The week was pretty stressful for this moi. I have a bunch of half-formed thoughts about why the Girl Talk record is consistently fine but not, you know, revelatory and why I don’t care that the Beatles are once again being resold to a questionably hungry market via i-Tunes. I’ve been revisiting disc two of Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me following her great show at the Paramount, pairing it with Cat Power’s Moon Pix and imagining a conversation where they don’t talk about Bill Callahan. I recently watched Pedro Almodóvar’s Pepi, Luci, Bom, which doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test but merits a future entry here. A lot of my mindgrapes that needs, if you’ll pardon the pun, fermenting.
As we head into Thanksgiving week and I go to a friend’s birthday party tonight, I thought it would be fun to post a couple of music videos from some acts I like who make music to dance to when you have insomnia or are running from zombies at a disco. You know, stuff that would be on a playlist with Glasser’s “Mirrorage.” Enjoy!
“We Want Our Things”
Am I Real?
Directed by Ola Vasiljeva
“All Around and Away We Go”
Color Your Life
Directed by Mike Luciano
Directed by Jacqueline Castel
Ya’ll, the Lilith Fair is getting a reboot this summer. I missed the festival during its original run in the late-90s. Honestly, I wasn’t too invested in it. I was happy that founder Sarah McLachlan was putting it together, but the majority of the bill offerings were pretty nice white lady adult contemporary at the time.
But co-founder Terry McBride has resurrected the festival and it’s coming to Austin some time next summer. I gotta say that this summer’s roster looks good: Loretta Lynn, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Cat Power, Gossip, Metric, Norah Jones, Jill Scott, Beth Orton, Emmylou Harris, Janelle Monáe, Teagan and Sara, Corrine Bailey Ray, fuckin’ Heart. Of course, we’ve still got plenty of nice white lady music, but it seems as if there was some effort to mix up the genres a little bit so it isn’t only about ladies strumming acoustic guitars (ex: Mary fuckin’ J!). On that tack, I’m pretty uninterested in Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, Sara Bareilles, and Colbie Caillat’s involvement, but I understand that the festival’s gotta draw in some big MOR names. That said, I like that there’s some rad queer ladies and women of color on the bill.
As I don’t think the bill is 100% finalized, I’m hoping Thao and the Get Down Stay Down gets a spot on the bill. I’d also support additions like Jean Grae, Bat for Lashes, Neko Case, Marnie Stern, Shunda K, and Ponytail. I think it’d be cool if a stage was set up for local acts so folks like Follow That Bird, Yellow Fever, and Schmillion could get some more exposure — or even cooler if said bands formed their own counterfestival. Oooh, and if only they could get Sleater-Kinney to reunite. Can’t wait to see how this shapes up. For more up-to-date information, keep an eye on the festival’s Web site.
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
Last Saturday, Kristen and I were talking about the music history workshops we taught with some bad-ass GRCA alums for the Girls Now! conference. As you can imagine, it’s hard to pare down nearly a century’s worth of female contributions to popular music into a 75-minute PowerPoint presentation and have it be fun and interactive as well. Thus, we made sure to include many music videos and performance clips that hopefully engaged our girl attendees. One such clip was Christina Aguilera’s Grammy performance of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” apparently beloved by Patti Smith. Afterwards, Kristen mentioned that it was possible to do an entire section on cover songs and wished we had more time to highlight and discuss more interesting examples.
Too right, Kristen. In fact, I think I started this section of the blog to cull together noteworthy cover songs, as I think covers are fascinating. What does song selection and interpretation say about the artist? How do their personae, generic alignments, and identity markers give the source material new meaning? What does it mean for Solange Knowles — aka Ms. “Fuck the Industry (Signed Sincerely)” — to cover an indie rock song like Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move,” which was originally inspired by Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire and includes a sample of “Bumpy’s Lament” in her version? What does it mean for Cat Power to adopt the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” as a signature song and create several arrangements of it ranging from stripped-down folk to soulful rave-up? How does Tori Amos blow apart Eminem’s misogynistic murder fantasy in “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” by orienting herself as the dead wife in the trunk?
(Note: For further insight into the last song mentioned, I recommend reading Lori Burns and Alyssa Woods’s “Authenticity, Appropriation, Signification: Tori Amos on Gender, Race, and Violence in Covers of Billie Holiday and Eminem.” Also, I might need to get around to unpacking the cover art for Amos’s Strange Little Girls at some point.)
Continuing why I hope to be an on-going discussion, tonight I selected two songs originally recorded by James Brown and Sam Cooke. “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” has always seemed to me to be an ode to chauvinism. “A Change Is Gonna Come,” however, is an anthem for social change that came to define the Civil Rights Movement. But think about what additional meanings these songs may have when performed by Christina Aguilera and Sharon Jones.
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.