Jessica Hopper is a minor deity among punk feminists of no particular age. She is perhaps most beloved for her 2009 how-to The Girls’ Guide to Rocking: How to Start a Band, Book Gigs, and Get Rolling to Rock Stardom (Workman, 2009) which launched a million tweens on their journey toward self-esteem and perhaps some measure of eventual commercial success. Or you may have heard of her 2015 greatest hits round-up of two decades’ worth of legendarily superior criticism, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (Featherproof, 2015). The title alone pretty well gives you a sense of her sense of humor—and how sharp she keeps its edge. Night Moves, titled after the Bob Seger classic, is Hopper’s memoir of the early aughts when she was in her late 20s. Seger is from Detroit and Hopper is serving a portrait of Chicago, but the vibe is still a perfect fit.
And Night Moves is really all about vibe: “To love this city, I attest, you must also hate it dispassionately” (118). Hopper is indeed in thrall to Chicago, but to a version of it that pretty much no longer exists except in tiny pockets here and there. The things she hates—with the dispassion of a thousand punk rock suns—are still there and growing in influence. She catalogs a time when Wicker Park was on the verge of gentrification, as the dive bars went down in the shadow of new condo developments and the punks were pushed sideways by rich bro culture. These are common problems across America’s major metro areas, and Hopper’s attention to them nods to their general stereotype while simultaneously offering a specifically Chicagoan portrayal of their effects. She preaches with adjectives more than arguments, letting the reader’s laughter do the thinking.
Confession: From the scene of Hopper’s charming crimes, if you take Milwaukee Avenue north for about 20 minutes, you’ll come to the house I grew up in. Hopper is four years older than me, but we frequented the same bookstore and shopped at the same thrift stores. We both got around by bicycle and attended the same type of underground music happenings. Reading Night Moves, there were many moments when I felt like Hopper was telling my life story, or describing a party that was one block over from the party I was at. So I will confirm that her social commentary—for its diction and syntax as much as the content of its lampooning of sell-outs—is extremely Chicagoan.
But is it universally relatable? I’m too close to its subject to really know for sure, but I suspect that it is. Still, let’s go further and say: doesn’t matter. It’s an impressionistic painting of a very particular scene where the stuff actually happening may be vague but the feelings that pop up are intensely clear. With its minimalist descriptions and deadpan delivery, Night Moves is about our comrades in arms who, as Seger sings, just don’t seem to have as much to lose. These are kids, post-grad and post parental oversight, who are still pre-career and perched atop the essential question of how much longer they can go on like this. Like this: no car, some coke, making zines and comics, on the list to get in for free. Eventually some of them will have a baby or win a salary. They will give up on the idea of being a professional DJ. Others will keep having vegan potlucks on New Year’s Eve and avoiding the door guy they never should’ve made out with. Those others are the ones making the night moves.
Hopper herself has been making highly respectable daytime moves for a good long while now. After working in publicity and managing bands, she eventually became a full time writer with gigs that included senior editorial positions at Pitchfork and MTV. These pages from her diary demonstrate the astuteness of a hungry girl, someone who always knew she could level up—and eventually did, without having to sacrifice any of her attitude. It’s her blunt wit, spiked with hilarious rhetorical questions, that has carried her to where she is. Where she is: not considered a sell-out by her peers of this time period, despite how good she looks on paper now and the fact that she surpassed most of them long ago.
It’s a million miles away from the time she saw that guy peeing into a duct on the roof across the street. It’s a thousand times preferable to that morning she locked herself out of her apartment by looking for the cat in the hallway. It’s a hundred ways superior to those idiots she had to stand next to outside in the freezing cold just to smoke a cigarette at the show. Night Moves is a dozen thorny roses for the city that keeps blowing it windy-ness beneath Hopper’s darkly comic wings. And Hopper, in this work as in all her others, is one fiercely rock ‘n’ roll creature. Confession: she’s my benchmark for aging gracefully. Fortunately, how she does it isn’t a secret: “Living in a city of drunk jocks will keep you punk forever” (144).