Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Almost New Year Edition

Normally on Wednesday at Rock and the Single Girl, I find myself looking back -- either for a video of an old favorite, a recent find, or maybe a band or song I'd heard about awhile ago but never had a chance to investigate.

But it is, after all, just a few hours until a new year begins, and I find myself instead looking forward to what new music will come out of 2010.

And so today we're serving up a live video from one of the bands I am most excited for: The Shondes. Hailing from Brooklyn, and with several national tours and a heartbreakingly good debut LP already under their belts, The Shondes are preparing to release a new record next year, and I could not be happier to support them. Check them out on this bright, cold, final hump day of 2009.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Punk Girls on Film.

When a movie about The Runaways was announced early this year, I have to admit that I was among the skeptics. Kristen Stewart, fresh off her Twilight superstardom, was involved, and Dakota Fanning's signing on to the project worried me even more. Something about it just felt gimmick-y and calculated to me.

But as more information became available I found myself getting more invested. Joan Jett as producer and a script based on Cherie Currie's memoir seemed like good signs, and bringing in Alia Shawkat seemed like another one. Photos from the summertime-shoot showed Stewart, Fanning, Shawkat, and the entire band looking amazingly like the real Runaways. Seeing Stewart in Adventureland, and falling in love with her portrayal of an honest-to-goodness Lou Reed-loving, band t-shirt wearing, musician-dating music geek in September sealed it for me.

But I didn't realize quite how excited I was until the first trailer was released just before Christmas. I definitely screamed a little when I watched it:

Visually, the trailer looks kind of awesome. There are scenes from concerts, scenes in recording studios, and Kristen Stewart smashing a chair, all in one minute --but what's really exciting to me is the voiceover. It starts the trailer, and it tells us: "In 1975, rock was a man's world." This initial, straightforward acknowledgment of gender as an issue is what made me realize that this movie is a big deal.

The trailer focuses on scenes in which the band is told that it won't be successful because all of its members are female. This suggests that this is the central conflict of the film: an all-girl band struggles for resources, support, and success against sexist ideas in a masculinist industry.

How many times have the real-life, day-to-day issues of female musicians, in any genre, been show on film? Sure, it's sort of been done. But to quote Jenny Schecter on lesbians in film, "Well, I don't think it's been done a million times." Consider that Dreamgirls, whose plot pretty much rests on issues of power and gender, never really deals with the exploitation and abuse it depicts. (Yeah, I know, it's a musical, but STILL.) Coal Miner's Daughter and What's Love Got to Do With It are much more satisfying, not to mention more responsible -- but those films are about extremely well-known and successful country and pop artists, respectively.

The Runaways movie is a big deal because it has the potential to give women and gender in rock some much needed visibility. Also, because it's the story of a band that eventually imploded, partly because of sexist exploitation, the real-life consequences of misogyny have a chance at some screen time as well.

And all of this is very important, especially to me, and especially to my friends who are starting bands and writing music right now. But if this movie is really done right, it will have the potential to about more than women in music. The story of the Runaways is, at its center, about young women working to make their voices heard, and to do fulfilling, fun, rewarding work in a world that still isn't entirely open to the idea of women in the public sphere, making money, and making a real contribution to society. Let's hope that the Runaways movie is both good enough and accessible enough to find an audience beyond young women musicians, aging riot grrrls, and punk enthusiasts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Bass Hero Edition

Three years ago today, my bff and I rushed down to New York to see local indie darlings Rainer Maria give their penultimate performance. It's hard to believe that so much time has passed, especially because I still listen to R|M on a pretty regular basis.

I hadn't planned on going; they were my favorites but I was kind of miffed over their last album, which just wasn't very good compared to their previous work. I ended up at the show because of a so-so boyfriend's last-minute cancellation, a spare ticket, and lucky timing.

As strangely as it all came about, I'm glad I went. The show reminded me of why I fell in love with the band, and with bass player and vocalist Caithlin De Marrais. A terribly undersung musician and songwriter, Caithlin's work changed the way I play and understand bass, and so I salute her and R|M onthis hump day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You know you're working in a patriarchal society when.

ellen page "You know you're working in a patriarchal society when the word feminist has a weird connotation. -- Self-proclaimed feminist and actress Ellen Page

It's happened once again: my friend Jackie posted a link to one of my recent posts, only to be met with unnecessary hostility from her guy friends. I don't particularly care to talk about it, but I will because there's some chance that it could be helpful to other feminists who have faced harassment or criticism.

"Criticism" is probably too good a word for the facebook comments my post got. In one of them the commenter related an experience with a 'crazy feminist' he had worked with who had 'prattle[d]' on so much about 'sexist conspiracies' that she'd 'ruined' feminism for him, and thusly couldn't read things like my blog. But then he said that of course he was a feminist 'on principle'. Right.

I chose to respond because I was infuriated by his lack of regard for his so-called friend, which I said in my response. I told him that it's not feminist at all to equate feminism with insanity, paranoia, and lack of logic, to treat his friend so poorly, or to blame a woman for ruining feminism for him. I told him that if he can't be a feminist, he should at least try to have good manners.

His response to this was to delete his comments, send me a very nasty personal message, and then block me. His message called me a narrow-minded fanatic, and said that my blog is 'not compelling -- but what the hell, traffic is traffic.'

I'm going to force myself to admit something: it hurt. Even though I know that there's no reason to take anything this jerk says seriously, it hurt.

I don't like to admit it for a few reasons. First, because if I admit that he got to me, it feels like he wins, even though he clearly loses, having exposed himself as a sexist jackass. Second, it feels like me saying that I'm wrong and that he's right, even though I know that what he did is wrong, and know that I stand by my blog. Finally, I hate to admit because I've been indoctrinated to believe that to be hurt by something like this is a sign of weakness, and weakness is feminine and thus bad.

I also don't like to admit that the entire experience of several days of back and forth with this immature individual has made me feel a bit reticent about blogging. What does it say about me and my convictions if one ignorant wank can affect me so much? Again, it feels like he wins.

But after thinking about it a lot, I've come to the conclusion that it's important to be open about how you feel and challenge the notion that such emotions are shameful, and that it's perfectly acceptable to be hurt. It's acceptable to be scared, because publicly proclaiming feminist ideas comes with the occupational hazard of getting shot down, and maybe you're worried that you can't handle it.

It's depressing that the word 'feminist' always seems to be met with this kind of comment. Once you accept that it's part of what you've signed on for as a feminist writer, performer, activist, or feminist anything, it becomes a question of how to deal with it. And so if you'll indulge me, I'll share how I've coped.

1. Talk about it. Don't be afraid to tell your friends that some sort of sexist comment hurt you. Let them support you and trust it when they agree with you. And if they don't support you, well, find someone who does!

2. Think about it.. Don't be afraid to consider what a comment says, or how it makes you feel. You're entitled to those emotions, and you'll probably learn something from them.

3. Respond -- or don't. Every situation, and every feminist, is different. Sometimes answering your critics is the right thing to do, and sometimes it isn't. A smart, sassy response can feel satisfying, but then so can quietly knowing that you're confident enough to not say anything back. It really depends on what's right for you.

4. And when all else fails: Remember that these comments do mean something. That you're upsetting chauvinists, scaring them with your willingness to call out sexism and your talk of demanding equality from them -- probably means that you're doing something right.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rock Herstory and Appreciation: Happy Birthday, Big Mama!

Prepare to enter the school of rock.

According to my calendar, Willie Mae Thornton was born on this day in 1926. Does the name sound familiar? It should -- my beloved Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, which I shamelessly mention as often as possible, is named for her.

Thornton was better know as Big Mama Thornton, and is remembered today as the original writer of "Hound Dog". Her version of the song sold almost 2 million copies, and she received $500 for it. Several years later, Elvis Pressley took the song, changed the words, re-recorded it, and basically launched rock'n'roll, and became a really huge deal.

You can look at Elvis' theft in two ways: you can focus on how he popularized the and profited from the song and, and see it as another episode in the long history of white artists appropriating African American sounds and culture.

Or, you can look at Big Mama Thornton as the real mother of rock'n'roll and every genre and subgenre that came after. Rock'n'roll as we know it does not start with some lip snarling, hip wiggling, later drug and alcohol abusing white male cultural appropriator. The history of rock'n'roll in fact begins with a black female singer/drummer/harmonica player/songwriter who was apparently probably a lesbian. That's right -- Big Mama Thornton wasn't actually anyone's mama, even though in another way, she's kind of the mother of us all.

So a posthumous though sincere happy birthday to Willie Mae Thornton. Thank you for queering the blues, for the vastly superior original version of "Hound Dog" (in which it sounds like you're the hound dog, sniffing around and wagging your tail at the ladies, AWESOME). Thank you for helping to start all of this. Rock & the Single Girl is really, really glad that you were born.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Last Thrash: Cheeky's Last Show EVER

On November 28, I was lucky enough to go to Cheeky's Last Show EVER. Held at Death by Audio, it was bigger than any other Cheeky show I'd been to, and drew a much larger crowd than I was used to. But there were plenty of other surprises that evening: between unexpected appearances from Ari Up and Jeff Rosenstock, covers of Fugazi, The Descendents, and others, moshing, circle-pitting, crowd surfing and stage diving, Cheeky's final performance felt less like a show and more like a carnival squeezed into two dimly lit rooms.

Cheeky chose their openers well. From Zombie Dogs' confrontational throw down, through Stupid Party's slow and dirty garage rock stomp, to Slingshot Dakota's joyful hymnals, the bands kept what would have been an otherwise long night interesting (I'm sure Shellshag was great too, but I spent most of their set socializing in the venue's other room, sorry dudes!). The openers turned in solid sets, interacted happily with the crowd, and offered paeans to the band of the hour between songs.

Cheeky's set, while strong overall, went through a bit of an awkward, adolescent phase a few songs in. After starting with a 15-minute burst of unadulterated energy, it suddenly seemed uncomfortably quiet onstage between songs. The show felt tense, and lead singer Kate Eldridge even apologized for not having 'anything to say'.

Want to judge for yourself? See Cheeky's last set, all of which is on youtube!

At that point I remembered that I was, after all, at a last show. A positive, spirited, upbeat celebration, but still, a celebration of the end of something. My friend Anna's friend summed it up while we were chatting outside between sets: "It's kind of weird," he said. "I'm excited to hear the new songs, but...I'm really not excited for it to be their last show." There were mixed feelings in the audience, and there must have been mixed feelings onstage as well. I'm guessing that it was maybe a harder gig to play than the band made it look. Both band and audience more than 'recovered' after Eldridge's apology; the audience even got kind of rowdy towards the end (the band was forced to admonish the crowd, reminding everyone to be respectful of people around them.)

Despite the mixed feelings they elicit, last shows are important. They provide a band a final opportunity to express their thanks and declare what they might have stood for, provide the audience a final opportunity to hear the music in its intended live setting, and in general remind us all that live shows are kind of the point of music. Records are just that: records of the music written by a person or group, a means of preserving a certain sound. Records are important, but they aren't a substitute for the experience of going to a show, and hearing and seeing how a band does what it does.

That night, Cheeky did what they did with bands that are their friends as well as their peers. They played their last set with even the stage packed with their friends, colleagues, bandmates from other projects, and significant others. They played their last set for charity -- the show was also a benefit concert for The Walk for PKD (look it up!), and raised almost $2000 for the cause.

Cheeky played their last set the way they played all the others I was fortunate enough to see: with guts, heart, and zero tolerance for the macho scene bullshit so many of their songs cleverly and concisely deconstruct. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I left that night feeling like it was everything a last show (last thrash?) should be.

***EDIT*** Read more about (and see some great photos of) Cheeky's last shows in NYC and NJ, as well over at Star Beat Music!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hump Day Treat, Opener Love Edition

So let's try for some good news about The Last Cheeky Show EVER. That night, I got to see Slingshot Dakota for the second time. An infectiously upbeat and happy duo, it's kind of hard to listen to them and not feel your mood elevate at least a few inches. So enjoy this vintage SD video on this hazy, horribly snowy hump day!

Want more? Head over to Star Beat Music for a full review of Slingshot Dakota's 11/28 set!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

An Open Letter to the Two Jerks Who Were Standing Next to Me the Last Time I Saw Zombie Dogs.

Hey guys,

I was the girl who was shooting death glares and huffy sighs in your direction while I was standing next to you during Zombie Dogs' set at the last Cheeky show EVER. But you probably didn't notice me because you were too busy making annoying comments and in general being seriously disrespectful to the band on stage. I mean really -- If you didn't like or didn't think you were going to like what you were hearing, couldn't you have stepped outside or something?

It's really disappointing to me that it sounds like you couldn't even give Zombie Dogs a chance. Before the band even started playing, I got to hear this exchange between the two of you:

Jerk #1: Dude, I love all-girl bands...
Jerk #2: Oh, well then you'll just LOVE this one.
Jerk #1: Really?
Jerk #2: Uhm, no.

I guess I could just say that this is your loss, but there's something deeper and more disturbing going on here. Jerk #1, maybe you mean well, but your love of all-girl bands is inherently sexist. I appreciate your support of girl bands but that support doesn't mean much if you can't look beyond their gender and focus on what these groups are doing and saying. I hope that you can, and that I've perhaps misjudged you.

Jerk #2, I'm almost certain that if someone were to confront you about this, you'd claim that your dislike of Zombie Dogs' music isn't about gender, but about the music itself. Sure, you like some girl bands, but this one isn't good, or just doesn't work for you.

The problem with this is that this argument doesn't work. Ever. Art is inextricably linked to the artists who create it. When you don't like a song or piece of music, it's at least partly because there's something about the person who made it that you don't like or respect, or maybe that you can't relate to.

Specific to the case of women and female artists: when you say that you don't like them, it isn't necessarily sexist or misogynist. But still, what you're doing is rejecting a woman's point of view. And you can't separate this rejection from the way women's voices have historically been kept out of art, which definitely is the product of institutionalized sexism. You can't separate judging women's music against a male-dominated standard of what makes music 'good', said standard also being a product of institutionalized sexism.

I know that some people don't see it this way. Some really respected female artists, like Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, have said in interviews that their identities as women or females are secondary to their identities as artists, and that the politics of being female don't affect their art. I believe Harvey even said once that she doesn't identify as a feminist because she can't allow politics to interfere with what she creates.

Regardless of their talent, Smith and Harvey are both wrong. The intersection between one's identity, art, and political orientation isn't something that evaporates just because you say so -- whether you're punk's alleged 'high priestess' or some asshole in the audience at a diy punk show. Smith and Harvey claim to be apolitical, without acknowledging that apoliticism is in itself a badge of one's political power and privilege. Smith and Harvey can make what I consider to be damaging statements about artists not having political beliefs because of the politics of color, class, and sexuality.

But, guys, I digress. Your ignorant and disappointing comments were unnecessary, and I wish that you'd kept them to yourselves, or as I said earlier, just taken them outside. The ladies in our scene can't force you to like our music or to pretend to like it. But it is time for us to demand that you respect us as members of the music industry. And, you know, as human beings.

I thrashed extra hard and sang extra loud at the show just for you two!