“When rock was young, in the 1950s, it was swarms of young girls in the audience that first registered the impact of those songs, artist, and records, and made for cheerfully unruly live shows,” music journalist Ellen Sander wrote in the preface of her seminal, first-hand account of rock’s heyday, titled Trips: Rock Life in the Sixties. She continued, “Most of the hits were lovelorn songs about or addressed to the girls. Girls were the reason for rock ’n’ roll.”
And yet, when it comes to said “girls,” we can still count prominent female rock writers on one hand, rarely giving them the same credentials as their male counterparts. However, those female raconteurs have always stood near or at the center of rock movements, often times as the initial generators of that thing we call buzz.
For Sander, it was writing about uninhibited studio time with Mick Jagger, judgment-free chats with Chicago’s controversial Plaster Casters, and a dream tour journal turned nightmare with a little band called Led Zeppelin.
For the “girl” rock bloggers reporting on post-punk revival bands in the early aughts, it was seeing The Killers play their first New York City show, sharing their thoughts on a then-unknown local band called The Strokes, and giving the rest of the country front row access to the tiny sweaty shows taking place on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
I wasn’t aware of the widespread impact these bloggers had until I read Lizzy Goodman’s oral history of a swelling post-9/11 New York rock scene, an intensive impressive interview endeavor with the journalists, musicians, and connoisseurs of that era, culminating in a behemoth of a book called Meet Me In The Bathroom.
It was the chapter “I Like This Internet Thing” that sparked my resonation with these women, first because, as rock critic Robert Sheffield said early on in the section, “There was absolutely no way to bullshit these girls. They had zero incentive to pretend to like a band they didn’t like.” And second, because the narrative of music until that point had been written by men but, with the advent of the internet, the doors of the boys club swung open and some of the most influential stories of that period were told by young women.
“The original intention for the blog was to share it with friends, to be like, ‘Hey this is what I’m doing,’ not, ‘Hey people around the world, these are my deep thoughts about the show I just went to’ or ‘This is how The Strokes play into the grand scheme of music history,” said Laura Young, the blogger behind the White Stripes- and Strokes-focused blog The Modern Age. “It was more of an immediate sharing of what was going on and how excited I was to be a part of it.”
Despite Young’s intention to share without making a huge statement about the significance of her life or the bands who soundtracked it, the internet had other plans. Her words stumbled from the tiny venues of the East Village and made their way to tiny towns all over the nation and eventually across the pond to publications like NME, who took Young’s stream-of-consciousness 4 a.m. post-gig thoughts, rearranged them, and published them in print. Each of the other bloggers I interviewed pointed to The Modern Age as the spark that ignited their interest in blogging.
“The world of that music blogging space, especially in New York, was a pretty small community,” Young shared. “Basically, everybody knew each other. We were all going to the same shows. When I look back, I probably didn’t feel it at the time, but it was sort of an exciting and special time in my life, this thing that we were doing that we didn’t even realize we were doing.”
Young, (who still knows her way around a blog, this time on the ins and outs of life in Denver), also brought something to my attention that I’d seen as an afterthought at first, the fact that most of the “girl” rock bloggers I was interviewing were no longer involved in the music industry.
“It was maybe a perspective that historically didn’t get much play or you know, people like us might not have normally been published in that way. I mean, when you look at the history of music journalism and the music industry in general, I think most people would probably say it’s a male-dominated industry,” Young acknowledged. “I would say more of the men who were in that space are still in the industry or have parlayed that experience into something they’ve done as a career as opposed to the women. Me personally, I don’t do anything with music, and I know that Audrey doesn’t, and Giulia doesn’t. She’s a writer, but she doesn’t write about music.”
No permission to ask for either. In many ways, blogging and social media are one of the best things to happen to women in terms of bringing down barriers to self-expression and opinion sharing.
Like Young mentioned, Giulia Pines has made a career writing stories for publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic, but before all that, she was running around the East Village while also running a blog called New York Doll.
“People showed me the movie Almost Famous and they were like, ‘Penny Lane is you,’ and I was like, ‘No, Penny Lane is me crossed with [William Miller], kind of a composite of both, I’m doing both at the same time,’” said Pines, who was still in high school when she escaped her less-than-friendly peers and found a new home among the bands and bloggers of the lower east side. “I read those blogs and sure, I wasn’t in the midwest reading them from afar, but I was an uptown girl reading them in high school, and instead of being like, ‘Oh that must be a cool life I wish I had that,’ I simply got on the subway and dived right in.”
She thanks those early days of blogging for introducing her to her career, but she remembers the relationships, not the music, that had a magnetic effect.
“A friend of mine made a playlist to accompany Meet Me in The Bathroom just sort of unofficially, but it has pretty much all the best songs from all the best bands,” Pines recalled. “And I’ve been listening to it a lot lately after those concerts and realizing just how good some of them were. But I don’t think that’s what kept us coming back. I really think it was the sense of community. It certainly was for me.”
Audrey Neustadter, who ran the Serge Gainsbourg epithet influenced Melody Nelson blog didn’t think of herself as a writer, let alone a journalist. Unlike Pines, who found herself writing a music column for an international publication fresh out of high school, and Young contributing stories to multiple magazines, Neustadter saw herself as more of a tastemaker.
“I feel like if it were to transfer that into today it would be like being an Instagram influencer without being sponsored, you know? I never considered myself a writer or a critic and I wasn’t even a good writer,” Neustadter reflected. “When I read my entries back now, I’m like, oh this is awful. But what I was doing was just telling people what I liked and influencing them.” Neustadter, pulled in by the way Young was writing without permission or invitation, decided to make a space for herself on the internet as well, but for her, it wasn’t the blogging, but the opportunities that came out of it. She parlayed her industry knowledge into managing a band, djing, and pulling together showcases.
“I was, and still am, a record collector, and I loved new music at the time. I wasn’t the best writer but I thought I was a pretty good Dj. I was a good curator of music. Music has always been my lifeline, but, I discovered that I wasn’t going to make a career out of it, it just phased out,” Neustadter shared.
She went in a new direction, going to Parsons and studying Fashion, then establishing a career as a designer and stylist. I asked if she felt that the challenges of being a woman in the music industry had anything to do with her decision to change career paths. “In terms of nightlife, [it was] for sure dominated by men. When I started booking bands to do my showcases, I partnered with a guy because who knew if people were going to take me seriously? I felt it wasn’t very encouraging for women to go into the music space, but then there were also so many great people that I looked up to at the time who were women,” Neustadter said.
Despite deciding to focus on fashion instead of music, Neustadter still thinks the internet boom had a positive impact on the way women share stories.
“One thing that I think happened with the internet and social media is that women, female writers, and fans, didn’t need to go through the doors and layers of traditional journalism or other platforms to share their opinions,” Neustadter shared. “No permission to ask for either. In many ways, blogging and social media are one of the best things to happen to women in terms of bringing down barriers to self-expression and opinion sharing.”
Another thing Neustadter mentioned was the notable difference in strategy behind the blogs ran by women in comparison to those ran by men in that era: “My blog was pretty small, but then, you know, there was Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan. Those two I think reached way more people than mine ever reached, and they were led by men and they were designed in a way of a magazine. They’re still around and they’re still relevant. I mean, to their credit, they probably had more of an entrepreneurial spirit to them, which I don’t think I did at the time.”
What the internet now reflects, for better or worse, seems to be tied into what made purveyors of those early aught blogs ran by female fans stand out.
Young shared a similar sentiment, recalling the way she believed women approached the internet differently than men at the time: “For whatever reason people who were female were just sort of thinking of it as something fun to do and like sort of a hobby as opposed to something you could actually make money off of or be taken seriously for doing. Maybe that was a byproduct of how women were historically treated in the industry and what women think about themselves in terms of being gatekeepers and storytellers.” She also acknowledged that wasn’t a blanket case for every female writer, noting, “I think Sarah [Lewitinn] had sort of a different thing going on because she already had a job at Spin so that was a bit of [a] different circumstance.”
“Magazines didn’t take us seriously. I was working at Spin and they were like, ‘Oh, you’re doing your blog? Like, OK, whatever.’ Then they started being like, ‘Can you start writing in the magazine like you write in your blog?’ I was free on my blog to write whatever I wanted and to use whatever voice I wanted, and I didn’t feel like I could have that freedom in the magazine. And they’re like, no, no, no, that’s what we want. No one cared about the internet then. And I think for the most part we just didn’t really think anyone was looking except for us. So it gave us a lot of freedom to just be who we wanted,” Sarah Lewitinn, who also answers to Ultragrrrl, and is still very much involved in the industry — currently as the Music Director for the fashion brand, Aritizia — shared when I asked her about her foray into blogging. She had already put in time at Vh1, among other music industry giants when the lead singer of Stellastarr, one of the bands she was managing, introduced her to blogging. “He’s like, ‘You gotta check out this girl, her name’s Laura she has this blog called The Modern Age and she’s going to all these shows and she’s writing about all these bands and I really want to get on her radar.’”
Lewitinn’s aptly titled “Sarah is So Boring Ever Since She Stopped Drinking” blog was started as a way to automate the updates her family was requesting of her new sober lifestyle. “I thought it’d be a fun way to do it where I could write about what it’s like to go see shows sober and I was writing about the bands that I was seeing and it evolved from there. There was no intention for it to be anything other than something for my friends and family to see.”
Lewitinn remembers it being a time when people traded in their birth names for URLs, and everyone messaged each other before spending nearly every night hopping between two or three shows, regardless of being a girl or boy blogger. “I don’t think there was much of a difference, especially in the blogger community. We were very, very equal. I think I benefited from having the largest platform of everyone because I was a writer for Spin and I was like a public persona because of that. There [were] no guys in that realm that were as successful as I was in terms of that. So, maybe my POV is a little bit distorted, but I don’t feel like there was a distinction between girls and guys necessarily.”
I also asked her what she thought the biggest distinction was between the way we read about, disseminate, and articulate music then and now. “I have it. I know it. It’s the gatekeeper. Basically before, there was like a very limited amount of gatekeepers. You had MTV, you had the radio, you had the music magazine and then that was basically it. Then, bloggers started to come up and so there were a couple of blogs here and there and then those were the gatekeepers in addition to the magazines. Now, everyone’s a fucking gatekeeper. There’s no gate. It’s just a rush it’s like a flood. And so there’s no opportunity to figure out and sift through everything and find out what’s good and what’s bad. Plus, we’re not given time to sit with anything anymore. Once upon a time we could get a Radiohead album and sit with it for three months before we had to write about it or a month before we had to write about it. Now we have three hours and you have to post about it, if that. One listen and now you have to fucking post about it. Then you have to post about the next thing and the next thing. I can’t keep up. It’s impossible. There’s just no room to breathe. There’s that concept of the pregnant pause, there’s no such thing as a pregnant pause any more, it’s just everything out there.”
So yes, the immediacy of the internet has eliminated the savory element of new music but, as Pines shared with me when I asked her how she thought those bygone days impacted now, it’s also made space for more widely received esprit. “I think in general over the last 10 to 15 years there has been a shift in cultural criticism away from a sort of stuffy, overly educated, and dare I say white male way of writing to a space that allows for enthusiasm over a perfect grasp of the material,” Pines said.
What the internet now reflects, for better or worse, seems to be tied into what made purveyors of those early aught blogs ran by female fans stand out. Not shying away from the enthusiasm that made them want to write about music in the first place, because, as Sander also shared in ‘Trips’ while giving advice for those brave enough to jump into the world of writing about music, “Pop culture is fiercely and intimately beloved by its aficionados. It deserves to be written about with imagination and devotion, ardency, and yearning.”