Amy Raphael is a writer and journalist who has worked at The Face, ELLE, Esquire, NME, Spin, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Rolling Stone and many more. Her first book, Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock is a collection of interviews with some of the biggest women in music, including Courtney Love, Kim Gordon, Kim Deal, Bjork and others. She has also written books about, and with, Mike Leigh and Danny Boyle.
We got together to chat women in music, media hypocrisy and the art of interviewing.
What compelled you to write Never Mind the Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock? Did you feel female musicians were under- or misrepresented, and in what ways?
Back in the early to mid-90s it was relatively rare for a female musician to make the cover of the NME. Back then the music press was far more powerful - this was pretty much pre-blogging - and I personally felt that women were both under- and misrepresented. Not always, but often. I felt the time was right to offer a group of female musicians the chance to be heard as they wanted to be heard. Thus. each chapter is in the first person and each artist had copy approval. This wasn’t always easy. Huggy Bear fussed forever about the content of their chapter while Courtney Love would FedEx her copy back reeking of cigarettes and edited with red lipstick.
I know this wasn’t a question, but I’d like to add that this was my first book; I was young, I made mistakes. I didn’t think, for example, of mentioning the women I’d approached who turned me down - Chrissie Hynde and PJ Harvey, to mention just two fantastic musicians. They didn’t think it was right to be pigeon-holed in a “women in rock” book. They had a point, but I still felt that women weren’t properly heard and that was ample justification for me.
In Never Mind the Bollocks you interviewed an array of different female performers. Were there any experiences or feelings they all shared about being a woman in the music industry?
I’d say that most felt misheard, frustrated, stereotyped. Some felt like interlopers in a male world. Others didn’t give a damn and just got on with it. I suppose the women had to be strong to make it in what was - and still is - a very male world, so there had to be an element of ‘fuck you’.
Many female performers (like Courtney Love, who you interviewed, and Amy Winehouse), have had well documented struggles with drugs and mental health issues. Do you feel that male performers in the same position are treated differently?
Yes. Absolutely. Just look at the Nigella Lawson witch hunt that is taking place right now. I don’t think that men who take drugs - apart from perhaps Pete Doherty - are even thought to have mental health issues. They’re just rock and rollers. Look no further than the brothers Gallagher.
You’ve worked on books with Mike Leigh and Danny Boyle. How do you get a meaningful connection with your subjects?
I wouldn’t work on a book with someone whose work I didn’t greatly respect so I suppose innate enthusiasm for their oeuvre is vital. Directors such as Leigh and Boyle don’t have time to waste and don’t suffer fools gladly, so my research is forensic and my knowledge of their films intimate. I’m never sycophantic nor am I afraid to challenge.
What draws you to writing with, or about, particular people?
As I said, I have to like their work. It sounds obvious, but it’s so important. You don’t have to be a fangirl - that wouldn’t work either - but you have to have a visceral response to their film, music, art.
Who, in an ideal world, would you most like to work with or interview?
For a long time I wanted to a do a book with Tarantino. Now I’d like to work with a woman as I keep ending up with men.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working with David Hare and Richard Hawley on their respective memoirs. Which is exactly why I’d like to work with a woman!
Thanks so much to Amy for this great interview. You can buy her books here:
You can also read Amy’s recent work on her website.
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