Friday, June 5, 2009

Courtney Hate?

sunburst graphic "This all-girl [band] fantasy I've had my whole life -- well, it's not going to happen. Like, there are fucking riot grrrls banging on pots and pans and talking about their vaginas, and that's all really lovely, but the music blows. You have to sit in your room and practice. You have to fucking learn how to play guitar."

Where to begin, dear readers, with what's wrong with this quote? Well, okay, I'll begin with a full disclosure: the Riot Grrrl movement, its music and ideas, its DIY, all ages, pro-feminism devotion to creating space for girls within punk and in other areas of life, its core idea of physical and political empowerment for young women, have made me who I am today. I can't overstate how much Riot Grrrl has meant to me. And therefore, anyone who disparages the movement is pretty much automatically dead to me.

Here's my second full disclosure: I feel like I can critique and criticize Courtney Love without malice because I once worshipped her. When I was a chubby wallflower struggling through middle school, I worshipped Love mostly because she was a woman who wasn't afraid to scream and play guitar, but also because I coveted her abrasive, loud, I'm-a-bitch-so-what attitude. I wanted to tell my tyrannical teachers, stupid classmates, and my controlling family exactly what I thought about them. But I couldn't, so I listened to Live Through This every day instead. That is, ironically, until I discovered post-riot superstars Sleater-Kinney (my love of them is already well-established though).

Now that you know my bias, I'll move on to my petty initial reaction to this quote: Courtney Love is the last person in this universe who should be telling anyone that they need to learn how to play the guitar. She isn't exactly a virtuoso guitarist or vocalist herself, and anyone who's seen so much as a youtube video of a Hole performance can tell you that. I remember watching on Hole's MTV Unplugged as she basically sat there just holding her guitar, while the rest of her very talented band did the bulk of the work.

But Love's quote makes me feel a lot more than snark, it also kind of depresses and scares me. I mean, is this oblique sexism and apparent commitment to the patriarchal idea of 'playing the right way' really necessary? Love's quote suggests that you can't work with these crazy radical feminists; they don't play well enough, they don't play the 'right' instruments (pots and pans? Really?), and they don't write songs about legitimate 'rock' topics, because they write about their vaginas instead.

Courtney Love, despite her many flaws, and the mistakes she's made, appears to be an incredibly intelligent woman. So I hesitate to say that she doesn't 'get' Riot Grrrl, but that's kind of how it seems. Riot Grrrl is about the deliberate rejection of patriarchal standards in rock, and especially in punk. It's not about playing 'badly' or refusing to learn how to play, but about questioning where our standards for how music is supposed to sound or how an instrument is supposed to be played come from. This is of course derived from previous punk ideology, but Riot Grrrl brings a necessary gender and class perspective to the conversation. It's no coincidence that white, middle to upper class men, who can afford and obtain things like private lessons, studio time, mastering, full time touring, etc, dominate almost all genres of music, including punk. Riot Grrrl deliberately rejected those standards, in favor of punk rock and life that is more inclusive and more accessible.

I wonder sometimes if Courtney Love is jealous. Anyone who's read any of her many biographies knows that Love has despised Riot Grrrl for some time now. Does anyone else remember when Love punched quintessential Riot Grrrl Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill in the face backstage at a Lollapalooza tour stop? (Yes, kids, Lollapalooza used to be a cross-country tour.) Hanna was at the all day outdoor concert event as a guest of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, of Sonic Youth, a band Love admires. Hanna and Bikini Kill also worked with Joan Jett, who produced and guests on some BK songs, and I'm willing to bet that Love was a big fan of The Runaways back in the day.

Something else that can be gleaned from her biographies is that Love has always had problems with other women, especially her mother. I remember thinking, back when I was kid reading about her life, that Love must have felt betrayed by her mother, and that she must have been really wary of the other girls in the detention facilities where she was placed throughout her teens. Love seems like she still doesn't trust other women, and rather than working with them, Love competes with them.

And ultimately, Courtney Love wants to win. She doesn't want change, she doesn't want the sexual, feminist revolution that Riot Grrrl called for. I don't know what exactly she wants, if it's fortune or celebrity or whatever, but whatever it is, she wants it for herself. Love comes across as terribly selfish. (I think her selfishness is what I really liked about her when I was younger.) But now that I'm an adult, I understand that that selfishness is more antithetical to riot grrrl, feminism and women's continued progress in rock than any bitchy comment or physical assault toward Kathleen Hanna could ever be.


JMP said...

Oh J.
I spent way too many years of middle school/early high school obsessing over Live Through This. It was angry, it was tough-sounding, it was woman and it was not always sweet-and-pretty woman. Yeah. I pretty much loved it back then.

I have to wonder what happened to our heroes. Look at my girl Liz P. What happened? Is this what age does? Will aging make me jaded and absurd and more shallow all over again? Will I start hating women because of some misplaced anxiety over my fading youth and "looks"? Is that what it is? I have no idea.

RMJ said...

I really love the analysis of Riot Grrl music in this post. I've never had a lot of knowledge of much mid-90s feminist music - I need to work on that! Found you via Feministing.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog via feministing and I'm liking... well, loving what I'm reading so far.
I feel the same way about Courtney Love. Usually I'd suggest chilling out and having a cone, but I think she might have done enough of that already :P
Ah, fuck it, I just listen to their studio albums and try and avoid anything live.

Laila-Muslima said...

Love emerged as a star from the Riot Grrrl subculture, which was not supposed to have a star. She herself said she was not “ allowed to be grunge… was never allowed to be Riot Grrrl… Those girls hated [her]..because [her] feminism came in a weird brand according to them” (Love, YouTube). Her subsequent career decisions were based on “[Riot Grrrl's] refusal to accept her and other rock women’s success” (Murphy 149). If she could not join them, she would beat them. Only after the Riot Grrrl movement had been incorporated, did artists emerge that were pseudo subversive. These new women presented themselves as angry, “and stereotypically feminine [in] appearance, [allowing] them to be angry without being threatening” (Schlit 11). Therefore this new music was limited in its artistic purpose. Hole’s music lies somewhere in between the rough indie aesthetic and a mainstream pop one.

Just wanted to post that in regards to this post.

jamie said...

1. I feel like a total douche for completely MISSING all of these comments. Worst blogger ever. How did this happen? Maddie, RMJ, and berryblade -- thank you so much for reading! I am glad that you liked what you read so long ago! Even if it was two and a half years ago, I appreciate it!

2. Hey Laila-Muslimah -- thanks for reading and for commenting after all this time! I appreciate the excerpt you've left. But I also think, based on my knowledge and research, that it's completely inaccurate and off-base. I stand by my post, and my assessment that Courtney is a misogynist and was way before she had any interactions with Riot Grrrl. Not only does she seem to be a woman-hater, but she seems way more interested in fame and money than in the actual work of being an artist or feminist or feminist artist, and that's fine! That's totally her prerogative! But it can't be dressed up or whitewashed as "a different brand of feminism". Because that's just NOT what it is at all, and to call it that is damaging to the movement.

Laila-Muslima said...

hi this is totally random but are you into the smiths by any chance? is saw you link in prettygirlsmakegraves in another post and was just wondering?

jamie said...

Hi again Laila-Muslimah, and thanks again for commenting/reading! I'm actually not a Smiths fan (I don't dislike them, I've just never really listened, so it never happened for me with them), but Seattle's Pretty Girls Make Graves (RIP!) is one of my favorite bands of all time. They definitely named their band for that Smiths song, I'm guessing that they are pretty huge Smiths supporters.