The Feminine Critique Redux

IMG_6304Twenty-three years ago The Village Voice published an article called “The Feminine Critique: The Secret History of Women and Rock Journalism.” It was the detailed result of more than a year’s worth of research I conducted, looking for my predecessors and my peers, interviewing such incredible critics as Ellen Willis, Danyel Smith, Ann Powers, Carola Dibbell, Karen Schoemer, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, etc. The article became the basis for my first book, Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap, coedited by the inestimable Powers. That book is suddenly in the spotlight, thanks to Pitchfork editor Jessica Hopper’s generous namecheck of it in the dedication to her pointedly titled anthology The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. Anwen Crawford also mentions our book in her New Yorker piece today, and even manages to include my name, unlike another recent lame article I won’t deign to mention. (You don’t say my name, I won’t say yours.) Crawford’s article goes over so much of the same terrain as “The Feminine Critique,” I wanted to laugh and cry. Finally, this issue is getting the mainstream spotlight it deserves. Sadly, it remains an issue.

I took a lot of shit when my article came out. The (male) rock crit establishment didn’t appreciate it. I was blacklisted by at least one major music magazine. Critics whose work I deeply admired made belittling comments. I felt like a whistleblower. On the one hand, “The Feminist Critique” led to my book-publishing career. On the other, to this day, I think I was forever cast as the Feminist Troublemaker, my career tainted as I was just getting out of the gate. Something writer Leslie Berman told me back then still haunts me: “The only reason that those of us who stopped doing criticism may feel bitter or uncomfortable about it has something to do with the fact that men had a different way of stopping. They were able to stop and recognize it as a choice, as a career move.”

I hope and pray that Crawford and Hopper don’t have to go through what Berman and I did. I’m glad they’re acknowledging the women who came before them. I write a lot about women pioneers, because I feel they are too often under-appreciated. I must be getting old, because I feel like one of them now. I’m glad to see the incredible settlements our progeny are building. And yet, I feel a little sad, looking out from my dusty door frame, just grateful when they remember to say my name.

Oh, and about that title: Willis and Ellen Sander both had collections of their writing published during their lifetimes, though Willis’s included the important political journalism she did after she grew out of rock criticism. Patricia has self-published her work; I highly recommend you check it out.

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Books on Women in Music

I just stumbled across this shoutout NPR critic Ann Powers gave to Queens of Noise for NYC’s Soundcheck program in her list of books about women in music. Of course, she may be biased: We did edit Rock She Wrote together.

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Punk Feminism at Stanford Podcast

The Punk Feminism show at Stanford May 12 with Alice Bag, Allison Wolfe, and myself was nicely documented in a podcast feature by Liam Kane-Grande for the Peninsula Press. He makes great use of music by the Bags, Bratmobile, and Sex Stains — unreleased tracks! Hear them here first! They sound great.

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Oh Bondage Up Yours: The Punk Rock Sexual Revolution

punkfeminismI promised I would post the remarks I made for the Punk Feminism and The F Word shows in Stanford and Oakland last week. The first half of my presentation, with images from the slide show and notes of music cues, follows. I’ll post the Patti Smith critical karaoke another day. The lecture began with music: X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage Up Yours.”

Punk is a female energy.

Look it up, in the Oxford English Dictionary. The first use of the word punk dates back to the 17th century and meant strumpet or whore. Later, the word referred to catamites, aka homosexuals, and then petty thieves. Etymologically, punks are gender outlaws – the OG victims of slut shaming and fagbashing. PunkwomenMusically, punk is the sound of dissonance, of dissent against even the hegemony of dissent. Making noise and ugliness virtues in a culture obsessed with harmony and beauty, punk’s means are destructive, but its impulse is creative. Sometimes, in its frisson of friction, lies escape.

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Taylor Swift: Hot Feminist

“So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it’s just basically another word for equality.” That’s Taylor Swift speaking, in an interview in Maxim, of all places, where she graces the cover as the top of men’s magazine Hot 100. So, feminism is officially hot. I love it.

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Cherie Currie Redux

After 35 years, Runaways singer Cherie Currie has released a new album, Reverie, via iTunes. I interviewed her for Cuepoint about her reunion with Kim Fowley and Lita Ford.

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All Together Now: Oh Bondage Up Yours!

Alice Bag and Frightwig's Mia d'Bruzzi

Alice Bag and Frightwig’s Mia d’Bruzzi

It was literally my punk rock dream come true. There I was, on stage with some of my ultimate musical heroines, singing “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” The F Word show at Studio Grand in Oakland May 13 wasn’t just a historic first — Cali punk legends Alice Bag and Frightwig on a bill together. It was a feminist singalong and call to action. These are women, and one man (veteran keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman), who take seriously the participatory mission of DIY culture and embraced the intimate setting of a community space with photographs of social justice organizations on the wall. Though the Wig and Bag met in person for the first time that day, they quickly got into each other’s grooves and unleashed some fearsome woman power.

I did my best to warm the crowd up with a little discourse on the collusion of punk and feminism. (I’ll post my pieces later.) Having made the online introductions of the bands, I played MC and DJ (and a little Hype Woman too). After a critical karaoke of Patti Smith’s “Till Victory” (I’ll post that as well), I intro’d Bag — aka Alicia Velasquez — and her bassist, awesome Angie Skull. Alice interspersed excerpts from her memoir Violence Girl and her new book, Pipebomb for the Soul, about her days in Nicaragua with the Sandinistas, with songs. Frightwig’s Deanna Mitchell, Cecilia Kuhn, Mia d’Bruzzi, Eric Drew Feldman and I joined in as backing singers for “Women on Top” and “Modern Day Virgin Sacrifice.”

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Then, it was Frightwig‘s turn. But first, more Bag Wig McDonnell: I recited Poly-Styrene’s famous intro to “Oh Bondage Up Yours,” and then there we all were, an unplugged rendering of the classic punk feminist anthem. I even sang the second verse, Nike help me. (The goddess, not the shoemaker.) Angie, Alice and I also aided and abetted the newish Frightwig song “War on Women.”

The ‘Wig closed the evening with new songs as well as some of their classics from the 1980s, including “My Crotch Does Not Say Go.” Drummer Kuhn ended with the intense “Lament,” one of many songs that evening that probed uneven social systems and questions of identity.

We practiced our jams for the first time just an hour before the show started. It was also a rare acoustic show for Frightwig. So the night had a very raw, collaborative quality to it. Watching these women learn each other’s songs and find instant notes of harmony and grace — and of collision and dissent — was a tremendous, inspiring experience. I had gotten a taste of it the day before, at Stanford, when I watched Angie and Alice join Allison Wolfe (Sex Stains, Bratmobile, etc.) for another herstoric jam, this one a rendering of the Bratmobile ode to  a girl named “Panik.” I know punk isn’t about technical virtuosity, but I just have to say it: All these women can really sing. Without the distortion, you could hear that.

I’m so grateful that I got to be not just a witness, but a participant, in these moments.

Thanks to Vanessa at Studio Grand and to Ruben Martinez, Jeff Chang, and Ellen Oh at the Stanford Institute for Diversity in the Arts for making these moments happen.

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