MUCH LIKE the author, the title of Jessica Hopper's recently published book, culling from the past 13 years of her work as a music writer, pulls zero punches: The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic.
"It was sort of the joke title," Hopper says, speaking on the phone recently during a lunch break from her day job as a senior editor at Pitchfork (where, full disclosure, she has edited some of my work). "But Tim Kinsella, the owner of Featherproof Books, insisted, 'That has to be the title!' And it creates a conversation. It seems to be serving its purpose well."
And, as she points out, the title is (unfortunately) true. There have been precursors like Rock She Wrote, which compiled criticism by a variety of female writers, including Mary Gaitskill, Jaan Uhelszki, Patti Smith, and Kim Gordon; and a pair of expansive books about punk and rock written by Caroline Coon and Lillian Roxon. But a book focusing on the body of work of one woman critic who's still alive and working? This, for now, is it.
Hopper is probably one of the best candidates to help lead the charge for more collections like this one. The Chicago-based writer has built up an impressive résumé. She started a self-published fanzine Hit It or Quit It while still in high school, and kept up a column in Punk Planet. More recently, she was music editor of Rookie, and an in-demand writer for Spin, the Village Voice, and BuzzFeed (another disclosure: Hopper's also written for the Mercury; one of the book's pieces originally appeared in these pages).
More than that, Hopper remains one of the sharpest and most fiery writers working today, filling column inches with deeply felt and unabashedly feminist stories and reviews of small noise-punk bands like Coughs and arena-ready superstars like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. She's also one of the most fearless critics out there, as noted by her work covering the controversy surrounding R. Kelly and, in one of the key pieces in this book, "Emo: Where the Girls Aren't," the sexism she witnessed in her hometown punk scene.
"After I wrote that, I knew there was no going home again," she says of the 2003 essay. "I ran a PR company that was very much involved in that world. I was essentially shitting where I ate in a lot of ways. But once I figured out how I felt about this stuff, I couldn't go back with the same enthusiasm and blind interest now that I could see other music and other avenues opened to me and other people who were marginalized by the punk scene."
The scale of Hopper's collection is especially impressive when you factor in that most of it was written while her two sons were very young.
"A lot of this book got written during nap times, before they were in school and daycare full-time," she says. "I really learned to map out pieces in my head so that once they were asleep I could just peel out into the more intellectual territory I needed to mine and deadlines I had to meet.... I did not think, once I had kids, I would ever be writing 40-plus hours a week at times. I thought I would just kind of do enough work to keep my career alive, but going full-tilt breadwinner really changed the entire scope of my career and in a lot of ways made the book possible."