy (never a girl I guess) with your fine taste in music without scaring him off with your mad taste in music and a little bit about how soundtracks are compiled. Plus, boys (not girls) and making out.
  • Guilty Pleasures. Smith feels if you don’t have a guilty pleasure you’re pompous or boring. She likes the Pussycat Dolls. She thinks you should like what you like unless it’s the Black Eyed Peas and then you shouldn’t.
  • The Smiths Syndrome. Where to start? Pick a band, then refuse to ever date anyone who likes that band because they are all the same. To back this up, (Why are we still talking about dating? When do we really talk about music, it’s evolution, or crafting a course of personal study?) she declares that all avid Smiths fans are mommy’s boys obsessed with serial killers. Wow. That’s so offensive and wrong I’m not sure how to articulate it. As an avid Smiths fan (by her criteria) and one of Moz (although I am currently boycotting him)  as well I must say I can’t agree. Nor do the male Smiths fans I know discuss serial killers, concern themselves with serial killers or wear pompadours. And yes, we do travel long distances to see Moz. Hey, that’s her world, she can live there. Nothing to me.
  • Give It To Me For Free shows Smith claiming that free music sells music. While I agree with that assertion, it’s hard to take it seriously amid her repeated urgings that we get all our music from Hype Machine.
  • Are We Breaking Up? Smith has music she likes to listen to when boys dump her or she dumps boys. She’d give up on boys but she still wants someone to pay half her bills. (No, really.) This chapter caused my partner to say “If this is how women discuss music it’s amazing Joan Jett can stand to be a lesbian.”
  • The Next Madonna holds Madonna up as awesome. For all her flashing of her indie music creds and bragging on the width of her musical knowledge, Smith spends all her time in the top of the pops. Is Britney the next Madonna? Is Gaga? Why is Madonna herself? Let’s talk about these three white girls a lot. I suppose the many women who worked in music during Madonna’s career can never matter as much as Madonna. Let’s just move on.
  • Music Blogs Are Just Dadaist Conversation. Smith feels people are inadequate when they write about music. (The jokes write themselves here.) You should find some blogs and download lots of free music to see what you like. Maybe even set up an RSS feed to amass more music than you can practically listen to. (Waiting for the bit about buying music to show back up, but it doesn’t.) All free and semi legal, she says. While I am not against music blogs (I use plenty) it’s a bit both sides of the mouth, her position on paying for your tunes. Don’t archive records or CDs, amass free tracks – and then what? Buy legal copies of the mp3s?
  • Our Song, Your Song, My Song is a way to talk MORE about dating. Having established in the intro that a problem with women breaking into music is their quality being viewed through the lens of male attraction, we now view our music as it relates to attraction. (That’s deep, huh?) How do you know if it’s your song? What if it was already their song? Let’s talk even more about the authors love life, because this book isn’t really about music and how to love it, explore it, understand it – this book is about the author and boys.
  • The Death of the Record Collection – Oh yes she does.
  • Adventures in Second Live shows Smith doesn’t just use RSS feeds, MTV freebies and the like – she also enjoys hard to find sections of online gaming. Because it’s hard to find, it’s awesome.
  • Rock’N’Roll Consorts. At first I thought Smith had tired of talking about her own sex life and was moving on the sex life of others, but really she wanted to talk more about hers. First we talk about how ick groupies are (never mind she is mostly judging a woman from the 1960’s who experiences a culture and state of mind that Smith shows no real interest in exploring) and how kinda ick wives are and how no one should ever get involved with men (or girls?) in rock because they all suck and will do you wrong like this rock guy did her.
  • Beatles VS. Stones is based on someone having told her that girls who like the Stones will bang you. It’s like the black guy in the bar telling you he only dates white women because they (insert offensive assumption here) but Smith runs with it, explores it, talks at length about how the Stones and Beatles being at odds were just marketing ploys (you don’t say) and the Stones are icky because they are too old to perform those songs and should just retire and stop trying to make money. Ageism on parade, but I think the Stones fans won’t be bothered.
  • Down The Music K-Hole! This is it! We’re going to discover how to expand our musical preferences! How to move from one genre to another! How to discover new sounds! What types of things might…. oh wait, we’re just going to say “go to a web site and hit some buttons and listen to some stuff and mostly just listen to Prince cause I think he’s awesome.” Except we’re going to do it with Choose Your Own Adventure stylings (or automated customer service phone menus).
  • Acknowledgements – This book was a dream and so many people helped her make it. This I totally believe. 
I am sure Smith is a lovely women. If I had approached this as “My Years At MTV” or “The Guys I Dated And The Music We Listened To” I am certain my reading experience would have been different. Perhaps not totally different, but different all the same. Instead, I was expecting a conversation about music, how to love it, how to evaluate it, what to do to expand yourself, how to build your tastes, and I got an awful lot about how Smith can’t find a nice boy to open a joint account with. I can’t say either of us are better for the experience and I regret my negativity. If it’s any consolation, this is the measured and mild version of my disappointment.

5 responses to “Record Collecting For Girls by Courtney E. Smith

  1. With three months to think about it I have decided it’s just very badly marketed. The copy and design is great, but it isn’t for this book. This should be marketed as a blog to book lifestyle thing, not a music criticism feminist book. I don’t think the author has been well served by the expectations the marketing is raising, While I wouldn’t have loved the book under any description (not my style) I would have given it a much higher mark if I went at it as something else.

  2. Anonymous

    I couldn’t agree more with you. I just reviewed this book too. Gah. And I felt bad TOO. And – where are all the queer girls?! Man.

  3. Anonymous

    Hear hear. The title lies and leaves me feeling slightly betrayed. Would have loved to read the less mild review!