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