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February 25, 2014

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Rock stores

Items you can purchase at a big chain rock ’n’ roll superstore include the following products: Pink Earplugs: For Women, a guitar brand called Daisy: For Girls and instructional books titled “Girls’ Complete Guitar Method.”

Retailers are increasingly creating products meant to entice young girls to spend money in their stores. I was 13 years old when I started playing guitar, and those marketing techniques would not have been effective with me. I was a passionate hater of all things pink and girly. After school, I would walk with my friend Mac down to the S.E. Davis Pawn shop on Market Street, where we would “practice” our own original songs on knockoff Fender guitars until we were asked to take our talents elsewhere by the management.

Before I attempted rock music, I played violin in the school orchestra. I was pretty clueless about pop culture and would have probably told you my favorite song was a piece by Vivaldi. At some point, I discovered aggressive music through the older siblings of a few friends. My discovery came in the form of handmade cassettes with tracks by local bands like Endpoint, Rodan, Evergreen, Crain, and Kinghorse. Those tapes opened up my world to the idea that music could be about something other than just technical skill.

I connected to the raw emotion, the originality and the way band members expressed their beliefs and ideas. Music became the antidote to the sweeping feelings of adolescent inadequacy I was experiencing. The realization that this music was being created in my own backyard blew my mind. I felt like we had a special secret here in Louisville that no one on the outside knew. More importantly, I felt like I could take part in it.

The fact that there weren’t many women who played in bands didn’t deter me. The few (like Tara Jane O’Neil, who played with Drinking Woman and Rodan, and Ashli State, who played with Guilt and Telephone Man) became my role models. When I started playing out in public, I found support and I was treated as an equal. It meant the world to me.

However, there was one place where I never felt comfortable: musical equipment stores. The people (almost always men) who worked there seemed like different kinds of rock musicians. They carried themselves with an air of superiority, and I perceived condescension directed toward me. The sheer amount of gear and sonic possibilities to choose from was overwhelming — and expensive — and it was difficult to know where to begin. I would break out in a cold sweat because I was certain everyone around me would discover the truth: I was still a beginner and unworthy of taking up space with my ignorance.

Twenty or so years later, I still have a small crisis of confidence every time I need to pick up a pair of strings or a new guitar pedal. As I pass by the young guy with the ponytail hammering out a showy guitar solo (that guy is always there), I wonder if the discomfort I have felt actually has less to do with gender and is something everyone experiences in their own way. A friend and fellow musician, Natalie Felker, told me that despite feeling a need to prove her competence early on, in recent years she has started to feel comfortable with going into certain stores and being able to say, “Here’s what I want to do and the kind of sound I want. What do you have?”

I’m trying to adopt a similar attitude. I want to be more comfortable with asking questions and admitting when I don’t fully understand something without apology or embarrassment. This is a similar approach I plan to take with this column. I want to start by thinking about an aspect of music I’d like to examine and seeing where it leads, rather than trying to tell you what I think you should be listening to. I hope you’ll join me.

Carrie Neumayer plays in the bands Second Story Man, Julie of the Wolves, and Early Age. She is also a visual artist and educator.