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Girls to the Front: The True Story of the…
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Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

by Sara Marcus

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As someone who was really only familiar with the music part of Riot Grrl before reading this book I found Girls to the Front both extremely illuminating and frustrating.
In its first half the book does a very good job of illustrating both the musical and political sides of Riot Grrrl and the interplay between the two, though it's definitely more interested in the latter.
As the two elements progressively became more separated from each other historically Marcus almost exclusively focuses on the activist aspect of the movement, being particularly effective describing its relationship with mainstream media and the inner rifts resulting from it.
As a result though there is very little in the book about anything that happened musically after 1993 (there is a whole lot of namedropping but little else) even though 1994-96 was arguably the artistic peak of the Olympia Riot Grrrl scene. Did records like Calculated, Such Friends are Dangerous or Reject All American really have such a negligible impact on the movement when compared to the first couple of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile records to not even warrant a mention? ( )
  Matteocalosi | Oct 4, 2017 |
Marcus does what a lot of music historians cannot: she condenses a massive amount of research into a highly readable book. That alone makes this one worth picking up, if you're interested in Riot Grrrl-- it's full of information, but it's completely readable (and sometimes even page-turning, as is entirely appropriate for the short-lived and frequently fraught movement).

With any music-themed history, I like to know what the book is and what it isn't. What this is: a complex sociological/political study of a music movement that grew out of national restlessness. Marcus delves not only into the big-name bands (Bikini Kill, Bratmobile) but also takes a look at lesser-known ones, though not in exhausting detail. She recognizes the extreme importance of fans, who formed the chapters and produced the zines, and she gives ample time to their efforts and effects on the movement as a whole as well. There's always the sense that she did a tremendous amount of research for this book, as she cites interviews with scores of people, quotes zines, cites correspondence, etc. All of these words could have been quoted and footnoted to the point that they weighed down the book, but that never happens; she uses only what is necessary to make her point. It has the feel of being exhaustive without being exhausting.

What it isn't: if you're looking for a book that is going to analyze every piece of music, every chord, every lyric-- this is not the one. She doesn't leave the actual music out entirely by any means; it's simply not a book that is entirely about music (and neither was Riot Grrrl, it seems fair to point out). As a warning to anyone who might pick this up looking up for an album-by-album dissection of those years, though, this is not what this is. Bands, producers, labels, influences: they're all present. The book is more a holistic chronicle than a strictly music-focused narrative, though. Personally, I think Marcus' work is stronger for this, as she is proposing to tell the "true story of the Riot Grrrl revolution," and that is indeed about a great deal more than music.

One disappointment (for me) was the lack of visual elements, because it does seem like this would be an excellent book for incorporating shots of homemade zines, live performance shots, etc. Perhaps it was impossible to secure the rights for these? There's no telling. Some things, though, like manifestos printed in zines, gain some of their power through the stark visual elements. To that end, I recommend tracking down The Riot Grrrl Collection (ed. Lisa Darms) as a visual supplement to this book. Together, they make a great combination.

Marcus admits she knew she was taking on a tough job when she wrote about this subject, a movement that imploded in a relatively brief time. In the conclusion, she says that there were "parts I would have preferred never to write." She did indeed write these parts, but that reluctance shows sometimes. The internal conflicts regarding class and race are probably the two that get off the hook most lightly; they're acknowledged, but they could have been explored far more. While she starts off strong with noting that Riot Grrrl had an odd relationship with queer identities, this also seems to veer off track near the end. The structural reason for both of these could be that, as 1994 approaches, there were so many internal issues that it's difficult to unsnarl them all and discuss each one in complete detail. Still, it would have been helpful (and appropriate) to point out and state clearly that these larger-picture issues, in addition to internal conflicts of personality, exposed inherent problems inherent in Riot Grrrl philosophy (using that word in the loosest possible sense).

Overall, Marcus does an excellent job of delving into a difficult and convoluted subject. At this point in time, when musicians are distancing themselves from the word "feminist," her work becomes more important than ever: not only as a retrospective but as a sociological study of feminist politics in general. ( )
1 vote ijustgetbored | Nov 17, 2015 |
interesting topic marred by totally cheesy writing. ( )
  eenee | Apr 2, 2013 |
This read in a real 'multi-voiced' way. I liked how Marcus showed numerous viewpoints and had a light touch about having to 'persuade' this reader that one of them was right. ( )
  allison.sivak | Jan 4, 2012 |
This book, as the title indicates, is a history of the Riot Grrrl movement from its roots to its influence that continues to drive many young women, women musicians, and women working within the DIY arena.

I have never read a book that is so absolutely relevant to my life, that tells MY story. But that is what this book does. It describes the movement, putting it into context, offering the confluence of many cultural conditions that came to bear on the formation of a small, disorganized group of artists, musicians, activists, students, and others which came to be called Riot Grrrl.

There are interviews with some of the main players of the riot grrrl movement, indie record label execs, zine writers, and many many more about their memories of the movement, lessons learned, shortcomings of the movement, positives that emerged, and so much more.

Marcus's writing voice is clear, articulate and never wrapped in complicated academic jargon. She is the perfect narrator, pulling everything together in a way that is not overly confusing nor interested in idolizing the figures involved. She writes not just the facts, but is able to extrapolate the meanings and messages behind the media's twisted and inaccurate portrait that spun the tiny movement much the same ways as the women's rights movement of the 1970s.

As I wrote, this book was specifically meaningful to me as someone who was peripherally involved in riot grrrl, writing zines, going to see bands, putting together DIY projects, and discovering a way to talk about the world I experienced it as a young woman coming of age in the 90s.

Will it be interesting to someone who was not involved? I have to say that if you have any interest in social movements, the history of underground music and printing, feminism, creativity, art, and what it takes to be a female musician, then yes, this book will interest you. ( )
1 vote superblue | Feb 18, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061806366, Paperback)

“For a Second Wave feminist like myself, Girls to the Front evokes wonderfully the way the generation after mine soaked up the promise and the punishment of feminist consciousness....A richly moving story.” —Village Voice writer Vivian Gornick

Girls to the Front is the epic, definitive history of the Riot Grrrl movement—the radical feminist punk uprising that exploded into the public eye in the 1990s, altering America’s gender landscape forever. Author Sara Marcus, a music and politics writer for Time Out New York, Slate.com, Pos, and Heeb magazine, interweaves research, interviews, and her own memories as a Riot Grrrl front-liner. Her passionate, sophisticated narrative brilliantly conveys the story of punk bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy—as well as successors like Sleater-Kinney, Partyline, and Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre—and their effect on today’s culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 20 Jun 2016 18:40:27 -0400)

A history of Riot Grrrl, a radical feminist movement that was started in the 1990s by young women who were fed up with sexism and harrassment and decided to make some noise.

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