I’ve always thought of Kathleen Hanna as a philosopher, not just a rad punk artist. She proves it once again in this interview for NPR, where she talks about the perils of outsider elitism and her admiration for Beyonce: “Whenever you’re trying to be the opposite of something, you’re just reinforcing it. We’ve got to be something totally different.”
The occasion for the interview is the release of the Bikini Kill demo tape on Sept. 22 for the first time in multiple formats. I remember getting that tape when I was music editor at the SF Weekly. I can admit now that I didn’t appreciate it that much at the time; I thought they were retreading Mecca Normal and X-Ray Spex, admittedly two of my favorite bands. (That year I named Mecca Normal singer Jean Smith my Person of the Year.) It took seeing them live at Gilman Street Project to realize the true force of Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, Kathi Wilcox, and Billy Boredom. My intern, Sia Michel, was much smarter – I think she might have nabbed that tape. She’s now the editor of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times — told you she’s smarter than me.
I’m so glad this music is coming back out and a new generation can appreciate it. I’ll be starting my First Year Seminar (Revolution Girl Style: Punk Feminism, Then and Now) next week as I always do: Playing Bikini Kill’s call to action: “We’re Bikini Kill, and we want Revolution Girl Style Now!” Then I’ll go see Kathleen and her new band, The Julie Ruin, at Burger a Go Go.
“Pussy Riot 2” by Jean Smith
Revolutions don’t happen in a day. Sometimes they take weeks, or months, or years. In the early ’90s, a group of grassroots activists, artists, and musicians declared Revolution Girl Style. The Vancouver duo Mecca Normal were at the vanguard of that movement, which grabbed the media’s attention for a moment, then dissipated. But Mecca Normal never stopped making music, art, books, and trouble.
Last night at their LMU presentation “How Art & Music Can Change the World,” Jean Smith showed slides of some of her latest paintings: vibrant tableaus showing women performing with their heads covered in splotches of bright colors. Pussy Riot has put Riot Grrrl and RGS back on the world stage, as Mecca Normal’s singer pointed out, bigger and badder than ever.
I presented last night’s performance; it was a chance for me to honor and catch up with a band I’ve followed and written about for decades. When OG (Original Grrrl) Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile) showed up, it felt like a mini reunion. Wolfe recently returned from Georgia — the country, not the state — where Pussy Riot has helped reignite protests. And those activists turned to the original girl rioters for help and inspiration. “Coming full circle” was a refrain of the evening. Sometimes a revolution spreads in ripples, drip by drip.
I’m looking forward to hosting one of my favorite all-time bands Monday, Mecca Normal.
Mecca Normal was one of my favorite bands of the late ’80s and ’90s. I loved David Lester and Jean Smith for their protest songs, like “I Walk Alone” (which I recently saw a band cover in San Pedro), and for their sometimes beautiful art noise. Hidden Cameras just recorded a cover of “Throw Silver” for an album about Canadian bands. It’s not as good as the original, but it’s interesting to hear. Thanks, David, for sending it my way.