Friday, June 25, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to The Acheron: Passive Aggressor and White Lung, Friday June 18, Part 2

The Acheron opened recently in the middle of nowhere. How is it that any locale can be in any part of New York City, and still be in the middle of nowhere? By being in the same neighborhood as nothing but factories, warehouses, bus yards, and storage units that have no visible names or signs. In the evenings, after these buildings close, the area feels and looks all but deserted.

Luckily for us intrepid New York show go-ers, some savvy and kindly folks have recently opened up a tiny eatery right next door to The Acheron, a warm and friendly little place called Yummus Hummus. It specializes, as you might have guessed, in a variety of hummuses (hummï?), breads, veggies, and related Mediterranean light appetizers and heavy snacks.

I wound up at Yummus Hummus that night because I got to the show really early. In a weird panic over some vegan brownies that had taken longer to bake than expected, I ran out of the house without eating dinner, only to find that the show had been delayed, seemingly by that night's Subway Series. (If you don't know what a Subway Series is, consider yourself lucky.) With nowhere else to go, I stood in front of Yummus Hummus for a few minutes before a guy sitting at one of its tables waved me over.

I didn't know him, but I went to his table and spoke to him. He asked if I was there for the show, and I said I was. He introduced himself as J___, and said that he was there to see White Lung, and he invited me to sit with him. And so I did.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am really not in the habit of hanging out with dudes I don't know, even guys who frequent the same diy spaces and shows I go to. Anyone who knows me knows that I am intensely wary of all men, to a nearly pathological extent. But I was getting absolutely no sleaze-reading from this guy, which is rare for me. So I sat down and got some red-pepper hummus and carrot salad.

J___ was a nice guy. While I ate, we talked about White Lung, Passive Aggressor, other local bands and shows we've been to, my blog, and the other related scene and show media we enjoy. He'd seen White Lung a week earlier, and he was a big fan; he claimed that their recordings were good stuff and that their live set was even better.

But what struck me about this young man is how much he wasn't a typical punk fan guy. There was nothing threatening about him, and there was nothing possessive, exclusive, or alienating about his fanhood. He was unlike most of the guys I've met at these types of events.

Which is not to say that I never meet nice guys when I go to shows; it does happen. But despite punk's insistence on resisting the system and being different, guys at shows aren't usually that different from guys in general. Guys at shows have been socialized, just like guys who don't go to diy shows, to feel a certain sense of entitlement, to not be so aware of boundaries, and to feel comfortable with being aggressive about their interests. Frequently, even totally nice guys at shows are kind of jerky in these ways without even realizing it.

Not so with J___. He came across as nothing but secure, and seemed to have no need to dominate our conversation, impose his views, or otherwise control our interactions. He came across as sincere, smiled often and openly, and giggled at my rambling freely. We were outside the venue, talking about Passive Aggressor's performance still when White Lung started, and when we heard the beginning of their first song, he and I ran back inside like a couple of hysterical '60s London teenagers running after The Beatles, no shame in our game. It was kind of fantastic.

White Lung more than lived up to the hype. After their set, J___ and I headed over to the merch table, and I bought one of their 7". And then we both departed, heading in opposite directions to our cars.

As you can likely tell, I'm still not completely over how cool J___ turned out to be. I probably sound a bit overexcited, but, consider the context: I've already posted about sexism, violence, and general verbal misogynist negativity at shows. I've posted about other ladies' experiences with male aggression both online and 'in real life', on message boards and websites and at shows. I haven't even gotten to how things are at music stores, and we haven't even begun to discuss security and safety issues at large festivals or on the road and on tour. One nice guy doesn't change all that, but one nice guy, one single person who doesn't make the people around him feel unsafe, is all it takes to inspire some positivity and some change.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The End is the Beginning: Passive Aggressor and White Lung, Friday June 18, 2010, Part I

Before you do anything else, QUICK: download Passive Aggressor's demos here and here.

Last Friday night I saw Brooklyn's own Passive Aggressor. It was to be vocalist Meredith's final performance with them, and I needed to be there for it.

I first heard Passive Aggressor at Death by Audio last January, at Little Lungs' tour kick off show. I was standing in the venue's backroom feeling my usual slight awkwardness when PA started. The growling, stomping, distorted, post-swamp rock sound of their song "Moonbeast" drew me into the main room, and I was transfixed for the rest of their performance.

The music itself was hypnotizing in the best possible way, and Meredith was the kind of frontperson whose charisma is impossible to ignore. Tall, lycan, aggressive, and with a long main of messy hair that doesn't so much feminize her as it makes her seem even more animal-like, Meredith and her throaty, punchy howl reminded me of two of my favorite singers, Selene Vigil and Cristina Martinez.

So I was admittedly kind of bummed when I read on PA's facebook page that Meredith was moving on and that the band is replacing her. I also couldn't imagine them without her. Who could possibly take her place? I wondered idly to myself while waiting for their set to start. And then I wondered, will they get a dude? Or will they get another female musician? Maybe more importantly, does it matter?

Regardless of gender, replacing a band member is a difficult business. A band's interpersonal dynamics is delicate, and personality is a factor. It can't just be about finding the best musician for the job; you also need to find the right person for the band. Finding a new singer is particularly complicated because audiences tend to relate to band's vocalists differently and more intensely than to the other musicians in a band.

But that different relationship between an audience and a band's frontperson hinges on a lot more than that frontperson's gender or sex. Marketing executives and record label people tend to focus exclusively on their musicians' gender, sexuality, and level of appeal, I suppose because it's the easiest thing for them to try and sell. But I know from personal experience that one's devotion to any musician is frequently much more complicated than that.

We notice a musician's sex and gender because we're socialized to immediately categorize everyone we see as male or female, and as 'masculine' or 'feminine'. But we also notice body type, skin color, and personal style. If we read or listen to interviews with a musician, we learn about her views, her background, and other information that may or may not like or care about. If we do care, we latch onto various aspects of that musician's personality and way of thinking.

And it gets even more complicated than that, because it goes far beyond the individual musicians in any given band; our interest is also dependent on the members of the band and how they relate to each other, musically, and sometimes personally. It can be hard to separate all of that from your love of a band's music, but if you're buying that music, and going to see that music live, it's a pretty good bet that it is, ultimately, about the music, rather than the musicians.

Despite such complications, a good band that makes good music is, by nature, more than the 'sum of its parts'. Passive Aggressor is more than its musicians, and certainly more than Meredith's stage presence. It occurred to me during their set last Friday that even without her, I really want to hear what they're going to do next. It occurred to me that I was drawn to their instrumental sound before I heard or saw their vocalist. It occurred to me that Van Halen has had three different singers, and that they always still pretty much sound the same...and that they always kind of blow. So I expect that Passive Aggressor will sound brilliant no matter what vocalist is fortunate enough to join them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hump Day Treat, Happy Accident Edition

Today's video features White Lung, who I sort of saw by accident last Friday at The Acheron (which is literally a story for a different post). Right now they're on a pretty respectable-length west coast tour, so go see them if you can, you won't be disappointed! And even if you can't go see White Lung, enjoy their dark, thrashy, rhythmic take on the punk tradition on this hump day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pride and the Single Girl.

I recently had to go up to school to return some library books during what happened to be the nearest city's annual gay pride weekend. Various pro-love, pro-sex, pro-LGBTQ events were scheduled, including a Friday night lesbian dance party at a popular bar. I went, mostly because I sort of knew the dj, and some of my friends were going.

I enjoyed it as much as I usually enjoy events organized around female queerness, which is to say that I didn't enjoy it at all for the whopping five minutes I was there. Despite a superb, friendly (and frankly rather attractive) dj, I just couldn't get into it. I've never liked clubs, because they're too loud and crowded for me, and the music is never good enough to get me to dance.

Whenever I go to something like this, I spend the entire time thinking that I'd rather be at a show, seeing someone like my beloved Zombie Dogs or Death First, and preferably at a DIY space like someone's basement or loft. The people I know at those shows are artists, activists, and feminists, and I feel way more connected to them than I do to strangers at a club who happen to share my sexual orientation. Lesbian events never feel socially active or feminist enough for me, and it just bums me out.

After my failed attempt at specifically lesbian partying, I had a bit of a Carrie Bradshaw moment. Still longing for a good feminist punk show, I couldn't help but wonder: what is punk and hardcore's relationship to the gay community? Is there a disconnect there, or is it just me?

It could very well just be me, considering that there's an entire genre of gay punk, known as Queercore. Queercore developed somewhat in tandem with Riot Grrrl, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States in the early 1990s, where bands of both genres often performed and worked together, putting on shows where show-goers of the female and gay persuasion could feel safe and forge some sense of community.

And even before the the rise of queercore, gender play and homosexuality have been present in rock and its subgenres. People like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and even Mick Jagger, and bands like The New York Dolls and X-Ray Spex (among others) brought gender-consciousness and some pretty courageously gender-transgressive fashions into their scenes back in the 1970s.

But rather than proving some kind of diversity, I'd argue that much like Riot Grrrl, a movement like Queercore evidences rock and punk's exclusivity. It's not as if Queercore and Riot Grrrl coalesced because punk in the late '80s was just so damned progressive, open, and accepting. Feminist punk girls and gays formed and joined those movements in order to make space for themselves within the historically hostile and straightwhitemale-dominated punk tradition.

The legacy of those brave spacemakers lives on, at least where I come from. I feel incredibly lucky to be involved with a scene where female punks, regardless of their sex lives, are valued as full participants as artists, musicians, and organizers. Every day of my life I feel incredibly lucky that these women, like me, fell in love with bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Team Dresch, and Excuse 17 as teenagers, and that they're committed to continuing those bands' work.

It seems like my town is the exception, though, rather than the rule. Lately, it seems like I have read and heard about so much unmitigated sexism outside of Brooklyn; the B9 Affair and Total Trash's commentary on rape apologism in punk are the first that come to mind. That sort of disrespect for women and assault survivors, not to mention the shameless promotion of patriarchy it indicates, is linked directly to disrespect for other folks who don't fit the straightwhitemale norm and/or people who aren't willing to kneel before the hierarchy. There is visible, open, unabashed hate in our punk communities, and violence, too. It's not just me.

It's been demoralizing for me to face the bigotry that exists within punk. But here's the thing to remember: prejudice isn't insurmountable. We can overcome our differences, we can combat hate and violence, we can change punk, and that's not 'just me' either. Queercore and Riot Grrrl may have revealed punk's biases, but they and the people they've inspired also prove that it's possible to challenge hateful ideas, and to work through punk's issues. We just have to be willing to confront them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hump Day Treat, global punk feminist fight songs edition

When I'm feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by school stuff (which I have to admit is frequently, lately), The Two Funerals seem to be my go-to, non-chemical uppers. They recently posted this video of them playing an old favorite, "Hit the Ground" and then their contemporary classic, "Western Apathy" at their blog. Watch, be inspired, and then go out and do something awesome; I know that's what happens whenever I listen to TTF.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hump Day Treat, Missed Show Remorse Edition

I'm still bummed that I had to miss Witches when they came through New York during the last week of April, a.k.a. 'too close to finals for going to shows'. And I'm also bummed over other things, which you might have guessed from yesterday's downer of a post.

So today we have a 2008 three-fer video that somehow has the power to put me in a good mood now matter how overwhelmed or sad I'm feeling. It's a bit long, but stick with it, because each song is better than the last, including the surprisingly good Nirvana cover. (Here's a hint: it was inspired as much by my own family vs career issues as Cherie Currie's, but then that's what usually happens when you're any kind of writer.)

Hear and see more at Witches' new-ish blog, and check out some recently posted summer tour dates. Go see them so I can live vicariously through all of you!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

'Cause a girl can't be tied down: Family Guilt in The Runaways

[WARNING: Major spoilers. Don't read if you haven't yet seen The Runaways and don't want to know what happens.]

Anyone remember that movie about The Runaways? Yeah, it got fairly awful reviews, but I will admit that I went to see it twice, and that I paid both times. Yes, for real. (This is a story for a different post.)

I concede that the poor reviews are not entirely undeserved. The acting is pretty good, and the subjects are so fascinating, but The Runaways has a lot of technical problems, the worst being that the script doesn't quite tell a coherent story. Sure, you see a band getting together, rehearsing, getting on the road, getting signed, getting fucked up and having a lot of sex with various partners, and then breaking up -- but nothing in the movie is really explained. Not even what motivated the band to get together, or what the band accomplished as the first all-girl rock band. It's like there's tons of story there, but director Floria Sigismondi can't be bothered to actually tell it, because she's too busy with her needlessly weird and typically unsubstantive imagery.

The story that does inadvertently get told is a provocative one that is relevant to any girl, woman, or ladyman who has any serious career ambitions (musical or otherwise). Based on a memoir written by original vocalist Cherie Currie, The Runaways ends up being about her struggle to survive tour while wrestling with guilt about leaving her troubled family.

The cover of Neon Angel, Cherie Currie's memoir

In her first scenes in the movie, Cherie seems like a typical California teenager who likes to do atypical things. She quietly defies her classmates and family by cutting her hair into a ragged Ziggy Stardust-type coif, wearing Ziggy-style makeup all over her face, and eventually flipping off her classmates while performing a David Bowie song during her school talent show. What we don't know is that the real Cherie Currie did these things in part because she was struggling to recover from the trauma of being raped by her sister's boyfriend. (According to Currie, this wasn't in the movie because the filmmakers wanted her to 'lose her innocence' later in the movie. Hmmm.)

The first scenes of the movie focus on other things that made Cherie's home life less than satisfying. We see Cherie's neglectful mother, who takes off for Indonesia with her new husband just after Cherie joins The Runaways. We see Cherie's twin sister, who is less than sensitive to Cherie's insecurity about feeling like the 'lesser' twin. We see Cherie's caring, kindly father who is also an alcoholic who is in poor health.

This effectively conveys Cherie's unhappy, stressful existence, but it also singles her out as the 'one with the family issues'. We don't learn anything about the other band member's families, we don't meet any of their mothers or fathers or grandparents or siblings. Drinking and talking by the Hollywood sign, Cherie asks Joan Jett and drummer Sandy West about their parents, and they both kind of shrug. Their parents aren't really present, they don't have curfews, it's not a big thing for them. That's the only mention of the other girls' families.

Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. She all up in the club in this still.

The screentime given to Cherie's home life comes off as almost intrusive. For example: in a particularly crushing scene, the rest of the band comes to pick Cherie up to go on their first tour just as the family discovers that Mr. Currie is passed out in his car, which is parked in the driveway. The girls gawk and Cherie reluctantly leaves as her sister and grandmother help her father drag his ailing body, which has already sort of fallen out of the car, through the front yard and into the house. Cherie is visibly embarrassed in front of her band, but no one offers any words of support or sympathy.

On tour, Cherie is the one who gets homesick. She's the one who worries about her family, she's the one who calls home and asks how things are there. No one else is shown engaging in any of these perfectly reasonable behaviors. Cherie is also the one who develops the serious drug problem.

The movie suggests, in other little ways, that Cherie is the weak link in The Runaways -- emphasis on 'weak'. On top of being the one with the family and substance abuse issues, Cherie's taste in music gets criticized as too 'middle of the road', and which is another way of saying 'weak'. Cherie is attacked for doing a solo photo spread that verges on pornographic, and is accused of needing attention; in other words, she's too weak to resist the camera. Cherie is the one who can't handle manager Kim Fowley's abusive behavior, the other girls are strong enough to soldier on despite his constant barrage of insults.

When Cherie finally leaves the band, she uses her family, and her father's illness, as her reason for doing so. She tells Joan, "I need to be with my family," which is strange to me because Cherie has so many good reasons to leave the band that have nothing to do with her sick dad. Why doesn't Cherie just say that she's unhappy, or that her body can't handle the constant touring/drugging/drinking/etc anymore? Using her family as an excuse conflates Cherie's problems and 'weakness' with her attachment to her family.

The real Cherie Currie carrying Dakota Fanning! Guess she's stronger than the movie made her out to be.

I don't mind the movie showing Cherie's descent into addiction or inability to deal with the pressure of being on the road or Kim Fowley's traumatizing and exploitative manipulations. Dakota Fanning's poker-faced portrayal comes off as a believable response to her frightening reality, and it makes sense that with little support or adult supervision, Cherie would turn to drugs and sex to deal with her problems. If that's Currie's story, and it seems it is, that's fine.

What irks me is this implication that Cherie's family, and her wanting to be with them, is the cause of her problems. The movie perpetuates the idea that women who focus too much on their families are weak and bound for professional failure, without doing a very good job of explaining all the other factors that impacted Cherie and the rest of the band.

This idea is already pervasive in Western society, especially in the United States, where things like maternity leave and access to childcare are generally seen as crazy feminist demands that male-oriented workplaces shouldn't have to accommodate (forget paternity leave and elder care). Also dominant in our culture is the message that anyone with female parts absolutely must put her family before herself and whatever professional goals or dreams she might have. The contradiction makes it incredibly difficult to juggle your responsibilities, and leaves women in general vulnerable to lots of undeserved criticism from all sectors of society, no matter what type of work you're in.

I like that The Runaways actually shows this struggle, and the way that it comes between women who work together. I guess I just wish that the movie had a happier ending, or at least one in which it doesn't feel like Cherie 'broken home' Currie is supposed to be some sort of cautionary tale, meant to contrast the family-less Joan 'I'm so tough' Jett and her colossal post-Runaways, post-Cherie success.

The real Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, looking more complicated than 'weak' versus 'strong'

Because cautionary tales and depressing stories about girls who were too 'weak' to hack it aren't what we need. Every single girl I know, myself included, is struggling against inescapable social dictums that we don't deserve to be anything but servile to our families, often while also struggling against this irrational guilt we have for wanting more for ourselves. We already know how hard it is, we don't need to be reminded by standard rock bio-pics. What we need, as we finally find our like-minded artist and musician partners, is to see and know that things aren't as simple as Cherie or Joan, and that happier endings are possible for us, if not for Cherie.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hump Day Treat, Yes Homo edition

So I'm finally easing back into the blogging game after a much longer than expected hiatus. Today's video is courtesy of Little Victory, a NY quartet that I got to see live for the first time this past Saturday. I fell in love with them, and hope that you will too! Listen and help me celebrate the end of the semester, my first show of the season, the start of Gay Pride Month, and the return of Rock and the Single Girl all at once on this hump day!

AND THEN: be sure to check out Little Victory's facebook page for more songs, videos, photos, and information on their pioneering t-shirt slogans, as well as updates on the band's Pride Weekend activities!