Tag Archives: music

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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Pop Afterlife

Death and the Maiden pnael

Death and the Maiden panel, Pop Conference 2019: Solvej Schou, Michelle Threadgould, Lucretia Tye Jasmine, Holly George-Warren, and Evelyn McDonnell. Photo by Janet Goodman, artwork by Marianne Stokes.

We should have packed tissues. The theme of the annual Pop Conference at the Museum of Pop in Seattle this year was death. It was couched in a lot of verbiage: “Only You and Your Ghost Will Know: Music, Death, and Afterlife” was the official 11-word title. But it didn’t take a seance to locate the ghosts. They were all around, as we tried to pontificate without breaking into tears. I failed at both the panel and roundtable I moderated, suddenly finding myself unable to speak. I believe so did everyone else I shared a dais with. It was weird to find oneself suddenly, repeatedly vulnerable in the quasi-academic space of delivering a paper. As I always tell my kid, weird is good.

MoPop felt like a safe space to let oneself feel, perhaps because in the conference’s 17 years, so many bonds have been formed. I was riding with multiple posses myself. And of course, there was a ghost in this machine: It was the first year PopCon was not run by Eric Weisband, with keynote assistance from his spouse Ann Powers (both of whom I have known since long before there was a PopCon). Charles Hughes, of Rhodes College, nobly and ably ferried us across the Mersey to this Pop afterlife. It was the saddest year, and the funnest year.

There were more than 100 presentations over four days, and I can’t possibly mention even all of those I saw. Let’s just say it began with a keynote panel where Journey frontman Steve Perry was the most solid, emotionally honest classic rock star you could imagine sitting with a bunch of scholars and lesser luminaries, and it ended, for me, with a fascinating rumination on the influence of Franz Liszt on Donny Hathaway by I. Augustus Durham. The highlight, perhaps of any PopCon presentation I have ever seen, was the slideshow duet by Hugo Burnham and Jon King on the strange business of rock-band reunions, a subject they know all too well. They were brilliant and poignant and funny, and they were one-half of Gang of Four!!! Dave Allen was in the audience, and the Gang of Three DJed that evening. Women who write Vivien Goldman and Holly George-Warren and I danced till the midnight hour.

Earlier that day, I moderated What Becomes Legend Most, a panel featuring the authors of the first four books from the Music Matters series, which I not incoincidentally edit (along with Oliver Wang) for University of Texas Press. Fred Goodman delivered seemingly without notes a lyrical summary of the extraordinary art and life of the late singer Lhasa de Sela. At the end, he simply played a video of her performing “The Bells”  a few months before her death from cancer at age 2010. You could have heard a pin drop in the JBL Theater.

LHASA_LIVE IN MONTREAL 2009, part 5 from Vincent Moon / Petites Planètes on Vimeo.

Tom Smucker compared the crazy death of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson to the unlikely survival of his brother Brian. Karen Tongson pondered the suburban tragedy of her namesake, Karen Carpenter. Donna Gaines paid ode to her heroes and friends in the Ramones. Hearing their literary meditations all together made me understand on an emotional level what we are trying to accomplish with this series: putting on the page that ongoing argument you have with every music lover you know, about why your favorite band/musician is the GOAT. That night we held a release party for Tongson’s Why Karen Carpenter Matters that doubled as a launch party for the series; attendees included future authors Caryn Rose (Why Patti Smith Matters), Michelle Threadgould (Why Rage Against the Machine Matters), and Annie Zaleski (Why the B52’s Matter).

Too early after the late night of parties and dancing, Saturday morning I moderated Death and the Maiden, a roundtable of contributors from Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl. The venue was the museum’s capacious Sky Church, so we began the proceedings with Solvej Schou singing “Amazing Grace”, then took a moment to pay respect to Nipsy Hussle and Gary Stewart, two visionaries from the City of Angels who are now angels themselves. We discussed how death – supposedly the great equalizer – can be shaped by gender. Holly George-Warren compared the tragic trajectories of Patsy Cline, whom she wrote about for Women Who Rock, and Janis Joplin; her biography of the music legend will be published in the fall. Lucretia Tye Jasmine spoke hauntingly about hunger, shaming, and Karen Carpenter (yes, I presided over two papers about Carpenter). Schou paid homage in words and song to Sharon Jones. Threadgould weaved a poetic narrative about mortality through the works of Diamanda Galas, Laurie Anderson, and Selena. Folks were smart and deep. I was proud to be their editor/interlocutor.

And then we had fun fun fun. Vivien and I took the theme literally, ghosting for an afternoon to shop at Pike Place. Donna and Tye read tarot cards. There was sushi with Tricia Romano. For the first time at Pop Conference, I checked out Saturday night karaoke, and was glad I did. Attendees’ love of the music they get all theoretical about was on drunken display, and I marveled at everyone’s humility, their lack of embarrassment – as well as at some genuinely great voices (Kate Kay, Kathy Fennessy). Hearing Karen Tongson sing “On Top of the World” made me all weepy again. Girl sings it like she writes it. The day that began with Solvej’s “Amazing Grace” ended with her karaoke of “Respect.” Baby she got it.

We should have organized a jazz line. That’s how I felt flying back from Portland on Tuesday, having followed the conference with a visit to my oldest bestie, Cindy, who has been busy the last seven months kicking cancer’s butt. If you’re going to spend four days talking about death and music, book a New Orleans brass band to march you outta there. And then on Thursday came the Tweet. Thanks, Beyonce.

 

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Music’s #MeToo Memoirs

I’m way late posting this here (it was a hectic fall!) but I reviewed Tina Turner’s and Dorothy Carvello’s memoirs for The New York Times. “There has been a steady stream of accounts of assault, harassment and discrimination in recording studios, at record labels and at music magazines; pick up any autobiography of a female musician and you’ll find at least one anecdote that will turn your stomach. R. Kelly, the Runaways, Kesha — stories of abuse long preceded Harvey Weinstein, and continue to trigger news alerts. The real question should be, why haven’t these stories provoked more outrage against a form of oppression that is clearly systemic, along with a push for change?”

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Jessica Hopper on “Golden” Girl Critics

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the title—in part because I wanted it to be provocative, I wanted there to be a conversation because there are dozens of women who should have collections by now and the roadblocks and arguments about why those books seemingly cannot exist are ridiculous. We are in a golden age for women in cultural criticism right now, but we are told again and again that somehow, we don’t meet the criteria of publishable. That only Chuck Klosterman gets to be in the clubhouse. And that was and is frustrating”

I love this quote from Jessica Hopper in the current issue of Pop Matters, in an interview by the wonderful David Chiu. She’s talking about her book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, of course. I also noticed for the first time today that six years ago, Jesssica wrote a great comment about Rock She Wrote (which David also nicely shouts out in this story) for Amazon. It’s still up. (Though please don’t purchase that Plexus edition of the book; it’s an illegal import. Buy a used one from a mom and pop bookstore instead, please. And yes, we are trying to get it back into print.)

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The F Word, Vol. II

More than 20 years ago, during the heyday of Riot Grrrl, WAC, SWIM, Rock for Choice, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and the dawn of the Clinton era, I moderated a panel called “The F Word” at the annual CMJ Music Marathon in New York. Tracie Morris, GB Jones, Kathleen Hanna, Erin Smith, and Sha-Key were among the punks, poets, rappers, and activists who joined me for this discussion of punk and politics, rap and representation. This was back when not only would it have been unheard of for the world’s top pop star to gyrate in front of a giant feminist sign at the VMAs, but when the very idea of this panel at an alternative music conference was attacked by some hipsters — though the room was packed.

In honor of the Alien She exhibit of Riot Grrrl-inspired artwork, which is currently at the Orange County Museum of Art, I’m revisiting this discussion March 13. Original panelist Tracie Morris and special guest Alice Bag will join me for this literary event, dubbed (with a tip of the hat to Hova, “The F Word, Vol. II”.

I toured the OCMA exhibit Feb. 13, and it’s a powerful experience. Original PRDCT gig flyers paper one wall. There are stacks of fanzines, old and new. The brilliant multimedia work of Miranda July occupies one corner; Tammy Rae Carland’s photos fill a room with humor and pathos. Most of the artists are more Revolution Girl Style inspired than RGS per se. I would like to see the work of some artists who were more central to that nascent moment, such as GB Jones and Tinuviel (both of whom were on the original F Word panel, in fact). But curators Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss get mucho props for putting this touring show together, for restarting this vital conversation.

I had the funniest sensation when I left Alien She and entered the next exhibit: After being surrounded by these feminist and queer images, the art in the next room seemed to me jarring and, well, patriarchal. My gaze had been inverted; seeing women viewed from the back for the billionth time, or lying prone and splayed, was now revealed for what it was: obvious, objectifying, cliched. It’s the feeling I used to get at Riot Grrrl meetings: that suddenly I was in a room where the way I saw the world made sense to others, and nothing would ever be the same again.

Two decades ago, still reeling from the ’80s Backlash, we called feminism the F Word because we knew it was suspect and mocked. March 13, Tracie, Alice, and I will talk about what has, and hasn’t, changed.

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For Your Christmas Consideration

QoN_9780306820397_sidebarWhat with early Hanukkah this year, the holiday season is already here! I’m sure you have someone on your list who would like a copy of a widely heralded book about a band of teenage girls in 1970s LA. As much as I like to see my Amazon rankings rise, I recommend you buy your gifts of Queens of Noise from an independent bestseller. Book Frog in Rancho Palos Verde has signed copies, and you can order them online. You should be able to get a signed copy from Books and Books in Miami and Book Soup in West Hollywood too. And of course, there’s the incredible Powell’s Books in Portland. Available for the Kindle too! Perfect for music lovers, teenage girls, Twi-fans, Miley fans, California history buffs, etc. I will even send you a personalized, signed sticker if you email me at evelyn@evelynmcdonnell.com

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Campus Circle on Queens

Queens of Noise makes an academic recommended reading list: http://www.campuscircle.com/review.cfm?r=18466&h=What-Books-Are-You-Studying-This-Fall-Reads-you-need-outside-of-textbooks. In other words, syllabi here we come!

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