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.