Tag Archives: Ann Powers

The Feminist Music Bucket Brigade

Matt Giles interviewed me for a Topic magazine story on women in the music industry circa 2000. I’m in great company: Allison Wolfe, Melissa Auf der Mar, Louise Goffin, JD Samson, Amy Finnerty, etc. There are intriguing and often divergent POVs in here, as one would expect/hope. A few comments particularly strike me. One is when Auf der Mar talks about her decision to join Hole being a statement of feminist solidarity:

“I felt a higher calling about women in rock, and quickly understood that this was much bigger than me. It was about women in general.”

And when Samson reflects on touring with Le Tigre, she perfectly expresses what grrrl power is all about:

“We wouldn’t have been who we were without the audience. Those people in that room, thinking about those things, sweating, feeling safe in our bodies, taking up that space, breathing the same air—that’s what we needed.”

On a more personal note, I love the moment when New York Times deputy culture editor Sia Michel talks about starting her career as my intern at SF Weekly, and how San Francisco criticism was led by women including Ann Powers and Gina Arnold:

“In my mind, music journalism was something that women did.”

Elsewhere, Ultragrrrl Sarah Lewitinn reflects on how Michel supported her career (as she did NYT music editor  Caryn Ganz). I see us as a feminist music-critic bucket brigade, passing each other these support lines. These are all examples of the importance of women helping other women, creating safe spaces for each other to exist — musical matriarchies and matrilineals.

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And “The Feminine Critique”!

In my list of articles I was blessed to write for the late, great Village Voice, I forgot to include perhaps the most significant: “The Feminine Critique”: the not-so-secret history of women rock critics that reclaimed the legacies of Ellen Willis, Karen Durbin, Jaan Uhelszki, Carola Dibbell, Donna Gaines, and many others and that became the basis of my first book, Rock She Wrote, coedited by Ann Powers. That article also obliquely pointed out one of the failures of the Voice as well, which at that point in its already long career, had not had a female music editor. I now teach a class called The Feminist Critique.

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Girlschooled #musicbizsobro

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.

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#Runaways Roundup

There have been many interesting and rich contributions to the recent discussion of rape and rock’n’roll. I am sure I haven’t even begun to see them all. Following are several I have seen that are worth sharing. Collectively, they reveal how sexual trauma affects so many people. Jackie Fox continues to speak out and also post stories on her Facebook page.

Lina Lecaro writes very openly and honestly about her own relationship to the late Kim Fowley in this LA Weekly piece. “Those of us who knew and liked Kim Fowley now question our judgment of people and what they are capable of. Surely, all former friends of rapists and murderers have dealt with this feeling. Do we deserve blame? Do the bystanders there that night deserve it? Or should the vitriol simply be saved for the rapist? Jackie Fuchs herself has just said unequivocally the latter.”

Lecaro’s defense of herself is brave. In another LA Weekly story, Sloppy Jane singer Haley Dahl might have committed media suicide. Long before Fox’s story broke, Dahl’s band dedicated their album to Kim Fowley. She stands by her man in a statement that reveals the ways in which the controversial figure actually empowered some:

“I did not know Kim Fowley in the 70s. The Kim I knew and adored was, while still being a crass and charismatic powerhouse, an older and more nurturing person than he once was. To this day he is the one and only person I have worked with who never faltered in treating me with respect and as an equal. Caring for Kim and wanting to defend him is hardwired into my system, and without him being alive to give his side I’m finding it physically impossible to sever my allegiance towards him. I would never be one to stand against a victim, either, but when you were close with the accused and miss their words, it gets more complicated. I have heard 8 versions of the same night. A lot of people want my opinion. I am eternally grateful for the Kim I knew and everything he gave me. He is my roots, and because of that, anything I become he is a part of. I am emotionally incapable of speculating further. I hope everyone involved in this mess finds peace in whatever way they need to so everyone can heal from this point forward.”

This is a side of Fowley that the writer of the original Huffington Post article did not represent.

Many, many writers — male and female — have written about how Fox’s story is sadly all too common. NPR writer (and my longtime collaborator and friend) Ann Powers wrote a historic overview of rock’s Lolita syndrome that will make you want to burn your record collection. Boston rocker Robin Lane wrote about her own story, and the organization she formed to help women write songs about their abuse, in this Facebook post:

In response to The Lost Girls…with help from Carla Black.

The silence that Jackie Fox must have lived with over the years is screaming out now. But when you are 14,15, 16, how in the hell would you know what to do in a situation like that? At that age, teenagers are embarrassed about being alive.

The weird, eccentric Kim Fowley once stood at my mother’s front door and wanted me to go with him to who knows where. I didn’t – not because I was smart but because he gave me the creeps. He always did.

But I wasn’t immune to sexual assault. Right around that time, my friend and I were raped at the point of a gun with a silencer on it. I tried to pushed it out of my mind as if it never happened.

When my drummer, Tim Jackson, was filming the documentary about my life, (“When Things Go Wrong: Robin Lane’s Story”), he interviewed the friend I was with. She didn’t remember anything about it. But for years the trauma ate away at me. I didn’t talk about the rape and if I did, I made a joke out of it. No one knew about that or other dark things that happened within my family.

Women never spoke up about anything back then. The shame was so deep that we didn’t have a name for it. It stayed tucked away in a “safe” place because women so often are not believed. But it’s always there, struggling to get out.

In 2001 I founded an organization called Songbird Sings songbirdsings.org to facilitate workshops where women who have survived rape, trauma, trafficking and domestic violence could finally break the silence they hide behind. They take the pain and put their experiences into powerful song. Finally, they are able to tell their universal truth – that had previously been silenced by our culture.

Thanks to Jackie Fox, perhaps more and more women will be inspired to speak out. Too many victims take on the shame when it was never their fault.

Songwriting saved me. Music lets the light shine into the festering dark place when it’s not released. Now I hope it can save a lot of other women and girls that need to tell their stories, too.”

Babes in Toyland bassist Maureen Herman also penned a long, compelling article for BoingBoing, which makes several strong points, but which I will not link to since it does not heed Jackie’s call to not blame the bystanders for the crime committed.

Sean Lewis of The Stranger savaged Fowley but defended Fuchs and myself.

Ruben Martinez, a longtime LA musician and journalist, and my colleague at Loyola Marymount University, compared the HP story to coverage of violence in Central and South America in this Facebook post:

Some thoughts on the Jackie Fox story that’s shaken the rock world, which has long been a place of testerone and homophobia, that is, of rape culture and repressed homosexuality (the latter offered an intriguing corrective by Todd Haynes in Velvet Goldmine). The rock world: stand-in for patriarchy itself. And that world has now been rocked by an authoritative documentation of a rape committed by one of its most infamous figures, the recently deceased Kim Fowley. The story, written by Jason Cherkis for the Huffington Post, follows direct testimony by Jackie Fox of the Runaways, supported by corraborating witnesses, of Fowley raping her at a time when he was promoting the band as rock “jailbait” in the mid-1970s. The timing of the article appears to be driven mostly by Fox’s ability to finally go public with the hidden trauma of her teen years – a silence that was enforced or abetted not just by the Svengali-like Fowley but also, sadly but understandably, many of Fox’s own bandmates. (Among the exceptions was Cherie Currie, who had previously tried to tell the story publicly.) Here’s the thing. If you read the story, please do yourself a favor and read Evelyn McDonnell’s response. She is one of rock’s pioneering woman critics and narrators. In the social media swarm since the story’s publication, some, including writer Cherkis and Kevin Roderick at L.A. Observed, have characterized Evelyn’s statement as “defensive.” That’s a twisted read. Cherkis has even said that Evelyn “apologizes” for Fowley. That would be laughable if the allegation didn’t so closely resemble a testerone-fueled journalist riding a high horse of sexual morality on behalf of all women. The HuffPo article inexplicably erases Evelyn’s name, even as it cites her definitive biography of the band, which, it is crucial to say, discusses the rape incident at length without naming Jackie, because she wasn’t ready to go public back then. Roderick ventured that Evelyn’s “defensive” tone was due to being “scooped” by Cherkis. More testerone talk, old-school journo style. I suppose all is fair in sex and scoopage: Evelyn says that Cherkis lied when he contacted her about the story he was working on to coax some contacts out of her. And finally, about the article itself: I am convinced that had it been written by a woman it would have had a different presentation, particularly regarding its graphic nature. This isn’t about censorship – it’s about the idea that certain texts “re-victimize” the victims as writers “edit” them according to their own psychodynamics which, of course, are sculpted by all kinds of social powers. There is much discussion about this in Mexico and Central America today as writers and artists grapple with the power of representation in the context of extreme violence. This way of thinking asks all of us to check our power – our way of editing reality. Bottom line: read Evelyn McDonnell’s dignified response, which includes several “teachable moments” in journalistic ethics, Loyola Marymount University professor that she is. I’m proud to call her my colleague and friend.

Rock historian Elijah Wald said this on Facebook:

Pop music, and Los Angeles pop in particular, has a long and weird history of predatory male producers both celebrating and abusing talented women. It is not news that Phil Spector and Kim Fowley were/are twisted, predatory psychopaths. Some of the women associated with these men were so damaged by the experience that they have never recovered, or in Spector’s case, were murdered. Other women managed to break away from their early Svengalis and forged powerful and empowering careers, inspiring generations of girls and women to pick up instruments and microphones and play the music they loved.

This week, an important article appeared that details Fowley’s rape of one of the Runaways, Jackie Fuchs. It is important because it highlights how casually abusive men on the rock scene were (and often are) to women–both fans and performers–and the way rock, rap, country and other genres continue to celebrate a kind of hyper-macho attitude that can easily tilt over into physical abuse and rape, as well as the extent to which performers, fans, and critics have often acted as apologists for the abusers.

BUT, rather than turning into a long-overdue discussion of this issue and a moment to call out the abusive men and celebrate the talented women, all over social media this has been turning into a very ugly attack on Joan Jett (for saying she did not see or know about the rape, though Jackie says she was in the room, at the party).

To put the ugliness of this attack in context, think of all the stories in recent years about “date rape,” in which athletes have drugged and raped young women at parties. In virtually every story, there were other women present at those parties. Has anyone, ever, suggested that they should be considered complicit, much less singled them out specifically as enablers?

As far as I can tell, Jett is being singled out for one reason, and one reason only: because she is a strong, powerful, famous woman. On a scene full of abusive men, including dozens of rock stars who remain household names despite stories of the wretched things they did to the women around them, to use this story as a way to tear down one of the very few pioneering female rock ‘n’ roll role models is despicable.

Ronnie Spector is not a villain because she failed to attack Phil, Tina Turner was not complicit because she stuck with Ike as he abused her and the Ikettes. The rapists, murderers, and abusers in these stories are men, and if we want to accuse other people of enabling and making excuses for those men, there are plenty of other men who were there, who got rich off the Ronettes and Tina and the Runaways, and who wrote stories suggesting that the Svengalis were geniuses.

Despite that long history of sexism and abuse, a few women managed to break through, to forge their own careers, to prove that a strong woman could triumph in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Joan Jett is one of the most prominent, strong, and outspoken, and she has inspired thousands of other young women to pick up guitars and rock out. I don’t know where she was that particular night, or what she saw, or what drugs she may have been on, or how she thinks about her own path through Fowley’s tricks and snares. But I do know that in the big story of sexism in the world of rock, she is one of the heroes, not one of the villains.

Fowley deserves all the venom he is getting right now. Jackie Fuchs deserves all the support. All rape victims, everywhere, deserve the support. All abusers, everywhere, deserve the venom… but, damn it, I will save a little venom for anyone who uses stories of male abuse as an excuse to look around, find the one strong woman on the scene, and try to tear her down and drag her through the mud.

And the unnamed blogger at Pure And Simple wrote a deep and personal post that offers a possible explanation for the very different takes on one long-ago, drug-filled, sordid evening. He is not a journalist, or a musician, just a fan of a woman whose music changed his life, now looking for answers and healing.

(Please refer to my earlier posts for the original story, my response, and the responses of various members of the Runaways, and others.)

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“The Feminine Critique” #TBT

Since it’s quoted in today’s New York Times review of Jessica Hopper’s book, for today’s Throw-Back Thursday, I’m posting “The Feminine Critique,” the 1992 Village Voice article that became the launching pad for Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop and Rap, the collection Ann Powers and I coedited 20 years ago. Back then, the Times paid it no attention whatsoever. Today, Dwight Garner highlights it as “an excellent anthology.” Ah, the life of a pioneer. At least this work is being honored while Ann and I are still alive. Sometimes, survival is the best strategy. I’m posting the slightly rewritten version that was the intro to the book.

Feminine Critique

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Dwight Garner nicely cites Rock She Wrote — even quoting Karen Durbin from my “The Feminine Critique” intro — in his New York Times review of Jessica Hopper’s book. You know, maybe it’s time for Ann Powers and I to put this collection back into print ….

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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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