"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.