Rock’n’roll heroines

<strong>Girls Like Us</strong>

Sheila Weller <em>Ebury Press, 592pp, £18.99</em>

Despite the sentimental overtones, Weller’s account of the lives of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon is a vital record of musicians who, for too long, have stood in the shadow of their male peers.

It is far from perfect. Though its many testimonials from “intimates” and contemporaries lend it an air of credibility, it also creates the impression of a writer gingerly passing the buck. At one point, she describes the liberation that women felt in 1967, when the “door” of empowerment was “springing open”. As if lacking confidence in her own assertions, she cites five corroborating lines from a memoir by Sara Davidson, who “covered the women’s movement for Life magazine”.

Such reliance on other voices makes her own attempts at grand statements seem jarring. Mitchell’s former husband, she writes, “was left with the stereotypically female task of extricating an autonomous self from the emotional mesh of a marriage dominated by her identity”. But Weller’s breezy revisionism is infectious, and she succeeds in looking beyond the gendered, “telescoped lens” of most rock writing. Her offering sheds valuable light on the lives of pop music’s marginalised heroines, who were “born into one female culture and changed it – year by year, song by song, risk by risk”.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

This article first appeared in the 12 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, 1968 The year that changed everything