Anna Bulbrook saws a mean fiddle and sings with a dreampop echo in the Bulls, Airborne Toxic Event, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. She has big eyes that make for a bold, direct stare and a bit of an Annie Lennox vibe. Those big eyes are capable of big vision. Bulbrook founded Girlschool to provide a platform for the many talented female musicians whom she felt were overlooked in the alternative rock scene. Thought became praxis this weekend when she booked a formidable gathering of women-led bands for three nights at the Bootleg Theater.
Making full use of the venue’s capacious space, the audience Friday night was able to move from the Bulls at the Theater Stage to the powerful emoting of Miya Folick on the Bar Stage to the slick funk of Kitten back on the Theater Stage. And that was just Friday night. While there was a somewhat repetitious Lilith Fair vibe in that evening’s bill, Saturday offered the raw power of Kim and the Created and the ’90s pop grunge of Veruca Salt. Tonight, there’s Allison Weiss, Kera and the Lesbians, and more. In volume (numbers) if not volume (decibels), Girlschool’s Field Day Weekend aptly proves its point that there’s no rhyme or reason in #musicbizsobro.
That said, the industry panel that kicked off the weekend was depressingly retro. Ten white women in their 30s and 40s all dressed in black perched on bar stools and complained how there were no women in their fields before them and, essentially, told women not to act like drunk sluts. It was a painful erasure of herstory and object lesson in how the radical activism of feminism can be reduced to self-help bandages for internalized misogyny. There was some useful conversation about the recent disclosures of sexual harassment by a predatory publicist; one woman spoke frankly about the decade’s worth of indignities she had sloughed off as part of the price of being a woman in show biz, and how her consciousness had now been raised by this Twitter outing. However, instead of acknowledging all the women who had broken barriers before them (only manager Carol Shields got any love; what about Sylvia Rhone, Marilyn Laverty, Ann Powers, Liz Rosenberg, Frances Preston, [your name here]), panelists moaned about having to invent the wheel. When two journalists complained that they had no “elders” to guide them, the “elder” NPR reporter sitting next to me and I burst into laughter.
When the “experts” began telling the audience “not to fuck the band” and praised sobriety, I felt like Revolution Girl Style had never happened, and I was back at the New Music Seminar circa 1993. Fortunately, at that point, Fabi Reyna, editor in chief of She Shreds magazine, walked on stage. Younger than the others and not clad in black uniform, she proudly confessed her love of a drink or two, or even more. After all, if men can enjoy the pleasures of spending a lot of time in clubs, why can’t women? Bulbrook speaks proudly about feminism, which is great; I love feminism. But as bell hooks and others have said, if we use this term lightly and vaguely, do we dilute its meaning? Sarah Banet-Weiser talks about how today’s “pop feminism” puts the burden of social change on women, and particularly on girls, to empower themselves as individuals. Empowerment is certainly the goal of feminism, but the means should be to take down the structures of oppression by creating alliances with others who are oppressed, not gender equity through self-improvement.
Girlschool is getting that last part right. But they don’t need to reinvent the wheel and spread a doctrine of 21st century chastity. The talk Friday got a bit wack. But the music was great.
Alice Bag and Allison Wolfe are two of my personal heroes. As part of her coursework at USC, where she is an Annenberg Fellow (following in my footsteps!), Allison interviewed Alice. It‘s a great little podcast and article. Alice talks about the omnipresence of violence, which I’ve been thinking a lot about today, occasioned by this powerful article also by a Chicana punk. I’m glad today’s young punks are speaking out about the affronts that seemed casual and inevitable when Alice and I were growing up. It’s called progress, people. Believe.
Shameless plug: Alice will be on the We Will Bury You panel about LA punk at Grrrls on Film on March 19 (with Phranc, Nicole Panter, Raquel Guttierez, and Ruben Martinez), and Allison will be at the concert March 20. We’ll be screening The Decline of Western Civilization that Saturday as well, with director Penelope Spheeris and her daughter Anna Fox in the house. Details and reservation link coming soon; stay tuned to this blog and, always, to KXLU.
Victoria Williams founded the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund to support musicians with health-care costs using proceeds raised to help her with her own MS diagnosis. Now she needs people’s help again. Please read the following announcement from Sweet Relief, and support Vic if you can.
SWEET RELIEF MUSICIANS FUND
ASKS FOR SUPPORTERS TO CONTRIBUTE TO
VICTORIA WILLIAMS’ MEDICAL EXPENSES
A Light That Shines So Sweetly
Victoria Williams is a well-known artist who has played all around the world on stages ranging from New York’s Beacon Theater to The Bottom Line, to the Folies Bergere with Randy Newman in Paris, and from festival stages to country dive-bars both as a solo artist and with her band The Loose Band and later the Harmony Ridge Creek-Dippers. She has worked with Lou Reed, Peter Case, Neil Young, Gus VanSant, D.A. Pennebaker, Mark Olson, Pearl Jam, Maria McKee, Rickie Lee Jones and many other music and film luminaries.
Victoria is also well known to the Sweet Relief family. In 1993 Vic was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Because she didn’t have health insurance at the time, a great group of musicians got together and made the album Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams, to raise monies for her medical costs. With the funds remaining Victoria created the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund for the benefit of other musicians.
She has made 14 records herself, as well as on many other artists recordings. She has starred in motion pictures and documentaries, and has charmed and entertained music lovers wherever she has gone for almost four decades. Her list of collaborators and associates is a treasure-trove of some of the world’s finest artists and filmmakers.
Victoria has dedicated her life to sharing her love of music and her particular brand of storytelling with anyone who has ears to hear. She has played countless fund-raising events over the years for the benefit others.
Now Victoria Williams needs some help from us. In mid-December 2015, Vic had a seizure and injured her back and fractured her shoulder.
With rest, appropriate medical care, and physical therapy, she is expected to fully recover. Her medical insurance will not be covering these costs. Also, the amount of time her healing requires is going to keep her from working for a while. Any time off for a working musician is a financial hardship and the longer it takes, the larger the bills.
She will also be requiring paid assistance around the house while she convalesces. With our help, it shouldn’t be long before she is able to pick up her banjo or Stratocaster again.
I am actually a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of tributes to David Bowie. I was listening to Blackstar on Sunday, loving it, intrigued by it, critiquing it. I listened to it with a whole different heartset yesterday. As I told my students, Bowie managed to merge the avant-garde and pop like no one else. Yes, I loved his music. But what’s most intriguing to me is how influential he was on the women whose music subsequently has captivated me. For Alice Bag, Cherie Currie, Kari Krome, etc., he was THE inspiration to rebel rebel, to turn and face the strange changes.
On Sunday, as this pale style icon kept singing to me in my car, “I’m a black star, I’m not a pop star,” I pondered the Thin White Duke’s relationship to appropriation: his obsession with black music, feminine manners, and gay culture. Is it theft, as I think many of my less tolerant students would think? Or is it, as Eric Lott coined it, love and theft? I wondered what Greg Tate would think. And thanks to this amazing, smart, loving remembrance, I now know.
I loved N.W.A. I remember when Straight Outta Compton came out; it was essential listening, one of those albums you sat down with and figured out every song. “Fuck tha Police” is arguably the most important hip-hop song evah. I had a crush on Ice Cube. I didn’t excuse the misogyny, but I figured the good outweighed the bad.
That excuse doesn’t work anymore.
There were many things to like about the film Straight Outta Compton. But if you’re going to make a film based on real events, don’t rewrite history. N.W.A had problems, and bitches were major ones. Not only does F. Gary Gray’s bromance leave out such infamous incidents like Dr. Dre’s beating of reporter Dee Barnes; it creates a binary world of powerful men and powerless women. The few female characters with words are mostly nags and hoes; there is not a single well-developed women in the whole film. It more than fails the Bechdel Test; it unproblematically reinscribes music videos’ fixation with T&A. It’s more misogynist than N.W.A’s music.
I’m waiting for the answer rap film from Yo-Yo/Missy Elliott/Queen Latifah/MC Lyte.
No. No no no no no. Maybe, if you edited out every scene with Leonardo DiCaprio, you would have a beautiful nature film plus period drama. But watch Planet Earth instead. Two and a half hours of my life I’ll never have back. We literally laughed. Out loud. Can’t wait for the Saturday Night Live satire skit.