O'Brien, Lucy 1961–
O'Brien, Lucy 1961–
Born September 13, 1961, in London, England; daughter of Peter (a lecturer in history) and Maureen (a teacher) O'Brien; married Malcolm Boyle (a musician and television producer). Ethnicity: "White." Education: University of Leeds, B.A. (with honors), 1983. Politics: Feminist.
Agent—Jane Turnbull, Wendell Rd., London W12, England. E-mail—[email protected]
New Musical Express, London, England, staff writer and subeditor, 1985-87; City Limits, London, music editor, 1987-89; Select, London, commissioning editor, 1990-91; Everywoman, London, books editor, 1994-96. Coproducer of Righteous Babes, a television documentary, Channel 4 (England), 1998. Conducted research for British television programs, including Burning Books, Channel 4, 1991-92; The Gig, Independent Television, 1992; Behind the Headlines, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1992-93; and The Big Breakfast, Channel 4, 1993; appeared on television and radio programs. University of Westminster, lecturer in commercial music; Middlesex University, tutor; guest lecturer at City University and West London Institute; has also taught at Goldmith's College. Former member of the Catholic Girls (all-female punk band).
Cosmopolitan Achievement Award, Cosmopolitan and American Express, 1995, for journalism.
She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop, and Soul, Penguin (London, England), 1995, revised edition published as She Bop II, Continuum Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Dusty, Sidgwick & Jackson (London, England), 1989, revised edition, Pan Macmillan (London, England), 1999.
Madonna: Like an Icon, HarperEntertainment (New York, NY), 2007.
Writer for the radio series Sisters Are Doin' It, BBC-Radio 2. Contributor to books, including Storia 5: A Woman's Eye View of Britain Today, Pandora (London, England), 1990; Girls, Girls, Girls: Essays on Women and Music, edited by S. Cooper, Cassell (New York, NY), 1995; Girls Will Be Boys: Women Report on Rock, edited by L. Evans, Pandora (London, England), 1997; Punk Rock, So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk, edited by R. Sabin, Routledge (New York, NY), 1999; and Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay: An Anthology, edited by W. McKeen, Norton (New York, NY), 2000. Contributor to periodicals, including Q, Guardian, Independent, Cosmopolitan, New Statesman, and Face.
Lucy O'Brien is a British journalist whose specialty is music criticism. In her first biography, Dusty, O'Brien examines the woman behind the larger-than-life persona of 1960s pop star Dusty Springfield. Jane Solonas, writing in Time Out, remarked that O'Brien's thoughtful approach to her subject "offers a psychological portrait which, though by no means complete, sheds more light on the enigmatic star than has ever been done before." O'Brien's next book, Annie Lennox, examines another female pop star renowned for her sexually ambiguous image. Again, the author garnered praise for her reliance on extensive background research and numerous interviews. Nick Griffiths, who noted in a review in Select that O'Brien's prose is occasionally bogged down by her nonchronological approach and copious research, nonetheless described the book as "an enlightening, detailed, and intelligent read" and concluded: "This is still one of the most thought-provoking studies of a contemporary artist yet written."
O'Brien is also the author of She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop, and Soul, a history of women in popular music, from rock and pop to soul and reggae. In a year that saw a number of similar efforts published, She Bop "is perhaps one of the most comprehensive," wrote Ndidi Nkagbu in Maxim. "Where [O'Brien's] book triumphs over other ‘Women in Rock’ tomes published this year is in her cold, impassioned investigation into the actual machinery of the music industry," remarked Caitlin Moran in the London Times. "If you are a feminist with the slightest interest in music and you do not read this book," continued Moran, "then your ignorance will be used against you every time you purchase a record."
O'Brien published her third biography, Madonna: Like an Icon, in 2007. Like her previous biographies, the volume presents the life story of a prominent female musician. The book gives an analysis of Madonna's albums in conjunction with a full biography of the singer. O'Brien's biography was not authorized, which is to say that Madonna did not aid the author in researching or writing the book, and thus there are few personal interviews with friends or family for the author draw upon. Nevertheless, O'Brien gives a comprehensive overview of the singer's career, including some of her less-discussed efforts—her photo-book Sex, for instance. Given that there are so many biographies on Madonna, O'Brien's offering was criticized for not offering much in the way of new insights. However, critics still felt that the book was a solid biography of the singer. Indeed, commenting that the book covers Madonna's earlier career more thoroughly than her recent past, Booklist contributor Mike Tribby stated: "For kicking back and remembering when Madonna was cutting-edge, … this is the ticket." Seconding this opinion, a Kirkus Reviews critic felt that "hardcore acolytes will appreciate the author's attention to detail but will be disappointed by the dearth of fresh material from the star." Regardless, the critic found that the biography is "enthusiastic and well-researched."
O'Brien once told CA: "My primary motivation for writing is to express ideas, tell stories, record my observations of people, cultures, dialogue, subcultures: I'm fascinated by the different ways people use words—how they express themselves.
"There are many writers I admire—black American women writers like Toni Morrison and Toni Cade Bambara for their vivid, rich use of language; Jeanette Winterson for her surreal, poetic take on history; Stephen King for his sheer narrative power. Also, in my specialist area, I admire music writers like Nelson George, Gerri Hershey, and Charles Shear Murray. We're working with a young medium—rock music has yet to be enshrined by academia and rock journalism is still an area where you can experiment with form and content and style. Any rules there are, are expected to be broken.
"With nonfiction I feel that your book is as good as the research you do. With the biographies and also with She Bop, I did a lot of research here in the United Kingdom and in the States. It's often boring and takes a long time, but it means that when I come to write the book the ideas have formulated themselves in the back of my head, and the facts are all in files at my fingertips, so that frees me up in a sense to just write. The actual writing then comes very quickly. In nonfiction, I keep the main themes and arguments uppermost in my mind. Interviews, quotes, and description are then used to illustrate those arguments. Every sentence has to have a point and a reason to be there. Fiction is a very different process. I'm currently writing my first novel, a kind of female road movie, and it's like having a new job. Nonfiction is very outward, you have to be engaged with the world, whereas with fiction at first you project inwards. It's a more elusive, organic, and challenging process, but I love it!
"I was inspired to write biographies of Dusty Springfield and Annie Lennox because I think both women have forged a personally provocative and original path at particular periods in time: Dusty in the 1960s, and Annie in the 1980s. Following on from that I wrote She Bop because I felt that female artistes historically have not had the recognition they deserve. I made it my business from when I started in music journalism in the early 1980s to interview female stars whenever I could—so by the time I came to write She Bop in the early 1990s I had built up a huge file of interviews with everyone from Annie Lennox and Dionne Warwick to Courtney Love, Gloria Estefan, and Nina Simone. It had to be used, and I wanted to answer my own questions like: Why is there no female U2-type stadium rock band? Why do women have to negotiate their image before music?
"My advice to aspiring writers—particularly music journos: if it's nonfiction, develop a specialism, the subject you feel passionate about, and investigate every area of it.
"If it's fiction—lay aside any ideas about what ‘the author's’ voice should sound like and write in your speaking voice—the one you use to tell stories. That frees you up to create fiction that is truly your own. It takes time—after some years I feel I'm finally getting there."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August 1, 2007, Mike Tribby, review of Madonna: Like an Icon, p. 21.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of Madonna.
Library Journal, July 1, 2007, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Madonna, p. 94.
Maxim, July, 1995, Ndidi Nkagbu, review of She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop, and Soul.
Select, April, 1991, Nick Griffiths, review of Annie Lennox.
Telegraph (London, England) September 13, 2007, Lynn Barber, review of Madonna.
Time Out, September 13, 1989, Jane Solonas, review of Dusty.
Times (London, England), June 17, 1995, Caitlin Moran, review of She Bop.
Bookbuffet, http://www.bookbuffet.com/ (June 2, 2008), "Author Interview: Lucy O'Brien."
Lucy O'Brien Home Page, http://www.lucyobrien.com (June 2, 2008).