by Chris Estey
Two can’t-miss rock writing related events coming up in the next few days are readings signings/multi-media and live music action involving author/columnist/musician/PR goddess Jessica Hopper and HATE Comics creator Peter Bagge. Like Richie Unterberger and Gillian G. Gaar who made appearances for their new books a couple of weeks back, both have fresh, exciting work to share and have strong ties to Seattle music culture.
Though based in Chicago, Jessica Hopper is beloved by many in the Seattle punk and indie scene; she has many friends and comrades here, done presentations for the EMP Pop Conference held here annually, and was a superb publicist for artists such as Pedro the Lion. She was one of the best writers for Punk Planet, wrote the best article on emo culture I’ve ever read just when it needed to be written (“Where The Girls Aren’t,” anthologized in the Best Music Writing 2004 edition), and has toured in her own bands. So her Girls’ Guide to Rocking glittered with promise long before it was actually published.
Hopper gave up PR a few years back to focus on writing, and after PP folded has been a steady contributor to the Chicago Reader, Tribune, and the LA Weekly. Her combination of her early days’ zine-inspired punk-based aesthetics and the past few years of cultivating journalistic excellence makes Girls’ Guide to Rocking (Workman Publishing) one of the very best “how to” books for the music scene. Yes, I’d recommend it as essential for young women, but the advice it gives is informative and powerful for anyone interested in rock music as art and lifestyle -- as she says in the introduction, “This book is all the secrets, and also, your permission slip. Welcome to the gang.”
That inclusiveness wouldn’t be so special (although it is special because someone with such deep knowledge and experience is offering it) if the book was anywhere near as basic as its title. But Hopper gives intimate advice and balanced observations on everything from gear (she knows her shit!) to relationships (something often missing in books of this type) to aesthetics (what albums to buy, what YouTube videos of female artists to check out, what other books of rock criticism might inspire). Lyric writing and recording the drum sound is here, but also encouragement for stage fright and putting on your own shows. We find out why Don Henley(!) is actually a pretty talented songwriter (the plotline of “Hotel California,” and that’s a good point), how to build a practice tent, how to stencil, get some great quotes from Chrissie Hynde to Tegan Quin, and promptings to check out Labelle and Betty Davis pronto. It even winds up helping the reader get started in GarageBand. This is all done with tons of humor and great hints to explore the chosen musical milieu further; and never patronizingly or harshly. For a pretty tough critic with hardcore roots, her tone here is relaxing and gentle.
I must admit I was hoping Hopper’s first book was going to be a collection of her often caustic and revelatory columns (she’s an awesome cultural picador) or better yet a fierce, unflinching manifesto of empowerment against the stale, defeated music business -- and there has been uncomfortable joking that this is her “sell out” book. It isn’t. She is reaching out towards young women in a helpful way, but it’s the kind of help a lot of guys (and not just young ones either) need too. And it’s done with creativity and class, so don’t be put off by the friendly graphics and slick covers. It actually has the beautiful insider’s view that the best rock fanzines have had, but lives up to its take-on-the-world title in broadness and depth.
The Vera Project will be hosting a special appearance for Hopper on Tuesday, July 14th, at 7:30 PM. I’m planning on being there to get my copy of The Girls’ Guide to Rocking signed, like I did a few years ago when she appeared at the Pop Con and I brought the BMW 2004 to have her autograph her reprinted article. (She scribbled, “Hey Chris, This is weird, Thanks, Jessica.”)
As far as I know, Hopper won’t be playing any music at the Vera next week, but if you demand that your authors make a joyful noise, satirical cartoonist Peter Bagge is back to entertain you (in more ways than one). He has a new band, Can You Imagine?, which also features the immortal Steve Fisk, as well as releasing my favorite comics collection of the year so far, Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me And Other Astute Observations. Can You Imagine?, and a reunion of Bagge’s and Fisk’s original group The Action Suits, are set to play Jules Maes after Bagge’s book signing at the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery this Saturday night, July 11. The signing lasts from 7 to 9 PM, before the show at Jules Maes (with Hank Adams and Fox Hollow as well), and an exhibition of Bagge’s delightfully rubbery, hilariously exaggerated yet still somehow realer than life underground comic art running at the Fantagraphics store through August 5. (It’s wonderful to look at the art “in person,” as Bagge’s art has so much life to it.)
Besides the fact that Bagge played and plays in a rock band or two, or has written some incredibly good rock journalism (printed in his old comic HATE and even occasionally The Stranger and classic zines like Scram), why else would I be recommending Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me etc. here? It’s mostly broader social observations than HATE‘s punk/grunge/post-grunge-based storytelling, but as the first story arc of that comic was set in Seattle, longtime Ballard resident Bagge is VERY concerned with the Emerald City. That means a lot of stupid things we encounter here every day, including within the music scene. Think of his strips as angry but really funny protest songs on paper.
These strips originally ran in a magazine titled Reason, and can be called libertarian (Bagge considers himself one) but the anti-government rants are balanced with honest self-criticism, as much as Bagge can pin down the “soullessness” of Christian rock alongside why the local acts of the police in the drug war is completely wrongheaded. On the back cover, The Washington Post blurbs he’s a lot more fun than Ayn Rand; well, I guess a lot of things are on that list too, but I do agree. But seriously, from his venom released on “‘Real’ Art” to “In Praise Of Meaningless Crap,” Bagge wickedly and wonderfully shows a truly individualistic viewpoint, an actual bullshit detector raging full blast (occasionally to the point of anxiety-induced overload), with ideas and observations both fearlessly marginalist and unabashedly mainstream (like the best rock and roll, in my opinion). It’s not a graphic novel per se, but for “illustrated creative non-fiction” (don’t hit me with a drumstick, Peter) it is HOT and FUN. Just out from Fantagraphics, pick it up now!