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The Importance of Music to Girls is a quirky piece of work and at the outset it had me questioning the difference between autobiography and memoir – it’s billed as a memoir and from the definition below I would agree with that*.  It’s all about the writer’s feelings and her emotional response to growing up. She has a powerful concentrated way of writing which conjures up rich images in the mind so you have to keep stopping after a few pages.  Fortunately she writes in short chapters.  Here’s a taster from p.73

There are times when we need the rocket fuel of singing and dancing to power us through an act of blind faith.  Falling in love is one of those times when we need to move into a phase of enchantment with enough force that when things cool and the air clears, we are locked into that person, that love.

Nothing if not intense !

Her early musical memories are interspersed with anecdotes from a large close-knit family.  The passage about her mother’s singing brought a lump to my throat and I immediately wanted to retitle the book “The importance of singing to your child”.

Another highlight for me is the chapter on West Side Story (Chapter 8).  She gets first prize for the most lyrical description of an album cover ever and does a pretty good job of analysing why the score is so effective and how Bernstein achieved this.

I was also looking for the answer to what exactly is the influence of music on girls and here are some of her thoughts on this on p.84

If I had not kissed anyone, or danced with anyone, or had a reason to cry, the music made me feel as if I had gone through that anyway. Because the music was charged and we were no more singular than iron filings, no less easily moved as the music attracted and repelled, organised and disturbed  and then let us into the night clusters of emotion ready to dissolve…….

You can see she’s a poet – feelings as iron filings indeed !

There are probably hints of disappointment in this review and I have to confess I was looking for a cut and dried autobiography.  She has a much gentler impressionistic style than that.  Even when there are dramatic incidents such as her arrest – she doesn’t overhype them.  This does mean that the book loses momentum in places. However, if you’re interested in a 70’s coming of age saga with some analysis of punk rock for the non-expert this may well be for you.

Verdict : Meanders about a bit but could be insightful if you have a music-addicted daughter.

*In his own memoir, Palimpsest, Gore Vidal gave his own definitions of the two genres stating, “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.”

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