Jessica Hopper on “Golden” Girl Critics

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the title—in part because I wanted it to be provocative, I wanted there to be a conversation because there are dozens of women who should have collections by now and the roadblocks and arguments about why those books seemingly cannot exist are ridiculous. We are in a golden age for women in cultural criticism right now, but we are told again and again that somehow, we don’t meet the criteria of publishable. That only Chuck Klosterman gets to be in the clubhouse. And that was and is frustrating”

I love this quote from Jessica Hopper in the current issue of Pop Matters, in an interview by the wonderful David Chiu. She’s talking about her book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, of course. I also noticed for the first time today that six years ago, Jesssica wrote a great comment about Rock She Wrote (which David also nicely shouts out in this story) for Amazon. It’s still up. (Though please don’t purchase that Plexus edition of the book; it’s an illegal import. Buy a used one from a mom and pop bookstore instead, please. And yes, we are trying to get it back into print.)

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Revolution Girl Style Now: Bikini Kill Redux

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/377196871/433514653
I’ve always thought of Kathleen Hanna as a philosopher, not just a rad punk artist. She proves it once again in this interview for NPR, where she talks about the perils of outsider elitism and her admiration for Beyonce: “Whenever you’re trying to be the opposite of something, you’re just reinforcing it. We’ve got to be something totally different.”

The occasion for the interview is the release of the Bikini Kill demo tape on Sept. 22 for the first time in multiple formats. I remember getting that tape when I was music editor at the SF Weekly. I can admit now that I didn’t appreciate it that much at the time; I thought they were retreading Mecca Normal and X-Ray Spex, admittedly two of my favorite bands. (That year I named Mecca Normal singer Jean Smith my Person of the Year.) It took seeing them live at Gilman Street Project to realize the true force of Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, Kathi Wilcox, and Billy Boredom. My intern, Sia Michel, was much smarter – I think she might have nabbed that tape. She’s now the editor of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times — told you she’s smarter than me.

I’m so glad this music is coming back out and a new generation can appreciate it. I’ll be starting my First Year Seminar (Revolution Girl Style: Punk Feminism, Then and Now) next week as I always do: Playing Bikini Kill’s call to action: “We’re Bikini Kill, and we want Revolution Girl Style Now!” Then I’ll go see Kathleen and her new band, The Julie Ruin, at Burger a Go Go.

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Lita: “Jackie’s Not a Liar”

Lita Ford spoke to Blabbermouth about Jackie Fox’s rape allegations. She says she knew nothing about the story until the recent article, but that “Jackie’s not a liar.”

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#Runaways Roundup

There have been many interesting and rich contributions to the recent discussion of rape and rock’n’roll. I am sure I haven’t even begun to see them all. Following are several I have seen that are worth sharing. Collectively, they reveal how sexual trauma affects so many people. Jackie Fox continues to speak out and also post stories on her Facebook page.

Lina Lecaro writes very openly and honestly about her own relationship to the late Kim Fowley in this LA Weekly piece. “Those of us who knew and liked Kim Fowley now question our judgment of people and what they are capable of. Surely, all former friends of rapists and murderers have dealt with this feeling. Do we deserve blame? Do the bystanders there that night deserve it? Or should the vitriol simply be saved for the rapist? Jackie Fuchs herself has just said unequivocally the latter.”

Lecaro’s defense of herself is brave. In another LA Weekly story, Sloppy Jane singer Haley Dahl might have committed media suicide. Long before Fox’s story broke, Dahl’s band dedicated their album to Kim Fowley. She stands by her man in a statement that reveals the ways in which the controversial figure actually empowered some:

“I did not know Kim Fowley in the 70s. The Kim I knew and adored was, while still being a crass and charismatic powerhouse, an older and more nurturing person than he once was. To this day he is the one and only person I have worked with who never faltered in treating me with respect and as an equal. Caring for Kim and wanting to defend him is hardwired into my system, and without him being alive to give his side I’m finding it physically impossible to sever my allegiance towards him. I would never be one to stand against a victim, either, but when you were close with the accused and miss their words, it gets more complicated. I have heard 8 versions of the same night. A lot of people want my opinion. I am eternally grateful for the Kim I knew and everything he gave me. He is my roots, and because of that, anything I become he is a part of. I am emotionally incapable of speculating further. I hope everyone involved in this mess finds peace in whatever way they need to so everyone can heal from this point forward.”

This is a side of Fowley that the writer of the original Huffington Post article did not represent.

Many, many writers — male and female — have written about how Fox’s story is sadly all too common. NPR writer (and my longtime collaborator and friend) Ann Powers wrote a historic overview of rock’s Lolita syndrome that will make you want to burn your record collection. Boston rocker Robin Lane wrote about her own story, and the organization she formed to help women write songs about their abuse, in this Facebook post:

In response to The Lost Girls…with help from Carla Black.

The silence that Jackie Fox must have lived with over the years is screaming out now. But when you are 14,15, 16, how in the hell would you know what to do in a situation like that? At that age, teenagers are embarrassed about being alive.

The weird, eccentric Kim Fowley once stood at my mother’s front door and wanted me to go with him to who knows where. I didn’t – not because I was smart but because he gave me the creeps. He always did.

But I wasn’t immune to sexual assault. Right around that time, my friend and I were raped at the point of a gun with a silencer on it. I tried to pushed it out of my mind as if it never happened.

When my drummer, Tim Jackson, was filming the documentary about my life, (“When Things Go Wrong: Robin Lane’s Story”), he interviewed the friend I was with. She didn’t remember anything about it. But for years the trauma ate away at me. I didn’t talk about the rape and if I did, I made a joke out of it. No one knew about that or other dark things that happened within my family.

Women never spoke up about anything back then. The shame was so deep that we didn’t have a name for it. It stayed tucked away in a “safe” place because women so often are not believed. But it’s always there, struggling to get out.

In 2001 I founded an organization called Songbird Sings songbirdsings.org to facilitate workshops where women who have survived rape, trauma, trafficking and domestic violence could finally break the silence they hide behind. They take the pain and put their experiences into powerful song. Finally, they are able to tell their universal truth – that had previously been silenced by our culture.

Thanks to Jackie Fox, perhaps more and more women will be inspired to speak out. Too many victims take on the shame when it was never their fault.

Songwriting saved me. Music lets the light shine into the festering dark place when it’s not released. Now I hope it can save a lot of other women and girls that need to tell their stories, too.”

Babes in Toyland bassist Maureen Herman also penned a long, compelling article for BoingBoing, which makes several strong points, but which I will not link to since it does not heed Jackie’s call to not blame the bystanders for the crime committed.

Sean Lewis of The Stranger savaged Fowley but defended Fuchs and myself.

Ruben Martinez, a longtime LA musician and journalist, and my colleague at Loyola Marymount University, compared the HP story to coverage of violence in Central and South America in this Facebook post:

Some thoughts on the Jackie Fox story that’s shaken the rock world, which has long been a place of testerone and homophobia, that is, of rape culture and repressed homosexuality (the latter offered an intriguing corrective by Todd Haynes in Velvet Goldmine). The rock world: stand-in for patriarchy itself. And that world has now been rocked by an authoritative documentation of a rape committed by one of its most infamous figures, the recently deceased Kim Fowley. The story, written by Jason Cherkis for the Huffington Post, follows direct testimony by Jackie Fox of the Runaways, supported by corraborating witnesses, of Fowley raping her at a time when he was promoting the band as rock “jailbait” in the mid-1970s. The timing of the article appears to be driven mostly by Fox’s ability to finally go public with the hidden trauma of her teen years – a silence that was enforced or abetted not just by the Svengali-like Fowley but also, sadly but understandably, many of Fox’s own bandmates. (Among the exceptions was Cherie Currie, who had previously tried to tell the story publicly.) Here’s the thing. If you read the story, please do yourself a favor and read Evelyn McDonnell’s response. She is one of rock’s pioneering woman critics and narrators. In the social media swarm since the story’s publication, some, including writer Cherkis and Kevin Roderick at L.A. Observed, have characterized Evelyn’s statement as “defensive.” That’s a twisted read. Cherkis has even said that Evelyn “apologizes” for Fowley. That would be laughable if the allegation didn’t so closely resemble a testerone-fueled journalist riding a high horse of sexual morality on behalf of all women. The HuffPo article inexplicably erases Evelyn’s name, even as it cites her definitive biography of the band, which, it is crucial to say, discusses the rape incident at length without naming Jackie, because she wasn’t ready to go public back then. Roderick ventured that Evelyn’s “defensive” tone was due to being “scooped” by Cherkis. More testerone talk, old-school journo style. I suppose all is fair in sex and scoopage: Evelyn says that Cherkis lied when he contacted her about the story he was working on to coax some contacts out of her. And finally, about the article itself: I am convinced that had it been written by a woman it would have had a different presentation, particularly regarding its graphic nature. This isn’t about censorship – it’s about the idea that certain texts “re-victimize” the victims as writers “edit” them according to their own psychodynamics which, of course, are sculpted by all kinds of social powers. There is much discussion about this in Mexico and Central America today as writers and artists grapple with the power of representation in the context of extreme violence. This way of thinking asks all of us to check our power – our way of editing reality. Bottom line: read Evelyn McDonnell’s dignified response, which includes several “teachable moments” in journalistic ethics, Loyola Marymount University professor that she is. I’m proud to call her my colleague and friend.

Rock historian Elijah Wald said this on Facebook:

Pop music, and Los Angeles pop in particular, has a long and weird history of predatory male producers both celebrating and abusing talented women. It is not news that Phil Spector and Kim Fowley were/are twisted, predatory psychopaths. Some of the women associated with these men were so damaged by the experience that they have never recovered, or in Spector’s case, were murdered. Other women managed to break away from their early Svengalis and forged powerful and empowering careers, inspiring generations of girls and women to pick up instruments and microphones and play the music they loved.

This week, an important article appeared that details Fowley’s rape of one of the Runaways, Jackie Fuchs. It is important because it highlights how casually abusive men on the rock scene were (and often are) to women–both fans and performers–and the way rock, rap, country and other genres continue to celebrate a kind of hyper-macho attitude that can easily tilt over into physical abuse and rape, as well as the extent to which performers, fans, and critics have often acted as apologists for the abusers.

BUT, rather than turning into a long-overdue discussion of this issue and a moment to call out the abusive men and celebrate the talented women, all over social media this has been turning into a very ugly attack on Joan Jett (for saying she did not see or know about the rape, though Jackie says she was in the room, at the party).

To put the ugliness of this attack in context, think of all the stories in recent years about “date rape,” in which athletes have drugged and raped young women at parties. In virtually every story, there were other women present at those parties. Has anyone, ever, suggested that they should be considered complicit, much less singled them out specifically as enablers?

As far as I can tell, Jett is being singled out for one reason, and one reason only: because she is a strong, powerful, famous woman. On a scene full of abusive men, including dozens of rock stars who remain household names despite stories of the wretched things they did to the women around them, to use this story as a way to tear down one of the very few pioneering female rock ‘n’ roll role models is despicable.

Ronnie Spector is not a villain because she failed to attack Phil, Tina Turner was not complicit because she stuck with Ike as he abused her and the Ikettes. The rapists, murderers, and abusers in these stories are men, and if we want to accuse other people of enabling and making excuses for those men, there are plenty of other men who were there, who got rich off the Ronettes and Tina and the Runaways, and who wrote stories suggesting that the Svengalis were geniuses.

Despite that long history of sexism and abuse, a few women managed to break through, to forge their own careers, to prove that a strong woman could triumph in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Joan Jett is one of the most prominent, strong, and outspoken, and she has inspired thousands of other young women to pick up guitars and rock out. I don’t know where she was that particular night, or what she saw, or what drugs she may have been on, or how she thinks about her own path through Fowley’s tricks and snares. But I do know that in the big story of sexism in the world of rock, she is one of the heroes, not one of the villains.

Fowley deserves all the venom he is getting right now. Jackie Fuchs deserves all the support. All rape victims, everywhere, deserve the support. All abusers, everywhere, deserve the venom… but, damn it, I will save a little venom for anyone who uses stories of male abuse as an excuse to look around, find the one strong woman on the scene, and try to tear her down and drag her through the mud.

And the unnamed blogger at Pure And Simple wrote a deep and personal post that offers a possible explanation for the very different takes on one long-ago, drug-filled, sordid evening. He is not a journalist, or a musician, just a fan of a woman whose music changed his life, now looking for answers and healing.

(Please refer to my earlier posts for the original story, my response, and the responses of various members of the Runaways, and others.)

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Salon Interviewed Me

Thank you to Scott Timberg for asking me my thoughts about “The Lost Girls” for Salon. You can read the Q&A here.

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The Golden Rule of the Internet

I’ve been getting a lot of messages. And emails, and comments, and notifications, and Tweets, and smoke signals — okay, not smoke signals. Most of it has been supportive, or at least constructive, or thoughtful. Some of it has been slanderous and hateful. I’ve received the latter from what seem to be “both sides” of this story. This is unfortunate on so many levels. For one, there shouldn’t be “sides” to this story. This isn’t a competition. I’ve been asked by many people to be a judge, or referee. I will not. Many of the communications I’ve received are from people saying they are also being attacked. This needs to stop. Defend your point of view, but not at the expense of others. I apologize now if I have offended anyone in my own discussions. As I’ve said before, this needs to be a compassionate, honest examination of a deep, painful subject. It is very easy to sit at our keyboards, create a snappy judgment, and hit “send.”

Instead, think about the Golden Rule of the Internet: Do not say something about someone online that you wouldn’t say to their face.

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Jackie Fox’s Statement

Jackie Fox has made a remarkably calm and powerful statement about the response to the story of Kim Fowley’s sexual assault on her:

 

I have been so incredibly moved over the last few days by the outpouring of love and support that has followed the story of my rape on New Year’s Eve 1975.

When I contacted the Huffington Post at the beginning of the year, I never imagined my story would touch such a nerve. I wondered whether anyone would even read it, or if they did, whether they would care. The response took me completely by surprise.

This was not an easy story for me to tell. I had to go over the details of the worst night of my life, not once but repeatedly. The writer of the piece, Jason Cherkis, and the Huffington Post’s fact checker handled the questioning with great sensitivity; but in the wake of the Rolling Stone rape-reporting fiasco and the well-known past disagreements among members of the Runaways, they were leaving nothing to chance. They asked for my SAT scores, my school transcripts, contact info for the lawyer I spoke to last year. My family and I opened our homes and our files, without reservation. We gave Jason a glimpse into some of our most private moments, as well as some of our deepest – though thoroughly underserved — shame.

Jason spoke to people I hadn’t thought about in years — people who didn’t like me, as well as those who did. He spoke to every known living person who was there the night of my rape, save one. Jason contacted friends I’d lost touch with after I was raped, friends I’ve missed terribly. I had serious second thoughts about going public several months in. How would disclosure affect my family? How would it change how my friends saw me? Would I be known forever after as “that girl from that band, who got raped”?

I thought I had prepared myself for the haters — I was wrong. I was shocked by some of the vitriol; more so by the fact that nearly all of it came from other women. *But their voices were drowned by a chorus of support from women I respect and admire – women like Kathy Valentine, Maureen Herman and Jane Wiedlin. And then there are the private messages. The sheer number of people who have written to tell me their own stories of rape and abuse has been heartbreaking. Many have said they’ve never told anyone about their rape or abuse, or that the people they told didn’t believe them.

But they’ve also said that my story has given them hope that the dialogue about rape is changing. Some have reevaluated their own trauma in light of learning about the Bystander Effect. One person wrote that I had given her a gift: “the ability to see that the people in the room were victims too. Their behavior didn’t mean I deserved [the abuse]. It just meant they were afraid and didn’t know what to do.”

I know some people watching the online drama unfold have been discouraged by the lack of support I’ve received from my former bandmates. To which I can only say that I hope you never have to walk in their shoes. My rape was traumatic for everyone, not just me, and everyone deals with trauma in their own way and time. It took exceptional courage for many of the witnesses to talk frankly about how they felt. Most have apologized to me for their inaction that night — apologies that have been unnecessary, though welcome.

My rape also left scars on Victory and the other people who only experienced indirectly what happened that night. It can’t have been easy to listen to the way the band treated me after I left (treatment I was mercifully unaware of at the time). All I can say about what was said and done is that my bandmates were children who’d witnessed something criminal and tragic. I’ve no doubt they were dealing with it as best they were able. They had no responsible adults to guide them – only a rapist and his apologists.

If I am disappointed in one thing, it is that the story has become about who knew what when and who did or didn’t do what. That isn’t the story at all. It would be nice if everyone who was there the night I was raped could talk about how it has affected them over the years. But if they don’t want to talk it about, I respect that. It’s taken me years to talk about it without shame. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have watched it happen.

I only wish that if my bandmates can’t remember what happened that night – or if they just remember it differently –they would stick simply to saying that. By asserting that if they’d witnessed my rape, they’d have done something about it, they perpetuate the very myth I was trying to dispel when I decided to tell my story. Being a passive bystander is not a “crime.” All of us have been passive bystanders at some point in our lives.

If we have any hope at all of putting an end to incidents like these, we need to stop doubting the accusers and start holding rapists, abusers and bullies accountable. What we don’t need to do is point fingers at those who weren’t to blame for their actions.

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