Tagged: Christina Aguilera

Why I’ll totally watch Burlesque on DVD

Oh, yes; image courtesy of nydailynews.com

The other day, I came back from my lunch break and noticed Angelina Anderson (I Fry Mine in Butter founder and author of Bitch‘s Snarky’s Cinemachine series; @SnarkysMachine in the Twittersphere) posted the trailer to Burlesque, a new star vehicle for Christina Aguilera and Cher. With its flat acting, rote cinematography, and hackneyed storyline about a dew-eyed girl makin’ it in the entertainment biz, it looks — as Anderson said on Facebook — like Chicago, Glitter, Showgirls, and Moulin Rouge collided. I’ll totally see this on some listless Sunday. If it’s really good, I’ll buy it at discount and watch it with drunk friends late at night, having the movie occupy a position held by Glitter and Center Stage. Why?

1. I’m a sucker for dance movies.Put simply, I love watching dancers interact with cameras and editors. That means I own Center Stage and You Got Served. That means I saw Rize and Save the Last Dance, among others, in the theaters. That means I’ll defend Robert Altman’s The Company beyond the merits of my partner’s uncle’s work as its production designer or Neve Campbell and James Franco’s underplayed chemistry. That means I took an entire graduate course on dance in media culture and wrote my final paper on the employment of dance in Spike Lee’s first three films. That means I support the validity of Irin Camron’s claims toward Dirty Dancing‘s feminist potential. That means I’ll see Step Up‘s 3D installment. That means I saw all the movies Anderson compared Burlesque to, Bob Fosse’s entire filmography, and even sat through Honey, which Missy Elliott’s cameo saved from Jessica Alba’s dependably bland titular performance.

2. I’m a sucker for backstage musicals, and have been at least since I participated in a high school production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, but probably as far back as when I saw a community theater production of Gypsy with my grandmother as a child. I derive pleasure from stories of people putting on a show. I like witnessing how a character’s personal life informs their performance. And as a genre, I’m interested in why so many offerings focus on young women’s rise to fame.

3. I’m intrigued by female pop stars’ involvement in film musicals, particularly as it offers roles to women of color. Yes, Kylie Minogue played the Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge and Fergie was cast in Rob Marshall’s Nine. It’s especially interesting to see these women play influential female performers in music biopics as a means of linking personas and legacies. Diana Ross did this with Billie Holiday and Beyoncé connected herself to Diana Ross and Etta James. Jennifer Lopez’s career took off after a star turn in Selena. But many get involved with musicals and dance films. Beyoncé also starred in MTV’s Carmen: A Hip Hopera. Marshall also employed Queen Latifah in Chicago, who was later cast in Hairspray. Mentor Whitney Houston and protegee Brandy paired up for Cinderella. I could catalogue indefinitely, as pop stars’ involvement with a film musical has long served as shorthand for pop credibility and crossover success.

4. I’m fascinated by the perennial employment of cinematic vanity projects to expand pop stars’ brands. It’s usually quite a gamble. For every Purple RainUnder the Cherry Moon is sure to follow. It failed spectacularly in Mariah Carey’s case, with Glitter entering the market when the singer’s waning cultural relevance dovetailed with a well-publicized psychological breakdown and only recently being remembered as a fun but inconsequential movie about a girl becoming an 80s pop icon based on a killer recording of “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On.” In point of fact, I actually find the derided attempts far more interesting as a viewer and in terms of what they may say about the stars at their center.

Burlesque meets each of these four points. I’m nervous about Aguilera’s underripe performance, exaggerated whiteness, bad wig, and the possibility that the movie underlines her limited dance ability over her formidable singing. I’m also curious how the movie might recall OutKast’s Idlewild. Both movies employ a deliberating retro musical sensibility, though I think Aguilera is far more invested in conjuring a postmodern pin-up image than Andre 3000 and Big Boi were in associating themselves with the Prohibition. I’m excited to see Cher, who I liked in Moonstruck, The Witches of Eastwick and Mermaids growing up and will probably enjoy in Come Back to the Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean when I finally get around to seeing it. Plus any movie with Stanley Tucci gets a free pass from me. It won’t be great, but it’ll probably be fun.

Video stars now on the Internet, still female

Lady Gaga and Beyoncé; image courtesy of buzzworthy.mtv.com

Recently Logan Hill contributed a piece for Vulture on the invigoration of  music video production on the Internet following a dry spell for the medium on television. Of course, folks have noted this as YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo, and a host of other clip-sharing sites became ubiquitous alongside MTV’s continued programming choices to inundate their audience with reality shows. The network recently took “Music Television” out of its logo. For a moment, it seemed like DVD collections like Palm Pictures’ Directors Label series would step in and make music videos more available to the public, but clearly the Internet has won, even invigorating the careers of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry.

While I don’t see this move as little more than a shift indicative of how we consume media, I would also like to point out that many of these headline-grabbing Internet sensation music videos are notable for another reason. The scandal and celebrity associated with these big-budget clips center on female pop stars. In the past year, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Shakira, Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, and M.I.A. have made garnered attention and controversy with clips inundated with sexual and/or violent imagery that might not fly on post-network television but keep the blogoshere typing, Tweeting, and uploading. Alongside those artists, fringe acts like Peaches, Yo! Majesty, and Gossip — all peopled by queer musicians — have garnered some recognition for their work.

Screen shot from music video for Rihanna's "Rude Boy"; image courtesy of accesshollywood.com

On the surface, the presence female pop stars have in reviving the music video format also recalls MTV’s nascence. Many note that the first clip the network aired was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” But Pat Benatar’s “You Better Run” followed it, along with a whole host of female pop stars who battled rock acts and hair metal bands for programming supremacy. The Go-Go’s, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Eurythmics’ lead singer Annie Lennox all catapulted to stardom during the network’s infancy, as art rock acts like Kate Bush also received some stateside recognition.

The Go-Gos' Rolling Stone cover; image courtesy of rhonabennett.wordpress.com

While the current stable of video stars seem to subvert conventional femininity by playing with camp and excess, I’m actually inclined to read many of these artists as ultimately normative. Many of the video narratives, regardless of costuming or cultural references, tend to rehash contrived narratives about young women getting rowdy in the club and letting her (hetero)sexual inhibitions run wild. I believe Badu’s “Window Seat” and M.I.A.’s “Born Free” challenge these offerings however, by either making female nudity at once mundane and endangered or by dispensing of the female pop star altogether to focus on government-sanctioned ultraviolence. Monáe’s approach might be the most refreshing as she recontextualizes rock and R&B’s cultural origins within a female body covered up in menswear that’s ready to teach you some new dance steps.

In addition, many of these musical artists are working with established male video directors. Gaga revived the career of Jonas Åkerlund, who originally made a name for himself working with Madonna. While it’s easy to read these directors as auteurs, I’m inclined to point out that some of them have established collaborative relationships with these women across several projects. This also recalls how Gondry came into the cultural lexicon. While we may now think of him as the visionary behind White Stripes videos and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, an Icelandic pop star named Björk selected him to direct his first English-language music video after years working in France. The clip was for “Human Behaviour,” which launched both of their careers in the states.

I’d like to bring up in the current emergence of female pop stars on the Internet is that almost all of them are solo artists taking sole focus on big-budget music videos. While I don’t want to suggest that these women are not musicians, or overlook the fact that Beyoncé tours with an all-female backing band, I find it disheartening that we aren’t seeing as many images of women and girls creating video images as collaborators, whether between female artists and directors, as members of a band, or female artists who collaborate with one another. While Lady Gaga and Beyoncé have been known to work together, as have M.I.A. and Santigold, it would be nice to see more music videos with a group of women or girls as the focus.

Sasha Fierce's backing band; image courtesy of spin.com

Likewise, I also find it frustrating that so many of these big productions have to be so moneyed, most notably Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s “Telephone.” Perhaps a new group of bands and musical artists in collaboration with one another will also make names for themselves as music videos continue to thrive on the Internet. Who says you need a big budget and an iconic pop star to make a clip for the ages?

Covered: Christina Aguilera’s “Bionic”

The first half of 2010 has been eventful for music, hasn’t it? Epic break-up albums from Spoon, Joanna Newsom, Erykah Badu, and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Controversial music videos from Lady Gaga, Badu, and M.I.A. Janelle Monáe cornering the “Hey Ya” market with “Tightrope.” The initial run of David Simon’s Treme, which is a feast for music geeks. Courtney Love re-emerging like some fucked-up phoenix rising from the ashes of coke and pixie dust. Corin Tucker making a solo album. The Lilith Fair relaunching this summer, though unfortunately at one point in support of anti-choice brainwashing complexes crisis pregnancy centers. Christina Aguilera collaborating with some interesting folks on her new album. And so many amazing album covers. Goddamn.

By my count, we have four new covers to talk about: the Dap-Kings’ I Learned the Hard Way, Hole’s Nobody’s Daughter, Monáe’s soon-to-be-released The ArchAndroid, and Aguilera’s Bionic. As I want to write proper reviews for the first three titles, I figured today’s post could be on D*Face‘s cover art for Bionic, which doesn’t come out until June. I’ll admit that I’m pretty nervous that I don’t see Santigold, M.I.A., and Le Tigre listed as producers on the album’s Wiki entry. While I do note Ladytron, I’ll also point out that it’s the dudes in the band who worked with her. The lead single “Not Myself Tonight,” has been released and I like it even if it’s slipping on the charts. The Hype Williams-directed video is set to premiere on Vevo tomorrow, though you can look at snippets and stills from the singer’s Web site. The cover was revealed last month and to whet our appetites, I thought we could briefly look at it.

Cover to Bionic (RCA, 2010); image courtesy of wikimedia.org

Haters can say that the lead single is derivative, but that’s one hell of a cover. Admittedly, the critique is pretty close to the surface: the cover shows the obscured constructedness of pop stars, the technological interventions on their voices and bodies, and the potential disembodiment of normative and subservient female glamor. I’d also bring up Richard Dyer’s call in White to make whiteness strange. It also seems to recall Daft Punk’s politically dire and underrated Human After All and the corporate shills and politicians in They Live.

Still from "They Live"; image courtesy of movingimagesource.us

As I mentioned in my review of Badu’s new album linked above, the cyborg — and the cyborg as doll — is a racially fraught cultural figure that black women have channeled in their work, particularly Missy Elliott and Lil Kim. I’d add Monáe and Nicki Minaj (channeling Kim) to that list.

Nicki Minaj, in doll form; image courtesy of rightonmag.com

I’d also point out that Björk and Chris Cunningham challenged the racial and sexual connotations of the cyborg in the music video for “All Is Full Of Love.”

Twin cyborg Björks making out; image courtesy of bjork.com

I’m not convinced that Aguilera has done anything new here, but continue to be interested with whom and what she chooses to align.

Xtina in the studio with Le Tigre, M.I.A., and Santigold

Le Tigre and Christina Aguilera made beautiful music together; image courtesy of amysrobot.com

So, by now we probably all know that Christina Aguilera’s got a new album coming out this spring. It’s called Bionic, which is as rad a title as any. I consider myself a Christina fan, and have enjoyed watching her develop as a singer. And I thought Back to Basics, while overlong, was a lot of fun. Do we all need to watch the “Candyman” music video she co-directed with Matthew Rolston to jog our memories? Okay.

But while I’ve got Bionic on my radar, the folks she’s collaborated with is what really fills me with anticipation. She’s worked with rad ladies like M.I.A., Santigold, and post-riot grrrl icons Le Tigre. If she could bring in artists like Björk, one of her favorite singers, or Gossip, my head might explode. I’m anticipating some tough, glossy electroclash and I hope I get it. While I’m not sure what the album sounds like and do hold some reservations, I’m excited that Le Tigre have been back at work after their hiatus. Also I do think this collaboration is important.

Sure, indie music’s cross-pollinations with commercial fare in the recent past are well-documented. If this applies to big-name producers like Lukasz Gottwald, it certainly applies to lesser-known talent who might be able to lend a certain caché. Remember when LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy tried to produce a Britney Spears single? Hell, remember the rumor that Kathleen Hanna was going to serve as one of the many producers of Paris Hilton’s inauspicious debut? Yeah, we’ve been doing this for a while.

But how often do independent and mainstream female artists work together? How many superstar pop singers espouse even remotely feminist values that could jibe with Le Tigre’s politics (besides P!nk and maybe Lady Gaga)? How many pop stars even claim “Deceptacon” to be one of their jams? And while Mariah Carey liked Hole’s Live Through This, I like that Aguilera actually went in to the studio with these artists. I’ll reserve judgement on the music until I hear a final product, but I respect the professional motivations of all parties. I also look forward to hearing the results, especially if they’re built for the dance floor.

Notes on Maria Raha’s “Cinderella’s Big Score”

Today’s entry focuses on author Maria Raha’s book Cinderella’s Big Score which focuses on female contributions to American and British punk, alternative, and independent music from the mid-1970s to, at its 2005 release, the present. It is to be the first title read by the rock n’ roll book club some Girls Rock Camp Austin peeps have put together. As we haven’t yet met to discuss the book, I’m using my blog to formulate my thoughts on it.

Cover of Maria Raha's "Cinderella's Big Score" (Seal Press, 2005); image courtesy of flickr.com

I picked up Raha’s book back in early 2006 (local business plug: I bought it at MonkeyWrench Books). I read it in between getting my wisdom teeth pulled and taking time off work to engage in a battle with my sinuses. In short, I devoured it while bed-ridden and pissy. This didn’t bode well for the reading process, as I did not like the book. But I wanted to give it another chance, so this was an opportunity to re-read it.

At the time, my problems were two-fold.

1. The scope is too broad. 30-plus years of rock history, broken down into tiny chapters about 38 different female artists? Yikes! It felt like I was reading overviews with little more insight than All Music Guide entries. Either narrow it down or write a bigger book! And I already knew most of these artists before I picked up the book, so I didn’t feel like I was getting any new information.

2. Raha is very much of the “indie rock, good; pop, bad” persuasion and does little to challenge her biases or problematize the book’s subjects. As many of the rock artists she holds in high esteem are white women and many of the pop artists she dislikes are women of color, this creates an unintentional yet unfortunate gendered racial tension.

I think about this a lot. When I co-teach music history workshops with Kristen at Act Your Age, we notice that the reception of certain musical subgenres is divided along racial lines. Participants of color tend to get excited about hip hop, R&B, and pop and check out during discussions of punk and riot grrrl. It might be that riot grrrl means a great deal to white girls and white women, but doesn’t speak to many girls and women of color.

(Note: This isn’t to say girls and women of color can’t relate to or be inspired by riot grrrl; I just wonder how many do.)

In addition to the dicey racial implications of the “indie rock, good; pop, bad” binary, I found — and still find — Raha’s reading of pop music to be shallow and essentializing. While I too find The Spice Girls’ (soda) watered-down brand of girl power feminism troubling, along with the advent of millennial teen-pop jailbait like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, I think there’s much more going on here than Raha does. For one, there’s no discussion of fans’ complex relationships with their teen idols (for a closer reading on the subject, I’d recommend scholar Dafna Lemish’s article “Spice Girls’ talk: A case study in the development of gendered identity”). There’s also scant consideration of how image-making is a complex process for female stars — save for Madonna, a person Raha seems to approve of save for her headline grabbing VMA kiss with Spears — and how this is true for both underground and mainstream female artists.

As people forget that Aguilera was in on “the kiss” or that her vocals were live, Raha puts little value in mainstream vocalists’ singing ability, which can involve considerable musical technique and craft. This also absents girl groups like En Vogue and Destiny’s Child or solo artists like Beyoncé from discussion. I also find it insulting that she assumes all of these women are pop dollies Svengalied by men.

This doesn’t even get into how hip hop, both mainstream and independent, is all but ignored in this book.

Oh, and please don’t hate on Janet Jackson.

It may be easy to configure her as a dancer who let Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis create her career for her, or crack wise about plastic surgery, weight fluctuations, and wardrobe malfunctions. But let’s not forget that her songs tackle complex issues like racial injustice, AIDS, homophobia, domestic violence, masturbation, sexual agency, and female autonomy. She’s the woman behind “The Pleasure Principle,” “Nasty,” “Control,” “Together Again,” “What About?,” “Free Zone,” “What Have You Done For Me Lately?,” “Rhythm Nation,” and the black feminist anthem “New Agenda.” She may be the artist responsible for many fans’ entrance into feminism.

These feelings still spike up, though I liked this book more the second time. I took for granted that Raha contextualizes each section of her book with an overview of what was going on in popular music at the time. I do bristle at her open, unchecked animosity for pop’s artificiality (as if indie rock is an exemplar of authenticity; it’s a myth that still gets perpetuated and results in many backlashes against bands like Vampire Weekend, a band I’d be happy to argue on behalf of elsewhere). But I also appreciate how Raha takes hardcore, grunge, nu metal, and the male output of much punk and indie rock to task for practicing misogyny and abiding by patriarchy. And I like that she does champion some female pop stars, particularly Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner. I also like her efforts to discuss female musicians like Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon in mixed-gender bands, and bring up issues women had working with one another.

Bassist Tina Weymouth; image courtesy of washingtoncitypaper.com

Raha also discusses bands and artists I didn’t know much about. Thanks for shining a light on Lunachicks, Crass’ Joy De Vivre and Eve Libertine, Avengers’ Penelope Houston, Fastbacks’ Lulu Gargiulo and Kim Warnick. Thanks for bringing Germs’ manager Nicole Panter, Tsunami’s Jenny Toomey and queercore legends Tribe 8 and Team Dretsch into the discussion, as they often get overlooked.

There are of course some artists I wish were discussed, but know Raha had limited space to cover the artists she did, which was already a considerable aggregate. Because this is my blog, I’ll list some ladies, most of whom I’ve discussed here: Delta 5, Au Pairs, Bush Tetras, Y Pants, Pylon, Cibo Matto, Jean Grae, Joanna Newsom, Ponytail, Explode Into Colors, M.I.A., Karen O, Santigold, Yo Majesty, St. Vincent, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Bat for Lashes, Fever Ray, Finally Punk, and Follow That Bird. As some of the artists she discusses are or were on major labels, I will also include Kate Bush, Björk, Liz Phair, Tori Amos, and Erykah Badu.

As Raha’s book came out just as indie and mainstream were melding in ways similar yet far more pervasive than the alternative rock boom of a pre-bust American music industry, I wonder what she makes of Solange covering Dirty Projectors or joining Of Montreal on stage. What does she make of M.I.A. or Santigold, two indie artists who court mainstream success? She wrote her book just as download culture forever altered listeners’ exposure to music and their resulting consumer habits.

Isn't Santigold a pop star too?; image courtesy of brooklynvegan.com

When I first read this book, I questioned the usefulness of it. A noble effort, to be sure. But how valuable is an overview on obscure or underground female artists when the majority of its potential readers can probably follow blogs and download tracks? While I know the book is geared toward younger women — and I certainly would have valued the book at this age — most of the girls I’ve met or worked with at Girls Rock Camp Austin already knew just about everyone mentioned here.

That said, I do think the book is a good primer for young girls and women just starting to navigate the indie rock’s craggy terrain. But if you’re gifting it, make sure to include a mix CD and a set of discussion questions. Maybe it’ll start a book club.

Patti Smith, documentary subject

Patti Smith with Steve Sebring; image courtesy of gerryco23.wordpress.com

Before I went on vacation, Kristen at Act Your Age told me that PBS was going to show Dream of Life, a 2008 documentary by Steven Sebring about Patti Smith. Then yesterday, as I was sorting out my house, my friends Jacob and Melissa reminded me that it was going to be on later that night. It should be noted that I received reminder messages from them within the span of five minutes. I’m fine with being the music geek friends send these sorts of notices to. Thanks, everyone.

First, a disclaimer. I’m not a Patti Smith fan. What I mean by that is, I don’t know Smith’s music very well. Several of my friends got to know her through her music, perhaps developing their feminist and/or queer identities as a result. I’m sure the same could be said for readers of this blog I don’t know personally. This isn’t to say I’m not open to listening to her work. I’m just not very familiar with it. If there is interest in subsequent posts wherein I listen to her albums in chronological order and document my thoughts about it like Carrie Brownstein did with Phish earlier this year, show me the way.

Next, a confession. I haven’t until recently been interested in listening to Patti Smith’s music. While I haven’t listened to Horses in its entirety, I am familiar with her, and the ways in which I’m familiar with her give me pause. Here is why.

1. Each time I see a documentary where she is discussed, the opening chords to “Gloria” fade in and a bunch of musicians wax pretentious about how her music melded the sacred with the profane, or that she was not a musician but a poet and I get pissy. Not because of the song, but because of the purple prose being recited over it. I actually hadn’t heard the song in full until I was well into college.

2. With some exception, these superlatives tend to come from men: Glenn Branca, Thurston Moore, Legs McNeil, Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye, Richard Hell, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, and Michael Stipe are but a few names. I remember Alice Bag talks about her influence in the supplemental feature about women in punk in Don Letts’s Punk: Attitude and I know riot grrrl pioneers like Kathleen Hanna were inspired by her, but the praise mainly comes from the men. Established or well-regarded rock and roll dudes. Legends, if you will.

3. In some of the things I have read on Smith, she wasn’t very kind to the women and girls around her. Blondie’s Debbie Harry talks about how dismissive and unfriendly she was during their CBGB’s days in Please Kill Me, an oral history on New York punk collected by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. It was also reported in Mark Spitz and the late Brendan Mullen’s L.A. punk oral history We Got the Neutron Bomb that Smith was nasty to The Runaways after they tried to visit her backstage after a concert, leaving a baby Joan Jett particularly crushed. Now, oral histories are tenuous at best and Smith is not asked to comment about any of this. Also, Bebe Buell speaks favorably of Smith in Please Kill Me. Kim Gordon has a prolonged friendship with her as well. But this, coupled with the fact that she doesn’t identify as a feminist makes me feel weird about her status as a feminist rock icon.

4. Add to this the very apparent sense of malecentric hero worship Smith evinces and I feel really weird about her. While I like that she likes Maria Callas, The Ronettes, and Christina Aguilera, I don’t get the sense that she had much use for women. She cut her hair to look like Keith Richards. She learned to hail a cab by watching Bob Dylan in Don’t Look Back, a man who would later tune her guitar. That same guitar was a gift from Sam Shepard. Tom Verlaine apparently has the most beautiful neck in rock music, though her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of MC5 possessed something altogether else. Pablo Picasso made inimitable art until Jackson Pollack created paintings out of the drippings from Picasso’s Guernica. Willem de Kooning’s paintings made her want to touch the art in museums, an “offense” she gleefully committed on more than one occasion.

In addition, Smith’s most well-known for covering songs by men, reclaiming Them’s “Gloria,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” and Nirvana’s “About A Girl.” Of course, she redefined those songs by singing them as a man without changing the male-female pronouns or amending them to be about Patty Hearst or Kurt Cobain. And, as I’m sure my friend Curran would be quick to point out, Smith often aligns herself with queer men like Arthur Rimbaud, Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Michael Stipe. Curran may also posit that this makes Smith more closely as a transgendered person, which makes sense given Smith’s commitment to androgyny and sexual ambiguity.

However, I’ve always felt that Smith’s indebtedness to men has aligned herself at with a more liberal feminist, at times heterosexist view of how women play the game of rock (i.e., play the man’s game). While I get how others believe that she’s expanded how women can look and sound in rock, to me it still feels more like she’s abiding by male definitions of performance and sound rather than redefining it for female artists, a group she may not in fact feel that she is a part of. 

To be clear, I don’t need her to be feminine. I’d like it if she were a feminist, but I’d be happier if it just seemed like femaleness wasn’t so burdensome or powerless or safe to her. However, this is how it’s often seemed to me that Smith views or once viewed my sex category, and with it my gender, and this has always been our wedge. I’ll let her state her case.

Of course, this outlook may evince some potential transphobia on my part. I also might be privileging binaristic norms around gender and sexuality instead of championing fluidity. This nagging feeling keeps me coming back to Smith as an idea. But maybe I should get to know her better. And with that, the documentary.

I’ll be blunt again. For the most part, I found this documentary to be indulgent yet slight. Smith of course is the subject, but I was disheartened by how much she seemed to dictate the narrative (I find it just as frustrating when men do this, though I did like when Smith ordered filming to cease backstage before a performance). I would have liked more context.

I also would’ve liked to have been surprised by it more. I didn’t learn much about the artist or the person behind her mythology. I also didn’t get much of a sense of time and place. I could deduce the passing of time by watching her children mature. I understood when we were watching her tour the Trampin’ album because she was speaking out against the Iraq War and the Bush administration. I gather that dancing on the beach in Coney Island with Lenny Kaye was fun, but don’t know why it needed to be shown in slow motion. I know that losing her husband and her friend and long-time collaborator was traumatic because she said so. I don’t know how she felt about the loss of her parents during the 2000s. I saw that she loved playing with her guitarist son Jackson, who toured with her, but I know very little about her daughter Jesse past a gender-bending pubescent trip to the bathroom and, later, a carriage ride with her mother. And past some previously captured interview footage of Smith, I don’t know why she left mundane New Jersey to become a punk poet in New York, though I think I can imagine why.

That said, there were little snatches of Patti Smith the daughter and the artsy gender rebel that I enjoyed and did help me get to know her better. Seeing her eat hamburgers at her parents’ time-warp home. Seeming both proud and embarrassed when her father admits that he can’t go to his daughter’s concerts anymore because he lost his hearing at the earlier gigs he did attend while wearing one of her concert t-shirts. Trading chords with Shepard. Reminiscing about eating hot dogs in Coney Island with Maplethorpe. Holding up her children’s baby clothes and proudly declaring their cleanliness and her refusal to use bleach. Talking about how wanting to touch original paintings in museums is easily satisfied by making your own art. Playing woodwinds with Flea on the beach and swapping stories about how expertly both musicians can pee into bottles while traveling. And seeing her performances and hearing her words, her songs. I wish I was given a timeline to find out when all of these works were created, but I’m content to find out for myself. Let’s start by revisiting “Redondo Beach.”