Dozens of music books have crossed my path. I’ve enjoyed reading every one of them. Sometimes I feel a deeper connection with a book because of the artist, the decade, the genre, or the narrator. She’s a Badass: Women in Rock Shaping Feminism checks all of those boxes and then some.
In She’s a Badass, veteran music journalist Katherine Yeske Taylor (Billboard, Spin, The Aquarian, American Songwriter, etc.) dedicates an entire chapter to 20 significant women in rock ranging from trailblazers to up-and-comers. It takes an in-depth look at the dedication and talent needed to succeed in the music business – and life in general. Their experiences reveal the challenges these women have encountered, what steps they took to overcome them, and what still needs to be done to make progress on equality in the music business.
The women interviewed for the 20 chapters are Suzi Quatro, Ann Wilson (Heart), Exene Cervenka (X), Gina Schock (the Go-Go’s), Lydia Lunch, Suzanne Vega, Cherie Currie (The Runaways), Joan Osborne, Donita Sparks (L7), Amy Ray (Indigo Girls), Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, The Breeders, Belly), Paula Cole, Tobi Vail (Bikini Kill), Laura Veirs, Catherine Popper, Amanda Palmer, Bonnie Bloomgarden (Death Valley Girls), Orianthi, Fefe Dobson, and Sade Sanchez (L.A. Witch). The Afterword is penned by Susan Rogers, the longtime in-house recording engineer for Prince.
Feminism has been a complex and controversial topic for decades. Female rock musicians (music journalists, photographers, sound engineers, tour managers, roadies, record company executives, publicists, etc.) know this well. They’re asked to cope with certain pressures their male counterparts haven’t faced. Women in rock have been prominent proponents of progress as they’ve increasingly taken control of their own music, message, and image. However, several of those interviewed pushed back on the label of “feminism” and shared stories about men who were supportive in their careers. Furthermore, Yeske Taylor makes it clear She’s a Badass is not anti-male in any way, shape, or form.
Suzi Quatro broke many barriers for women in the 1970s. She played bass, sang, wrote her own songs, and had the final say in her career decisions and continues to do so. Quatro explained to Katherine, “There wasn’t anybody before me, so of course I did. I will take to my grave the fact that I was the first. That’s something I’m very humbled by. And when I look at it, that job needed to fall on the shoulders of somebody exactly like me who didn’t really do gender, who wasn’t out there going, ‘I’m a girl.’ I didn’t have an agenda. I was just being who I was. I’ve always had the same view: I’m not a feminist. I’m a ‘me-ist.’ Your job in life is to go inside yourself and find that little light that makes you you and switch it on and let nobody ever switch it off. I always did make myself heard.” She continues, “When I held auditions for my band way back in the early days when I started having hits in ’73, I could see by the way they walked in the door if guys had a problem with me being a female. And they were back out the door before they played the first note, because I don’t justify myself to anybody. Absolutely not.”
Each of the musicians featured prove that promoting feminism, through activism or by example, is compelling and beyond badass. The conversations highlight their determination, honesty, and sense of humor required in a finicky industry. The book is essential reading for all music aficionados and those looking for inspiration in the form of kickass women who know how to rock.
Katherine Yeske Taylor should consider a memoir of her own. I felt an instant connection upon reading the introduction based upon our shared backgrounds. However, I may need to hold onto that thought as she is in the midst of helping Eugene Hütz, the frontman of Gogol Bordello, write his memoir.
SHE’S A BADASS: WOMEN IN ROCK SHAPING FEMINISM BY KATHERINE YESKE TAYLOR IS AVAILABLE ON JANUARY 16 VIA BACKBEAT BOOKS! ORDER IT HERE!
LOCALLY, YESKE TAYLOR HAS IN-STORE BOOK EVENTS AT LABYRNITH BOOKS IN PRINCETON ON 3/5, NARBERTH BOOKS IN NARBERTH, PA ON 3/21, & HOWLING BASSETT BOOKS IN OLDWICK, NJ ON 3/23.