I don’t know if any of you have read Christian John Wikane’s PopMatters piece on Tina Turner and the 25th anniversary of Private Dancer, but it’s great. Upon reflection of this artist and album, I naturally thought of the music video for “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” To borrow from Lisa A. Lewis, it’s a definitive female address clip, particularly for Turner’s interaction with the street, a space which Lewis uses Angela McRobbie to define as an access sign for women and girls. It also reminds people of how kick-ass Ms. Turner was and continues to be.
Given that many of us have been attending holiday parties recently, I thought I’d offer up another traditionally male-gendered cultural space: the bar. What happens when female artists encounter it?
“Got Til It’s Gone”
The Velvet Rope
Directed by Mark Romanek
Standing in the Way of Control
Directed by Whitey McConnaughy
“Lived In Bars”
Directed by Robert Gordon
So, this blog has covered Lisa A. Lewis’s use of access signs and discovery signs in music videos, particularly those focused on female address. For discovery signs, we’ve looked at bedrooms. For access signs, we’ve looked at streets, a space argued by folks like Angela McRobbie as traditionally being considered off limits to women and girls, bending Jürgen Habermas’s theory of the public sphere to note the omission of any considerable, influential female presence.
But what about access signs that are open spaces, like fields? What do we do with them? What do we do in them, especially if we’re female and supposedly in danger if we don’t stay indoors darning our socks? If the music videos in today’s post are any indication, we might have the power to freeze time, suspending the actions of nuclear families and/or rescue squads in the process (though we might also feel weird about our music being used in the New Moon soundtrack, but such is the shaky economic state of the music industry and, perhaps as a result, the wonky nature of “indie”).
Directed by Terri Timely
We might also lay waste to one another, pumping each other full of lead behind a suburban neighborhood. In my version of this music video, though, the camera fixes on Alison Mosshart as she walks off into the sunset.
The Dead Weather
“Treat Me Like Your Mother”
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Last week, I was bestowed with a treasure. My friend Curran made me a two-volume mix CD, one of my favorite things to give and receive. I especially love Internal/External’s “Stepping Up to the Mic,” Yoko Ono and Cat Power’s “Revelations,” and Takaka Minekawa’s “Fantastic Cat,” which he selected specifically for my cat, Kozy. And he also reminded me that I should have been listening to Crass this whole time.
His mix came with a 20-page set of liner notes with lyrics, observations, and personal meanings for each song. Curran is a very thorough, thoughtful person who values homemade things and resistive, non-normative modes of expression. I had a dream that he wrote a 30-page essay on Shonen Knife for this blog’s “Records That Made Me a Feminist” section and have no doubt that he might. You should read it.
The week before that, I was bestowed with another treasure. My neighbor-friend Rosa-María left a clipping from Entertainment Weekly in my door, with the blurb for Lavinia Greenlaw’s The Importance of Music to Girls circled. So I picked up a copy (actually, Kristen got me a copy from the UT Library, as I hadn’t replaced my UT student ID yet). I had never heard of the author before and know very little about who she is as an author or what she means to her native England (I guess she’s a writer and teaches writing classes at the university level; thanks, Wikipedia). I wasn’t even sure what era this book was going to cover (luckily for me, she comes of age during the 1970s, a very interesting time for England and to me). Just as you do with a mix CD, you take your friend’s recommendations on faith and dive in.
Let me share with you now one of the best quotes I’ve ever read on the power of making mixes for people. Greenlaw’s words:
The greatest act of love was to make a tape for someone. It was the only way we could share music and it was also a way of advertising yourself. Selection, order, the lettering you used for the track list, how much technical detail you went into, whether or not you added artwork and no tracklist at all, these choices were as codified as a Victorian bouquet.
Yes, exactly. This quote has new resonance for me after making mix CDs for 50 GRCA campers. I hope they take the blank, one-color paper sleeves and make something completely their own out of them.
Now, the task of writing a review for the book poses a challenge. Its use-value is a little hard to determine. It’s a memoir. So, if you know about Greenlaw and care about her artfully written recollections of coming of age, then this is a good book. But if you don’t know Greenlaw, or have much invested in the place and time in which she comes of age, you might feel like you’re grasping for straws.
But I appreciated Greenlaw’s willingness to recollect events, political movements, personal activities, rituals, and practices as means of identification. She erects collages clipped and ripped and taped and pasted from magazines that constantly shift and mutate her bedroom’s landscape. She laquers her flipped hair and eyelids and straps on platform shoes to go to discos with girlfriends. She recounts the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and the Sex Pistols antics from the safe distance of her neighborhood and television. She starts listening to “hippie” records (ex: Santana, Genesis) because of a boy, who later accidentally leaves a crate of records for her on the tube when they meet up again as adults (with her partner and child in tow). She goes to concerts with friends. She visits a friend in the hospital after a suicide attempt. She makes and unmakes girl friendships. She renounces punk for new wave because she thinks the subgenre mirrors her affinity for Russian literature and Gauloises. She loves reading and writing, but hates school. She roadtrips to Ohio because she loves Devo. She thinks about Thatcherism and the National Front alongside the Pop Group’s second album, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, though didn’t put them together at the time (which, seriously, a book that reminds me to throw that record on is a good book by my definition). She cuts her girlfriend’s hair at a party. She constantly dyes and cuts and grows out and re-dyes her own hair.
In short, she constantly changes and renegotiates who she is, configuring herself always in a state of becoming, even after she’s transitioned out of her teenage years.
Putting all of this into a broader context, she’s very easily the type of girl British cultural theorists like Angela McRobbie were later devoting books and articles to, helping to build girls studies programs in the process. McRobbie’s girls tended to be bookish, middle-class in an increasingly impoverished country, rebellious but well-behaved, mercurial and fidgety and looking for their place in music culture and their piece of the street. But this girl, Lavinia, wasn’t theoretical. She was real, and, as an adult, created a document as filled with history and reference and memory and meaning as any good homemade mix. Her book is worth a look and a listen.
In her rad book Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference Lisa A. Lewis (drawing from Angela McRobbie’s seminal essay “Settling Accounts With Subcultures: A Feminist Critique”) recognizes that the street as a cultural space traditionally off limits for women and girls, both in subcultural practices and music video representations, as rape, harassment, and objectification could befall them. McRobbie argues that these gendered standards of space are formed out of a broader system of social inequality, which Lewis believes is resisted through “female-address” music videos, or music videos that feature female artists in a subject position, which can reconfigure the normativity of male privilege through appropriation of the street with female subjects interacting with it.
So, tonight I’m going to post two new(ish) music videos that show ladies and girls engaging with the street. Enjoy!
“Don’t Let Go”
Futuristically Speaking . . . Never Be Afraid
Note: NSFW, but worth watching at your desk if you’re chained to a cubicle.
Directed by Caleb Stine and Eric Diga