Photograph by Megan McDonald

Author and musician Jessica Hopper read from her new book The Girls' Guide to Rocking during an August visit to Boxcar Books. Among the publications she has written for are SPIN, LA Weekly and the Chicago Reader. She has also consulted on NPR's This American Life.

Music and culture critic Jessica Hopper -- consultant for the revered public radio show, This American Life and whose work is regularly featured in publications such as SPIN and LA Weekly -- indulged a diverse Boxcar Books audience on Aug. 28 with readings from her new book The Girls' Guide to Rocking.

A meaty manual on creating, recording and performing music, The Girls' Guide to Rocking is garnering across-the-board praise for its painstaking nuts-and-bolts approach to music and for its expediency to anyone -- not just the adolescent girls it targets -- interested in making it.

Though written in direct, accessible language, the book is impressive in its breadth and scope, and Hopper, a musician herself since age 15, explained that in writing it she drew from her own experiences. "I wrote this book on how to start a band and play and pursue your own interest in music, and a lot of it is culled from my own experiences from being a teenager in a band and growing up as a girl in a band."

The former columnist for the now defunct Punk Planet shared several passages of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, delivering them in a manner that was more casually conversational than stilted and preachy, keeping in line with the girlfriend-to-girlfriend, nearly conspiratorial tone of the book itself.

Hopper shed more light on her motivation for crafting the book when she read from its introduction. "I made this book for you," she explained, "so that you don't have to take the word of the two dudes on the JV Bowling team who sit next to you in class, so that you can turn your love of music -- and desire to play it -- into something real."


The book is a smart, funny antidote to the all the chest-thumping "dude" bravado that many young, musically stirred girls must navigate; a pitch perfect, old-fashioned morale booster, chock-full of demystifying nittie gritties that only a music lover and creator already as seasoned as Hopper could impart.

The Indiana native and former Bloomington resident shared several other excerpts on topics ranging from selecting bandmates to putting on shows and touring, a component of music the author acknowledged having a particular affinity for. Throughout, the book maintains a distinctive punk-hued DIY ethos, inciting music wannabees to make do with whatever means and materials they have at hand, yet schooling them step-by-step on how to purchase a top-shelf electric guitar, for example, if they are able.

Similarly, though a decidedly feminist tone endures from beginning to end, Hopper is careful to cast a net wide enough to appeal to girls of every ideological ilk, from college town record geeks to farm town girls who get the bulk of their music from whatever trend MTV is regurgitating at the moment. Even in the numerous visual shout-outs to various historical artists lacing the book, Hopper gives equal space to mega star pop icons and independent punks and indie rockers alike.

"The Indiana native and former Bloomington resident shared several other excerpts on topics ranging from selecting bandmates to putting on shows and touring, a component of music the author acknowledged having a particular affinity for."

Visually, the book is extremely engaging, zine-like but not gimmicky, and not so busy with images and pop-out information boxes that the text is overshadowed. There is even a comprehensive musical timeline pull-out -- featuring blues legend Bessie Smith on one end and anti-folk sweetheart Kenya Dawson on the other -- that seems to scream teenage girl bedroom wall.

More than anything, the book Hopper generously brought to Boxcar Books is one that seems bent on dispelling the exhausting old myth that rock 'n roll is an exclusive club, available only to a select few who are charmed and wired "right." Neophytes, fledgling rock stars and all in between are encouraged to enter the club without an explicit invitation and are given a hefty arsenal of information to help propel them there. Hopper summed it up when she read a passage describing how she came to the realization herself, after first beginning to play music, that she did not need an invitation:

"When I first started playing, I felt like all the boys I knew were in on a world of top-secret information. I felt like I didn't have permission to enter that world. I didn't know if I would ever catch up or not feel a little lost. I loved music so much, all I wanted was to be part of it, I wanted to be making it, I was totally consumed by it. Over time, I realized that my love for music was all I really needed. That was my permission slip. I was already in the gang."

The Girls' Guide to Rocking can be purchased at Boxcar Books, online and at other local bookstores. For more information, visit ...

Lori Canada can be reached at locanada30@yahoo.com.