20 Questions: Jessica Hopper

Jessica Hopper advises travelers, “Never mind the nuclear reactors in the distance, it’s heaven in the Midwest” – and other tips for PopMatters 20 Questions readers.

Author of the recently published The Girls' Guide to Rocking, music and culture critic Jessica Hopper walks the walk of someone who’s done hard time in the music industry; working as a tour manager, band publicist, DJ, touring bassist, Girls Rock Camp booster, and fanzine publisher before establishing herself as a writer of reputation. But she’s not resting on her laurels, yet. Touring for the book begins now. She advises her fellow travelers through life, “Never mind the nuclear reactors in the distance, it’s heaven in the Midwest”.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

So far, it’s been blockbuster trash this summer. Not a tear has been shed during the course of viewing T4 and its ilk.

The last book that made me choke up was Tony Hoagland’s poem, “Self Improvement” -- the lines:

Sometimes we are asked

to get good at something we have

no talent for,

or we excel at something we will never

have the opportunity to prove.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Casey Jr., the little train car that could from Dumbo. Have to go with cartoons, as the fiction I tend to read normally stars restless divorced new men of the ‘70s or murderous alcoholic trouble girls—neither are very “me”.

3. The greatest album, ever?

As a rock critic, this might be too tough to answer. Van Morrison’s His Band and the Street Choir, but you know, I skip a song or two on the B-side. The backing vocal for “Blue Money” makes me cringe.

Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation is always an indelible epic.

Book: The Girls' Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom

Author: Jessica Hopper

Publisher: Workman

Publication date: 2009-06

Length: 288 pages

Format: Paperback

Price: $13.95

Image: Star Trek or Star Wars?

I recently tried to watch Space Balls, the Mel Brooks Star Wars parody, and it’s almost unwatchable. Rick Moranis and Joan Rivers as the sassy C3P0-esque sidekick can’t redeem it. Just a warning.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Tracey Emin’s Twitter stream, essays and her art really inspire and make me want to make art.

The Bookworm radio show on KCRW is the only radio show that causes me to take notes and listen to certain episodes over and over. The host Michael Silverblatt is an impossibly astute reader.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I made a book that is genuinely useful to young women who love music -- and their parents who are interested in how to best soundproof their basement practice space.

Being in a band, making music and touring is the most fun I’ve ever had, I am grateful for the privilege to be able to share that with teenage ladies.

7. You want to be remembered for...?

Breaking up The Beatles.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Ellen Willis, though to say I work in the same tradition is to sully her work. But she was the great feminist rock critic, she spoke the truth. I almost can’t read her, she just makes me feel so inspired that reading her work makes me think I need to really step it up.

Terri Sutton, who was a huge influence on me as a teenager. She was the music critic at Minneapolis City Pages, and save for how much she loved Ween, her work is faultless.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

John McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers. To be able to report about shipping, boats, trains and frozen lobsters -- and have it just be poetry. I’d break the law for that kind of talent.

10. Your hidden talents...?

I give a mean haircut. I cut hair for many of my friends on a regular basis.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

“Don’t waste your pretty years on a man like that.” Told to me by my mom in regards to a particularly loathsome boyfriend I once had.

Also, “Don’t trust a boy that calls you after midnight.” Same.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I heisted a five-LP 25 Years of Motown set from the Minneapolis Public Library in 5th grade, which was really, really terrible of me, but it sparked my obsession with music in a major way. I wanted to be in the Surpremes and be able to wear opera gloves with my outfits, I thought that was the cool part of being a glamorous lady in a singing group. I didn’t know about Patti Smith, yet.

Image (partial) found on eBay

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

An ancient, sleeveless Sub Pop Loser t-shirt I dumpstered from my neighbors trash.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Wyatt, my cat. He’s never been outside -- taking him to a nice dinner, showing him off, I think would make for a nice time.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Central Indiana, 1950 or so. I could hang out with my grandma when she was alive and my same age.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

The furthest East beach in Dunes State Park, Hammond, Indiana, is really the only choice. Never mind the nuclear reactors in the distance, it’s heaven in the Midwest.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?

I don’t drink or smoke or eat much candy. My vices aren’t vices, unless we count Tylenol, on which I regularly depend.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Chicago is gross and broken and dirty and the municipal government makes me want to hang my head in shame, but it’s the only place I really feel is home.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

‘Bout time.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

A story about going to Cornerstone, the Christian music festival, with David Bazan, an agnostic singer-songwriter, for the Chicago Reader, which runs later this month.





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