Volpert describes herself as “a theory junkie who cannot resist rock ‘n’ roll”, which, as a fan of both theory and music, drew me immediately. She is also a high school English teacher and political activist, and her latest book demonstrates amply all the rich facets of her life and interests.
Boss Broad is a glorious mishmash of memoir, cultural commentary, poems based on Springsteen’s lyrics, reviews of Springsteen biographies, politics, religion/spirituality (“Rock and roll shows are the only place that I feel church with any consistency”), being a Clinton supporter, being an honorary Southerner, surviving Hurricane Katrina, to name but a few.
Discussing Alina Simone’s book Madonnaland, Volpert writes: “Simone will give you an education, just not really about Madonna”. One could say the same of Volpert’s book: we learn a lot, but not necessary about Bruce Springsteen. Which is no bad thing for someone like me who isn’t a fan of the Boss and doesn’t know his music beyond the obvious hits.
Volpert writes, “As a critic, my main job is to convey a clear sense of what is at stake with any particular art object by delivering a fully formed opinion about it to readers who have yet to encounter the object themselves. As a process, criticism gets more complicated when the object of this opinion is a book that itself treats another separate art object. This type of criticism can spawn a stream of tangents for one to follow ad infinitum. The tricky bit is knowing which rabbit holes are worth pursuing and then how deep to fall down into them before they bottom out.”
There are plenty of rabbit holes to fall down in this compilation of mini-essays: book reviews and gig reviews, some of which have been published before. Volpert is a smart and articulate reviewer and I enjoyed reading what she had to say about anything she turned her attention to, despite the lack of overall coherence or purpose and a rather scatter gun approach to structure. But she is a fair critic and draws on a solid, well-informed intellect. She writes with great clarity and intelligence and is never less than engaging, yet overall the book did not cohere for me. It’s structured around eight chapters (or ‘Devotionals’) and the Springsteen poetic rewrites (or ‘Hymnals’), but there doesn’t appear to be any particular reasoning or thematic logic to that structure.
The text swerves at will between engagements with cultural artefacts and events and autobiographical segments. The poems are scattered throughout. I’m not familiar with the original songs on which these ‘translations’ are based. Volpert explains that she chose Springsteen songs which are directly addressed to a woman and I like the concept very much. I think the results of the experiment may work better as songs and I kept wanting to hear them sung rather than read them. Volpert is also a guitarist so perhaps that is a project in the pipeline. I hope so, because this queering of the Boss could make for very interesting listening. “Everybody does covers”, she writes, “they’re a form of worship and also of generational knowledge transmission.”
On vivid display throughout is Volpert’s trademark punk rock aesthetic of blending of high/low cultures; or stubbornly refusing to see the difference: from Susan Sontag to Cheap Trick, Albert Camus to Kurt Cobain, Roland Barthes to Stephen Colbert. Beautifully and brutally honest throughout, there’s little to find fault with in this unruly collection of queer musings.
I came away with so many recommendations of reading and listening material that I can recommend it on that score alone.
MEGAN VOLPERT is the author of four books published by Sibling Rivalry Press: Sonics in Warholia (2011), Only Ride (2014), 1976 (2016), and Boss Broad. She is also editor of the American Library Association and Lambda Literary-honored This assignment is so gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013). She has been teaching high school English in Atlanta for over a decade and was 2014 Teacher of the Year. She writes for PopMatters and has edited anthologies of philosophical essays on Tom Petty and RuPaul’s Drag Race. More info can be found at www.meganvolpert.com.
Review by Jonathan Kemp
Queerguru London Correspondent Jonathan Kemp writes fiction and non-fiction and teaches creative writing at Middlesex University. He is the author of two novels – London Triptych (2010), which won the 2011 Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, and Ghosting (2015) – and the short-story collection Twentysix. (2011, all published by Myriad Editions). Non-fiction works include The Penetrated Male (2012) and Homotopia?: Gay Identity, Sameness and the Politics of Desire (2015, both Punctum Books).