Record collections and feminist politics

Dear musician friends, you can stop sending me articles about “My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection” now.   I finally checked out her Tumbler blog and after a few internal rants and a cup of morning coffee, I’m at a point where I can really think straight about this whole controversy.

I first started collecting records when I was around 9 years old.   My first album was “The Jackson’s 5 Greatest Hits” (the one with the punch out phImageoto in the picture frame). I would have started earlier except that my sisters had a handy collection of 1960s albums and 45s that I would borrow and listen to on our old console stereo system in the living room.    From that time forward, most of my allowance went to buying music in its many forms, but mostly vinyl.   Music was essential and I was obsessive in a way many of my friends weren’t.  I had subscriptions to Rolling Stone, Cream, Trouser Press and the local music scene paper The Aquarian.  I absorbed every fact and figure that could fit in my brain and then some.  Music was as natural as breathing, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

When my husband (another music freak) and I decided to move in together and move to California, there was no question about whether our large record collections were coming with us.  All told, we had over 2,000 pieces of vinyl, of which there was about 200 duplicates.   The number was pretty much evenly split between our collections and it showed an amazing diversity in tastes between us.   Over the span of two plus decades, we’ve grown to appreciate and even love some of the records that each other  brought to the marriage occasion.   There is more than one dinner table conversation that sounds like the verbal version of Pete Frame’s rock family trees.  Many of the family in jokes revolve around song lyrics.

For those who haven’t heard, “My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection” is a tumbler blog by Sarah O’Holla, in which she listens to an album in her husband Alex’s record collection and writes reviews.   The blog has received quite a bit of criticism for perpetuating the Pygmalion relationship of women being educated by men, most notably in Judy Berman’s piece in Flavorwire,

I read O’Holla’s blog and I will admit I’m rather conflicted.   In a sense, I can find the humor in having to live with a record aficionado and yes, we can be incredibly elitist about our music and our knowledge at times to the point of being obnoxious.  And reviewing records from a different perspective can be refreshing, especially from the emotional standpoint that O’Holla presents throughout her blog.

But the fact is that most of her fan base consists of men.   And I can conjecture that they are not finding these reviews enlightening, but in the words of one of the musicians (male) who linked me to the blog, that she’s “cute” in her trying to understand the complexities of vinyl music.  And therein lies my issues with her blog–its reinforcing that notions that music is man’s world and women’s opinions can only be considered cute and marginal at best.

In a recent post, she has written a response to all her critics and her response is well thought out and earnest.   But as I read through her blog, her usage of language (which as a writer and librarian I would imagine is purposeful), doesn’t quite back up her claims.   One example in her review of the first B-52’s album she writes:

This is their self titled album put out in 1979, and Alex told me that I should write “S/T” as the common nomenclature for self titled”

That was a huge red flag for me.  It brings up whole visions of Professor Higgins telling Eliza the “right” way to speak (or in this case “write”).

Reading through pages and pages of her blog, I had this voice screaming in my head “MY GOD, YOU’RE PUTTING WOMEN IN MUSIC JOURNALISM BACK TO THE DARK AGES!!”.   While her intentions (and humor) may have been in the right place,  even Karl Marx said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  And this is a hell that women who take music seriously and write about it have lived for decades.  For a good perspective on this I would recommend Tracey Moore’s article on the Jezebel site.

However.the problem is perhaps not with O’Holla’s blog but that so many male music lover’s have cited it as another point that music is a man’s world and like sports, they have to teach it to women.  Perhaps, our frustration really needs to be pointed to the men who find her blog “cute” and “adorable”.  But I can’t help to shake the feeling that O’Holla is not helping the cause by giving them more fuel for their fires.

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