Lady Rocker Biopics: A Dream With a Backbeat

Though some forget, rock and roll always has been about rising against the system – about giving voice to dissatisfaction and unruly desire. But it’s also been wildly male-dominated, as if everyone tacitly agreed that guitars were extensions of phalluses that woman had no business strapping on. The result? There may be nothing more fundamentally rock and roll than a woman defying the powers-that-be by wielding an axe while howling her guts out. In the last few years, some of these goddesses have penned memoirs. Raw, smart, and stirring, they’re the stuff of which adaptation dreams are made. Sure enough, a Showtime series based on Patti Smith’s Just Kids is already in the works. Smith, who is co-writing and creating the series, has said she wants Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart to play artist Robert Mapplethorpe and herself, respectively. (Given the former “Twilight” dream team’s recent edgy work, it’s not as bad a call as it may seem.) Here are five other recent lady rocker memoirs that would make amazing biopics, with the stars and directors who could make them happen.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
For decades, the guitarist for the legendary Sleater-Kinney has been celebrated for her unapologetic queer politics and general bad-assery. When she became the co-creator and star of the IFC comedy series “Portlandia,” we were introduced to her slippery wit as well. Her new memoir unveils a third Brownstein: a melancholy, intellectually rigorous introvert who’s been musically unpacking the concept of family ever since her suburban Washington childhood fell apart. (Her dad came out; her anorexic mother took off.) An adaptation should encompass all three Carries, with a subversive soulfulness to match its antecedent.

Director: Miranda July; Star: Brownstein herself
Miranda July’s oddball aesthetic is a perfect match for Brownstein’s complex wit (the two have been besties for decades); we know from “Portlandia” how many versions of herself Brownstein can play.

I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones (with Paul Morley)
A true Studio 54 stand-out, Grace Jones has worked as an international model, a Bond girl, an Andy Warhol collaborator, and, most memorably, as a disco punk radical who has been turning gender and racial codes on their heads since she shaped her first Mohawk. Just last month, she wowed millennials with her LSD-lioness, post-pop alchemy at Brooklyn’s Afropunk music festival. Her upcoming memoir promises to be appropriately outrageous, as should any movie adaptation.

Director: Justin Simien; Star: Erykah Badu
In last year’s “Dear White People,” Simien revealed an inimitably new-school/old-school take on identity politics that’s a perfect husband for Jones’s electric genius; an underrated actress (check her out in “The Cider House Rules”), Badu is the true heir to Jones’s throne.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine
The guitarist and songwriter for the all-female 1970s punk band The Slits, Albertine is the living embodiment of “hard-core.” She also has undergone a tough road to middle age, which she captures in italic-laden, refreshingly direct prose. Near the end of this book, she confronts a disrespectful audience: “Anyone here ever taken heroin? Made a record? Well I have, so shut the fuck up or go home and polish your guitar.” The cinematic possibilities are endless.

Director: Mary Harron; Star: Keri Russell
Felicity as a punk rock maven may be a hard sell but in “The Americans,” Russell has revealed a sweet-and-sour fury that recalls Albertine’s; the fuck-you feminism of Harron (“American Psycho”) is 100 percent on point.

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Since the late 1980s, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon has been the diffident diva of both-coast garage – not only in music but in art and fashion, too. In this memoir, she channels that same muted cool to detail the musical and romantic trajectory of her relationship with ex-husband and bandmate Thurston Moore. Along the way, she makes keen observations about the evolution of pretty much every indie scene around, as well as the particular psychology (and pathology) of one Courtney Love. This is dish at its most deliciously high-falutin’.

Director: Gus Van Sant; Star: Chloe Sevigny
A post-punk jack-of-all-trades himself, Van Sant is the obvious choice to help this biopic; 1990s It Girl Sevigny will get Gordon to a T.

Reckless by Chrissie Hynde
The controversial lead singer of The Pretenders stands out as one of the first women to ever front a rock-and-roll band, and her new memoir recounts her career with a minimalism that leaves room for the fire that her group has always brought to her impassioned lyrics. A loose-limbed adaptation could be amazing; Hynde hasn’t been called the “Joan Didion of rock and roll” for nothing.

Director: Todd Haynes; Star: Julianne Moore
Haynes and Moore love collaborating on totally outré projects. (See: “I’m Not There,” “Safe.”) Together, they’ll be able to fashion a suffragette rock opera around Hynde’s kohl-rimmed sneer.

This was originally published in Word and Film.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy