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Liz Phair’s Rebel Yell

You would never have known from last night’s bold-as-love performance at the Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever cemetery that Liz Phair has a history of crippling stage fright. Maybe it was the army of ghosts that the artist said had her back (“don’t touch my ass!” she scolded one), or maybe it was the quarter-century of power she found in the old songs she had dusted off for the show, but the exile from Guyville played for about 80 minutes without falter or stammer. She wasn’t alone up there; a younger musician whom she never introduced but referred to once as “Connor” accompanied her on electric guitar and vocals. But sonically, his role seemed to be primarily one of moral support. About halfway through the show, Phair had had enough of his trying to lead each song with a countoff. Reminding him he was playing with “a rebel,” she plunged into the next song without the human metronome. Empowered by the small audience’s enraptured support and the refound determination of her old songs, Phair played with a confidence and ease that evaded her when her first album, Exile in Guyville, whose songs she mostly played last night, made her an overnight indie star 25 years ago.

If you’ve listened to the recently released box set of that album and the previous tapes she recorded as Girly-Sound, you know how well that material has held up over time. That was even more evident at the show. The lodge was full of, well, women (and men) like me: well into middle age (my friend sat over a vent because she was having hot flashes), nodding our heads to songs as we relived how Phair was one of the first artists to express the gendered power imbalances of both intimate relationships and professional relationships in so-called alternative music communities. As she told me when I interviewed her back in April for The Guardian: “I was tired of being the girlfriend of the guy in the band, I was tired of hearing that my music tastes suck. This was not ‘alternative’; this was just underproduced.”

This was Phair’s first show since the release of Girly-Sound to Guyville. You’ll be hard-pressed to find tickets to the first leg of shows, but she has added more dates in the Fall. For you Angelenos, she’ll be at the Theater at the Ace September 21. Sure, this was a nostalgia trip for many of us, but I think her songs would resonate with young women today; Phair called it “Fuck and Run,” today they call it “hook-up culture.” As she told Allison Wolfe, for Wolfe’s essay on her in Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl, the book I edited (out October 9): . “Male rock and roll singers have forever talked about sex graphically and gotten it on the radio. As a woman, I wanted to take that back.”


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Liz Phair to the Rescue!

Liz Phair is sitting in the Rose Café, a well-loved Venice, California, eatery where tech-industry entrepreneurs munch quinoa alongside music-biz hipsters sipping lattes. The critically adored singer-songwriter does not look like 25 years – sufficient time for her to conceive, deliver, raise and send a son off to college – have intervened since her debut album, Exile in Guyville, made her the Rolling Stone cover girl for third-wave feminism. She ignores her matcha until a foul odor of burning oil wafts over from the kitchen – a peril of open-air design. Phair coughs. Once, twice, repeatedly. It’s as if something heavy and toxic has seeped into this bastion of urban chic, landed in her sensitive lungs, and has to be expelled, forcibly and immediately. She perseveres, telling me about how the book she has written was compelled by the election of Donald Trump, her voice cracking under siege. Then I begin coughing.

“It’s affecting you too,” our canary in the coal mine exclaims. “Sorry, I’m going to save you.” She flags down a server and we move beverages and recorder to the bar, far from noxious fumes.

Liz Phair does not suffer irritants quietly. And lately, irritants abound. Once again, men are excluding women from power, reducing them to sexual objects, and shutting down or demeaning their modes of expression. It’s Guyville redux, only this time, it’s not just faux-alternative hipsters in the indie-rock scene of Chicago in the early 1990s. It’s the top dog in the White House.

I caught up with Phair recently for The Guardian, one of the world’s greatest newspapers. I have to admit I was heavily influenced by the great interview Allison Wolfe did with her for Women Who Rock. Read my interview with Liz here: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/may/03/liz-phair-trump-change-her-music-exile-in-guyville-25-years

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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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Grrrls Take Over

Kim and the Created

Kim and the Created

A tall woman in a black leather bodysuit flails on the sidewalk in the center of Loyola Marymount University. Kim House wails into a mike. About 50 students form a circle around her, spectating and protecting as the lunachick enacts a fit. Her guitarist and drummer lay down a heavy thrash sound that bounces off the brick and stucco buildings. Kim and the Created are the final act of the first-ever Grrrls on Film festival, and they embody just about everything that has been depicted and discussed over the last three days of screenings and panels: noise, representation, damage, diversity, power, support, expression, transgression, disruption, eruption, punk, feminism. Several of my students are there, and I recognize the light in their eyes: the spark of transformation, the recognition of great talent and also the reflection of themselves in this soul who expunges pain then leaps back on stage, ready to sling a bass over her neck and bang out deep, propulsive vibrations.

In terms of attendance, attention, and smooth operation, Grrrls on Film, held March 18-20, exceeded my expectations. People came from all over LA – a rarity for this Westside campus – and mingled with students and faculty, filling or nearly filling the Mayer Theatre. Thoughtful articles in the LA Weekly, i-D, The Argonaut, Grimy Goods, The Loyolan, Bust, and Los Angeles Magazine, and interviews on KPCC, KPFK, and KXLU, helped spread our message and the works of our featured filmmakers, speakers, and performers. All scheduled guests showed up in a timely manner, and we stayed within our budget. As first-time producers, my colleague/coconspirator Sharon A. Mooney and I breathed several sighs of relief.

Evelyn McDonnell and Sharon A. Mooney

Evelyn McDonnell and Sharon A. Mooney

But more importantly, I feel like we succeeded on a profound level, in terms of stimulating important discussions about gender, art, and activism; connecting creators to each other; and impacting the lives of young women at a particularly crucial crossroads in their life. Riot Grrrls reunited. Filmmakers from opposite coasts exchanged notes and numbers. Punks addressed difficult parts of their history that had been suppressed for decades: the misogyny, homophobia, and racism that lashed back against their outsider disruptions. Students tweeted their discoveries and discernments. Tweens made videos, and faculty stepped out of their silos to think deep about what it means to be an oppressed group speaking truth to power.

Karyn Kusmama and Leena Pandharkar at Girl Power panel. Photo by Emma Spiekerman

Karyn Kusama and Leena Pandharkar at Girl Power panel. Photo by Emma Spiekerman

Emotions ran high. The four female filmmakers at the kickassoff Girl Power panel Friday night – Karyn Kusama, Angela Boatwright, Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, and Leena Pandharkar – spoke frankly about the inequities women face in the industry. “The indie world is an economic ghetto,” stated Kusama, maker of Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body and the new The Invitation. “Rather than creating separate programs for women and minorities, why don’t we just hire them,” asked LMU alum Littlejohn.

The festival’s first screening paired two films about coming of age in Los Angeles: Michael Lucid’s 1996 documentary Dirty Girls and Floria Sigismondi’s 2010 feature film The Runaways. Afterwards both filmmakers and two of the subjects of Lucid’s movie, Amber and Harper, answered audience questions. It was an auspicious start: Film students rubbed elbows with veteran directors, as talk of mentoring and hustling filled the air. “We need all your parts, all the oddities,” said Dirty Girl Harper. “Your uniqueness exists only in you, and without it, the world is missing it.”

Floria Sigismondi and Amber and Hannah of Dirty Girls. Photo by Emma Spiekerman

Floria Sigismondi and Amber and Hannah of Dirty Girls. Photo by Emma Spiekerman

Saturday offered a movie marathon. It started with the future, via the past: the cyberpunk animation of Golden Chain, followed by lost/reclaimed classic Born in Flames. Filmed in 1983, Born in Flames is a startlingly prescient dystopic film whose imagined prospects offer eerie parallels to today — intimations of Sandra Bland, Occupy Wall Street, and 9/11. Director Lizzie Borden depicts the US 10 years after a peaceful socialist revolution, which (surprise surprise) has done little to improve the lives of women. Feel the Bern? “Myself, I think it would be great to have a woman in the White House,” the filmmaker said in the Q&A afterwards.

All makers of the shorts and features shown at GOF answered questions after the screenings of their movies, including Penelope Spheeris and her daughter, Anna Fox. The screening of Spheeris’s groundbreaking 1981 LA punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization was one of the festival’s most anticipated events, and most controversial. For many people – including myself – when it debuted, Decline immersed us in a punk subculture that provoked and inspired. It has rarely been seen in the decades since, until its release, finally, on DVD and Blu-Ray this past summer. For many people – again, including myself – it has shocked us all over again; the hatred of others that is spewed on screen by white men like Lee Ving of Fear” has not aged well.

Phranc and Lex Vaughn. Photo by Emma Spiekerman

Phranc and Lex Vaughn. Photo by Emma Spiekerman

The seminal punk musician Phranc saw herself in The Decline of Western Civilization for the first time since it had been shot at the Grrrls on Film screening. Sitting next to her daughter, she was deeply disturbed by the film’s depiction of misogyny, homophobia, and racism. She came back that evening to articulate what her frustrations, hopes, and desires had been as a Jewish lesbian navigating through the nascent punk scene. Phranc was on the LAy of the LAnd: We Will Bury You panel with three other powerful figures of the LA underground: Alice Bag and Nicole Panter (both of whom are also in Decline), and Raquel Guttierez. Their discussion was blunt and historic; “without question the best panel discussion on punk rock I’ve ever had the pleasure to see,” posted punk musician and historian David O. Jones on Facebook afterwards.

Phranc talk: “Any time a woman takes the stage, it tamps down misogyny.”

“You were the thing before you did it,” said Panter, writer and former Germs manager, summing up punk, and the festival’s, DIY spirit. “You didn’t wait for anyone’s stamp of approval.”

We Will Bury You panelists Ruben Martinez, Alice Bag, Raquel Guttierez, Phranc, and Nicole Panter

We Will Bury You panelists Ruben Martinez, Alice Bag, Raquel Guttierez, Phranc, and Nicole Panter

Between Decline and We Will Bury You, two vintage, black-and-white shorts by Lucretia Tye Jasmine probed experiences of sexual assault, police violence, slut-shaming, body image, and bulimia – before they were today’s hot-button topics. When such prominent actors as Lex Vaughn, Nao Bustamante, and Jennifer Locke hammed up the unfinished script of Jill Reiter’s In Search of Margo-go, indulging in silly costumes and ‘80s nostalgia, it provided a welcome, hilarious release from a weekend of tough confessions and hard exegeses.

The last films of the festival aired Sunday at noon. Vega Darling’s Lost Grrrls and Abby Moser’s Grrrl Love and Revolution: Riot Grrrl NYC both documented the Riot Grrrl movement that helped swing punk back from an environment of violent exclusion to one of empowered inclusion. The spirit that had been celebrated in movies all weekend came alive at the Grrrls on Stage festival afterward, featuring spoken word by Kari Krome and Sarah Maclay, music by Peach Kelli Pop, Colleen Green, and Kim and the Created, KXLU DJS, host Allison Wolfe, and lots of cool booths. LMU professor Alicia Partnoy spoke and sang, in English and Spanish, about her experience being imprisoned by the Argentine dictatorship in the 1970s, only able to touch her daughter through glass for three years. All-girl roller derby teams skated around Alumni Mall. Kids made fanzines at a table staffed by the William H. Hannon Library. At a table housing three different rock camps for girls, anyone could make their own short music video, with costumes and confetti. The bands crushed it.

Alicia Partnoy

Alicia Partnoy

I figured that the only thing I was going to feel all weekend was stress and then, hopefully, relief. Instead I too was moved, as I realized I was accomplishing my own mission as a teacher. Thirty years ago I was that young woman writhing in the center of a college campus, only I wasn’t performing. My undergraduate years were one of the most difficult periods of my life, as I struggled to find myself far from a home that was disintegrating, in a class milieu in which I did not fit, stumbling through relationships that made me how little feminism had accomplished in terms of the dynamics of love. At a time that I had been told/sold would be one of the best of my life, when I was supposed to be coming into my own as an adult, I was lost. Every weekend I fled the confines of my Ivy League school and found myself in the local clubs, where bands played loud music and sometimes, sometimes, there were women on stage.

Grrrls on Film was not for everyone — although we were funded and organized by a collaboration between multiple colleges and schools; my colleague Ruben Martinez, moderating the We Will Bury You panel, pointed out that interdisciplinarity is a eight-syllable word. Grrrls on Film was for the student with a disability who was in my office in tears two weeks ago, wrestling with her identity and sexual orientation. It was for the other young woman the following week, who bravely spoke in class about her experience having been sexually assaulted. It was for me, three decades ago, stumbling stoned through my campus, bandanas tied around my wrists to hide fresh scars, looking for connection. “Today I was proud to be a Lion and a woman,” Tweeted one student. In a paper for a film-studies class, another Lion wrote:

“Between both the panel and the screening, I found myself re-thinking about my choice in career path, but not in a bad way. When I told my family and friends that I was going to go into film and attend film school at LMU, some of them thought I was insane. “The industry is dog-eat-dog”, “There’s not a lot of girls on set”, “You want to write?” were a lot of the responses I got. But after listening to these women on the panel speak, hearing what they had to say, if anything, made my passion and fire for working in this industry burn brighter. I want to be able to do my damn best work and put myself out there and TRY in the world of film and TV. I want to prove everyone wrong. I want to be like the women on the panel who campaigned and raised money for their films, who took on a mostly female crew, who fought tooth and nail to get their projects made and who have a career in something they are passionate about and love doing. They have inspired me to work harder and to accomplish my lifelong goals of being in the industry as a writer and an actor. They had discussed how most of them are getting into producing now so that they can have more control over their projects. Producing was something I had never once thought of doing, but after listening to them talk about it and their reasoning behind why they are doing it, I have become incredibly willing to learn more about producing and to have more control over the stories I write and the projects I make. The Grrls On Film events I attended both humbled me and pushed me as a female in film. “

Kim House and fans

Kim House and fans

I suppose the greatest compliment a new undertaking can receive is the question, are you going to do this every year? Even before the weekend started, Sharon and I kept hearing that. And no, we will not produce a three-day festival again next year – sorry, we have lives to lead, our own art to make. But we’ll do something, I think. What’s important is not necessarily what we do, but what all those people who came to Grrrls on Film do next. This, I hope, was just the beginning.



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Argonaut Cover Story #GrrrlsOnFiLMU

argonaut1“Independent. Powerful. Female.”

That’s how Christina Campodonico describes Grrrls on Film in a cover story for The Argonaut published today. She also interviewed Penelope Spheeris, Alice Bag, Allison Wolfe, and Phranc — all participants in this year’s festival. It’s a great writeup; graduates of USC’s Specialized Journalism in the Arts rule!!!

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Grrrls on Stage and Tables

Grrrls on Film this weekend will culminate not just with Grrrls on Stage — bands, spoken word, DJs, host Allison Wolfe — but also Grrrls at Tables. Numerous individuals and organizations will be offering their services and wares in a fair on the Alumni Mall of Loyola Marymount University. The musical guests are Kim and the Created, Colleen Green and Peach Kelli Pop. Original Runaways lyricist Kari Krome will share some choice words, as will LMU faculty Sarah Maclay and Alicia Partnoy and student Kaelyn Sabal-Wilson. And KXLU DJs Mukta Mohan, McAllister, and Taylor 2000 will spin discs.

You will be able to buy clothes, including Grrrls on Film T-shirts (proceeds go to scholarships for LMU students), make fanzines at the table sponsored by the William H. Hannon Library, learn bike repair with the Ovarian Psychos, and even make a video at a booth sponsored by the Music Video Program of Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles. We’ll have three rock camps on the mall: Chicas Rockeras and RC OC too. And two all-female roller derby teams: Los Angeles Derby Dolls and Angel City Derby Girls.

Additional participants: Marians, Mcpheeters, Feminist Library on Wheels, Geek Girl Society, An Unexpected Hobby, Honey Power DJ Collective, KXLU, the LMU Committee on the Status of Women,  LMU SFTV grad programs, Fanboy Comics, Old Friends Vintage, and Razorcake magazine. Check the website for details and to register (it’s free but we need a head count).

Also, Richeeze food truck.

Here’s a video by Pajama Jeer made by Rock Camp’s MVP in 2015:

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#GrrrlsonFiLMU Lineup Announced

Kim and the Created

Kim and the Created

I’m extremely pleased to announce the lineup of the Grrrls on Film festival at Loyola Marymount University March 18-20. We have an incredible array of films by, for, and about women. All participating filmmakers will be present, plus a few. There will also be a concert outdoors featuring Kim and the Created, Colleen Green, Peach Kelli Pop, KXLU DJs, spoken word, and more. The press release and complete schedule are below. We will be presenting more details during the upcoming weeks. And, it’s all free!

Loyola Marymount University presents GRRRLS ON FILM, a free festival featuring films and music from groundbreaking female artists, on the LMU campus March 18, 19 and 20, 2016

Confirmed participants include Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Wayne’s World), Floria Sigismondi (The Runaways), Karyn Kusama (Girlfight), Alice Bag (the Bags), Kim and the Created, Nao Bustamante, Phranc, Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile), Colleen Green, Kari Krome, Peach Kelli Pop, Nicole Panter, Raquel Gutiérrez, Jill Reiter (In Search of Margo-go) and Lizzie Borden (Born in Flames)

For Immediate Release — Grrrls on Film is a weekend-long celebration of the feminist acts of making sound and vision. The festival and forum at Loyola Marymount University gathers together pioneers in movies, music, art and activism to address what has become one of the hot-button social justice issues of our time: lack of diverse representation and expression in arts and entertainment. The event borrows its name from the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s, which fused the Do-It-Yourself credo of punk with Third Wave Feminism’s call for self-determination. Continue reading


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