Confessions of a female music anorak

She's never played air guitar, doesn't keep her records in alphabetical order, and she won't make you look at her collection of Dylan bootlegs. But Karen O'Brien still counts herself among a rare breed: the female music fanatic

SOME WOMEN meet men, start chatting and get asked for their phone numbers. Me, I get asked for my favourite Bob Dylan album. A friend tells me that it is one of the all-time great chat-up lines. I think he's just trying to make me feel better. My contention is that men ask that question, not as an ironic code for "are you mad for it?" but because they truly want to know, they want to exchange opinions on the Basement Tapes and the Manchester Free Trade Hall gig. And they're surprised that they've found a woman who's not going to glaze over and fall asleep or throw an Alan Partridge-type tantrum and shout, "stop going on about Bob Dylan. You're never going to meet him!"

Those men know they're in the presence of one of a small but perfectly formed group of women who eat, sleep and drink music, who are reclaiming that least cool of sub-species, that object of pity for the tragically hip: the Anorak. Say it loud: "I'm a Trainspotter and I'm proud".

From childhood, music has been my consuming passion, and unlike for many women, it didn't end with the hormonal haze of adolescence.

As to the vexed question of aural sex, I'm told it's perfectly possible to fall in love with a man who has no interest in idiosyncratic singer- songwriters, left-field indies or retro rock; it's just that I've never done it.

I know women who compile lists about men, grading the contents of their prospective partner's psyche, trousers, bank account and genetic inheritance. My own version of that is simple. If you could have either a or b, choose:

1. a) all of the Spice Girls or

b) Joni Mitchell;

2. a) Pamela Anderson or

b) Laurie Anderson;

3. a) Courtney Love or

b) Suzanne Vega.

It may not be everyone's idea of a compatibility test but the results speak volumes to me.

Nick Hornby did not invent the music anorak with High Fidelity; he just out-ed and marketed us and our home-made compilation tapes and top-five lists. I unashamedly deconstruct liner notes, haunt record fairs and buy CDs based on who the producer is. But unlike many of my Hornby-esque male counterparts, I've never played air guitar, don't keep my records in cross- referenced alphabetical order, have no desire to become a musician or display the "mine's bigger than yours" attitude to a collection of bootlegs.

Sean Body, of London's specialist music bookshop Helter Skelter, says women are not as obsessed with detail or as prone to the stalker mentality as men tend to be. "It often seems like an egotistical thing. Some male writers or fans would rather be the world's biggest fan of a particular artist, seeing that as an end in itself, and a creative act. People may say that the amount of time one would spend cataloguing and poring over the minutiae probably leaves less time to go and live a life, because their own life is dedicated to poring over the ashes of someone else's.

"Women, on the other hand, make room for music in their lives rather than try to have a life around the music. Whether they have children or not, there's always something central pulling them back to their own life. Often men lose track of that and they do fixate on someone else's life."

Helter Skelter has defied predictions that it would become a boys' anorak paradise, and of the 20 per cent of its customers who are women, most are dedicated fans, writers or music professionals.

Sisters under the Anorak-skin, inspired by the music itself rather than an image or fantasy, are fans like me and musicians like Caroline "Nevi" Ross, guitarist and singer with Delicate AWOL. Ross has played in bands from the age of 12 and believes that while men can indulge their musical obsessions, women often feel excluded. "A lot of women think `I could be into music but that's my husband's or my boyfriend's thing. I'm going to define myself through fashion or books, or family or the home'. Women just have so many other ways of defining themselves".

There are two theories about my passion for music. I am either a deeply sad person who should just get a life or someone for whom music is such an integral part of existence that I can't imagine its absence. I'm opting for the latter. It is, as Anthony Storr argues in his book, Music and the Mind , because music possesses the capacity to restore our sense of personal wholeness in a culture which requires us to separate rational thought from feeling, that many people find it so life-enhancing. What a joy it would be to live in one of those cultures that has no word for music because it is inseparable from all aspects of life. Or one in which men ask for both your phone number and your favourite Dylan album.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

    £26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

    Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

    £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

    Ashdown Group: PHP Developer - Buckinghamshire - £29,000

    £25000 - £29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior PHP Developer - Milton Keynes...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales & Marketing Assistant

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This UK based B2C and B2B multi...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003