Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Almost New Year Edition

Normally on Wednesday at Rock and the Single Girl, I find myself looking back -- either for a video of an old favorite, a recent find, or maybe a band or song I'd heard about awhile ago but never had a chance to investigate.

But it is, after all, just a few hours until a new year begins, and I find myself instead looking forward to what new music will come out of 2010.

And so today we're serving up a live video from one of the bands I am most excited for: The Shondes. Hailing from Brooklyn, and with several national tours and a heartbreakingly good debut LP already under their belts, The Shondes are preparing to release a new record next year, and I could not be happier to support them. Check them out on this bright, cold, final hump day of 2009.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Punk Girls on Film.

When a movie about The Runaways was announced early this year, I have to admit that I was among the skeptics. Kristen Stewart, fresh off her Twilight superstardom, was involved, and Dakota Fanning's signing on to the project worried me even more. Something about it just felt gimmick-y and calculated to me.

But as more information became available I found myself getting more invested. Joan Jett as producer and a script based on Cherie Currie's memoir seemed like good signs, and bringing in Alia Shawkat seemed like another one. Photos from the summertime-shoot showed Stewart, Fanning, Shawkat, and the entire band looking amazingly like the real Runaways. Seeing Stewart in Adventureland, and falling in love with her portrayal of an honest-to-goodness Lou Reed-loving, band t-shirt wearing, musician-dating music geek in September sealed it for me.

But I didn't realize quite how excited I was until the first trailer was released just before Christmas. I definitely screamed a little when I watched it:

Visually, the trailer looks kind of awesome. There are scenes from concerts, scenes in recording studios, and Kristen Stewart smashing a chair, all in one minute --but what's really exciting to me is the voiceover. It starts the trailer, and it tells us: "In 1975, rock was a man's world." This initial, straightforward acknowledgment of gender as an issue is what made me realize that this movie is a big deal.

The trailer focuses on scenes in which the band is told that it won't be successful because all of its members are female. This suggests that this is the central conflict of the film: an all-girl band struggles for resources, support, and success against sexist ideas in a masculinist industry.

How many times have the real-life, day-to-day issues of female musicians, in any genre, been show on film? Sure, it's sort of been done. But to quote Jenny Schecter on lesbians in film, "Well, I don't think it's been done a million times." Consider that Dreamgirls, whose plot pretty much rests on issues of power and gender, never really deals with the exploitation and abuse it depicts. (Yeah, I know, it's a musical, but STILL.) Coal Miner's Daughter and What's Love Got to Do With It are much more satisfying, not to mention more responsible -- but those films are about extremely well-known and successful country and pop artists, respectively.

The Runaways movie is a big deal because it has the potential to give women and gender in rock some much needed visibility. Also, because it's the story of a band that eventually imploded, partly because of sexist exploitation, the real-life consequences of misogyny have a chance at some screen time as well.

And all of this is very important, especially to me, and especially to my friends who are starting bands and writing music right now. But if this movie is really done right, it will have the potential to about more than women in music. The story of the Runaways is, at its center, about young women working to make their voices heard, and to do fulfilling, fun, rewarding work in a world that still isn't entirely open to the idea of women in the public sphere, making money, and making a real contribution to society. Let's hope that the Runaways movie is both good enough and accessible enough to find an audience beyond young women musicians, aging riot grrrls, and punk enthusiasts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Bass Hero Edition

Three years ago today, my bff and I rushed down to New York to see local indie darlings Rainer Maria give their penultimate performance. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed, especially because I still listen to R|M on a pretty regular basis.

I hadn't planned on going; they were my favorites but I was kind of miffed over their last album, which just wasn't very good compared to their previous work. I ended up at the show because of a so-so boyfriend's last-minute cancellation, a spare ticket, and lucky timing.

As strangely as it all came about, I'm glad I went. The show reminded me of why I fell in love with the band, and with bass player and vocalist Caithlin De Marrais. A terribly undersung musician and songwriter, Caithlin's work changed the way I play and understand bass, and so I salute her and R|M onthis hump day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You know you're working in a patriarchal society when.

ellen page "You know you're working in a patriarchal society when the word feminist has a weird connotation. -- Self-proclaimed feminist and actress Ellen Page

It's happened once again: my friend Jackie posted a link to one of my recent posts, only to be met with unnecessary hostility from her guy friends. I don't particularly care to talk about it, but I will because there's some chance that it could be helpful to other feminists who have faced harassment or criticism.

"Criticism" is probably too good a word for the facebook comments my post got. In one of them the commenter related an experience with a 'crazy feminist' he had worked with who had 'prattle[d]' on so much about 'sexist conspiracies' that she'd 'ruined' feminism for him, and thusly couldn't read things like my blog. But then he said that of course he was a feminist 'on principle'. Right.

I chose to respond because I was infuriated by his lack of regard for his so-called friend, which I said in my response. I told him that it's not feminist at all to equate feminism with insanity, paranoia, and lack of logic, to treat his friend so poorly, or to blame a woman for ruining feminism for him. I told him that if he can't be a feminist, he should at least try to have good manners.

His response to this was to delete his comments, send me a very nasty personal message, and then block me. His message called me a narrow-minded fanatic, and said that my blog is 'not compelling -- but what the hell, traffic is traffic.'

I'm going to force myself to admit something: it hurt. Even though I know that there's no reason to take anything this jerk says seriously, it hurt.

I don't like to admit it for a few reasons. First, because if I admit that he got to me, it feels like he wins, even though he clearly loses, having exposed himself as a sexist jackass. Second, it feels like me saying that I'm wrong and that he's right, even though I know that what he did is wrong, and know that I stand by my blog. Finally, I hate to admit because I've been indoctrinated to believe that to be hurt by something like this is a sign of weakness, and weakness is feminine and thus bad.

I also don't like to admit that the entire experience of several days of back and forth with this immature individual has made me feel a bit reticent about blogging. What does it say about me and my convictions if one ignorant wank can affect me so much? Again, it feels like he wins.

But after thinking about it a lot, I've come to the conclusion that it's important to be open about how you feel and challenge the notion that such emotions are shameful, and that it's perfectly acceptable to be hurt. It's acceptable to be scared, because publicly proclaiming feminist ideas comes with the occupational hazard of getting shot down, and maybe you're worried that you can't handle it.

It's depressing that the word 'feminist' always seems to be met with this kind of comment. Once you accept that it's part of what you've signed on for as a feminist writer, performer, activist, or feminist anything, it becomes a question of how to deal with it. And so if you'll indulge me, I'll share how I've coped.

1. Talk about it. Don't be afraid to tell your friends that some sort of sexist comment hurt you. Let them support you and trust it when they agree with you. And if they don't support you, well, find someone who does!

2. Think about it.. Don't be afraid to consider what a comment says, or how it makes you feel. You're entitled to those emotions, and you'll probably learn something from them.

3. Respond -- or don't. Every situation, and every feminist, is different. Sometimes answering your critics is the right thing to do, and sometimes it isn't. A smart, sassy response can feel satisfying, but then so can quietly knowing that you're confident enough to not say anything back. It really depends on what's right for you.

4. And when all else fails: Remember that these comments do mean something. That you're upsetting chauvinists, scaring them with your willingness to call out sexism and your talk of demanding equality from them -- probably means that you're doing something right.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rock Herstory and Appreciation: Happy Birthday, Big Mama!

Prepare to enter the school of rock.

According to my calendar, Willie Mae Thornton was born on this day in 1926. Does the name sound familiar? It should -- my beloved Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, which I shamelessly mention as often as possible, is named for her.

Thornton was better know as Big Mama Thornton, and is remembered today as the original writer of "Hound Dog". Her version of the song sold almost 2 million copies, and she received $500 for it. Several years later, Elvis Pressley took the song, changed the words, re-recorded it, and basically launched rock'n'roll, and became a really huge deal.

You can look at Elvis' theft in two ways: you can focus on how he popularized the and profited from the song and, and see it as another episode in the long history of white artists appropriating African American sounds and culture.

Or, you can look at Big Mama Thornton as the real mother of rock'n'roll and every genre and subgenre that came after. Rock'n'roll as we know it does not start with some lip snarling, hip wiggling, later drug and alcohol abusing white male cultural appropriator. The history of rock'n'roll in fact begins with a black female singer/drummer/harmonica player/songwriter who was apparently probably a lesbian. That's right -- Big Mama Thornton wasn't actually anyone's mama, even though in another way, she's kind of the mother of us all.

So a posthumous though sincere happy birthday to Willie Mae Thornton. Thank you for queering the blues, for the vastly superior original version of "Hound Dog" (in which it sounds like you're the hound dog, sniffing around and wagging your tail at the ladies, AWESOME). Thank you for helping to start all of this. Rock & the Single Girl is really, really glad that you were born.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Last Thrash: Cheeky's Last Show EVER

On November 28, I was lucky enough to go to Cheeky's Last Show EVER. Held at Death by Audio, it was bigger than any other Cheeky show I'd been to, and drew a much larger crowd than I was used to. But there were plenty of other surprises that evening: between unexpected appearances from Ari Up and Jeff Rosenstock, covers of Fugazi, The Descendents, and others, moshing, circle-pitting, crowd surfing and stage diving, Cheeky's final performance felt less like a show and more like a carnival squeezed into two dimly lit rooms.

Cheeky chose their openers well. From Zombie Dogs' confrontational throw down, through Stupid Party's slow and dirty garage rock stomp, to Slingshot Dakota's joyful hymnals, the bands kept what would have been an otherwise long night interesting (I'm sure Shellshag was great too, but I spent most of their set socializing in the venue's other room, sorry dudes!). The openers turned in solid sets, interacted happily with the crowd, and offered paeans to the band of the hour between songs.

Cheeky's set, while strong overall, went through a bit of an awkward, adolescent phase a few songs in. After starting with a 15-minute burst of unadulterated energy, it suddenly seemed uncomfortably quiet onstage between songs. The show felt tense, and lead singer Kate Eldridge even apologized for not having 'anything to say'.

Want to judge for yourself? See Cheeky's last set, all of which is on youtube!

At that point I remembered that I was, after all, at a last show. A positive, spirited, upbeat celebration, but still, a celebration of the end of something. My friend Anna's friend summed it up while we were chatting outside between sets: "It's kind of weird," he said. "I'm excited to hear the new songs, but...I'm really not excited for it to be their last show." There were mixed feelings in the audience, and there must have been mixed feelings onstage as well. I'm guessing that it was maybe a harder gig to play than the band made it look. Both band and audience more than 'recovered' after Eldridge's apology; the audience even got kind of rowdy towards the end (the band was forced to admonish the crowd, reminding everyone to be respectful of people around them.)

Despite the mixed feelings they elicit, last shows are important. They provide a band a final opportunity to express their thanks and declare what they might have stood for, provide the audience a final opportunity to hear the music in its intended live setting, and in general remind us all that live shows are kind of the point of music. Records are just that: records of the music written by a person or group, a means of preserving a certain sound. Records are important, but they aren't a substitute for the experience of going to a show, and hearing and seeing how a band does what it does.

That night, Cheeky did what they did with bands that are their friends as well as their peers. They played their last set with even the stage packed with their friends, colleagues, bandmates from other projects, and significant others. They played their last set for charity -- the show was also a benefit concert for The Walk for PKD (look it up!), and raised almost $2000 for the cause.

Cheeky played their last set the way they played all the others I was fortunate enough to see: with guts, heart, and zero tolerance for the macho scene bullshit so many of their songs cleverly and concisely deconstruct. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I left that night feeling like it was everything a last show (last thrash?) should be.

***EDIT*** Read more about (and see some great photos of) Cheeky's last shows in NYC and NJ, as well over at Star Beat Music!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Opener Love Edition

So let's try for some good news about The Last Cheeky Show EVER. That night, I got to see Slingshot Dakota for the second time. An infectiously upbeat and happy duo, it's kind of hard to listen to them and not feel your mood elevate at least a few inches. So enjoy this vintage SD video on this hazy, horribly snowy hump day!

Want more? Head over to Star Beat Music for a full review of Slingshot Dakota's 11/28 set!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

An Open Letter to the Two Jerks Who Were Standing Next to Me the Last Time I Saw Zombie Dogs.

Hey guys,

I was the girl who was shooting death glares and huffy sighs in your direction while I was standing next to you during Zombie Dogs' set at the last Cheeky show EVER. But you probably didn't notice me because you were too busy making annoying comments and in general being seriously disrespectful to the band on stage. I mean really -- If you didn't like or didn't think you were going to like what you were hearing, couldn't you have stepped outside or something?

It's really disappointing to me that it sounds like you couldn't even give Zombie Dogs a chance. Before the band even started playing, I got to hear this exchange between the two of you:

Jerk #1: Dude, I love all-girl bands...
Jerk #2: Oh, well then you'll just LOVE this one.
Jerk #1: Really?
Jerk #2: Uhm, no.

I guess I could just say that this is your loss, but there's something deeper and more disturbing going on here. Jerk #1, maybe you mean well, but your love of all-girl bands is inherently sexist. I appreciate your support of girl bands but that support doesn't mean much if you can't look beyond their gender and focus on what these groups are doing and saying. I hope that you can, and that I've perhaps misjudged you.

Jerk #2, I'm almost certain that if someone were to confront you about this, you'd claim that your dislike of Zombie Dogs' music isn't about gender, but about the music itself. Sure, you like some girl bands, but this one isn't good, or just doesn't work for you.

The problem with this is that this argument doesn't work. Ever. Art is inextricably linked to the artists who create it. When you don't like a song or piece of music, it's at least partly because there's something about the person who made it that you don't like or respect, or maybe that you can't relate to.

Specific to the case of women and female artists: when you say that you don't like them, it isn't necessarily sexist or misogynist. But still, what you're doing is rejecting a woman's point of view. And you can't separate this rejection from the way women's voices have historically been kept out of art, which definitely is the product of institutionalized sexism. You can't separate judging women's music against a male-dominated standard of what makes music 'good', said standard also being a product of institutionalized sexism.

I know that some people don't see it this way. Some really respected female artists, like Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, have said in interviews that their identities as women or females are secondary to their identities as artists, and that the politics of being female don't affect their art. I believe Harvey even said once that she doesn't identify as a feminist because she can't allow politics to interfere with what she creates.

Regardless of their talent, Smith and Harvey are both wrong. The intersection between one's identity, art, and political orientation isn't something that evaporates just because you say so -- whether you're punk's alleged 'high priestess' or some asshole in the audience at a diy punk show. Smith and Harvey claim to be apolitical, without acknowledging that apoliticism is in itself a badge of one's political power and privilege. Smith and Harvey can make what I consider to be damaging statements about artists not having political beliefs because of the politics of color, class, and sexuality.

But, guys, I digress. Your ignorant and disappointing comments were unnecessary, and I wish that you'd kept them to yourselves, or as I said earlier, just taken them outside. The ladies in our scene can't force you to like our music or to pretend to like it. But it is time for us to demand that you respect us as members of the music industry. And, you know, as human beings.

I thrashed extra hard and sang extra loud at the show just for you two!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Where we're going.

Though I just claimed to be anti-'decade in music' stuff, I caved and read Tobi Vail's Swagger Like Us: Thoughts on Women in Music, 2000 - 09, posted over at Carrie Brownstein's Monitor Mix.

I have mixed feelings about the article. Tobi writes that while "hipster culture" and its "male-dominated music sites that exert a disproportionate influence over what's trendy" continue to annoy, infuriate, and marginalize us female and feminist musicians, bloggers, and fans, "women have thrived in the past 10 years, and our history is being documented and preserved like never before."

I don't disagree with her, and I'm thrilled at the way women's contributions are finally getting recorded. But I'm worried that I'm too thrilled. Women's musical work is finally getting documented the way it should be -- I should be excited that we're just now getting what we should have gotten all along?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Corin Tucker Orgy Edition

When Corin Tucker's birthday came and went last week, it reminded me of something I'd listened to early this year. Back in January, I heard a college radio dj's broadcast of what she called the Corin Tucker Orgy. For four hours, homegirl played songs and even full records put out by all of CT's bands, and even aired a half hour phone interview she'd done earlier in the week with the lady of the evening! It was kind of a dream come true for a rabid Corin-lover like myself. So as a sort of belated-birthday shout, here's my attempt to spread the love. Enjoy the many phases of Corin's career on this cold, clear hump day!

with Heavens To Betsy:

with Sleater-Kinney:

with Cadallaca:

On her own!

BONUS JONAS! Watch some interviews Corin taped for Rock N Roll Mamas
and the Riot Grrrl Documentary.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Decade Under the Influence.

The year is almost over and it seems like every music blog, website, and magazine I look at is sizing up the last ten years' worth of music. It's to the point where I've been wondering if I should be writing a daily post on the best songs and artists of the decade.

But I'm not inclined to look back, or to look at these best of lists being compiled by the informative and provocative NPR, the obnoxious Pitchfork, and dinosaur bones like Rolling Stone and Spin. There are three main reasons for this.

1. None of the bands I really care about at this particular moment will be mentioned.

2. The journalism itself will be disappointingly masculinist.

3. The lack of attention to women artists will be infuriating.

The second issue is probably the hardest one for me to deal with, and also the one that requires a bit of explanation. The masculine/male-oriented standard for most writing is objectivity. The men who run our society pretend to not have agendas -- i.e., not be 'subjective' -- in order to obscure their privilege and discredit varying view points from marginalized groups.

I feel like I see this constantly in literature on music. So much of music criticism seems focused on comparisons, name-dropping, and the general reification of the rock hierarchy. The goal is to declare whether something is 'good' or bad, rather than to look at what music means or says about our time and place.

Which doesn't make sense to me, because people don't need music critics to tell them what music is 'good' or bad or worth listening to. What we need is well-read and well-listened individuals to help us understand the context of the music we listen to, i.e., how and where it was produced, what earlier work influenced, what the artist hoped to accomplish, and the work's place in culture.

Oddly enough, I've been trying to approach writing about music in this way for about the last ten years. Towards the end of my time in high school, my favorite teacher and conductor, Mr. Mora, asked me if I knew what I wanted to do when I finished college. I told him, "I was thinking about being a music critic. But the thing is, I don't want to have to put musicians down or write about music I don't like, I don't want to be some snob, I just like writing about music. I like describing it, and I like explaining it."

Mr. Mora was my conductor and teacher, but he was also my equivalent of the Helpful Record Store Guy. He loved popular and classical music, and could discuss both with ease and patience. He was never arrogant or condescending. He was a Christian in the true sense of the word; no hatespeech or words of intolerance ever came out of his mouth. He was a former hippie who didn't trust newspapers and wanted to write an orchestral suite for Lee Harvey Oswald, because the man "didn't get a fair shake, or a trial, even!" This probably makes him sound like a nut, but Mr. Mora was kind of perfect.

He's why I try to keep negativity out of my writing, why I'm able to appreciate music, why I'm able to write about it at all. A fellow music writer once wrote to me that maybe there are less women in music journalism because women don't learn to write technically and 'critically' about music. Thanks to Mr. Mora, I learned to think and speak critically -- as in, socially or culturally critically -- in a safe space. I learned my music history, but from a person who genuinely loved music. I didn't learn from jerky, entitled young hipsters who sublimate their insecurities through hostile record and show reviews.

Is the hostility, the insecurity, the mudslinging, and the generally sloppy writing what discourages women from going into music journalism, or the music industry in general? Or is it what keeps women from advancing in the industry? If so, then forget the last ten years; in the next ten years, what I want to see is change. I want us to demand better, more inclusive music journalism.

In the meantime, all I can do with these sexist wanks and berks at places like pitchfork and brooklynvegan is tell them what Mr. Mora said to me a decade ago: no one ever erected a statue of a critic, kid.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Hip Hop History Month Edition

So like I said yesterday, hip hop isn't really 'my scene'. And by scene, I mean that I've never really listened to it, that I know very little of the genre's history, and that I am completely unqualified to really discuss any aspect of hip hop culture.

But I'm a firm believer of getting outside your scene on a regular basis. I've always thought that punk and hip hop should be natural allies. I also believe that it's impossible to develop an expertise in any genre of music without knowing something about and respecting other genres.

So, with respect for the women who have made their names as emcees, djs, rappers, and hip hop personalities, and the women whom are desperately needed to fill the ranks at this time, listen to some old-school mainstream lady-powered hip hop on this chilly hump day.

Queen Latifah, "UNITY"

Salt'n'Pepa, "Push It"

Missy Elliot, "Lose Control"

BONUS: Further commentary on KRS-One's remarks about women in hip hop by Samhita, over at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

KRS-One talks some feminist 'real talk', do we want to listen?

Yesterday in their regular end-of-the-day "What we missed" post, the fine women at included the following link:

Hip Hop artist KRS-One talks about how we need more women in hip hop.

Though it's not technically 'my scene' or whatever, I was hooked. A respected, successful, veteran hip hop icon is talking about that status of women in a major genre of popular U.S.-American music? I absolutely had to read more.

Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. Here's what he had to say:

City Pages: What do you think is missing in hip-hop today?

KRS ONE: "I am not just saying this because you [a woman] are asking the question, this is my real answer: More women. More women. Not just emcees or b-girls, but women taking control of hip-hop. Let me be culturally-specific- hip-hop's women should teach hip-hop's men how to speak to them. Because when we learn how to speak to you, we can learn how to speak to the whole business world. It's not just about respecting is...but it's deeper than just respecting another human being. Everytime you degrade a person, you degrade yourself, because you are standing next to that person. You can't diss a person, and not diss yourself...I should say 'she's a queen.' And what does that make me? A king. So now at the end of the day, what's missing in hip-hop? Knowledge of self, that should only come from women. I know that sounds feminist, but that's real talk.

KRS-One is right: it's about both respect for other people and for yourself, because treating another person poorly definitely is harmful to both the perpetrator and the victim. But is he right that we as women have to teach men how to speak to us? This is an issue that goes beyond gender relations within hip hop, that extends to other genres, including rock and punk, and beyond.

As it is, women are unfairly burdened with the task of taking care of the whole world. While we're shouldering this heavy responsibility -- which is a major part of gender-based oppression -- now it's also our job to bring about gender equality? It's our job to make men, and by extension, all of humankind, better, less sexist people?

KRS-One generally seems like a smart, conscientious guy. We're talking about an artist who has been around for a long time, and who has played a major part in the story of hip hop. (And who incidentally was apparently raised in the same South Bronx neighborhood where my mom grew up, Mott Haven represent!!) The man is responsible for the Temple of Hip Hop and the Stop the Violence Movement.

So the question is: when he tasks women with teaching men how to behave, is he inadvertently perpetuating sexist ideas about women and the work they've been told they're biologically predisposed to? Or is he just being realistic? I hate to admit it, but it seems that ultimately, women will have to demand and cultivate equality if we want it.

Or maybe I'm reading it all wrong. Maybe what KRS-One means is that, rather than mothering the entire world, women need to put themselves out there in hip hop, as performers, executives, promoters, and human beings. They need to get out there and teach by example, they need to work, to to work together, to work with the boys who are already in the business, and they need to take care of themselves and each others. And in the process, the need to set new precedents for how women in the genre are seen, heard, and treated by their peers and critics.

Link to the original City Pages article: KRS-One on One

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Lady-powered Party Punk edition

Perhaps predictably, today's hump day treat is presented in honor of Mika Miko and their unsung achievements.

Yesterday I came up with the description 'lady-powered party punk' for MM's music kind of on the fly. But 'party punk' describes the band's attitude better than its style. Their music has a beach-y surf kind of feel, and the group has this funny teenagers who sleep in, eat lots of junk food, and play music sort of image. This sort of carefree slacker attitude strikes me as rare in a genre (punk, that is) that prides itself on action and hyperawareness. It's also surprisingly appealing, and dare I say it, there's something refreshing about a group of young people who seem more intent on saving themselves than on railing against the world.

But, it has to be seen rather and heard to be understood, or even believed, so have some Mika Miko on yet another rainy, dreary (in NY, at least) hump day.

First up: the official video for "Business Cats", a song that makes you want to dance, have a seizure, or both. Also, it's one of my favorite videos of all time.

Next: the official video for "I Got a Lot (New New New)"

BONUS: live video from 2004. Thank you, youtube! Also, Michelle Suarez's guitar sounds amazingly foxy here. Just saying.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Mika Miko.

Dear Jessie, Jenna, Seth, Jennifer and Michelle,

So you're breaking up. Bummer.
Mika Miko did some fine work, and made a real contribution to music with your arty, spazzy, lady-powered party punk. And even though I'm not completely familiar with everything you've done, I was sad to read on girlfriendisahomo that you're hanging it up.

But break ups aren't the end of the world; sometimes they're even necessary. I'm a musician, I've played with other people, I get it. If you need to move on to new things, I can accept that and be supportive. I read in the L.A. Times music blog that you kids will be occupied with "returns to school, new projects, jobs, and relationships".

Hmmm. Returns to school. Maybe I've been at this whole university thing for too long, but this worries me. It's a bit ironic that I'm concerned that some of you might be going back to school, and here's why: when I was in junior high, a girl at school tried to get me into Bikini Kill, but I just wasn't having it (don't worry, I came around a few years later), partly because of Tobi Vail's ideas about "school". On some ancient website that I can't find now, Tobi encouraged her young female readers to drop out of school and start bands because college can wait and you should do what you want. I was kind of horrified by this, and I even wrote her an e-mail, asking if it was maybe irresponsible for her to say something like that. Never got a reply.

Tobi's advice bothered me because it struck me as real Anglo middle class bullshit. Such people can afford to go to college, and they can also afford not to go. Frequently, they can get by on privilege where the rest of us need real credentials. I come from a large family of working class Italian Americans and Puerto Rican migrants, a family that saw an education as the most important means of upward mobility. Tobi Vail's suggestion that I abandon that vehicle, and disappoint my family, was unthinkable to me.

All these years later, I stand by my assessment of Tobi's ideas. But now I've been in university for almost a decade, and I understand what she meant. It might have sounded color (and class) blind, but Tobi was asking us to drop out of The Establishment, because that's what school is. School is the lay term for Academia, and Academia, I've come to realize, is pretty much patriarchy in its undiluted form. The way it's organized, the way it's run, the way it's funded: all of it is based on serving the needs of the mens. And that means hard times not only for the ladies but for people of color, people from lower tax brackets, people who sleep with people of the same sex, and pretty much anyone else who deviates from 'the norm'.

I could be wrong, but I don't think any of that could possibly appeal to any of you. You're too good for that! To be succinct, I'm afraid you kids might just be too cool for school.

But you know what? I had to figure out school and what it's really about on my own, and you probably do too. It was part of my 'process', and if some of you need to take this academic journey, to a bachelor's degree or beyond, well, who am I to try and stop you? Because it's not that I want to keep you from going to school. Really, for all my bitching, a lot of my experiences at grad school have been really rewarding.

What I want is to spare you the pain of realizing how brutal and disappointing school can be. Learning stuff and meeting new people, that's great, but there's a lot more to school than that. School usually also comes with arbitrary and ridiculous policies, useless administrators, reams of paperwork, and overwhelming expenses. It can be rough, and it can batter your belief system, and your understanding of yourself.

So I guess what I'm really saying, Jessie, Jenna, Seth, Jennifer, and Michelle, is this: go to school, but don't forget who you are. Don't forget what you learned together, as a band, and what you produced as Mika Miko, or the kids you reached at the shows you played, because that's real and meaningful in way that all the papers and exams and degrees in the world will never be. Go to school, but don't let it break you.

Your homegirl,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Musicians speak out against violence and sexism

In the past month, I've been to three musical performances, and at each one, I got to witness performers taking a stand against sexual violence, sexist language, and hate crimes. Allow me to take a moment to publicly commend each artist and band for doing so:

1) On September 18, I saw Zombie Dogs and Slingshot Dakota play at the Glass Door in Brooklyn. I was surprised when drummer Tom Patterson interrupted Slingshot Dakota's set to speak at length about sexual assault within Brooklyn's punk and underground music 'scene'/community. When I say at length, I mean at length. He spoke for at least ten minutes about how important it is to address these issues, not only for individual survivors, but also for the health and well-being of the entire community. I'd never seen anything like it before at a show, and it was kind of amazing. Props to Tom for saying what so many people can't or won't.

2) On October 9 I was lucky enough to see The Gossip at Terminal 5. In the middle of the band's set, there was some kind of skefuffle up in the front, and from where I was standing on the side, I couldn't really see or hear what was going on. Vocalist Beth Ditto interrupted the show in order to take charge of the situation and mediate. After a few minutes of quiet, wherein Beth spoke to some people in the audience, out of nowhere we all heard her say, "Why would you call her a cunt? I wouldn't call you a faggot, I don't know you!"

It seems that there was some friction and shoving between some guys at the show and the girls who were standing behind them. Beth took a few minutes to explain why it is never appropriate to call a woman a cunt, "unless it's like your best friend, and then sometimes it's funny." It became a running theme for the rest of the evening, as Beth reminded the audience every few songs how un-friendly and un-neighborly namecalling is, not to mention hurtful.

3) On October 17 I went to see Death First and Zombie Dogs at ABC No Rio in Manhattan. On the very same day, a march and rally were scheduled in the College Point area of Queens, where Jack Price, an openly gay man, was recently harassed and then brutally beaten.

Death First vocalist Jessy took some time to talk about the march and rally. She briefly explained what had happened, and why the march and rally had been organized. And she told the audience that Death First might not have any songs specifically about gay bashing, but that she thinks it's really important to approach everything she does "with non-violence".

In case it isn't clear, I dig this trend. I like when the musicians I see and listen to are brave enough to speak out against injustice, and I like when the music I listen to has a political and/or social message. Is there really a point to music that doesn't contain a message of some sort?

I didn't experience revelations or epiphanies or anything like that at any of these events. I'm already aware of these issues of sexism, violence, and, gay bashing, and I already denounce the perpetrators of these crimes, as well as the systems that support and perpetuate these crimes and that allow the perpetrators to go unpunished.

But it still struck me what a huge difference musicians can make when they talk about these issues. If these moments were meaningful to me, what could they have meant to other people in the audience? What could it mean for a kid who's been assaulted or harassed, but can't articulate what she or he has experienced? What could it mean for a young person who wants to talk about these problems, doesn't know how or where to start?

As Tom Patterson of Slingshot Dakota said, the only way to deal with these problems is to talk about them and keep talking about them. If musicians are able to start these conversations and help to keep them going, well, that could only be a good thing for those of us who are struggling every day against violence, sexism, and other types of oppression and discrimination.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Educational Listening edition

This week, Carrie Brownstein posted a fantastic piece over at Monitor Mix about last Friday night's Raincoats show in Brooklyn. Mary Timony and Softpower also performed, as well as Viv Albertine, on whom Carrie focuses in the review. (Head over there ASAP, there's a great video, which will no doubt make it onto this very blog at some time in the near future.)

I must confess, dear readers, that though I've read a great deal about them, I am basically unfamiliar with the work of The Slits. Which is kind of shameful for an individual who writes, in any capacity, about women in punk. But rather than lament this travesty further, I'm kicking off my own personal Slits education program with their iconic "Typical Girls".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hump Day Treat, "So pumped for this weekend!" Edition

The only thing better than a hump day treat is a hump day treat from a band you (...sort of) know. This week I'm pleased to share a video of a band from the New York City feminist punk and hardcore scene that I've been gushing about for so long now. This week, Rock and the Single Girl presents Brooklyn's own Death First!

Fronted by Jessy (formerly of the sorely missed Carnal Knowledge), Death First is kind of like Kieran Culkin's skeletal comic book character alter-ego in the movie adaptation of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys: dark, brutal, bone hard, and stripped down. That might not sound very feminist, but pay attention to the lyrics if you want to soak in the socially aware, politically charged goodness on this hump day.

Want to hear the studio version? Stream it at their myspace, where you can also download it for *free* (that's right, POR GRATIS!) along with the rest of their demo!

And for those of you in the New York City area who want to experience the magic for yourself: catch them this Saturday at ABC No Rio!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lessons learned after 379 days in.

While I'm not what you'd call a 'quitter', I'm still sort of surprised that this blog is a year old. I've spent the last few days thinking about what a year of blogging has meant for me.

As one might expect, I've learned a lot about writing: I've learned how to be nice without being sappy, how to be critical without being snarky, how to draw comparisons and make references without sounding like a name-dropping douchebag. (I hope.) And all of this is important, because writing about something non-verbal, like the sound and movement in a performance, is actually quite difficult.

But I think what I've learned about women and their standing in music culture(s) is kind of more important:

1. There are tons of women in punk and rock's other less accessible genres. Not so long ago, I found myself telling a close friend, "Sometimes I'm worried that there aren't other girls out there. Who play music and care about good bands, and punk, and playing music. 'Cause if they aren't out there, I might as well just end it now." This concern? Totally unfounded. If you look for it, you will find amazing work being done by female musicians. This might be hard to believe, but trust me: it's an issue of visibility, not presence. Which sort of brings me to my next point...

2. There don't seem to be anywhere near enough feminist or even female-friendly writers out there to cover all these artists. There are probably many reasons for this. I think one reason is that the need is going unrecognized. If women and feminist musicians suffer from such low visibility, why would anyone, male or female, think that columns, blogs, articles, and other literature devoted to such artists are necessary? The same goes for so-called 'women's issues'. If sexism itself and inequality are ignored, why would any one believe that attention to women and 'women's issues', in any area of culture or society is necessary?

3. Despite what you hear, dialogues on music (and art in general) and 'women's issues' are totally necessary. This blog started out as a way for me to cope with not being able to really play music or even talk about it while in grad school. And I was insecure about it in a lot of ways. On top of feeling guilty for not being happy with grad school, I worried that music and feminism weren't as important as I thought they were.

But now there are people who actually read my blog, and they've responded positively to some of my ideas. And so I had to accept the possibility that I might be doing something right, here. I've realized that in speaking openly about music and especially feminism, I say things that some people can't say. I have the opportunity to articulate problems that someone out there might be facing. There's nothing more gratifying than having the power to validate someone else's experience, and having your own validated in return by a reader.

So, thank you, everyone for reading! And thank you for playing, for writing, and for putting yourselves out there. To a year of Rock and the Single Girl, and many more!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hump Day Treat: More Sweet Gossip Edition

My love and appreciation of (the) Gossip is well-established, I know. But I'm in the mood to celebrate: not only did the tangible, non-digital, cd version of The Gossip's newest release, Music for Men finally hit stores yesterday, but the disco euro punk power trio themselves just hit the road! So today let's give it up for the band's newest single on this sort of dreary, sort of not day!

The Gossip will be touring both the U.S. and Europe in the next two months! Get the dates here at their myspace. After watching the video I'd say it's worth checking out just to see if they have an actual keytar onstage, wouldn't you?

"Dresses and pointy boots and stuff": Sara Quin Fights The System!

A facebook friend who likes to express her love for Tegan and Sara by posting numerous links to T&S-related articles, videos, and photos recently shared the following:

Here's the obvious soundbite from this interview: "...we showed up at this big photo shoot in New York and I get in there and I look at the rack of clothes, and it's like, dresses, and pointy boots and stuff and I was like -- I said to the photographer, the guy that was running the shoot, I said -- 'I wanna sleep with women wearing these clothes, but I do not want to wear these clothes myself.' And they didn't think that was funny."

I will admit to watching this video three times in rapid succession. I watched it a second time both to laugh at Sara's story again, and to make sure that she had, in fact said "I wanna sleep with women wearing these clothes...." I watched it a third time because I noticed the first half of the story, and couldn't believe that either:

"...recently, Tegan and I decided, we're not gonna be forced to wear clothes that we don't feel comfortable in."

I find it surprising, and a little depressing, that Tegan and Sara have this problem. Haven't they been touring and working for a while now? Aren't they kind of really famous? Don't they make a fair amount of money, and thus have the power to decide what they want to wear?

Of course, there's more than one interpretation of this story. Sara doesn't specify what parties have pressured her and her sister to dress 'more feminine', and it sounds like Sara could be referencing some sort of personal issue. Maybe the pressure she's talking about is some sort of internal pressure.

But that's not my instinct. I get the impression from what Sara says in the video that there's some history of coercion in her career, some on-going arm twisting regarding the way she and Tegan present themselves. That even Tegan and Sara have to deal with this veiled sexism and heterosexism is kind of crazy to me, but I guess the male gaze falls upon all of us at one point or another.

This is exactly the sort of thing that makes me truly appreciative of the local and independent bands I have access to. I'm really lucky, I get to to go local shows put on and attended by girl bands and their sometimes male friends and supporters, and it's an autonomous operation. Women and girls at these shows, both performers and spectators, are free to dress the way they want, because they don't have to dress to fit any sort of male gaze. The male gaze is a key feature of The System. These bands, and also the community-based and feminist organizations that work with them, appear to be dedicated to working outside of The System.

As cool as that might sound, it breaks down into a troubling dichotomy: comfort, or 'success'? Are those really the options? Must we choose between dressing as casually or comfortably or, gasp, un-femininely as we like, or attaining the level of recognition that bands like Tegan and Sara have worked so hard for?

But that's one of the many things I really respect about the local bands I get to see regularly: they don't labor under the traditional definition of success. I can't tell you how any of these bands actually define success because I haven't exactly asked them. But from what I've seen, it's kind of apparent that 'success' isn't about multi-million dollar record contracts or private jets or fashion magazines. In this context, success has more to do with creating a space and time, however brief, where you can make art and music with awareness and integrity both with and for your friends. Success is the act of resistance that is simply being outside The System, and existing in opposition to it. This is a type of success that I can happily get behind.

And what about those of us like Tegan and Sara who are in The System? Heinous and sexist as the music industry is, maybe it's not as bad as it seems. I mean, when was the last time you saw either Tegan or Sara in a dress? Or pointy boots? Maybe a video of Sara cracking jokes about her sartorial 'butchness' is representative of the progress women and gays are making. Maybe it's proof that The System is changing.

***Thanks to Kirie for posting the aforementioned video!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Birthday Edition!

Today Rock and the Single Girl is a year and two days old! *cheers, ticker tape, confetti etc* And I feel that one of the world's most famous renditions of "Happy Birthday" is in order:

...okay, not even Marilyn can turn that song into a party jam, so now let's have a real hump day treat. (Sidenote: I can't even believe that that video of MM is on youtube, I guess everything is now.) In accordance with my on-going '90s alternative nostalgia trip, I've been thinking lately about the criminally underrated That Dog.

When I was in middle school, I lived for weekends at my father's house not because I wanted to visit him and his side of the family, but because he had MTV. I had a television in my room (which doubled as my dad's gear room, amps and guitars everywhere, and I would stay up all night on those Saturdays watching Alternative Nation, hosted by Kennedy. On rare occasions, I would stay over on Sunday too, and I would get to see Matt Pinfield's show, 120 Minutes.

On one of those Saturdays, I saw this broadcast:

It's a little embarrassing to buy things after seeing them or hearing about them, but the next day I went out and bought Retreat from the Sun, which happens to be an excellent record, and which I highly recommend.

There was a time when you could hear really good popular music of all genres on regular old MTV. There was a time when really neat, really smart lady musicians like That Dog's Anna Waronker and Petra and Rachel Haden didn't seem like anomalies. There was a time when Kennedy had curly hair. But now, MTV is useless, lady artists feel less visible than ever, and Kennedy has straight hair (and is a registered Republican and libertarian with a radio show that's some how affiliated with Fox News, what!?!). All the more reason to let That's Dog's sweet mix of crunchy guitar, smooth synths, and soaring vocal choruses take you back to a simpler time on this dreary hump day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Guitar Geek Nostalgia edition

I finally got around to googling Elle magazine's recent 12 Greatest Female Electric Guitarists list, but I wound up spending more time on reading the comments posted by other readers than on the list itself. The following from Drowned in Sound caught my attention:

In terms of cheesy rock soloage, it's gotta be Louise Post from Veruca Salt. She's also dead pretty.

Oh wow, what about Louise Post? I wondered to myself. I don't think about her often, even though Veruca Salt was one of my favorite bands before Nina Gordon's departure. This comment made me realize though that Post was my first real guitar heroine. I devoured articles about her, and I got my first guitar pedal -- the now discontinued Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz pedal -- because I read in a guitar magazine that Post used it on a song called "Shutterbug".

Here's another geeky first: the first guitar solo I ever learned was the face-melter at the end of "Shutterbug". And I learned it from watching Veruca Salt's performance of the song on Saturday Night Live. (In the live broadcast, Post made a mistake, and yeah, I learned the mistake even.) Solo's aren't the be all and end all that some (read: dude) guitarists make them out to be, but it was definitely an important step in my development as a musician. No matter what rumors and mean-spirited critiques may abound about Post now, I owe her. So in her honor, I present "Shutterbug" as today's hump day treat. Enjoy!

***EDIT*** I just found the original SNL performance I learned the solo from, and it's just like I remember it, with Louise and Nina's weird outfits that I thought were awesome when I was in middle school, and Louise's bad ass ice blue eye shadow! Looking at it with adult eyes, the performance isn't even that great, but that's beside the point. BEST DAY OF MY LIFE. (watch the SNL performance HERE.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Let's Get Metaphysical -- Doctumenting Kate Wadkins' documentation

Not so long ago, I blogged about how I worry sometimes that there isn't enough documentation of some of the amazing girl and punk bands I've been following. Leave it to one Kate Wadkins to allay my fears.

The new Maximumrockandroll features a two page scene report written by Wadkins herself, where she mentions Rock and the Single Girl favorites Each Other's Mothers, Cheeky, Taigaa, and a wealth of other bands I enjoy and just haven't had a chance to write about yet here. Wadkins is a musician who has played in a number of local bands and who is well-acquainted with what she calls the DIY punk scene. And I have to say, it's kind of amazing to see an insider's account of this community that's producing so much art and music that means so much to me both personally and professionally.

But don't take my word for it -- read for yourself! Kate has posted the article and some scans at her blog, ch-ch-ch-check it out!

It's going to take more than one person, and more than one scene report to capture and contextualize the art being produced by these women at this time, but I feel like this is a good start. To paraphrase Kate: this is the new international girl gang underground and it's not going anywhere.

***Special thanks to Anna, for posting about this and bringing it to my attention!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

One Good Reason to Watch the VMAs.

Tonight, MTV takes its yearly stab at relevance and airs its annual MTV Video Music Awards. (Seriously, does anyone else think it's weird that MTV continues to stage this award show even though it really doesn't show music videos anymore?)

I once looked forward to the VMAs. This was back when I was in middle school, back when alternative radio existed, and back when there was tolerable music being played on mainstream stations and channels. Back then pop music was way less homogenized; it was possible to have a tribute to Tupac and Biggie Smalls, an announcement from the Foo Fighters, a performance from The Spice Girls, and Fiona Apple's unforgettable acceptance speech all in the same broadcast. (Which actually happened one year. First person to respond in the comment with the right year gets a FREE subscription to Rock and the Single Girl!)

Perhaps more to the point, you used to see all different kinds of women at the VMAs. Rappers like Eve and Lil Kim, singer-songwriters like Jewel and Apple, 'rockers' like Courtney Love and Dolores O'Riordan, divas like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey -- there was this feeling that there was something for everyone, a feeling that I don't get from anything on MTV anymore.

MTV owes whatever relevance it might have enjoyed, especially in terms of changing ideas about sexuality and gender roles, to its association with Madonna. There are a lot of things I really can't stand about Madonna and her recent work, but her VMA performances always delivered. My favorite moment from VMA history, which I only really saw many years after it was originally aired, is Madonna's 1990 performance of "Vogue", decked out in full Marie Antoinette drag:

This might just seem like typical Madonna-scale spectacle, nothing more than big hair and big skirts and big boobs spilling out of tiny corsets. I bet the sheer excess was a big part of why Madonna wanted to do this type of performance. But what if there's more to it than that?

It turns out that Marie Antoinette was more than the ultimate fashion victim. In the end her opponents were able to use her sartorial choices against her, but Marie Antoinette's choices were about more than style or appearance. Marie Antoinette used fashion in order to enhance her prestige, in an attempt to assure her tenuous position in the French monarchy. Insecure as a young woman, young wife, and monarch, Marie Antoinette indulged in fashion in order to try and fake confidence in herself.

Because as a woman and 'foreigner' in Versailles, Marie Antoinette actually didn't have much power. She used clothes to try and change that. She went so far as to wear and refashion men's clothing in order to project an image of masculine and royal strength and entitlement, and she was subject to rumors about her sexuality as a result. Even in 18th century France, it seems that 'dyke-baiting' was one of the major ways to punish a woman who stepped out of line.

Did Madonna know all of this about Marie Antoinette? Did Madonna mean to invoke all of these generally unknown issues from Marie Antoinette's life? It's hard to say. Madonna is a savvy woman, but I can't picture her as a French history buff. Either way, the parallels are pretty amazing; Madonna's only made her entire career on altering her appearance, unapologetically wearing lavish and provocative costumes, and fearlessly challenging ideas about women, power, and sexuality.

Madonna's 1990 performance of "Vogue" represents a momentary juncture between U.S. American pop culture and the 'high culture' of European history. Whether she meant to or not, Madonna opened up a possibility for dialogue about gender, appearance, and power. Because of her, I watch the VMAs every year, in the hope that we'll get another good moment like this. It doesn't seem likely, but one can hope.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Back to School Edition

I'll be honest: I've had reservations about The Donnas from the very first time I heard them. There was just something about the allusions to cutting school, and the obvious lifting of the whole 'Ramones'-same name bit, and the shameless combination of leather and leggings that just didn't sit right with me. As you've probably already guessed, I was a nerdy kid, and I doubt I would have gotten along with any of The Donnas, despite a mutual interest in classic rock. I probably would have been a bit scared of them, frankly.

I was in grad school when I came to appreciate The Donnas for more than their incredibly luscious hair. I was up late, engaged in yet more Herculean-type labor that my department claimed was required in order for me to obtain my degree, and that awful Jawbreaker movie (you know, with Rose McGowan and Marilyn Manson) was on the television. The Donnas were onstage in the prom scene at the end of the movie, just as they've always been, but for some reason I really paid attention to them that night.

For the first time, I really listened to the lyrics. "I don't care about going to school and I don't care about having friends and I don't care 'cause I'm a rock'n'roll machine." For the first time, those words made sense to me, and I realized that I'd gotten The Donnas all wrong. I'd written them off as hypersexualized slaves to classic rock's sexist dogma, the kind of girls who spend all their time partying and chasing guys so they don't have to really face themselves. But that's not what they're about -- from their first record, The Donnas set themselves apart as those 'weird girls' who care more about music than about their looks, their social calendar, or their reputation. Which is kind of awesome when you think about it, and something I personally can understand.

The Donnas will never be my favorite band; they're a bit too classic rock for my taste. But I do completely admit to breaking out this song every time I go back to school. So scribble some lyrics in your notebook, dry some elmer's glue on your hands, forge a note to get out of PE, or whatever it is you have to do to get through class, and enjoy The Donnas on this fine hump day!

Monday, September 7, 2009

"It's going to take a lot of things", or: A response to some random naysayery

I'm lucky enough to have a few really cool friends who read and support my blog. A few weeks ago my dear friend Jackie went so far as to post a link to my post on Rock Camp songs on her facebook wall. I was so grateful and flattered, but the warm fuzzies I was feeling were tarnished by the following comment from one of her facebook friends:

"I think this is great, but we're not going to dismantle this dumb system with rock songs. We will by forming DIY community banks."

It was the classic 'progressive guy' condescension. Just in case you don't speak Sexism, I'll translate for you: First, you have the pat on the head ('I think this is great...'). Then you have the brush off ('we're not going to dismantle this dumb system with rock songs'). Finally, you get the solution ('DIY community banks'?) In other words, this is cute and all sweetie, but music and art don't really 'count' -- only male-identified arenas like socioeconomic and political institutions count.

I was upset by this comment, at first because of its sexist undertone, and then later because I was forced to consider what it said. What if that guy is right? I've spent the last few weeds wondering, what if rock songs won't dismantle the system? What if what I'm talking about is totally stupid, and totally irrelevant, and he's right to be condescending?

Here's the thing though: this guy is NOT right. To start with, he's wrong to argue that rock songs won't bring down The System because I never said they would. I'm idealistic about music and art, but I'm not delusional. I know that songs don't have the power to stop armies in their tracks, or pass legislation, or regulate financial institutions.

But music is a powerful and unique means of uniting people. Music is a unique medium for the transmission of new ideas to a large audience. And a good, pithy pop song breaks those ideas down into manageable, memorable pieces, using straightforward and familiar language that sticks in your mind, and that becomes part of your consciousness.

I listened to the Beatles a lot as a kid, I like to think that their pro-peace, pro-love ideas became a part of my consciousness early on.

When music opens up your mind like that, and gets you thinking about bigger ideas, and maybe even gets you talking with your friends about these ideas and how they make you feel -- that's when music has the power to change things. Music does have the ability to stimulate critical thought, and critical thought can lead to resistance.

This is one of my new favorites -- Swedish punk upstarts Refused knew how to bring the classic punk resistance to shitty/mindless popular music!

(If you don't believe me, just ask all the Latin American dictators of the '70s who banned pop music, assassinated outspoken musicians, and sent their military police to rock concerts with tear gas and grenades. They seemed pretty worried that music about human rights would get the young people to resist the military government.)

This guy, Victor Jara, was tortured, beaten, and killed by the Chilean military because he sang about political activism and human rights.

More to the point of this blog, popular music has become bigger than just songs and albums. Song itself can transmit positive ideas, and it can also transmit negative ideas. And since music is not just the music itself, but also the performers, their politics, their style of dress, and the way they present themselves, popular music also transmits ideas about men, women, sex and gender -- whether it means to or not. I've seen this for myself. I've experienced it for myself, I've seen it with my friends, I've seen it with the campers at Rock Camp.

An all time favorite: my beloved Sleater-Kinney singing in feminist protest of the corporate war machine

I've always assumed that most of us are sort of familiar with this phenomenon, and that most of us can appreciate what a positive influence music can have on your day-to-day life. (Don't a lot of us go through a phase during our teenage years where we just want to shut ourselves up in our rooms with our favorite records, and where we only want to talk to friends who are doing the same thing? Or maybe that was just me....)

I guess maybe my critic didn't go through this phase, and if that's the case, I probably can't say anything that will convince him of the power of music. All I can say to a person like him is, man, you must be listening to the wrong stuff.

This post is dedicated to Jackie, for her support, and to all of my friends who keep encouraging me to write, and to keep speaking up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Live from Rock Camp edition

Today I'm blogging live from the second session of Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, in beautiful downtown Brooklyn! Instruments are being wielded, bands are coalescing, and music is being made, people! And, perhaps most importantly: about 100 girls, ages 8 - 18, are being transformed into confident, outspoken, bold young women. It truly is an amazing sight to behold.

And for some reason, it all reminds me of one of my favorite songs when I was a kid. They were a little before my time, but when I was a young girl of 8 or 9-ish, I was a big fan of The Go-Gos. How could you not love a band of five hot girls with rad '80s style, who seemed like the flirty bad girls from your local high school?

So today, in honor of Rock Camp, we present The Go-Gos' 1982 hit single, "We Got the Beat".

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hump Day Treat, a la français Edition

I was perusing the reviews section of the recent issue of Bust magazine (with Diablo Cody on the cover), when I ran across a short, positive write-up on a new record from a French band called The Plastiscines. Intrigued, I youtubed them, and this live cover was the first thing I found. I just couldn't resist posting it:

We all know and love Nancy Sinatra's classic kiss off song, but what about the Plastiscines? What does their music sound like? According to Bust they "self-identify as garage rock." Judge for yourself:

The shout-spoken vocals, despite being in English, aren't entirely clear, but luckily the gritty, distorted guitars and tight rhythms speak for themselves. (Also helpful is that these women are fluent in the international language of Stylish.) So sweep on some thick eyeliner and waterproof mascara, tease up your hair, and get down with the unbearably cool Plastiscines on this thunder-y hump day!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Such a tees.

Yesterday I engaged in an activity that for me is unprecedented in its overt 'femmey'-ness: I went around the corner to the local salon for a little mani/pedi.

While waiting for a beautician to start working on my nails, I paged absent-mindedly through some celebrity gossip magazine. I didn't quite recognize a lot of the people in the photos, and so the headlines about scandals involving diet plans, adultery, and adoptions didn't really move me.

But here's what got my attention: photos of Kristen Stewart at Comic Con, wearing a Minor Threat t-shirt. Minor Threat?! I incredulously wondered to myself. Really? I experienced a split second of elation, yes -- Kristen Stewart listens to Minor Threat, FUCK YES! -- which gave way to judgment, cyncism, and scorn. Like she even knows who Minor Threat is. Chyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Kristen Stewart, looking t-u-f-f tough in her Minor Threat tee, with some guys. (Who are those random dudes? Fans or something?)

And then I regretted it. Because it occurred to me that whenever I see a young, pretty girl, especially an actress, sporting a t-shirt of any decent band, I assume that she doesn't know the band. Why do I do that? I don't think anyone ever questions it when a guy wears a band shirt. Why the double standard?

The better question might be, why do we wear band t-shirts? And maybe the right place to start is at home: I myself have quite the collection of band t-shirts. I like t-shirts, they're comfortable, and they're a great way to support a band. I try to only buy shirts at actual shows, because that way the proceeds go directly to the artist. T-shirts are also an important means of signaling your musical tastes, not only to others, but for yourself. Your band t-shirt is a declaration of your appreciation for a band, and also of your choice to wear a t-shirt rather than, say, a three piece suit, or a tube top.

Band shirts seem neutral, but are in fact very gendered (and also classed) articles of clothing. The fair-skinned, heterosexual, overtly feminine, middle class standards of womanhood and girlhood, do not involve band t-shirts. Such women and girls are rarely presented in such casual clothing -- they are expected to wear dresses, skirts, blouses, and other garments with decorative buttons and lace and ruffles. Women are their professional/office and formal attire, just as a younger women are their trendy, not-really formal, but not really relaxed, 'misses' section outfits.

And if you do see a girl in a band t-shirt, particularly as represented in film or television, she's sleeping, doing housework (like Jennifer Garner in Juno pictured below), depressed, or 'punk'.

Heaven beside you: Jennifer Garner paints nurseries in her (husbands?) band shirts!

But that's it, right there -- such a t-shirt often signals that a girl is punk, or at the very least, 'different'. Anyone remember Peyton on the early seasons of One Tree Hill? Who didn't fall in love with her and her devotion to her favorite bands, and her numerous band t-shirts? (I maintain that in real life, Peyton's taste would actually be much better, and much edgier, but I guess it's the point and not the vernacular.) Peyton is 'the rebel' on that program, as directly contrasted with Brooke, her stylish bff, who never wore any kind of t-shirt, though I wished she would.

In 'real life', band t-shirts seem to mean the same thing: a girl or young woman who wears band shirts on a regular basis, is bucking gender conventions, by wearing an article that is designed for men. And if she's taken the time to modify the t-shirt, tailoring, altering, or even just cutting it and transforming its dude silhouette into a garment that is more flattering to her figure, even better.

Or, you hope, anyways. The paradox is that as an article of clothing, t-shirts are inherently superficial. A girl in a band t-shirt could be a total radical, or she could just be wearing t-shirt. Women are assumed to be superficial, and because it's been feminized, fashion is assumed to be superficial as well. No one bothers to consider that women's choices of clothing, from t-shirts and jeans to ballgowns, are deliberately made, based on the individual's grasp on how clothing is produced, where it comes from, and what it means socially. Women and girls' sartorial behavior is automatically written off as irrelevant and frivolous.

So in the same spirit of bucking convention, I'm going to refrain from making assumptions about Kristen Stewart and her clothes and musical tastes. Because wearing band t-shirts is meaningful to me, and it's just one way of declaring that women are part of bands, shows, and the music industry, too. I have to believe this, despite the stereotypes and generalizations. I have to have faith, based on my own experience, that not every girl in a band t-shirt is just wearing something she found in her boyfriend's dresser drawer.