LMU lost a student last night, a possible suicide. Then, this morning, I had to scramble for child care for Cole due to the LAUSD bomb threat. This made for a very intense final “Ladyfest” day of presentations for my Revolution Girl Style class. The students delivered, a moving feast of song, poem, film, play, and critical karaoke. These are difficult times; support not just girl love — support love.
Classes have started at LMU, where I teach; hence my relative silence here at Populism. Balancing writing and teaching is never easy, and my blog always seems to suffer most. I’m hoping that will change, as this is the first year when I am not trying to write a book as well as teach a full load. Instead, I’m busy publicizing that book. Teaser: Some very special activities are being planned to celebrate the publication of Queens of Noise. Watch this space for more.
I try to keep my various duties as integrated as possible. To that effect, I’m teaching a new course called Revolution Girl Style: Punk Feminism Then and Now. It’s a seminar for first-semester students, part of this year’s new Core Curriculum. Nineteen wonderful young ladies are looking to me to train them in the ways of the university (thankfully, I have a writing instructor too — go Liz!), but more importantly, to inspire them with the music and mottos of Riot Grrrl.
On Day 1, I played videos of the Runaways performing “Cherry Bomb,” Bratmobile performing the same song, and Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance two days earlier. The latter is what we educators call “a teachable moment.” The students had a lot to say — it was one of the best discussions I’ve had in a classroom. And it was refreshing to see it all from their eyes — and depressing to realize that they weren’t even born when the original Girl Night occurred (depressing because in 1991, I was already older than they are).
Their first assignment is to read Queens. No, I’m not just trying to generate some easy sales. The idea of the First Year Seminars is for professors to teach to their research interests — and the Runaways is what I’ve spent the last four years researching. Their story encapsulates the perils and power of women rockers before Riot Grrrl. They were a direct influence on Revolution Girl Style — i.e., that Bratmobile cover. And for better or worse, Joan Jett et al have inspired Cyrus’s clumsy attempts to shed her virginal Disney image. Long before the VMAs blew up in her face, Miley was the exploding Cherry Bomb, performing a Runaways/Jett medley live. Yeah, she’s no Cherie Currie or Allison Wolfe, but she doesn’t lip-sync and she means it when she says she doesn’t care.
But Cyrus is a side note. After the Runaways, we’ll talk about the explosion, and then implosion, of Riot Grrrl, and its reemergence via Pussy Riot et al. Here’s the syllabus, subject to change. Sorry: the class is full. Revolution Girl Style syllabus
“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.