Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hump Day Treat, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week Edition

Did you know that it's National Eating Disorder Awareness Week? Yeah, neither did I, until I read it on Feministing.

Is such a week necessary? I would say so, considering that I, myself, have not given much thought to eating disorders in some time. There's a lot going on in the world these days, and I bet I'm not the only person who's had her mind on other things. Also, I haven't heard anything about eating disorders in a long time; I haven't seen any magazine or newspaper reports about them, haven't heard about any actresses or athletes suffering from them, haven't so much as seen a Lifetime movie about a girl with an eating disorder.

So here's an important reminder, courtesy of Sonic Youth: eating disorders are deadly. Anorexia killed Karen Carpenter, one of the most famous women of her day. Sonic Youth's ode to Carpenter suggests that Carpenter's illness was related to her unhappiness with fame, and her feeling powerless as a mega-produced pop star.

If someone as successful, popular, and wealthy as Karen Carpenter could feel so miserably out of control, then who isn't at risk? Just something to think about on this snowy hump day.

Warning: this video is really sad...and really weird.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jessica Valenti, Tobi Vail, and Kathleen Hanna talk about feminism and strategy.

So I had a really major, massive blog post planned for today. I was really excited about it...and then I got sick. Sadly, the constant coughing, sneezing, and drowsiness effectively prevented me from getting my post written.

So instead, I am going to post some of the things I've read and watched over the past few days. I humbly offer a window into some of the literature that has been influencing my thinking recently, and some of the issues that have managed to stay on my mind despite my runny nose, foghorn cough, and laryngitis. Enjoy!

1.Breaking news from Jessica Valenti:
One of my heroes and favorite Feministing writers, Jessica Valenti has a killer column up on the Washington Post's website:For women in America, equality is still an illusion.

I'll admit that this article is kind of a downer, but at the same time, there is something oddly empowering about it. It's nice to have someone articulate, without self-pity or apology, just how difficult it is to be a woman in the United States, even as we become more empowered and figure out the best ways to win real equality for ourselves.

2. A provocative quote from Tobi Vail:
I read this fantastic quote over at Suck My Left One:

"The book made me think a lot about documenting history from a strategic perspective. How could this story be told to incite participation in girls?"

It's from Tobi Vail's review of Marisa Meltzer's new book, Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music. And it cuts straight to heart of why history, and why documentation, are so important. History is used strategically by those in power on a near-constant basis; that we don't tend to notice it kind of shows that it works. Can punk feminist musicians, writers, historians, artists, etc. use their history strategically, and directly incorporate it into their activism? I think some of us already are. Today's thwarted post will get finished, eventually, and get more into that.

3. Kathleen Hanna and her glasses do an interview.

There is so much good stuff in this interview that I can't even remember exactly what I wanted to put here. (I blame my medicine, it's making me spaceyyyy.) But I do remember that she talks about being obsessed with archiving, which hooks right into Tobi Vail's comments on using history strategically.

In general, I love how Kathleen talks about feminism in the present tense. I love how she addresses both personal and general problems within the movement, and seems to speak from the perspective of both a leader and a follower, if that makes sense.

But as she herself admits, Kathleen has made mistakes. Some of the things she's done have certainly been criticized by other feminists and activists. But again, that's something we'll have to get into later, when I finally recover my health.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hump Day Treat, Anti-V-Day Edition

I blogged yesterday about The Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show. Because it's a night of one-off cover bands, part of the point is that you get to hear songs you know, by bands that matter to you. Both last year and this time around, I went because I wanted to hear live versions of songs by my dear Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, both of whom are no longer together. (I believe that there's a deep significance to the performance of songs by these particular bands, especially Bikini Kill, and trust me, we're gonna talk about that later.) But one of my favorite moments during this past Sunday's grrrl-a-palooza happened during a song I'd never heard before.

I mentioned in my last post that "The Breeders" were on the bill. I am forced to admit that I'm a lazy Breeders fan, the kind who only has Last Splash. So I wasn't really surprised when I didn't recognize the last song of "The Breeders'" set. But I was very surprised when I noticed that absolutely everyone around me, both ladies and gents, were singing along to every word, swaying and bouncing, closing their eyes and clutching at their chests as they repeated the song's chorus over and over again with the band.

Naturally, I went home and googled what I could remember of the song's lyrics, and found that it was actually a Pixies song that The Breeders have been known to include in their live shows. (I don't really know the Pixies very well. Yeah, I know, how I can blog about modern rock and punk if I don't know the Pixies? I'm getting on it, okay, cut me a break!)

So enjoy this incredibly rare public admission of ignorance, and a really wonderful, apparently well-known Pixies song on this fine, bright hump day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Technical Difficulties, Revisited

Okay, so, I know that I said in my last post that we should all embrace the science and technology that enables the production and performance of popular music, that we should learn as much as we can about it. But just this past Sunday, I witnessed a different, but quite practical way to deal with technical difficulties in the live setting.

On Sunday night I was lucky enough to be at 1087's second (hopefully!?) annual Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show. This is an event in which our favorite local hometown heroines from bands like Carnal Knowledge, Homewreckers, Each Other's Mothers, Death First, The Measure (SA) and more come together in various combinations to cover songs by grrrl bands like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip, and others. This year the show branched out to include non-riot lady punk and rock by The Muffs, The Breeders, and....Stevie Nicks?

The second performer of the evening, "Stevie" (who I believe is known to most as Saiya, bass player for Scantron?) took on both vocal and bass duties, and was backed by an older woman with an acoustic guitar and an accordion. Between the off-color between song banter, "Stevie's" tilted platinum blonde wig, and the unlikely arrangement, it was difficult to read the performance's tone. It had nowhere near the focus and serious of a 'real' set of original songs, but it wasn't entirely comical, either. As the performers went through the set, there were times when it was hard to tell if they were intentionally being funny.

The other thing about the set is that "Stevie" and the band couldn't seem to get through an entire song without some sort of equipment failure. Broken strings, dead microphones, falling microphones -- if it could go wrong, it did. Perhaps the one song that didn't face this fate was "Edge of Seventeen", which they didn't actually play; instead they performed a dramatic reading of the lyrics. (This, of course, was a moment of deliberate, pre-meditated humor.)

I'll admit to being a serious Fleetwood Mac fan, as well as a fan of Stevie Nicks' solo work. So when they started "The Chain", I was both excited and bummed. Excited to hear one of my favorite songs, but bummed because I didn't expect them to make it to the end of the song, which is of course the best part.

Before "The Chain", as the show's organizers and the band were struggling to make adjustments to the sound and the equipment to keep everything running, "Stevie" made a bold announcement: "Okay, everything is broken," she admitted, "so you have to help us by singing along! Come on!"

Believe it or not, it worked. The audience participated enthusiastically during the first half of "The Chain", myself most definitely included. When the wheels started to sort of come off during the last rousing round of "I would never break the chain!", I frowned, thinking of that great bassline, and how we were so close to it, but how "Stevie" wouldn't even get to it. The song screeched to an awkward halt, and the audience waited, unsure of how to react. It felt like an entire minute of silence elapsed, as the band tried to right itself.

And then, "Stevie's" bass boomed back to life, with that fantastic bass line that ends "The Chain", that bass line that I would argue is perhaps one of the most important in the history of rock music, one that I myself have played many times for my own personal amusement. (I know from experience: it's not the hardest line to play technically, but it is a challenge to play it with the right mix of resentment, aggression, and general dissatisfaction.)

Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain", from their 1997 video The Dance, which I totally own and have watched many times. Skip to 3:35 for The Bass Line.

When "Stevie" came back with that solo, I let out the sort of cheer that deafens the people standing next to you, and when the entire band came back on, we all joined in for the final refrains of "The cha-ai-ain will keep us together!" It was something small, an entirely ephemeral moment which somehow seemed to capture the very meaning of the the evening, the show, the entire New York City grrrl underground. The band, with the help of the audience, channelled the spirit of doing it yourself, doing it together, and doing it whether or not you have the 'right' equipment, and whether or not you know exactly what you're doing.

For those twenty minutes, Stevie and her band took a lot of risks, put themselves out there, put up with lots of problems, and asked us to help them deal with it. And we did -- we didn't judge them, we didn't laugh at them, we didn't go out for a smoke or to get a drink at the Dominican convenience store across the street. Instead we laughed with them, cheered them on, and sang when it was appropriate. We even sang when it wasn't appropriate; the audience forced the band to make an unlikely segue from "Landslide" to "Go Your Own Way" when we started singing it before "Landslide" was quite over.

And I suppose that the moral of this story is that performances will always be rife with problems. Standing up there in front of an audience will always be a risk; there will always be a chance that your equipment might malfunction, or that you'll just forget what you're doing. But "Stevie Nicks" and co. demonstrated, much to my delight, that there's no technical difficulty that can't be overcome by a willing, persevering band, and an even-more willing, present, participating audience.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blinding Us with Science.

Recently I saw a commercial, and I actually paid attention to it -- mostly because it was so creepy. It was about how America "will dominate once again," and how the way to ensure America's return to the top of the world order is to focus on training America's youth in math, science, and technology.

Mildly panicked, I thought, "But wait, surely not at the expense of arts education!" I had a flashback to my middle and high school years. To my competing, but equally fervent interests in creative writing and forensic medicine. To being told by my incredibly ineffective, mean-spirited eighth grade science teacher that I wasn't really 'cut out for science', and how it kept me from going to a prestigious science high school even though I aced the qualifying examination. To how I joined orchestra in high school, and how it was the only thing I really liked about school. To how I had a brief affair with physics junior year, but didn't have the self-esteem to really work at it, or the confidence to even admit that I loved it.

In the United States, and maybe the whole Western world, we're given this dichotomy of art and humanities versus science and math. As if it's unnatural to be good at both, or even enjoy both. More troubling is the needlessly gendered view that girls are supposed to enjoy the humanities, and that boys are supposed to prefer science and math, and that girls and boys who deviate from this standard are somehow gender deviant.

Unbelievably, not long after I saw that commercial (gah, I wish I could find it, if anyone knows what the hell I'm talking about, please say something, I don't even remember what the commercial was for!), I got a call from my BFF, who was upset after a long day of 'technical difficulties' with her computer's recording software. She's an experienced musician, who's recorded a staggering number of her own songs, but she claims that she still feels frustrated and upset by her limited technical understanding of digital audio recording.

I wondered how many girls out there, like my BFF, are buying and using digital recording software and equipment, despite not completely 'understanding' it. As I was admiring these young women and their gumption, I thought: "Wow -- music, even a lo-fi genre of it like punk -- is seriously built on a lot of 'science and technology', huh?" On top of the biology of playing an instrument, and the neuroscience of how our brains process audio and visual signals, there's the more obvious science of amplification, recording, and acoustic design.

I want to highlight the science of music and music performance for a couple reasons. First, I want girls (well, and boys too) who play music to recognize that even if they don't completely 'understand' the technology and science of the music, they are actively engaged with both, and that as a result, they possess a unique intelligence that I think most of mainstream society can't appreciate.

Second, there's an entire side of the music business that's based on technology, one that women have been effectively been shut out of for a long time. While it seems it's slowly changing, the reality is that there aren't enough women in audio production, engineering, live sound, or the development of musical technologies. And I wonder if women don't go into the field in larger numbers because they, like my eighth grade self, were somehow discouraged from pursuing it, either by an unsupportive individual or society's broader messages.

The only way to fix this is to heighten our awareness of the technology that makes music possible, and also the technology that enables the documentation of music and performance. We feminist musicians need to reject this dichotomy that not only separates art from science, but also the assumption that science is somehow 'superior', as well as the instinct to flip that dichotomy and say that art is superior instead. Instead of resisting technology and the sexism that can sometimes come with it, we need to embrace it, learn to harness it, and use it to make ourselves better musicians. And then we need to learn to share that knowledge, and use it to educate and empower future generations of feminist musicians.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hump Day Treat, To Spain with Love Edition

Let me divulge one of my compulsions: whenever one of my friends posts lyrics on facebook, I absolutely have to answer with the following verse.

And this was how I got thinking about Rilo Kiley. One of my friends posted part of their first single from their last album, Under the Blacklight. I kind of lost track of the band after that record, because I wasn't entirely into the seedy '70s Los Angeles concept. I was pretty enamored of their first two records though, especially during my undergraduate days, and I saw them live at least four times during that period.

Rilo Kiley is not, and has never been what you'd describe as 'punk', and I don't really think that anyone would describe their band as feminist either. But I'll give them this -- they're fronted by Jenny Lewis. And she might not be punk or feminist either, but I admire and appreciate her songwriting. In her songs, Lewis refuses to represent herself or others as simple, one dimensional figures, and she fearlessly documents and tackles fear, anxiety, unhappiness, ambivalence, and lots of other messy, sometimes shameful emotions that most of us would probably rather not discuss, much less sing about. And so we invite you to enjoy Lewis's suffering on this snowy hump day.

Rilo Kiley: Live at the Ford Amphtheater from John Welch on Vimeo.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Port Au Prince Calling.

Lately I've been talking a lot about 'community'.  I've been talking about how important it is for us to take care of each other, and to make our scenes as positive, helpful, and aware as possible.  These beliefs are the logical result of independent, anti-corporate punk ideas, as well as feminist theory.  

I started listening to punk because it addressed social issues.  The Sex Pistols whined about feeling cheated, The Clash more eloquently addressed the struggles of the British working class and militarism in the 'Third' World, Bikini Kill talked about institutionalized sexism, and epidemics of rape and domestic violence.  I got involved with punk because I wanted to do something, to make a difference, to call attention to these issues and demand that people act.  And I'm sure I'm not the only woman who started listening to and making this music because of this.

So why, then, do I feel so conflicted about helping Haiti?  

Haiti's story -- hit by earthquake, major damage, needs help, let's go -- might seem straightforward.  Let me tell you why it isn't.  Unlike some assholes (David Brooks, Anne ApplebaumPaul Shirley), I know Haiti's history.  And I know that long before this earthquake, Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, was in a desperate situation.

Haiti's poverty is the result of imperialism.  People like Brooks, Applebaum and Shirley -- wealthy Anglo 'First'-world citizens -- want to blame Haiti's culture, for being 'progress-resistant'.  Really?  So the culture of the nation that gave us our first successful slave revolt, the nation that waged a revolution against Napoleon and won, the nation that rebuilt itself with no help from Western powers and almost succeeded, and has continued to survive despite crushing debt, US military intervention, and US-installed dictators is 'progress-resistant'?  Really?  That's Haiti's biggest problem?

What people don't understand is that Haiti was colony.  And the colonial relationship is, in effect, the ultimate abusive relationship.  Even after a victim of abuse escapes her abuser, that victim is left with serious trust and self-esteem issues that are painful to work through.  The abuse victim is very vulnerable, and want to repeat patterns, and experience more abuse.

And as deeply as strongly as I feel about Haiti's current problems being rooted in previous broaches of their national sovereignty, my bitterness and cynicism made me want to refuse outright to help Haiti.  As I see it, the United States, France, and the US-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund are responsible for Haiti's poverty, and that I don't really want to help them to "help" Haiti.  (For the record: I wonder if there are other politically active punks who feel this way.  Is anyone else out there looking at this situation from this perspective?)

Despite these feelings, I went to a Forum on Haiti sponsored by my university.  I went mostly because some professors in my department were scheduled to speak; one colleague took down David Brook's aforementioned article point by point and placed it within an on-going racist and ethnocentric Western discourse on Haiti and its problems and another colleague spoke about the long history and contributions of Haitian Americans.  Still other professors spoke about different, less-known charities and activist groups they've worked with in Haiti, since long before this January's earthquake.

It will sound cheesy, but I left that forum feeling truly inspired by professors and their friends who have been working to solve Haiti's long-term systemic problems.  I left feeling really appreciative of my colleagues, and their expertise, and their strong convictions about the racist treatment Haiti has received since its independence in 1804.  I left wanting to do more for Haiti than contribute to earthquake relief, and wanting to encourage others to do more, as well.   Whether or not you have money or resources to donate, here are some supplementary activities you and your friends can do for yourselves:

1. Donate smart.  There have already been reports of fake and phony organizations swindling generous people out of money; make sure that you're helping a reputable group.  But just as importantly, try to give to groups that are interested in Haiti in a long term way.  Haiti needs immediate help, yes -- but it also needs help with building a new and better government, new school systems, and a new health care system, and that's just to start.  Consider getting involved in Haiti's rebuilding efforts as well as earthquake relief.

2.  Learn about Haiti. Some of the bloggers and writers I mentioned in this article are treating Haiti like some lump of land populated by savage, stupid animals rather than human beings.  Haiti's culture is under attack, so if you can, fight the power by reading about Haiti and its art, and its religion.

3.  Learn about colonialism. If you do nothing else, or learn nothing else from what's happened to Haiti, please: donate your own intellectual energy and time to the important task of learning about the forces that made Haiti the way it is.  You don't have to learn or read particularly about Haiti; you can just as easily read about Africa, South East Asia, or Latin America.  You can read about Puerto Rico, which is a colony right now, as we speak and read.  Learn about the way the so-called 'Third World' was made.  It's the only way we can learn to resist, for ourselves and for others.

4.  Fight the Shock Doctrine. The history of neo/colonialism in our world is intimately linked to right wing, US-dominated economic institutions.  Do not, under any circumstances, support the policies of groups like The World Bank or The International Monetary Fund.  They are attempting to use this natural disaster to force fatalistic austerity policies on an already over-burdened island.  Go to No Shock Doctrine For Haiti to learn more.

***This post is dedicated to my friend Kitty, and her strength and courage.  Thanks for being a great professor and friend to us all.***

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hump Day Treat, DO Ask, and DO Tell! Doubleheader

Right now, US Americans are debating a big, gay issue (or at least, our government is): all day yesterday, the big news was about the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) hearings. For those of you outside of the US, DADT is a policy that effectively excludes the homos from serving in our Armed Forces, the logic being that men in uniform will trust each other and work together better if, you know, the gay ones are forced to lie about their love lives.

Yeah -- it sounds absurd. But it's a lot more sobering when you consider that many highly qualified, compassionate men and women have been discharged from the army just for being gay. Par example: Lt. Daniel Choi, a West Point graduate who bravely came out on national television, and has since become an LGBTQ activist.

This is the sort of thing that reminds us punk, diy, somewhat cloistered queers that systemic homophobia is alive and well. Watching Rachel Maddow, and seeing clips of congressmen talk about the need to keep gay service people on the down low brought me right back to my junior year of high school. I felt like I was 16 and terrified of 'coming out' all over again.

And of course, this made me think of Team Dresch. Blatantly political, sickeningly talented, and all around dyketastic, this old school Portland queercore quartet and their Personal Best LP got me through high school. And so we salute them on this hump day.