Petal Pusher is part rock memoir, road book, and coming-of-age story. The book sort of meanders between descriptions of life on the road, the demands of the music industry, and anecdotes about Lindeen’s early years and the influence of her family and friends. The present-tense, stream of consciousness narration propel the book along.
I completely missed the early 90s rock scene, so the majority of the names and bands (L7, Soul Asylum) that make an appearance in this book were lost on me. While I at times failed to grasp the real-world significance of these artists, it didn’t make the book any less entertaining or engrossing. They appear as aspirations or contemporaries in a way that feels incredibly relatable.
Most of Petal Pusher is like that: an all-encompassing, honest look at what it means to achieve a dream and then to re-evaluate it once the reality sets in. The author’s voice is talkative, casual, and straightforward. She never tries to make herself appear softer or kinder or any less flawed than she is, which means that, even as I found her attitude difficult to understand on occasion (you’re on tour! Finally living out the dream you’ve just spent the last hundred pages working towards! Stop worrying!), the book never stopped being engaging.
My understanding of 90s grunge is centered around Nirvana and the Riot Grrrl movement: the Pacific Northwest, feminism, and rebellion are the three things which come to mind. Of course, they all make appearances here, but in a far more intimate and far more concrete fashion: less the stuff of rock mythos and more the stuff of contemporaries who are sorta doing something similar. Bands like Bikini Kill are trying to make a political statement, Zuzu’s Petals are just trying to make good music.
Petal Pusher subverts the classic Hollywood trajectory where a small-town kid is transformed into a world famous rockstar, and in doing so raises questions about how ‘following your dreams’ is never really a static matter.
I initially assumed that The Girl in the Show was going to be more of a funny girl-esque memoir that really emphasized the ‘comedy’ aspect of being a young woman in entertainment. Instead, it’s much more of an analytical look at the evolution of “comedians-who-happen-to-be-women” , or as Fields calls them (and this is my new favorite term) “comedienne-ballerinas”. Fields includes interviews from an incredible array of comedians – I cannot imagine the sheer amount of research that went into this book. There’s Mo Collins, Lisa Lampanelli, Abbi Jacobson and so, so many more, all in their own words discussing their comedy and their lives. It’s far more insightful and wider reaching than I was expecting, but also feels deeply personal.
This book is not just an academic exercise in the rise of feminism and fight for equal representation in comedy (and the world of entertainment in general). It makes wider cultural and political movements intensely personal through the words of the comedienne-ballerinas themselves. Reading about Marga Gomez’s experiences as a young woman confronting homophobia drives home the point that the political is personal. The arguments driving the political discourse are not far-off, abstract ideas but rather have very real implications for the people living them.
The Girl in the Show is at its best when it is presenting the powerful anecdotes from its comedienne-ballerinas. There is one particularly poignant moment when Judy Carter discusses how Gilda Radner helped comfort her in a bathroom stall of all places – it drives home a deep sense of heart and community not often seen at the forefront of comedy.
These were not notions typically associated with comedy, and when they do appear, they tend to be relegated into niche issues. The Girl in the Show provided a new perspective for watching comedy, from I Love Lucy to Saturday Night Live to Broad City and the deep underlying emotional work that accompanies it. Fields challenges the typical paradigm of “women comedians” and completely transforms it by demonstrating just how the personal and the political intersect for both the comedienne-ballerinas themselves and the audience watching at home.
I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review