I’ve been at a conference all day, listening to media scholars volley and bandy about ideas and concerns, as well as research and methodological questions related to television comedy. Though fascinating conversations were forming around me all day (I fumbled through a well-intended but unformed question too, because I make myself participate in these conversations), I was distracted by some sad news my partner imparted to me as I was waking up: Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore are separating.
As someone who has no personal investment in marriage, it might be odd that I would react to news about the split in this way. Though I disavow the wedding industry and the societal privileging of married couples, nor treat monogamy as a sacrament, I do like to see couples make it. I was sad when the Gores announced their divorce and am pulling for Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith to work it out.
Part of why this news hit me so hard has to do with projection. The move to Madison and transitioning into a life in the academy presents its own challenges. But my stepbrother was killed in a car accident this past summer, sloughing his mortal coil just shy of his 30th birthday and leaving behind a wife and baby daughter. I am still processing my grief over the loss, and keep returning to Avey Tare’s Down There for catharsis (a musical selection he would have hated). My mom’s best friend’s ex-husband passed away this month as well. In addition several friends back in Texas are planning weddings, returning to school, having children, and throwing birthday parties. I’m not lonely in Madison. I’m making friends. And between course work, class prep, administrative meetings, and writing and editing responsibilities, I don’t have time to be lonely. But while I love the work I’m doing, it’s hard to not have the time to reinvest in old friendships.
Recently, a few marriages dissolved within my friend group and, given the circumstances, I especially ache for the women in these partnerships. This causes me to reflect on my own partnership. My partner and I celebrate our eight-year anniversary next January. He is incredibly supportive of me and my professional aspirations. He also has his own projects, and I am incredibly proud of his contributions. But it’s hard to work through twelve-hour days and then come home and reconnect when you’re exhausted. It’s also challenging to expand our friend group beyond people in my program, which I hope doesn’t create any strain. But partnerships of any sort require tremendous attention and investment. Folks also change over time within them. In a 27-year marriage, both spouses evolve into different people. The challenge then becomes evolving with one another and not turning into enemies or more often strangers, which is precious and rare.
Gordon and Moore were married a year shy of my entire life. I will not speculate foul play, though I reserve the right to be disappointed in Moore if he takes up with Peaches Geldof. What most resonated with me about their union was that it was a demonstrably feminist marriage. Both partners voiced the importance of consensus, mutual respect, shared parenting responsibilities, equality, and balance. They also work together in a band, and thus constantly reconcile the band’s needs and their individual artistic inclinations. Gordon also had to deal with sexist assumptions about her husband’s instrumental prowess and routine dismissal of her musical contributions, even though she possesses one of rock’s most evocative voices. A few of my friends sustain romantic partnerships with professional colleagues. Such relationships are possible, but require compromise, attention, and negotiation.
Sonic Youth plan to finish their tour. For selfish reasons, I hope the band stays together. If they continue to create interesting, vital music, I want them to push on. There is some precedence for Gordon and Moore’s current position. The White Stripes, Quasi, Smashing Pumpkins, and Fleetwood Mac continued making music despite members’ romantic dissolution, though none of those groups had a high-profile couple with Gordon and Moore’s marital longevity. But I would be just as happy if the pair moved on to other endeavors. In 1988, artists Marina Abramović and Uwe Laysiepen ended their long-term relationship by meeting each other in front of the Great Wall of China after walking great distances. Once they saw each other, they said goodbye and continued their long journeys walking in opposite directions. Perhaps Gordon and Moore will do something similar in South America next month. If they do, it’s been a good run.
I returned from lunch and saw that Kristen at Dear Black Woman, posted the music video to Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair.” Ya’ll, it’s delightful. I’ve been into her look for a while and am happy that she’s making music. We can search for nefarious doings involving her family’s alleged relationship to the Hubbard cult, but I don’t have any problems with the Smiths. They seem like nice famous people who are trying to maintain their careers while raising their children and encouraging them into creative endeavors without buying them fame or foisting it upon them. Here’s what I like about the song and the clip.
1. The song’s catchy.
2. The video takes place in a school. Willow turns ten this month, so it’s where she and many in their peer group spend their time.
3. The school isn’t depicted as a sex dungeon or a sweaty club. Put it differently, I’m glad Willow isn’t hyper-sexualized. This seems like good parenting and image control, something the fathers of Jessica Simpson and Miley Cyrus might want to have worked on. Kudos to director Anthony Mandler, who is best known for his work with Rihanna, for being sensitive to this as well.
4. Her hair makes the environment change colors. How cool is that?
5. Importantly, her surroundings are white before she whips her hair around. As her hair is braided into long cornrows or styled in puffs for the video, I have to read race into this. The video and song are obvious celebrations of hair, but not a white lady’s sleek ponytail or wavy tresses. I could potentially read it as a reclamation of the whip from its treacherous Antebellum context. Regardless, bringing color into the setting is a charged act. It’s no coincidence that people are pairing this song with Sesame Street’s “I Love My Hair” segment. Here’s the original, which Snarky’s Machine clued me into.
And here’s a mash-up.
6. Whipping hair is something I always associate with headbangers. Even if video vixens, Beyoncé, and that regrettable episode of Glee make it acceptable, the subjects of Heavy Metal Parking Lot still come to mind. But Willow’s actions make me think of her mom Jada, who fronted metal band Wicked Wisdom. Not a lot of women of color are associated with metal, which makes Laina Dawes writing on the subject exceptional before one even takes the quality of her work into account. Thus the video and clip also destabilize how we relate women and girls of color to genre.
7. If items #5 and #6 sound heavy, they don’t play out that way in the video. This looks like such a fun shoot.
8. Can more videos please have babies break-dancing?
Good on you, Willow!
Readers of this blog may notice a metal deficit. At present, Kristen at Act Your Age and I don’t have a metal section in our Girls Rock Camp music history workshop presentation. In all candor, I don’t know much about the genre, much less female contributors. It was never my thing. Having gotten to guitar late, I didn’t spend my adolescence poring over Guitar World and learning face-melting riffs. Old-school Metallica was never my shit, though I giggled mirthfully at their self-indulgent therapy sessions in Some Kind of Monster. New-school Mastadon isn’t either, though I do like their song for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie.
Of course, I also got the sense that metal was teeming with queer tension well before I found out Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford was gay or Patton Oswalt turned hair metal’s homoeroticism into a bit.
I’m not even really sure what metal is, as vanguard bands believed to influence the genre consider themselves hard rock. Black Sabbath, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin don’t identify with the term, so I’m not sure what to make of it either. While I think the emergence of all-female cover bands like AC/DShe and Lez Zeppelin are interesting, I’m not sure if we can call them metal.
Now, I’ve been around metal in some capacity for quite some time. My older stepbrother was pretty into Guns N’ Roses growing up in the 80s. As they didn’t embrace the label, I wonder if Paradise Titty do. He later came around to Anthrax, who I will always associate with their appearance on Married With Children. The image of lead guitarist Dan Spitz’s Violator t-shirt is forever in my mind, along with other Depeche Mode fans who formed metal bands.
From other male friends, I’ve developed an appreciation for bands like Slayer, who South Park taught me are especially useful in breaking up a hippie jam festival. Contemporary slowcore acts like Boris have been brought to my attention for their work in Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control. I’ve also read Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City and Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt. One left me with a sense of amused detachment. The other gave me nausea. I’ll let you guess which title did what.
I know there’s a lot of subgenres, but I can only really tell them apart by RPM. I can’t tell you much about them beyond speed metal and thrash are fast and doom and stoner metal are slow.
So, you could say that my biggest problem with metal is that I don’t know what it is. Thus, how am I supposed to reclaim the marginalized contributions of women and girls if I’m pretty sure Marnie Stern isn’t metal so much as hard rock for indie fans? Therein lies the rub. But I know that there are female metal fans like Laina Dawes, who wrote about the controversy surrounding Burzum frontman and staunch anti-Semite Varg Vikernes’s recent cover for Decibel Magazine on her blog Writing is Fighting. I’ll continue to follow blogs like Feminist Headbanger and The Black Girl Into Heavy Metal and see if I can come to any further conclusions. For now, I’ll briefly outline in videos who I know.
As a child in the late 1980s, I saw these videos from Vixen and former Runaways guitarist Lita Ford.
During my teen years, Kittie developed a following. This was their big hit, and I really liked the vocals on it.
I’m familiar with Jada Pinkett-Smith’s band Wicked Wisdom, who sound like a metal band to me. However, some folks discredit the band’s efforts because of the front woman’s celebrity status and that the group didn’t “pay their dues” on the touring circuit. Seems like racist sniveling to me.
Who are you listening to? Who should I be listening to?