Category Archives: Queens of Noise

The Incline of Western Civilization

Phag!

Los Angeles punk has always had its own distinct aesthetic, inspired by New York and London but shaped by its environment: the West, Hollywood, the ‘burbs.  Somehow, LA punks seem to be aging more relevantly than their peers. This weekend I saw three artists from the earliest, old school days of Los Angeles calling: Alice Bag (the Bags), Phranc (Nervous Gender), and John Doe (X). Punk’s disruption of traditional beauty standards and of heteronormativity always seemed particularly radical in the shadow of Tinseltown, but these AARP-age idols show that choosing original style over the surgeon’s knife is the best revenge. Their music has also matured not declined. Chops may not be punk’s raison d’etre, but these three have them: Doe has always been the genre’s most golden-voiced crooner, but Bag and Phranc are also skilled singers. They flubbed some lines but their harmonies were pitch perfect as they played their second gig as the act with the best “shipped” name ever …. wait for it … PHAG!

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Phranc (I love the guitar sticker!)

If you don’t know what a shipped name is, then clearly you don’t have a teenager:  Short for relationship, it means the single name that results from the union of two, such as Brangelina, Kimye, and now, Phag. Phranc and Alice have known each other since at least the early ’80s, when they both were in Castration Squad. As that act’s name indicates, they were (and are) gender warriors. They found refuge in punk’s embrace of outsiders, as they discussed on a panel at the Grrrls on Film festival at Loyola Marymount University in 2016. But Phranc in particular also found racism and homophobia, and eventually she rejected the scene and rebranded herself as the “All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger,” revealing the warm, womanly tones underneath punk’s noise and her flat-top ‘do. She’s still a little bit folky, while Bag’s a little bit rock’n’roll, as they sang Friday night at the Razorcake 100th issue party at Avenue 50 Studio. They were parodying Donny and Marie, but the original goal of their union, they said, was to be the Smothers Brothers. And sure enough, their act is satiric, slapstick, and also pointedly sincere. They sang songs dissing Mike Pence and praising Malala. They passed around their prototype for a new $20 bill, featuring Harriet Tubman instead of Indian killer Andrew Jackson. They were funny and sweet and sloppy and pissed. I told my compatriots Allison Wolfe and Sharon Mooney that we had to start their fan club now, and I have the perfect name for it: The Phag Hags! Continue reading

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“Shake It Up” Reading at Rhino

My 2010 LA Weekly cover story on the Runaways drummer Sandy West is one of the articles included in Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop From Elvis to Jay Z, a Library of America collection edited by Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar. I’ll be reading from it alongside Jonathan and Kevin on May 31 at Rhino Records in Claremont. Flyer and press release below.

Authors Jonathan Lethem & Kevin Dettmar will be reading & signing copies of their new book “Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop From Elvis to Jay Z” At Rhino Records in Claremont Wednesday May 31st at 7pm.  The book, edited by the two of them, is a six decade survey of superb writing on popular music assembled into one mighty volume.   KSPC Radio Free Aftermath DJ’s Sam & Jojo will be spinning music from 1957-2017, and Evelyn McDonnell, one of the featured writers in the book, will be reading from her section in the book as well as signing copies of her book on The Runaways “Queens Of Noise”.

THE ESSENTIAL PLAYLIST OF GREAT WRITING ABOUT THE MUSIC THAT ROCKED AMERICA
Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar’s Shake It Up invites the reader into the tumult and excitement of the rock revolution through fifty landmark pieces by a supergroup of writers on rock in all its variety, from heavy metal to disco, punk to hip-hop. Stanley Booth describes a recording session with Otis Redding; Ellen Willis traces the meteoric career of Janis Joplin; Ellen Sander recalls the chaotic world of Led Zeppelin on tour; Nick Tosches etches a portrait of the young Jerry Lee Lewis; Eve Babitz remembers Jim Morrison. Alongside are Lenny Kaye on acapella and Greg Tate on hip-hop, Vince Aletti on disco and Gerald Early on Motown; Robert Christgau on Prince, Nelson George on Marvin Gaye, Luc Sante on Bob Dylan, Hilton Als on Michael Jackson, Anthony DeCurtis on the Rolling Stones, Kelefa Sanneh on Jay Z. The story this anthology tells is a ongoing one: -it’s too early, – editors Jonathan Lethem and Kevin Dettmar note, -for canon formation in a field so marvelously volatile–a volatility that mirrors, still, that of pop music itself, which remains smokestack lightning. The writing here attempts to catch some in a bottle.

Also features:
NAT HENTOFF on BOB DYLAN
AMIRI BARAKA on R&B
LESTER BANGS on ELVIS PRESLEY
ROBERT CHRISTGAU on PRINCE
DEBRA RAE COHEN on DAVID BOWIE
EVE BABITZ on JIM MORRISON
ROBERT PALMER on SAM COOKE
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN on HEAVY METAL
JESSICA HOPPER on EMO
JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN on AXL ROSE
ELIJAH WALD on THE BEATLES
GREIL MARCUS on CHRISTIAN MARCLAY.

About the Authors
JONATHAN LETHEM is the author of The Fortress of Solitude, The Gambler’s Anatomy and nine other novels; KEVIN DETTMAR is the author of Is Rock Dead? and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan.

This event is all ages & free to the public.

Link to The New York Times review of the book:

Feel free to drop a line with any inquiries to me at the address below.

Dennis Callaci
General Manager
Rhino Records/Mad Platter/Video Paradiso
909-626-7774 X 104
235 Yale Ave
Claremont, CA 91711

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Human Fallibility: Patti Smith in Stockholm

It was a big moment in a life that has had a lot of them. Patti Smith performed a Bob Dylan song at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm last night, in honor of the man born Robert Zimmerman, who was not there to accept his award for literature himself. It was a wonderful choice by the Nobel committee: Smith teethed on Dylan’s music, and they have performed together in the past. (I saw them share a bill and a mike at the Beacon Theater in New York many years ago; she had wonder in her face as she looked at her hero next to her.) Like Bob, Patti is not exactly a singer in the bel canto tradition: She has a rough voice, prone to flat tones . But unlike him, she can belt with a strong, powerful vibrato. Her rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” silenced the theater full of men in tuxes and women in gowns.

And then, she forgot the words. She stumbled, stumbled again, then stopped the guitar accompaniment, apologized, and asked if she could start over. “I apologize. Sorry, I’m so nervous,” she said smiling the tight smile of someone mortified to the point of tears, her cheeks crimson — a human moment in a night of buttoned-up formality. Later, it happened again. It was a stumble big enough to make online headlines. I hope, in the video below, people play beyond the gaffes and listen to the words of this timely and timeless protest song by one great writer, sung by another, blessedly fallible one.

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My Next Book: Women Who Rock

My next book project got announced yesterday on the Publisher’s Marketplace newsletter:

Pop Culture
Edited and with an introduction by Evelyn McDonnell’s WOMEN WHO ROCK, an illustrated history featuring essays on key female artists in hip-hop, pop, soul, and rock by leading women writers and musicians, with illustrations by female artists, to Becky Koh at Black Dog & Leventhal, by Sarah Lazin at Sarah Lazin Books (World).

I am really excited about this book, which I think is going to be smart and inspirational. I’m looking forward to assembling a talented crew of writers and helping locate illustrators. Narrowing down our list of female musicians to celebrate will be hard, and I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of my life defending omissions. But more than ever right now, we need to honor and gather the work of women. Thanks to my agent Sarah Lazin and editor Becky Koh for making this happen.

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Girl Power Night With Pussy Riot & Transparent

Allison Wolfe (left) and Nadya Tolokno. Courtesy of Allison

Allison Wolfe (left) and Nadya Tolokno. Courtesy of Allison

Last night was a queer punk rock feminist dream come true, hanging with and hearing some key gender game-changers, past and present. First, Allison Wolfe and I went to the Ace Hotel, where Nadya Tolokno of Pussy Riot was holding court. It was the first time the original Riot Grrrl had met the original Pussy Riot girl, so that was a bit of a moment. We also ran into Mukta Mohan and Gabrielle Costa of the very cool Honey Power female DJ collective. Lots of girl power on that rooftop last night. Tolokno showed her three new videos, in which Putin’s least favorite punk raps and grooves. The former art student is pursuing a more Madonna/Peaches/PJ Harvey groove than the band’s former anarcho thrash. The videos are very sexualized, and bloody. Allison will be on a panel with Maria from Pussy Riot Monday night at the Regent, so she is on the full PR tour this week.

Afterwards, the Sex Stains goddess and I trucked up to USC, where we caught the second half of the Trans/Gender Tipping Point event organized by Jack Halberstam and Karen Tongson, two scholars whose work is not just analyzing but leading the discourse on gender variance. Four members of the Transparent artistic team talked about that show’s, er, transformative effect on trans visibility, television, and their own lives. Director Silas Howard, producers Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, and actor Trace Lysette also discussed how the show could go even further, including having feature characters who have fully transitioned. Howard, for one, is optimistic the show will continue to break ground, saying of Jill Soloway’s Transparent team, “Whenever they’re most afraid, they most bravely go forward.” Stay tuned.

Some students asked me recently what the best part of being a journalist is, and I would say it’s being a witness to the making of history. Being in a room with Howard and Wolfe again, a couple decades after we were all first connected to Revolution Girl Style, or watching Allison and Nadya talk, or being dazzled by Lysette’s simultaneous poise and vulnerability — it felt like another of those nights. That’s my blessing as a journalist; my job is to tell you about it, which I just did.

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Time and Gender Warping With Hedwig’s Creators

It’s becoming a running theme: Someone I wrote about 15, 20, 25 years ago finally gets their day in the sun, and I get to reconnect. Call it Early Adopter Syndrome, or, as poet Mike Tyler says, the Turtle Generation finally crossing the finish line. In today’s edition, it’s a his and a her: that old queer punk Hedwig. Eighteen years ago I interviewed John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, the creators of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, for The Village Voice. I was such a tireless Hedwig advocate back then that Carrie Brownstein — yeah, I was onto her a long time ago too — used to tease me about my obsession. Cue forward to 2014, and the old “slip of a girlie” is finally on Broadway, and, er, snatching Tonys. I caught up with John and Stephen recently for the LA Weekly. They are both rabid music fans, and it’s always great fun to talk about punk and politics with them. The revival of Hedwig launches at the Pantages tonight, with Darren Criss in the title role and Tony-winner Lena Hall as Yitzhak and, on Sunday nights, Hedwig — more gender warping from this vanguard show.

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Silas Howard: Transparent’s First Trans Director

Tribe 8 was one of my favorite bands of the 1990s. I followed them to the end of the earth — well, to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. They changed the world that year, smashing generation gaps and sending the ladies of the land into the moshpit. They never got their due and still don’t; in Pitchfork’s recent list of punk feminist anthems, their seminal voice is woefully MIA — still too rad for that site’s chamber-music cultural feminism aesthetic. So I was thrilled to catch up recently with guitarist Flipper, now going by the name Silas Howard and an accomplished director of film and television. Here‘s how I wrote it up for the LA Weekly.

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