Kathy Valentine told two stories about the importance of rock’n’role models to an audience of mostly women, from 13-year-old You Tube troubadours to gray-haired guitar-slinging pioneers, this past weekend at the MEOW Conference in Austin, Texas. First story: While visiting relatives in England, the Texan teen turned on Top of the Pops to see a woman clad in black leather playing bass guitar and singing. Nearly forty years later, Valentine handed Suzi Quatro the Woman of Valor award at MEOWCon’s opening night.
Second story: In 1978, Valentine went backstage after a Runaways show in Austin. Seeing Suzi inspired Kathy to pick up a guitar; meeting Joan Jett and Vicki Blue encouraged her to move to LA and pursue her rock’n’roll dreams. There she met four other young women forming a band; the Go-Go’s would take Valentine to a rare place for an all-female rock group: Number one.
Valentine recounted her Runaways tale during her keynote speech at MEOWCon, an event organized by the indefatigable rockrgrl Carla DeSantis Black (it stands for Musicians for Equal Opportunities for Women). Kathy also posed a question: Where are the girl bands today? Where have they been since the ‘80s, in fact?
There was no shortage of over-qualified female musicians at MEOWCon, from two members of the seminal ‘70s ensemble Fanny (June Millington and Patti Quatro, Suzi’s sister) to erstwhile Michael Jackson guitar shredder Jennifer Batten. Black-clad New York blues revivalists Jane Lee Hooker ripped the balls out of Muddy Waters’s “Mannish Boy.” Kate Diaz, a 16-year-old from Chicago, sang a graduation song for her brother in a Joan Armatrading-worthy warble. Valentine’s own band, the Bluebonnets, managed to make a cavernous ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel almost, almost feel like the Continental Club. And of course Suzi Quatro slammed the strings in a rare American show, then delivered a ribald and hilarious keynote on Friday. (Check my Twitter feed for bon mots from Suzi Q.)
And then there was Frightwig. In the 1980s this Bay Area band created a spectacular racket of psychedelic psych-outs and righteous bitching. The Runaways sang about being the Queens of Noise, but Frightwig truly were. Their glorious outrage blew open doors through which the Lunachicks, Babes in Toyland, Hole, L7 and Riot Grrrls came streaming/screaming. Then they disbanded, had kids, and became costume designers and Mudwimin.
And now they’re back. The four women of Frightwig (plus ace keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, of PJ Harvey and Captain Beefheart fame) are all well into the second acts of their lives, but matronly they are not: Guitarist Mia Levin/d’Bruzzi is the uber-guitar-goddess. Nor has their feminist fire dimmed one iota. Singer Deanna Ashley/Mitchell was the only person I heard all weekend call out Texan assholes Rick Perry and Ted Cruz, and salute local hero Wendy Davis. Cecilia Kuhn pulled her towering physique and gray waterfall mane out from behind the drums to resurrect the wronged-lover plaint “Punk Rock Jail Bait.” She and Rebecca Tucker/Sevrin, clad in a custom black leather bustier and playing a handmade guitar, strode like Amazons on the puny stage. Hell hath no fury … by song’s end Kuhn abandoned vocals for a Tourette’s explosion of sign language, no translation necessary.
Women grinding hips ‘gainst guitars, smashing sticks into skin, and singing their guts out: Why don’t we see this on MTV or hear it on the radio? I think it’s because it’s the sound of revolution, and we know what Gil Scott-Heron said about revolution.
What do you think?