Monday, June 22, 2009

That's Not What I Heard! The Truth About the Gossip

*****It's Gossip, Folks! Week here at Rock and the Single Girl! In celebration of the release The Gossip's fourth full length album and major label debut, Music for Men, for the next 6 days R&tSG will feature musings, music, photos, and video of the acclaimed PDX-by-way-of-Arkansas trio, (The) Gossip. Already a fan? Turn up the volume and get ready to dance. No idea who they are? Turn up the volume anyway, and get ready to be converted, because The Gossip is just that kind of band.*****

I got hooked on The Gossip the first time I saw them live, back in the summer of 2000. My high school best friend had their new record, and she was going to see them; when she invited me to go with her I reluctantly agreed. "What if I don't like them?" I fretted, almost falling off my seat as the 7 train turned by Shea Stadium. "Don't worry", my friend said, expertly maintaining her balance as the subway car rattled and shook. "Trust me, you'll like them."

And of course, that night I fell in love with them -- I fell in love with their lead singer, Beth Ditto, because she was the loudest and most unself-conscious woman I'd ever seen on a stage, and more than that I fell in love with their music, with the sound of gospel-style vocals about having sex with girls over messy garage-style punk, a violent crashing mix of distorted, Southern-sounding guitars and low-tuned Riot Grrrl percussion. Watch this video from back then so you can see for yourself what I'm talking about:

I'd always been so sure that The Gossip are a really good band. It wasn't just that I happened to like them; they were actually making quality music and giving quality, energetic performances. So I was completely shocked when my friend Jess sent me this link, along with the commentary, "I don't know why I read comments, but this whole post annoyed the crap out of me":

Perez Hilton's love of the Gossip is nothing new, he's been talking them up for a long time, right? But what about Alex Bilmes' criticisms? I thought the The Gossip were beloved throughout the UK! And what about the comments? "Um Perez, nobody likes the Gossip but you"? "He's right, they suck"? "Who the fuck are these people"? I didn't realize just how much Gossip hate there is out there.

Then there are the comments about Beth Ditto's appearance. It's one thing to not like The Gossip's music, or even to hate their sound. It's another thing to be put off by Beth's opinions or the way she expresses them. It is something else entirely to bash the band because of Beth's appearance, or more to the point, her size. There is palpable contempt for Beth's so-called 'morbid obesity'.

There's not much I can say about those comments -- I don't think I need to say that it's wrong and sad that people are so shallow, in addition to being sexist and fatphobic. But I will take on the quotes from Bilmes' article. As a journalist and critic (rather than a longtime fan), I can say this about Bilmes: he's wrong.

I don't see how the fashion industry's recent interest in Ditto could possibly be an attempt to appease "feminazis" -- I don't think Bilmes understands that such a massive and lucrative industry doesn't have to appease anyone, least of all feminists. I'm suspicious of the fashion industry, yes, and I'll admit that I don't entirely understand why Beth Ditto is suddenly so chummy with Kate Moss and Karl Lagerfeld, but Lagerfeld is a powerful designer. Homeslice is not hanging out with Beth because he's worried or scared, okay? Okay.

Bilmes is equally off the mark in calling Beth a poor role model for young women. Is he foolish enough to think that young girls are going to go out and eat everything in sight and try to make themselves larger so that they'll look like her? (And if they do -- so fucking what?) As a woman myself, I can tell you that it's more complicated than that. Beth is an inspiration not necessarily to be larger, or to be 'unhealthy'; she's an inspiration to love yourself and your body even when the mainstream tells you that you shouldn't, whether it's because of boniness, flab, acne, stretch marks, 'bad' hair, or whatever 'flaws' you might have.

And finally: Bilmes calls The Gossip "a deeply average, resolutely unsuccessful rock band." I read this and thought " this true? Are they average?" As I said above, it had never occurred to me that they were anything but quality.

And I stand by this assessment. There is no one in the world making music like The Gossip -- not ten years ago when they were playing their inimitable Southern dance punk, and not now as they write and record songs that can best be described as disco punk. The Gossip are innovators, that's just the way it is. The Gossip is comprised of three very skilled musicians and songwriters, capable of evolving and experimenting with new sounds and styles. And I know, that's not really a big deal, any decent band should be able to evolve and experiment, but that's just it -- not every band out there is capable of that. I don't understand how Bilmes can call The Gossip "average".

Regardless of what Bilmes says, regardless of Perez Hilton's or even my opinion, regardless of what Hilton's commenters say, the truth about The Gossip is just this: they kick ass, on many different levels.

official website
Gossip on myspace


RMJ said...

I know Ditto mainly through her through comments on her presentation. Do they play live in the South at all?

jamie said...

RMJ, I was just reading an interview where they said that they were exhausted after touring in the US for something like 5 years straight, and that they took advantage of their unexpected success in Europe because they wanted to take a break from that.

But they've toured the country quite a few times, and they're from Arkansas. They've definitely played in the South, and will surely return when they go on the road for this record.