Not Just Tits In A Corset (Book Review)
Released: 2014, Indie
I had enormous amount of anticipation for this book. I have championed women in Metal for years, playing bands on my radio show, hosting an International Women’s Day Roundtable, worked with and for women in various industry capacities in promotion, media and more, as well as doing interviews with industry people. I knew it was just a matter of time before someone wrote a book about Women in Metal. Jill Hughes Kirtland was done just that. I’m glad she was fist and I emphasize ‘she’ because I had predicted (incorrectly) that the first true book about women in Metal would be perhaps a dry, academic text written by a male.
I’ll state my bias up front. When it comes to music, I’m a live and let die kind of guy. I don’t support bands with women in them ‘just because’ they have a female member or members. Conversely, I won’t reject any band ‘just because’ they have a female member or members. There are some of bands that I consider total crap in this book and others I’ve enjoyed and supported for decades. I’ve got some criticism from people because I’ve always felt gender is completely irrelevant when it comes to the creation of music. If you sit and listen to a piece of music on headphones (or read some sheet music) with no information about that music, it is physically impossible to tell who (age, race, religion, gender) composed or performed that music. Some people have interpreted my ambivalence towards gender issues in Metal as an attack on women but I’ve always felt music trumps all. I also feel political issues, religion, sexuality and gender issues have no place in Metal. However, this review is not a platform for my opinions on larger issues. With apologies to Laina Dawes, I’ve made the mistake of adding my own commentary into a book review, where ultimately it was not relevant to the actual book. I wanted to express my neutrality on gender issues in Metal before getting into the review. I also realize the mild hypocrisy of saying a review should not be a platform for my opinion and then doing just that but I made my comments as pre-emptive defense to protect myself from accusations from the liberal left and PC Police.
For the record, I was offered a free copy of this book to review but instead I choose to order it and paid full price so I could support the work of the author. In an odd and semi-related note, I received this book in the mail, the very same day that Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy (one of the more well-known female singers in Metal) announced her retirement and that her replacement is to be Alissa of Kamelot fame and her own Canadian band, The Agonist. It is an incredible opportunity for the young and talented singer. Of course both Alissa and Angela are in the book as well.
NOT JUST TITS IN A CORSET is a gorgeous coffee table book available in both hard cover with dust jacket and soft-cover. I picked up the hard cover it adds a touch of sophistication for a coffee table book. The front cover is a bit dull, and the performer on the front is not formally identified. I spoke with the author and she made the cover deliberately vague and chose not to identify the person on the front, choosing to let the image stand for all women in metal. That is actually a very clever idea and fans of the performer will know who she is. For the record I could not immediately identify the performer, but my first guess was correct.
The book is on the short side with only 134 pages but it is printed on nice thick, glossy paper. Doro Pesch pens a heartfelt and sincere foreword and offers up her new song (as of the time of writing) ‘Strong And Proud’ as a lyrical testament to the Women of Metal, basically a sister song to ‘Celebrate’ from FEAR NO EVIL. Hopefully the new song will be on her new album. Jill writes a nice Preface explaining her background, motives and inspiration for the book. It is perhaps unfortunately no surprise that she has experienced ignorance and/or even discrimination in her professional career (and as a fan) and that helped fuel her desire to write this book. They say, 'living well is the best revenge' and I’m glad she took that impetus to move forward in a positive way and produce this fine work.
There was an interesting pie-chart representation of a Facebook poll that was conducted in relation to the book and the question was ,’Who is the Queen Of Metal’. I was absolutely shocked that Lee Aaron was not even on the list. She has widely regarded as the Metal Queen for decades and yet she didn’t even make the cut which made me question it; not necessarily the validity of the poll but the demographic of the voters. No statistics were included about the poll. As expected Doro came in first followed closely by Tarja, which was a surprise considering how many people think that Nightwish are not ‘Metal’, but also unsurprisingly because she is likely one of the most famous Metal female artists, despite the fact she has not been in Nightwish for almost a decade and has not done a Metal album since getting fired back in 2005.
In her Preface Jill thanked and named the contributors of her indiegogo fundraising campaign. Out of curiosity I tallied the names and to the best of my knowledge there ratio of male to female donors was 62% (male) to 38% (female). To me this adds a bit of validity that this is not just a book by a girl, about girls, for girls, it had grassroots, Metal community support from the beginning. Jill also very wisely avoided over-politicizing the book. In the preface she said, “You may find some underlying feminist narrative here, but really my point is to celebrate the women who have worked as hard as I have to prove they belong in the ‘boys club’ of Metal music.” This is a strong statement of intent and she succeeds admirably. The tone of entire book was neutral, inclusive, positive and celebratory and she wisely avoids feminist rhetoric.
The book is broken down into eight chapters. There is a running narrative from Jill but in reality the bulk of the text is compromised of quotes conducted primarily by Jill during her research for the book. This is actually a clever move, to provide an uncensored platform in a nice format for the women themselves to speak. The book starts with a brief but comprehensive overview of the history of Women on Metal hitting almost all the major points. There are many full-colour photos scattered through the book bring the text alive. There were many positives in the book. Jill did not just interview big name artists and signers. She really dug deep into the underground and talked to many artists. She also had a nice Canadian focus as well including shots and quotes from members of bands such as Blackguard, Kobra And The Lotus, The Agonist and more. One section I found especially interesting was Chapter VI-In The Trenches, namely interviews with industry people. I liked this as an industry person, I’ve talked and worked with many women from ‘behind the scenes’, (the sub-title of the chapter) and I believe they really do form the backbone of much of the industry. Jill covers all genres from Glam Metal to Death Metal with equal enthusiasm. There was a bit more emphasis on gothic, symphonic bands (Nightwish, Xandria etc) because of their widespread popularity but that is fine because I love all those bands as well.
The book was not without problems, there were a number of technical mistakes that could have been avoided with more judicious editing. As comprehensive as it was, there are some huge gaps. Major early and innovative artists like the Great Kat, Lee Aaron, Sabine Edelsbacher (Edenbridge) Kimberly Goss (Sinergy, Children Of Bodom, Dimmu Borgir) Claudia Mari Mokri (Therion, Celtic Frost), Lillith (Soulgrind, Lullacruy), Sarah Deva Jezebel (Cradle Of Filth) and Dana Duffey were all conspicuously absent. These are not obscure acts either; these are all major artists. I’m sure the author tried to secure interviews and could not but these women should have at least had an honourable mention. In her defense she says, “You will not find everyone included in this book”, that would be an very difficult task, and perhaps better suited for a book that is a traditional Encyclopedia of Women in Metal.
It would have been good to perhaps interview the people behind the two big Metal websites focused on women in metal; Metaladies.com and Femalemetal.com. I would have liked to see Cherie from Metalphoto interviewed as well as the first female metal photographer to publish a book. Of course in the academic world, Deena Weinstein, Sarah Kitteringham and Laina Dawes would have been valuable contributors. There were some pretty big gaps and omissions but that always leaves room for Part II or an expanded edition down the road. I would have liked some more technical analysis of scenes or movements. For example why are there so many big bands in the gothic, symphonic vein from the Netherlands, such as After Forever, Epica, Imperia, Nemesea, Orphanage, The Gathering, Revamp, and Within Temptation. Coincidence? Something in the water? What do the artists feel? That innovative and influential scene needed some more analysis.
At a short length, there was room to add more bands and maybe focus on acts from beyond Europe and look at interesting acts from Japan like the all female grind-act Yellow Machinegun, or the all-female thrash act Nervosa from Brazil or rising Brazilian super-star Daisa Munhoz. (Soulspell, Signum Regis, Vandroya) I would expect that these women would have even more interesting insight into being women in metal from societies that are more conservative (and less socially progressive) than much of Europe. The number of women included far outweighs the number not included and I was delighted to see pictures or quotes from people like Iris from Neverland, and the criminally under-rated Lana Lane, one of the most prolific Prog-Metal artists of all time.
In her Preface Jill says, “Hopefully, someday a book like this will be irrelevant and we won’t even think about ‘women in metal’… I am already at that point in my thinking and have been for years as evidenced by my preamble to this review. This book, just for me, didn’t contain an enormous amount of technical information that I didn’t already know but nevertheless, NOT JUST TITS IN A CORSET is incredibly informative and entertaining.
Unfortunately, there are many examples in this book of people who do not share the sentiment that women are equal and belong, as evidenced by the stories of female artists about their treatment and how other perceive them in an admittedly conservative environment. Overall, from a broader perspective to all readers in the music book market, I think this book will be enlightening and educational for many fans of metal as well as a definitive document about ‘women in metal’. All gender issues aside, NOT JUST TITS IN A CORSET is a fantastic work and should stand ‘strong and proud’ on your bookshelf.