Tagged: Japan

Musical Cameos: The in Kill Bill, Volume 1

The (from left): Drummer Sachiko Fujiyama, bassist Yoshiko Yamaguchi, and guitarist Yoshiko "Ronnie" Fujiyama who has a tattoo on her arm that says "Teenage Queen Delinquent"; image courtesy of sushibandit.com

Today’s post is dedicated to Caitlin, a friend of mine from graduate school who runs the blog Dark Room. After living in College Station for a couple of years, she and her husband are moving back to the Pacific Northwest. Caitlin taught me quite a few things as a friend and colleague. Perhaps her largest contribution is my appreciation of horror film, which I didn’t have when we first met. Going into our master’s program, I was strongly of the mind that horror is resistant, if not entirely antithetical, toward feminism. But Caitlin, who is both a feminist and horror aficionado, taught me the power of looking and interpreting the genre from a feminist perspective. Like me, she’s a huge music fan and champions the work of independent female musicians. Thus, it seems fitting that the last time we’ll see each other for the immediate future is at the Girls Rock Camp Austin showcase (tomorrow at the HighBall — doors open at noon). In tribute, I thought I’d do a brief write-up on The’ cameo in Kill Bill, Volume One. Grrrl rock and Quentin Tarantino? I can’t think of a better pairing to honor her.

The story goes that director Tarantino was introduced to the band while frequenting a Japanese clothing store and had to track them down. Eventually, he put them in the first installment of his two-part revenge epic about a bride (Uma Thurman) wronged by her groom (David Carradine), with whom she used to work for as a member of his crime syndicate, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. In order to seek justice, the bride must slaughter the entire organization. While the second volume is more meditative in its focus on the couple’s final showdown, the first half depicts her picking off her former work associates, employing a myriad of genres for each vignette. It culminates in a battle between the Bride and former DIVA O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), who runs a criminal organization in Tokyo. But in order to battle O-Ren, the Bride must first take out her crew in a bar where The are playing.

As you can tell from the band’s sound, cultural references, and performance of The Ikettes’ “I’m Blue,” the Japanese outfit is heavily influenced by 60s Americana, particularly girl groups and surf rock. As I’ve discussed in previous entries, similar interests are shared with Japanese characters in movies like Mystery Train and Linda Linda Linda. But I wonder about the feedback loop between Japan’s cultural fascination with American rock music and 20th century youth culture and Americans’ interest in some of their pop culture being appropriated and reinterpreted by members of an Eastern nation.

Obviously, this exchange can sometimes perpetuate Western assumptions of a cutesy, monolithic Japanese culture heavily rooted in American narcissism. So I feel a bit uneasy when interpreting the band’s appearance in the movie. It could easily be argued that they’re window-dressing, as well as means of authenticating an outsider’s conceptualization of what a “real” izakaya must be like. Yet I still feel that their sound is interpreting American rock music in a way analogous to Tarantino’s celebration of Japanese popular culture, particularly martial arts movies and anime. It may not be an easy pairing, but The rock it out.

SXSW Day 2 and 3 recap

So, after recovering from the pleasurebomb that was SXSW 2k10, I’m finally able to recap the rest of the week. Tonight, I’ll post my thoughts on Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow, I will summarize Saturday’s festivities and highlight a few of the events I attended on Sunday.

With that, Thursday.

Left work around 4. I had a staff meeting earlier that morning and very much did not want to galivant around in biz-caj attire. I went home to change and of course, by 4:30, traffic was at a stand-still. Parking was harder to come by, so I ended up leaving my car on east 12th in front of my friends’ house. Got to Club Deville around 5.

Liars – If you’ve seen them before, you’d imagine how this went down. Loud, intense, sweaty, and their new album, Sisterworld, sounds good. Not as awesome as when I saw them at the Pitchfork Festival back in 2006 when they were supporting Drum’s Not Dead, but that was one of the best, most exhausting performances I’ve ever seen. Plus, there was some cigarette and pot smoke billowing around the tent outside the venue, but not enough to compare with what was floating around on that muggy Chicago summer day nearly four years ago.

After that, my partner and I ate some Hoboken Pie on the curb out front and plotted out our itinerary. We went to the Ghost Room to catch General Elektrik at 8 p.m., running into our friend Jacqueline along the way. When we got there some pseudo-house band called Scorpio Rising came on. Ugh. The obvious wah-wah bass was surpassed by the outfit’s hippie feel-goodisms. We promptly went to the porch and I read Tracy Morgan’s interview with BUST, his first magazine cover. The upcoming issue also has a feature on sissy bounce, which is a queer hip hop movement based out of New Orleans. Check it out when it hits newsstands.

General Elektriks – White boy French funk outfit. Good energy. Reminded me a little bit of Mellow and Beck circa Midnite Vultures, an era I wouldn’t mind if he returned to at some point.

Mountain Man – Heard about this almost exclusively a capella Vermont-based trio thanks to my friend Will. These women sang in three part harmony only occassionally accompanied by an acoustic guitar, which members Molly Erin Sarle and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig shared at various points during their set at Buffalo Billiards. They’re still new and a bit green, as evidenced when member Amelia Meath intimated that they had never sung with microphones before. Sometimes they weren’t completely together as a group. But when they were, which they were for much of the time, they emphasized the power unaccompanied vocal ensembles have in creating symphonies of sound. I also liked the Sapphic subtext to many of their songs, one of which was about living on a female commune, and the support they gave one another. A lot of hand-holding and hugging on that stage. They’re on my radar.

Explode Into Colors – Their show at Wave was on my must-see list, especially since I missed them at the festival last year. This Portland trio were really great. As I already wrote about them, I’ll say two more things: 1) More bands should have multiple drummers and 2) if you can’t get down with a bassless ESG scoring a post-apocalyptic Western, I can’t help you like things.

After this, we kind of hit a low point. We went to Aces Lounge to check out Jean Grae and Talib Kweli, who were amazing. Unfortunately, 88-Keys and Strong Arm Steady opened for them and they were derivative and making the bill run behind schedule. 88-Keys has worked with Kanye and I could see becoming a bit of a draw, particularly on the college tour circuits like 40 Acres Fest. Unfortunately, he’s also the type of rapper to dedicate songs about his sexual prowess to the laydees and say “no homo” when introducing songs about men (specifically one-minute men, which he assured us he wasn’t). Strong Arm Steady were a West Coast crew who worked with Madlib but were not themselves particularly remarkable and actually pretty messy in terms of delivery. The only highlight of their set was when Fashawn spat a couple verses on some song whose title I didn’t catch. I was getting super-annoyed, but then . . .

Jean Grae – Ya’ll, she’s the king as far as I’m concerned. Smart, challenging, confrontational, ingenuous, and the possessor of a killer flow, she’s one of the best in the game. And I don’t mean “good for a girl.” I mean on equal footing with or better than Mr. Lif, El-P, Brother Ali, Busdriver, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Jay-Z in his prime. She’s my favorite, and a grown-ass woman to boot. And I hadn’t actually seen her in concert since she did the Okay Player tour with The Roots back in 2004. So when she sashayed down a spiral staircase to Nancy Sinatra’s version of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” in a flared cocktail dress and cardigan (somewhat atypical for her to me, as I’ve usually seen her in jeans and t-shirts), I got amped. And when she demanded that the audience “act right” and participate by dancing and singing along, I obviously complied. She’s Jean fucking Grae.

Talib Kweli – Obviously amazing and great, as well as the reason for the showcase, as he is the owner of Blacksmith Records. He and Jean also had a lot of rapport, cracking each other up as they performed together.

After that, I snuck a peak at Phantogram at Red 7 and saw The Very Best begin to play Beauty Bar‘s backyard, where our friend Barrett was working security and had met JD Samson of MEN a few hours earlier. Then home, because Friday was going to be hella busy.

I took Friday off from work so I could help out at the GRCA day show at the relocating Cafe Mundi. Totally worth it. OMG, are there ever so many women and girls ruling it out there. After set-up, Kristen at Act Your Age and I got to watch Charlie Bell and Darling New Neighbors perform. After that, we interviewed several acts who were on the bill, including some long-time heroines of mine. I’m happy to report that Exene Cervenka, Jessica Hopper, and Viv Albertine are very nice in person. Hopefully all of the footage (much of which was shot by Kristen as well as Zoe from Schmillion and I’m the Fox) will be up on the Web in the immediate future. We got a lot of interesting opinions from these ladies.

Jessica Hopper – Did a reading from her book, The Girl’s Guide to Rocking, which she also signed for people.

Exene Cervenka – Still great, still political, still rockin’ a spare set-up with acoustic guitar and back-up singer. I also appreciated that she mentioned during her set how important it is to have spaces like GRC for girls’ self-empowerment.

Akina Adderly & the Vintage Playboys – Straight-ahead funk with great vocals, fronted by GRCA vocal coach Adderly.

Chatmonchy – All-female Japanese rock band that aren’t as well-known in the states but are royalty overseas.

BO-PEEP – In my opinion, the best show of the day. Loud, theatrical, high-energy all-female punk band from Japan. They were also very nice when I interviewed them, particularly since I couldn’t speak any Japanese and they weren’t proficient with English. However, I did discover that they love The Smashing Pumpkins and that they design and make all of their costumes. If they’re playing near you, go see them.

White Mystery – A close second to BO-PEEP for best set. A brother-sister guitar-drum duo from Chicago, currently on up-and-comer indie label HoZac. Please don’t dismiss them as the next iteration of The White Stripes and please don’t reduce them to their big red manes. These kids ruled it classic rock style. Also, the Whites are super-nice people. In our interview, we discovered that their mother makes a lot of their wearable goods (including underwear), singer-guitarist Alex runs merchandise workshops for Chicago’s chapter of GRC, drummer Francis was born on Keith Moon’s birthday, and so much about gear and the importance of bands running their merch booths.

Girl in a Coma – Really excited to see this San Antonio-based power trio, who I’ve somehow missed for the past year despite the fact that members are themselves involved with GRCA. Their songs were great and they really got the crowd rockin’ with their timely cover of The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.”

Viv Albertine – A cheeky, stylish lady with a dry sense of humor and a romanceless attitude toward love. Really enjoyed her new material and got to chat with her a little bit about acts she’s into, like Talk Normal and Grass Widow. Also has the coolest business card I’ve ever seen, though hopefully I convinced her to make them scratch and sniff.

Rosie Flores – Legendary punkabilly. Didn’t get to interview her, but enjoyed her set.

And with that, Kristen made her way home and my partner and I met up with our friend George at TerrorBird and some really nice deejays from Berkeley’s KALX. Frank was closed for a private party, so we decided to head over to El Chilito to catch our second wind.

Zs – Something tells me these guys are familiar with Big Black, Glenn Branca, and The Flying Luttenbachers. Profoundly loud, crushing, guitar-based free jazz. I can dig it. They were playing at Beauty Bar’s backyard at one of Panache’s many showcases. I hung out there for a few other bands.

The Carrots – Hadn’t seen this local indie pop outfit since SXSW 2006 and they’ve only gotten tighter. Cute, fun, and coordinated — this is the band you want playing your prom. Also, a nice sonic contrast to frontwoman Veronica Ortuño’s other band, Finally Punk.

Julianna Barwick – Man, I really like her music. Some people might find a girl singing into a loop station boring, but fuck them. Barwick’s approach to song formation is to improvise parts and feed them through her loop station until she’s built an entire choir out of her own voice. I was riveted.

Met back up with my partner, who tried to catch She & Him and John Doe to no avail. Caught the last few songs of Uffie’s set at Mohawk, which were whatever. Some people are excited about her, and I’m not sure why. Sure, she’s young and French and there’s the connection with Justice. But she endorses this “I’m young and bratty and materialistic” ethos that I wish certain feminists weren’t so quick to champion (see also the Married to the Mob clothing line, though I do want MTTM’s Lady Kier t-shirt). I think we’re better than that. And I think this shit is boring, and I bet it gets hella played at American Apparel.

Fashawn – I think this Fresno kid has star quality. Put him on your mix tapes, boys and girls.

The Entrance Band – I’m not so into psychedelic hard rock, but they’re fucking great. Caught them at Red 7, the third time I’ve seen them in as many SXSWs. Nothing really to say other than bassist Paz Lenchantin rules the planet. Melissa Auf Der Maur, who was two people to my left during their set, seems to think so too.

After that, there were a few shut-outs. I couldn’t get back in to the Mohawk to see Grass Widow, perhaps because all the people with badges were watching Mayer Hawthorne and the County. We couldn’t find the Independent to see Anti-Pop Consortium. The xx show at Central Presbyterian Church was badges only. So we ended things with Dengue Fever at Encore. Fun retro pop outfit from Los Angeles and Cambodia.

Phew! That’s enough for now. I’ll wrap up my thoughts tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

“Feminist conceptual artist” is not a pejorative term: Yoko Ono and Pauline Oliveros

Yoko Ono's 2003 performance of "Cut Piece"; image courtesy of commondreams.org

If you’re a follower of this blog and haven’t gotten a hold of the new issue of Bitch, I heartily recommend it. I also recommend that you get a subscription, something I intend to renew after the holiday season. As luck would have it, the current issue came in the mail just as I was heading to Fort Worth for Thanksgiving, and its theme is all about artists. In it, you will find articles about mediated representations of female artists in television and film, the troubled history of contemporary feminist art, and an indictment of the patriarchal implications of Donald Judd’s artistic take-over of Marfa.

Anne Elizabeth Moore penned quite the invective against Donald Judd's presence in Marfa

While I’d like some more coverage of iconoclastic artists like Kara Walker and an extension of the term “artist” to include women like contemporary dancer Louise Lecavalier, I recognize that the good people at Bitch only have so much negative space to fill and loved the issue all the same. It was just the thing to read while running on the elliptical machine in the guest room when in need of some solitary quality time. I am an only child, after all.

I saw Kara Walker's My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth two summers ago and it blew my mind; image courtesy of blackhistorymonths.files.wordpress.com

One person I’m really glad Bitch focused on is Yoko Ono. By having 20 female artists contribute their words and feelings about this great woman, Ellen Papazian helps shatter the myth of rock’s dragon lady widow and considers her influence as an artist, musician, Japanese immigrant, feminist, mother, wife, and woman. Importantly, these women also challenge the notion that Ono’s cultural position as feminist conceptual artist was trite and instead suggest ways in which it was revolutionary and brave. Let’s think about this when we look at works like “Cut Piece,” wherein Ono invites audience members to cut off pieces of her clothes and hair — sometimes to dangerous effect at the hands of misogynistic participants — or “Y E S,” which is comprised of a ladder, a magnifying glass, and three affirmative letters scrawled on a board overhead. 

Another lady I’d like to shine a light on, especially since she wasn’t featured in Bitch‘s Art/See issue is composer and fellow Houstonian Pauline Oliveros.

Pauline Oliveros with her accordian; image courtesy of paulineoliveros.us

I’m in the process of putting together a couple of entries for an encyclopedia for American women in popular culture. I’ve sent off two, but am stalling on an overview of female composers because, frankly, beyond Ms. Oliveros, Libby Larsen, and film scorers like Wendy Carlos and Shirley Walker, I actually don’t know too many myself and was hoping to use this assignment as an opportunity to broaden my own understanding. A Pandora guide I inherited from my friend Emily will hopefully expand my own knowledge base, but feel free to throw out American female composers I should discuss. In the mean time, I thought I’d share a piece by Oliveros, an accordian player and pianist who emphasizes the importance of breathing in music-making, cultivates the idea of deep listening in contemporary classical music, and incorporates it into her music for feminist reasons.

Let’s toast these female artists and others who’ve carved spaces for themselves and, as a result, tried to bridge the chasm between subject and spectator, hoping to forge that most feminist of ideals: communal space. Here here! I sip my Lone Star in their honor.

Love love love Linda Linda Linda

The girls of Paran Maum

The girls of Paran Maum

I finally got around to rewatching Linda Linda Linda last week, a Japanese movie released in 2005 I saw for the first time last summer after several people told me “you gotta check it out, you’ll love it, it’s totally your kind of movie.” And it really is. In fact, it might be your kind of movie too (especially if you’re my friend Caitlin, and I’ve been meaning to watch this movie with you for over a year). A touching, feel-good movie about a group of teenage girls putting a band together for a school festival? It’s pretty much a crowd-pleaser, especially for feminist music geeks who like movies.

The plot is as follows: guitarist Kei Tachibana (Yuu Kashii), drummer Kyoko Yamada (Aki Maeda), and bassist Nozomi Shirakawa (Shiori Sekine of Base Ball Bear) have a band and are playing Hiiragi-sai, their school’s annual festival. They’ve got a great set list of covers from The Blue Hearts, a popular Japanese rock band. Problem is, their singer-guitarist has quit the band, leaving them down a frontwoman days before their gig. They need a replacement and are adamant about it being a girl. They decide on Son (Bae Doona), a shy exchange student from South Korea whose Japanese is shaky and has never sung in front of an audience before. They rise to the occasion, with a little bit of struggle and growing along the way. Might sound like familiar territory, but it’s totally delightful.

One thing I really enjoy about this movie is how rehearsal is central to the girls’ interactions. For one, the time and effort they spend in practive, is critical in any band learning how to play together and key to their homosocial interactions. While some movies might document a band’s progression in one “rockin'” montage, this movie devotes several scenes to the band’s improvement, as well as the frustrations and tensions that result from feeling like they’re not getting their sound right. In their first rehearsal, they muddle their way through The Blue Heart’s hit “Linda Linda,” only to giggle at how horrible it was before trying again. Later, we find the girls forced to practice quietly at Kei’s ex-boyfriend’s studio space well into the night.

I also enjoy their commitment to the band. While the girls do have ex-boyfriends and crushes, they choose to balance boys with other issues their band usually comes first. In a key scene, Son is asked out by a male classmate named Mackey at school. The rest of the girls look through the window of an abandoned classroom, watching their lead singer choose the band, and her friends, over some guy who happens to like her but that she doesn’t know.

Sometimes the band wears on the girls, and the movie reaches a climax when the girls have worked so hard that they collapse after an all-night practice that makes them late to their gig. Their ambitions sometimes eclipse reality, as is clearly evident with Kei dreams about opening for The Ramones while sleeping through much of the festival. Yet, their drive still gets them to the gig, with their talent ultimately ensuring a rousing success at the festival and the promise of this new band.

Kei Tachibana, future seasoned professional; image courtesy of cinemastrikesback.com

Kei Tachibana, future seasoned professional; image courtesy of cinemastrikesback.com

I do find the girls’ fandom of The Blue Hearts, whose songs they cover, to be quite interesting. For one, girls identifying with a fast, hard-rocking all-male rock band, while at no time talking about how cute certain members are, seems to suggest a wider range of possibilities for who can influence a girl. The band even goes so far as to call themselves Paran Maum, which is “blue hearts” in Korean (an indication of Son’s importance to the band). There’s a lot of talk on this blog about the importance of women and girls influencing one another in popular music. However, we shouldn’t short shrift what it means for girls finding their sound and voice through boys and men or ignore the progressive and possibly queer potential in girls identifying with boys. Like Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, and Sleater-Kinney before them, these girls don’t plug in and rock out to be with the band — they are the band and want to thrash just as hard as the boys.

Nozomi, Kyoko, and Kei help Son learn The Blue Hearts; image courtesy of cinemastrikesback.com

Nozomi, Kyoko, and Kei help Son learn The Blue Hearts; image courtesy of cinemastrikesback.com

And, of course, we cannot ignore the obvious queerness of an all-girl band who work closely together to perform a song clearly written for a girl from a boy and maintaining the boy’s words and intent. It’s where the movie gets its name and the band gets its purpose, after all.

As there are queer dimensions to the girls’ fandom, they also have an interesting relationship with fashion, ethnic identity, and music history, perhaps in some ways analogous to Mitsuko’s relationship to Elvis Presley and rockabilly fashion in Mystery Train. Kyoko rocks a Joan Jett-style mullet and weave punk fashion into their school wardrobe. She also shorten the length of her skirts, sport funky sneakers, and plays with accessories. Son and Nozomi opt out of fashion-plate status, feeling more comfortable in frumpy attire, while Kei prefers a more athletic, clean-cut look. In short, while they’re all required to abide by standardized dress, like many girls, they figure out a way to create and play with looks that better reflect their personality, and some are clearly influenced by rock music in constructing their identity.

Just as Paran Maum are influenced by The Blue Hearts, The Blue Hearts are clearly influenced by The Ramones. I don’t want to suggest that the Japanese cherrypick through relics and artifacts of bygone western pop culture because they are uniformly obsessed with American culture. For one, The Blue Hearts were active and popular in Japan during the late 80s and early 90s, in large part because they were heavily informed by classic British and American punk.

For another, The Ramones themselves had a similar relationship with their own American past, turning to surf rock and girl groups from the 50s and 60s. For them, while most 70s rock bands were trying to set a record for the longest organ solo, rock music needed the return of the three-minute pop song.

In addition, it’s worth pointing out that the movie itself has an interesting relationship with Japanese and American music culture via the presence of former Smashing Pumpkins’ guitarist James Iha, who is Japanese American and composed the movie’s instrumental tracks.

As this movie depicts a band’s need to improvise, make quick decisions, and embrace makeshift situations, encouraging girls to be independent thinkers, so to does it showcase ingenuity. A tremendous example of this for me is Son’s ability to find surprising rehearsal spaces like empty karaoke rooms in order to become more comfortable with her voice and the microphone. In a lesser movie, Son’s scene in the karaoke bar would come off as oppressively quirky. Here, I find it touching. We see a girl negotiating with a male employee over the room and witness her becoming increasingly comfortable, if not still a bit awkward, with her voice, an unfamiliar language, and a developing stage presence. That she’s doing it on her own, in a space she’s found for herself, seems as good an example as any of how girls have to be creative and free-thinking for the assurance of their own maturity.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen too many Japanese movies and have nothing more than a cursory, Criterion-approved understanding of Asian cinema, along with its influence and heterogenity. One thing that struck me is how much like a Wes Anderson movie Linda Linda Linda felt in terms of its reliance on long tracking shots, wide angles, deadpan humor, panoramic framing, and meditative pacing. That said, I hasten to add that Anderson has stated an indebtedness to the French New Wave and American directors like Hal Ashby, I’m assuming Japanese filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu left an impression as well. Having never seen an Ozu movie at the writing of this post (though I do have Good Morning at home), I can’t help but wonder if Linda Linda Linda is actually continuing its nation’s film tradition and that the only folks who’d argue an Andersonian influence are just Western viewers with a shallow scene of cinephilia.

I’m also not entirely clear about the nature of Japanese schools. I came through an underfunded, less-than-superlative Texas public school system. Thus, Paran Maum’s school seems like a tony liberal arts magnate where teenagers are given considerable support and resources for their artistic inclinations, thus implying that the students come from respectable middle- to upper-middle-class families. But I’m not sure if this high school is exceptional in Japan or an indication of the country’s to education and their status as an economic superpower. So while I initially feel the need to mention the classed dimensions of privilege that allow the girls the fine arts education and leisure time to form a band (instead of, say, take jobs or quit school to support their families), I don’t want to suggest that what I see as an American viewer is in accord with Japan’s classed realities.

That said, despite my unfamiliarity with Japanese culture and my clearly raced position as an American white woman, I felt the band’s ambition and spunk tremendously inspiring and universal for anyone wants to see girls tear it up. I rooted for them through their hard times and had a smile on my face when they plugged in and finally let it rip.

Like Kei, Im really glad Son is in the band; image courtesy of bateszi.animeuknews.net

Like Kei, I'm really glad Son is in the band; image courtesy of bateszi.animeuknews.net

Tomorrow’s fashion icons: Ebony Bones and Janelle Monáe

Today is my 26th birthday. I’d like to take this moment to celebrate two stellar talents and fashion icons-to-be in the music industry. It is not my intention to essentialize or tokenize, but I thought, in the wake of talking about Beth Ditto, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry, it might be nice to acknowledge the chic and gloriously out-there fashion contributions of women of color (who aren’t Rihanna, M.I.A., or Santigold). So look and listen! And if you’re like “what about _______?” or “you forgot _______,” please contribute.

Ebony Bones

Ebony Bones

British sensation Ebony Bones made a big debut at SXSW last year. I missed her, but luckily my friend Haylee didn’t, so if you get into Ms. Ebony Thomas’s post-apocalyptic punk-funk, thank her. To me, her clattering, cavernous sound contrasts perfectly with her vibrantly colored attire which oscillates between “society lady” and “road warrior”. I don’t think her debut album, Bone of My Bones, has come out here yet, though it’s already big in Japan. They’re onto something.

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monáe

Kansan up-and-comer Janelle Monáe recorded her first album back in 2003, but is just now starting to court mainstream attention. She’s since captured the attention of OutKast (who put her in Idlewild) and has gone on the road with No Doubt this summer. I really love her flair for the dramatic and her knack for weaving showtime and children’s music in her new wave sound and complimenting it with an androgynously glamorous, contemporarily retro look.

“I wish Kim Pine was my girlfriend”

Image of Kim Pine, courtesy of flickr

Image of Kim Pine, courtesy of flickr

I just finished the first five volumes of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim (not knowing that the final volume has yet to be released — yowzas, Vol. 5 drop-kicks you!). My friend Susan was good enough to let me borrow them — thanks, Susan!

The general premise is as follows: Scott Pilgrim is an aimless, jobless twenty-something Toronto resident with a band. He’s more than a bit scattered and commitment-phobic. At the beginning of the series, he dates a smitten Chinese Canadian teen (radly named Knives Chau), but falls hard for Ramona V. Flowers, an elusive American with ever-changing hair. In order to be together, he must defeat all seven of her evil ex-boyfriends in battle.

An otherwise mundane story about a guy and his social group quipping and shrugging toward adulthood, the series’ content clashes interestingly with its manga-influenced aesthetic and jarringly cut up with action sequences that hail the early Mario Brothers video games. Initially, the style was a little jarring, as the previous Oni Press title I had read was Local. Yes, the look is problematic, particularly in terms of how Japanese popular culture (manga, video games) are being used to tell the story of a primarily white group of young people. At the same time, being a twenty-something never seemed so fun, innocent, and lively. This is coming from someone who just signed a fat student loan check, so I appreciate these flights of fancy.

I’ll briefly launch into the reasons why I wanted to read it and why you might like it: 1) Edgar Wright is directing the feature adaptation, 2) Michael Cera is starring in it, and while his film work has been hit and miss for me, I’m still willing to see his movies, and 3) Scott Pilgrim is in a mixed-gender band, which I thought may be useful for this ol’ blog.

Now, if you’re a feminist and you’re like “ugh, I don’t really want to spend time and energy reading a comic about some slacker dude’s misadventures,” take comfort in Susan’s words to me. Like Luke Skywalker, Scott Pilgrim may be the protagonist, but in many ways, he’s the least exciting character. And, to me, the most interesting characters are all female. For the sake of specificity, I will focus on one of them — a firebrand drummer by the name of Kim Pine.

Now, the reasons why I should be in love with a comic book character are obvious to me. And not just because she reminds me of a girl I had a crush on in college. And I’m not alone.

To the right, a fan-made Kim Pine pin with a message that I quote in the entry title

To the right, a fan-made Kim Pine pin with a message that I quote in the entry title

For one, Kim Pine is the brains of the operation known as Sex-Bob-Omb. She’s rational, level-headed, practical, and responsible. There’s a reason she’s referred to as “The Smart One.”

She’s also “The Rhythm.” Importantly, she’s not the bass player (the role in the band that Scott actually occupies). She’s the drummer, and a pretty good one at that. Traditionally, women tend to be bassists if they play in a mixed-gender band (ex: Tina Weymouth, Kim Gordon, Kim Deal in The Pixies, etc.). They also tend to be the only female in a mixed-gender band. Pine is the only female in Sex-Bob-Omb, a speedy punk outfit, and she drives its beat.

Kim Pine on drums; Scott Pilgrim on bass

Kim Pine on drums; Scott Pilgrim on bass

Refreshingly, Pine does not suffer fools gladly, and usually not at all. But she does most of this without getting mad or even raising her voice. A withering look or a deadpan response is all that is required.

Kim Pine is not impressed with you

Kim Pine is not impressed with you

That said, she’s loyal to Scott, who she dated in high school but has no romantic feelings for as a woman in her early 20s. But she also challenges him, and doesn’t let him slack on her couch or get too mopey.

She’s also really good friends with Ramona. They have a stable, supportive relationship based on mutual understanding and respect. She also is shown having good relationships with her co-worker Holly and Lisa, an up-and-coming actress who also dated Scott in high school. Yay, steady female friendships!

Kim Pine and Ramona Flowers

Kim Pine and Ramona Flowers

Kim also works at the neighborhood video store. As someone whose opportunities in local media retail have always eluded her (probably because of my prediliction for button-up shirts), I’m always jealous of people who have cool, if not financially lucrative jobs. My friend Allison works at Waterloo and is happy to do it, not because of the pay, but because of the atmosphere, the sense of community, and the discount (also, I’d imagine, the free beer).

This aspect of Kim’s characterization was so great to me. Her job, along with the others that Scott’s friends occupy (barista, dishwasher, cook, courier, telemarketer), reminds me of some of my friends Joe/Jill jobs. None of Scott’s friends go to college (Kim talks about enrolling), but they still have access to the same kinds of shit jobs that many of my friends were qualified for after graduating college. None of the characters in Scott Pilgrim have “careers” in the traditional sense. Yet, despite this supposed lack of financial responsibility, these characters are trying hard to find some kind of creative outlet, suggesting the DIY spirit is alive and well in today’s twenty-somethings.

Also, duh. Kim’s really cute.

Apparently Alison Pill is playing Kim in the film adaptation and I’m excited. I especially hope we get to see her make out with Knives (along with another female character who engages in a lesbian relationship). Pill would certainly get more action than she did playing Harvey Milk’s uncharacteristically desexualized campaign manager Anne Kronenberg in Gus Van Sant’s otherwise great biopic.

Until the final volume reaches the bookshelves and the movie makes it to the multiplex, let’s enjoy The Wonderful World of Kim Pine, courtesy of O’Malley’s flickr.

Records that made me a feminist – Viva! La Woman, by Alyx

Cover of Viva! La Woman, released in 1996 on Warner Bros.

Cover of Viva! La Woman, released in 1996 on Warner Bros.

Some super-smart feminist friends have been talking about records and musicians that made them feminists lately and it makes me wanna wax nostalgic too. I’m really excited to be talking about Viva! La Woman, one of many albums that made me a feminist but the first that left quite an indelible impression. I basically put this blog together so that I could, at some point, thank Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda for blowing my mind. Thanks, ladies.

Right before I turned 13, I saw the video for “Know Your Chicken” on 120 Minutes, which was the pinnacle of my pre-teen Sunday nights. This video, with the two amazingly cool ladies bolted me upright. I’d get to the clip’s deliberately cheap aesthetic style and its parodying of both the sitcom and the genre’s gendered relational dynamics later. In junior high, I just needed to find out who the ladies were.

Sunday, the day of ritual for many, was also one for me. At 7 p.m., Houston’s alternative station (then Rocket 107.5 the Buzz, now 94.5 the Buzz) would broadcast “Lunar Rotation,” where director David Sadoff would play new stuff and oldies that didn’t make into heavy rotation. At 10, the station would broadcast “Modern Rock Live,” KROQ’s syndicated call-in program. Finally, at midnight, the station would have an hour of “whatever” programming. Usually, some guest would play whatever they wanted. The one that most immediately comes to mind was Self’s Matt Mahaffey serving as guest deejay, playing album cuts from Portishead’s Dummy. It never mattered, because it was always white noise for 120 Minutes, which ran the coolest, newest videos that never aired on MTV during the day.

In terms of feminist reflections on my girlhood, Sunday was this fantastical time where I could hang out in my room (usually playing Nintendo, sometimes reading, sometimes making wall collages out of clippings from Seventeen) and wrap my head around some new music. This was a bit hard to do as my hometown is a bit removed from much of anything new.

But Fridays on MTV gave me another place to access this beguiling song, via their short run of Squirt TV, originally a New York-based public access show that my boyfriend, Jake Fogelnest, would record in his bedroom. Liz Phair also came onto Fogelnest during the show’s MTV run, but Liz will get her own post when I write about my 17th birthday. For now, let’s watch Cibo Matto perform live.

And then they were on House of Style, eating dessert. Then the video for “Sugar Water” came out, which left such an impression that I wrote an entire section of my thesis on it. A short time after that, they were getting a write-up in Rolling Stone, with their album’s genre-melding, cut-and-paste sound being favorably compared (however problematically) to fugu. I would later come to call my college radio show “Cheesecake or Fugu” in tribute. And there they were on my stepbrother’s Tibetan Freedom Concert CD, a bit later, when I was a freshman, yelling “shut up so we can eat, too bad no bon appétit!”

So, even though they were on a major label and being promoted on MTV and Rolling Stone, Cibo Matto seemed like they were from Japan based in New York transmitted from the moon. And yet, they’ve followed me everywhere since, making themselves familiar, like a home.

All this hype, but I didn’t get the album until Christmas sophomore year, when I was 15. I wanted the purchase of this album to be special. When I finally got it, I spent hours ignoring the paperback of Wuthering Heights I had to read for school (which also made me a feminist, in opposition) so I could study the album’s packaging. Mike Mills’s cover alone was empowering — the curvy, muscular, perhaps multi-ethnic superwoman standing proudly in her gold bikini and sandals. And the curvilinear sketches that accompanied the lyric sheet was elegant and beguiling. But for me, it was all about the inlay image underneath the disc.

Viva! La Woman inlay

Viva! La Woman inlay

While this image was shot in New York, it looked like another world to me alone in my bedroom in Alvin, Texas. I wanted to know everyone in this scene and be their friends. I wanted to know where Yuka and Miho got those bikes and dresses. I wanted to listen to all of the records people were pouring over. And I actually did pull my stepbrother’s skateboard out of the garage, busting my ass as I attempted to use it. But more than that, I wanted the confident cool that these two women possessed.

The older I get, the more comfortable I feel with myself, and I feel much of this is indebted to Cibo Matto, especially this first album, as to me its basically a declaration for the powers, pleasures, and peculiarities of femaleness. One need only look to the title.

The concept of the album is important. “Concept album” as a construct tends to make me shudder, thinking about bearded dudes noodling with guitars and piles of synthesizers and writing tiresome odes to alienation, but, indeed, Viva! La Woman is a concept album. About food. Eating food. Each track, with the exception of “Theme,” is named after food and all of the songs mention eating or being consumed as if they were food. More times than not, it’s about eating instead of being eaten.

And OMG, they did something totally dirty with their cover of “Candyman,” turning the original, which I always found oppressively, creepily cheerful, and turning into some kind of porn soundtrack/trip hop/bossa nova thing, complete with sampled moaning (*blush*).

On that tack, this album is super-sexy, in ways both obvious and difficult to process. Perhaps it suggests that Asian and Asian American women don’t reflect the limited, servile, infantalized depictions others have circulated at their expense. With “White Pepper Ice Cream,” a slow, rollicking bass line accompanies lines like “black and white, Bonnie and Clyde” suggesting that women and girls can occupy both within themselves at once. And with “Theme,” the album’s centerpiece, what begins as a short story about a chance encounter with a handsome stranger while vacationing in Milan becomes a blind-folded S&M session that collapses into muffled, breathy coos; the music reflects the narrative changes at every turn. I didn’t know what to do with this as a teenager, and am still trying to figure it out as an adult.

Thinking about the constant stylistic shifting that goes on in the album’s instrumentation, I guess the duo’s sample-happy approach brings us to another feminist awakening: everything is connected. Beck gets a lot of credit, via Odelay, for helping set to tone for popular music’s comfort with hybridity the 90s (of course borrowing from The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, bringing on The Dust Brothers as producers). I won’t dispute that. But I’d like to add this album (along with Pavement’s Wowee Zowee and Björk’s Post) into the discussion. If mention wants to be made of the group’s gender, ethnicity, and their relationship with hip hop, so much the better.

Cibo Matto’s use of quotation and musical association was crucial to defining the era, but also bespoke the duo’s attitudes toward femaleness. Because connectedness doesn’t just apply to how they built tracks, but also in how they wrote lyrics. Once again, everything is connected. In “Sugar Water,” black cats crossing one’s path is cosmically linked to a woman in the moon singing to the Earth. Extrapolating further, everything is connected and everything is informative. The personal is not only political, but educational.

And finally, I really enjoy the album’s weirdness. I say this not as a way to other the Japanese American women responsible for its creation or to announce my whiteness alongside it. Literally, the album is packed with memorable, weird, sometimes shouted non sequitors that serve as the songs’ hooks. For example, in “Beef Jerky,” the chorus is “Who cares? I don’t care? A horse’s ass is better than your’s.” In “Know Your Chicken” the bridge is “spare the rod and spoil the chick before you go and shit a brick.” And of course, “Birthday Cake” contains the much-quoted line “extra sugar, extra salt, extra oil and the MSG — shut up so we can eat, too bad no bon appétit!” I like to think moments like this suggest the possibilities to rupture, critique, and find humor in living life female.

And sometimes songs don’t end. A song like “Beef Jerky” concludes with the elliptical phrase “let’s eat carrots together until . . .” Indeed, life doesn’t end. It simply builds on itself, layer by layer, line by line, sample by sample. I can’t wait to discover what I find in this record when I’m 35.