What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy MetalThursday 29 Nov 2012
Publisher: Bazillion Points
In the wise yet seldom quoted words of the kid at the start of This Is Spinal Tap: "Heavy metal's deep; you can get stuff out of it." And so Canadian critic Laina Dawes sets out to prove with her debut, an eye-opener into what it's like to be an outsider in an outsider musical genre - double-takes when you arrive in the crowd for a show - and a reminder of how much others take for granted.
This is a brilliant, attention-grabbing idea for a book, but Dawes' approach doesn't get the best out of the subject matter. Reading more like a college project or thesis than the memoir the title suggests, much of the vibrancy and excitement implicit in her and others' stories is lost in lecture hall stuffiness and quotes from and references to other academic papers - it's not a companion for when you're blasting out your favourite record.
Given the amount of people whose experiences are documented here, Dawes should have expanded the title out to the plural, added rock and punk onto it (both feature prominently) and made each chapter an interview/conversation with a fan or performer - early days, highs and lows, biggest influences, the lot. While highlighting trailblazers like Joyce Kennedy from Mother's Finest and Sandra St Victor from The Family Stand, it's a pity that you don't get to hear from them in depth, and although the foreword by Skunk Anansie singer Skin is excellent, there also needed to be a lengthy two-way Q&A between herself and Dawes.
The shortcomings are frustrating, given the hard work and heartache that clearly went into this book, but Dawes deserves credit for getting the reader thinking, and, hopefully, talking.