Rock Chicks: Women in Music in the 60’s and 70’s

The memoir has had a resurgence in the past 20 years or so, and women have been a large part of that. With the publication and popularity of The Only Girl by Robin Green, I thought I'd take a look at memoirs written by women who were in and near the music industry in the 1960's and 70's.

In The Only Girl, Robin Green writes about her time on the masthead of Rolling Stone when job interviews could consist of asking one's astrological sign and the magazine was the lifeblood of American youth. She's got some wild stories to tell, including how Hunter S. Thompson consistently out-machoed Joe Eszterhas and tales of a strung-out Dennis Hopper. Green also talks about her life afterward, which was often difficult, but eventually led to a writing gig on Northern Exposure and changing television permanently by writing the first 5 seasons of The Sopranos. Green is honest about the fact that she wasn't always a saint, especially to her parents, but the end result is a revealing and sympathetic picture of the Age of Aquarius. 

While Robin Green lit out for San Francisco to make her fortune, Patti Smith went to scrappy New York and bonded with Robert Mapplethorpe, and she eulogizes both in Just Kids. Dirt poor but knowing all the best people (William Burroughs, Sam Shepard, and Alan Ginsberg among them), it doesn't take long before they both become recognized for their unique gifts and perspectives. Smith writes beautifully about both the Beats and the hippies she knew, as well as those who would follow. Smith also writes of her later relationship with Mapplethorpe, to whom she was devoted until his death in 1989 of AIDS. Smith's ability as a poet comes through in this lyrical reminiscence.

Grace Jones is an example of life as art, and now a book, I'll Never Write My Memoirs. Leaving Jamaica and a strict, religious upbringing, Jones eventually ends up in New York as a model. Frustrated by her lack of success as a traditional singer, she turns to the nascent disco scene and the rest, as they say, is history. Jones has some juicy stories about Andy Warhol and Keith Haring (though not necessarily while both men were in the same room). Jones also has plenty to say about being an artist, a woman of color, and a lesbian. While some of her recollections may be a bit foggy (everyone was living better through chemistry in those days, after all), this is on the whole an entertaining book.

While not a musician herself, Pattie Boyd certainly has an insight into musical personalities, as displayed in Wonderful Tonight. Boyd started as a model and was considered the epitome of British fashion. She was also the wife of both George Harrison and Eric Clapton, and whether going on tour or playing hostess, she had a front-row seat to the music scene of the 60's and 70's. This was not without heartache, of course: neither Harrison nor Clapton disdained the ladies. However, Boyd did get some good songs written about her, and we have this memoir.

Dorothy Carvello has spent a lifetime in the music business, and sets the record (no pun intended) straight in Anything for A Hit. Starting out as the secretary to the founder of Atlantic Records, Carvello proved she could run with the big boys as an A&R executive, though she never broke through the glass ceiling to the corner office. She has plenty of hair-raising tales of both her boss and musical acts that prove the necessity of the #MeToo movement. That said, experiences are either good times or good stories, and Carvello has plenty of good stories that should serve as cautionary tales to young women entering the entertainment industry. 

Have more memoirs of the female side of the 1960's and 70's? Tell us in the comments.