Book 42 of 52: The Importance of Music to Girls by Lavinia Greenlaw

I can’t believe I’m writing this post now. I just got home from the Ocean Drive 10 Miler, and I’m beat. But since I had matt pond PA in my head the whole time, I might as well give it a go.

The Importance of Music to Girlsis a story about growing up, and how music wound its way through Lavinia Greenlaw’s coming of age. She starts standing on her father’s shoes while he waltzed, and ends talking music with an ex while taking her baby daughter home from the hospital.

It’s a colorful journey, especially her escapades in disco and punk.

Disco: “The disco evening began with a whole other evening’s worth of getting ready. Three or four girls would congregate in someone’s bedroom and become hysterical. They milled about in a vortex of skirts, tops, shoes, tights, mascara, foundation, eyeliner, nail polish…The air was weighed down by our perfumes, which claimed to smell of melon or apple or peach. They were as ripe as we were…Makeup was all about the eyes, three shades plus liner, three coats of mascara. Hair was blown dry and tonged into flicks when lacquered to toughness with extra-hold hairspray that smelled like a bag of cheap sweets.”

Punk: “We traveled to London to buy synthetic, metallic, graphic that on the King’s Road, and to peer through the windows of Vivienne Westwood’s shop, Sex. In the spirit of appropriation, and do-it-yourself, I was constantly on the lookout for something that could be cut up, ripped apart, dyed, bleached, and pinned back together. I didn’t want to add up.”

Greenlaw is also a poet, which you can see in these descriptions. The only problem I had with the book is that it was very slow at the star. I get that memories from childhood could never be as vivid as the ones I typed above, but it’s too poetic and even stuffy. I thought I’d have to back out the review at first, but I pushed through, and was glad I did. I stayed up far too late last night finishing the book — that’s how different it is from start to end.

It also reminded me of book 29 of 50, Andy Merrifield’s The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World. His memoir was poetic, and didn’t travel in such a straight, crisp line. I didn’t know he was married until the end of the book, but it didn’t matter. That’s because he wasn’t just writing a “here is my life” memoir (which is what I’d call Trish Ryan’s, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, book 35 of 52), but a beautiful story. In the same way, it didn’t bother me so much that Greenlaw doesn’t tell us exactly why her father left her mother, or exactly what happened to her friend who attempted suicide. Neither book includes all the parts — just the ones that are the most vivid.

This connection between music and growing up is a great topic. If you turn to your memory right now and think about some crucial moment, there’s always some sort of music to go with it, right? What about every time you fell in love, had a crush or broke up with someone? There’s some song that is attached to it, and even if the event has long passed, hearing that song on the radio probably brings back the memory. The one that came to me last night was discovering Ari Hest. I had just gotten dumped by someone who I found out later used me as a rebound, and I was obviously upset. But a few nights later, I still drug myself to some sort of chi chi party designed to get women to buy designer jeans I could never afford. The shop gave us a goodie bag full of crap — a trucker hat, an out of fashion t-shirt…things like that. But they also tossed in a live Ari Hest EP. I’d never heard of the guy, but I put the CD on while in the parking lot (this was before my iPod ruled my music life). When I heard “A Fond Farewell,” I started crying. It hit that moment in my life so perfectly that I couldn’t even get out of the parking lot. Instead, I pulled away from the store, parked in another spot, put my head on the steering wheel and sobbed. This one’s a double whammy because I shared this EP with an acquaintance who then became a friend who then, years later, turned into the icky ex (and is the reason why I gag every time I hear the Goo Goo dolls). So I still get a shiver every time that Ari Hest song comes up on the iPod.

I’ve attached music to running, too, as do a lot of people judging on how many headphones I saw at the Ocean Drive Marathon/10 Miler today. I used to do the typical “upbeat” mix for running, but as my long runs passed four miles, the mixes didn’t work. I turned back to albums, which makes sense considering that’s what I write to — not a mix or a greatest hits, but albums. I listened to Guster‘s Portland: Live on Ice over 20 times in the month that I finished my book, so that album will always equal Jersey shore. I’ve been a fan of matt pond PA for some time, but I rediscovered his earlier album Emblems and cycled through that and Several Arrows Later on long runs leading up to today’s race. I thought about bringing my iPod along today, but I always get mixed up in the earbuds or iPod when I try running with it outside. I also wanted to talk to anyone willing to talk, and to enjoy the scenery as much as I could. Turns out I didn’t need the iPod after all: Emblems played in my head through most of the run, interrupted only once, and very rudely, but “The Good Ship Lollipop” at mile eight. I don’t know why, either.

I think I had more to say about this book — probably about when I stopped listening to top 40 and started getting into music. I even wrote part of this review in my head last night after I finished reading it, but the 10 miles drained my brain. So I’ll leave you with this picture, taken at the post-race part at La Costa in Sea Isle City, NJ.

I’ll post more about the run when I have the pictures my mom took, and my official time. But I know now that I’ll do a marathon. Not this one (too windy), but somewhere down the line, my “finisher” medal will be for 26.2 instead of 10.


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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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