Filed under: Music, Uncategorized | Tags: Music, Post-Punk, Punk, Teddy and the Frat Girls
I know that to anyone who might stumble across this blog it may very well seem dead. Well, it isn’t. Not yet. I have yet to give up on the Fist…even though the updates have beem few and far between. Yes their are other responsibilities/distractions, yes there is the persistence of writer’s block. I don’t give up that easy, and I would like the Ovarian Fist to thrive.
Having said that…
How About a Quickie?
Come on girls, we all know it.
Yes, even the most pragmatic of feminists can possess that ever ingrained dualistic conflict; that sneer-inducing, panty-twisting, push-him-down-on-the-playground ideal that some men–some boys–just stink.
And while some of us may plant our feet into the notion that both men and women should be treated equal–that that’s what real feminism is about–There are some of those dull-eyed and drooling creatures out there that we simply can’t stand. These are the cavemen that still roam the streets today; the unrefined masses of men that still grunt when they want something and cry when they don’t get it. Like a baby searching for a teat (a surprisingly accurate simile) they clutch their lewd little fists about them to grasp anything they can get and they’ll only be calmed by the sight of “boobies”. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, really.
Anyways, these louts are a problem that many women have had to deal with for eons, and it’s something that we’ll most likely always endure. There may not be an antidote, but the consolation prize is at hands, my friends. We can content ourselves with the fact that we at least have the women out there that have grown so tired of this oafish behavior that they choose to sing (or shriek, scream, and growl) about it, and hey, we get to sing along with them.
Teddy and the Frat Girls’ “I Wanna Be a Man” might remind you of all those brutes you’ve had to put up with over the course of your life, but it’ll also provide the angry feminists out there (or any woman who has ever had to say “I’m up here“, really) with a few quick quips and jabs right back at the ogres of the world. You will be disgusted, but then you will be delighted. Don’t be surprised if you sing along to this one in the car while wearing your most terrifying playground face ever.
Yes, men and women should be treated equal, blah blah blah. Now go find a brute and castrate him!
Teddy and the Frat Girls may have only released one album, it may only have consisted of five songs, but that little album is a sublime blast from the post-punk era. Their sound ranges from LiLiPUT to Bikini Kill, Essential Logic to the rantings of performance artist Karen Finley. There’s a little taste of it all in there; hints of modern riot grrrl, the shriekings of Lydia Lunch, the strangeness of The Slits and the obscurity of the best and rarest swedish female punk bands that you’ve never heard of. It’s one of the oddest things I’ve heard in awhile, and thus one of the best. Give them a listen!
Filed under: Music | Tags: Indie Rock, Music, Scout Niblett, The Calcination of Scout Niblett
Women Who Rock: The Testimony of Scout
Some women you can’t help but fall in love with a few times over, no matter how hard you may try. Of course, some women are thoroughly a pleasure to fall in love with again and again, and those you succumb to with renewed fever and a revived sense of elation.
I fall in love with Scout Niblett a little bit more every time I hear a song of hers, and I know I’m not the only one. After all, who could possibly resist those nudging dark eyes and that hopelessly homeless attire? It would be cliché to compare her to a siren, though her wailing vocals do lead me straight to her citadel each and every time my ears catch a hitch of her resonant howls.
And yet here I am once again; Scout has released a vibrant new musical endeavor and I welcome it with open ears. I hadn’t even known that a new work was in the midst until it was here, suddenly grinning up at me from my copy of Bust (hey, I read it for the music and book reviews. Everett True’s “First Ladies of Rock” is a brilliant installment). Of course I plugged right in, and of course I was contented. Scout never fails to deliver.
As always, on The Calcination of Scout Niblett Scout works on the constant battle between spatial silence and ardent guitar work (that or deep, hounding drums), Thematically she continues to inject her soothsaying vocals into each song, assuring us that she “knew this was going to happen,” whatever “this” may be. She’s there, she’s been there, and now she wallows in it like an experienced soul. This may sound like the same Scout to you, but I assure you that it isn’t. Not entirely. This Scout took a pilgrimage to Anywhere and came back fiercer than ever.
Indeed, there is something slightly different about The Calcination. This album is more self-certain. Scout acknowledges herself in the strongest of ways, especially in songs such as “The Calcination of Scout Niblett”. She beats her guitar like usual, sways her vocals like a stray cat, and howls her way into the night of self-made rock and roll. She’s calcifying her own creative bones. She often invokes the gist of it all with one “yeah”, whether it’s wily and free or restrained and cornered. It soars, no matter the context. She waves to you on the cover of her album, blowtorch in hand, telling you without a doubt that she’s making changes and you’re going to have to participate or abstain. Perhaps you should just sit back and watch, lest you get burned.
Scout, you see, is simply becoming an expert at what she does best. You can hear the years that have passed since Sweetheart Fever and I Am, and even the more recent This Fool Can Die Now. Scout is refining her grit to a tee. She’s managed to keep her spirit and her fire, though she’s becoming less like the frumpy street corner soothsayer and more like the certified sirenic prophet (still homeless, though).
Old favorites like “Drummer Boy” and “Miss My Lion” now seem like build-ups to this present Scout, surefire rungs in the ladder upward and onward. Progressions as it should be, not settlements or creative compromises. A certain logical refinement, a growing and spreading like branches. You always have the roots, of course; they cannot be forgotten. If you simply stick to the roots, however, you’ll never see any visible growth. Like so many of the best artists Scout has her roots, she’s built herself a steady trunk, and now she’s simply working on her branches.
Emma Louise Niblett, you have my heart. Please do abuse it like one of your guitars.
Also, please indulge in this awesome video:
Scout Niblett featuring Bonnie Prince Billy- Kiss
Filed under: Uncategorized
For those who are actually following The Ovarian Fist (if there are any of you out there), I apologize for my recent lack of updates. My attentions have been focused on other activities these past few weeks, namely a book review for PopMatters and that oh so wonderful schoolwork. As a consolation of sorts (and to prove that I am indeed still living) here is a small update, a themed music post in the form of female song covers. Enjoy!
Women Who Rock
Babes in Toyland- All By Myself (Eric Carmen cover)
Hole- Season of the Witch (Donovan cover)
PJ Harvey- Highway ’61 Revisited (Bob Dylan cover)
Free Kitten- Party With Me Punker (Minutemen cover)
Kristin Hersh- Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)
Quix*o*tic- Lord of This World (Black Sabbath cover)
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Ana Mendieta, Female Artists, Silueta Series
Ana Mendieta became one with the earth in her lifetime, a feat that I can only hope to experience. She lay down in the bare arms of the dirt and created her angel-like molding; she crouched down in the mud and clawed to build up a form that she could recognize as herself. She worked, diligently, to reconstruct a version of herself that she could identify and then analyze, perhaps one she could look back to with pride. She could revisit these versions of herself over time, see how they cultivated with the earth and evolved, how they grew and stretched—roots and branches spreading wildly fertile. She planted herself like a shrine in the soils of Mexico, carving herself into rock walls and leaving her muddied frame floating in the river. Like those of an ancient time she constructed a familiar silhouette, hoping for a transcendental acquiescence.
It’s not surprising that one would compare the natural works of the Silueta series to archaic images of the past; it is, in fact, a connection that is often made in regards to Mendieta’s work. The simple human form, the use of organic materials such as mud, stones, and animal blood, the prayer-like pose of arms raised to the sky–all are certainly reminiscent of the simple sculptures and paintings that date back to ancient Mesopotamia and art from the Paleolithic period. The supreme beauty of Mendieta’s work, however, is that it offers itself to be interpreted in such a wide variety of ways. The Silueta series (as well as other similar projects of Mendieta’s) can most certainly house a number of diverse and ubiquitous meanings; common themes include a connection to nature, a sense of spirituality, an homage to the female body, and the undeniable presence of death.
Surely, I would say, that one most always feels that choking sensation of death when they view pieces of the Silueta series; at a fleeting glance nearly all of Mendieta’s work has that certain shadow over it, that foreboding sense of something that we’ve all come to know but have yet to experience. Many of the pieces resemble dug graves, bloody murder scenes, even crucifixions. When one observes the animalistic one can’t help but feel the pervading awareness that death isn’t far behind, just as a wild animal is aware of every deep shadow and cracking twig in proximity.
Though Mendieta’s trademark earthworks do often seem to embrace motifs of death (a figure in the ground, a body in the river, a bloodied form pitted in the sand) her Silueta series can attest to life as well. One can perceive both of these two definitive opposites in each silhouette piece, depending upon whether or not one chooses to analyze the metaphorical “light” or “dark” of the piece.
The example shown above is a popular image in regards to the Silueta series, one of a few favorites that are often used as a kind of synopsis of Mendieta’s whole span of work. Of course, one can quite easily identify the elements of the piece that would evoke thoughts of death; the figure seems to have been dug as a shallow grave and is covered in what appears to be copious amounts of blood. The pose of the form can easily be interpreted as one who has fallen—but it could also be the posture of one who is rising. Blood may usually be associated with death and injury, but let us not forget the manner in which we first entered this world. And while we ourselves may not come from the ground, it is an indisputably vast resource of life and there are countless living things that do. In this manner, this piece that was once crooning a death song is now testifying to life and fertility.
Indeed, one cannot even consider death without first considering life. Just as with light and shadow, life and death are dependent on each other for existence. Life must inevitably end in death and death could not occur without life. Because of this intertwining cycle that is never-ending, both life and death begin to blur into one innate being, one solitary form of existence. Life and death, you see, are just two sides of the same monster.
Was this Mendieta’s intention when she formed her earthworks? As she crouched in the mud and began to see that human silhouette coming to life beneath her hands, was she considering all the possible interpretations of her pieces? Probably not. I would say, though, that when one creates a valuable work of art it has the ability to surpass the artist’s intentions. When one creates something so beautifully profound then that work can have the ability to grow on its own, maybe not physically but certainly in the minds of others. As it absorbs new meanings like water it can expand and extend outward, comparable to a body of branches or an intrinsic root system.
Mendieta’s pieces are alive; it isn’t a rowdy, ecstatic life but a quiet, modest life like that found in nature. As one stands in a forest one might be aware of the fact that they sit alone, of the stillness around them, but they are also aware of a sort rhythm in the air, subtle like that of a chest gently rising and falling—breathing. Many of Mendieta’s pieces do breathe, and those that don’t seem to have at least had their day. One may even get the sense that these natural creations understand the relativity of life and death themselves, perhaps through a kind of personal experience. Indeed, any piece in the Silueta series can make the statement, “Someone has died here”, but they also have the ability to say, “I lived here”.
I want to leave my mark like that. I want to lay me down in the dirt and expect myself to grow and evolve, to cultivate, to germinate, to expand. I want to expect myself to organically develop over time so that I may come back to a form that I can recognize, yet admire. Can I leave myself behind so that I might evolve into something worth respecting? Can I leave a piece of my organic form to the soil so that I may germinate, mold, develop into something significant, something remarkable?
Ana Mendieta managed this somehow. She held the key. She lay the blueprints down of her own emotional self, of her own body, to stitch them into a time that they could exist when she ceased to live on. She sutured her soul into an instance where it could lie permanently in wait for the future, where it could grow and become unruly with nature like hair or fingernails. There her body, mind, and soul might conform to the constraints of time, but not those of society. There, Ana Mendieta managed to prepare herself for anything; she managed to provide herself (whether she was aware of it or not) with a way that she could deal with both life and death while still addressing the rest of us. Though these pieces do not reflect my own personal silhouette, their form does bear just enough resemblance, just enough familiarity to me that a kind of comfort is extended in my direction. The rest of us can still extract some consolation from these pieces because those simple, roughly human forms are so damn predictable that we can’t help but feel we are a part of the analogy. Through this common shadow we all become links on the chain, and we are all awarded a little taste of that sense of oneness.
More from the Silueta Series:
Filed under: Music | Tags: Adickdid, Allison Wolfe, Bratmobile, Cold Cold Hearts, Corin Tucker, Heavens to Betsy, Kaia Wilson, Music, Punk, Riot Grrrl, Sleater-Kinney, Team Dresch, The Butchies
Women Who Rock
Allison Wolfe. Kaia Wilson. Corin Tucker. Your mouth watering yet?
If you haven’t heard these names until now, then it’s about time you catch up on your studies of “women who kick ass”. Corin Tucker, the wailing-flailing insistence of Sleater-Kinney. Kaia Wilson, the pioneer of nearly every female queercore band that has mattered. Allison Wolfe, the bitch-bouncing, catty head cheerleader of Bratmobile. All of these women have made a significant difference in contemporary female punk, and all of these women have contributed to numerous projects on the side. It can send the mind spinning when one takes into consideration how these different notable females can intertwine, weaving in and out of gigs with each other like bored and curious teenagers in a suffocatingly small town (or, perhaps, like the few lesbians in my high school who took turns dating each other because there wasn’t anything or anyone else).
I began my young feminist career observing the obvious deities; Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney and The Butchies. I got down on my knees for Tobi Vail, bowed my head for Allison Wolfe, and crossed my heart for Kathleen Hanna. As much as I love riot grrrl, I will openly admit that one can delve only so deep into these few examples (that is to say, the projects–not the women). Riot grrrl was certainly a comfy seat for me, but it wasn’t long before I began to feel the thirst again. I craved that high that one experiences, that enigmatic rush when one happens upon a new band or sound that is just damn right. So, inevitably, like one who is always searching to trump what one has already found, I dug deeper. I’ve rummaged through an impressive amount of female punk bands since then and have happened upon some interesting results. Without much research I plugged into bands like Heavens to Betsy, Excuse 17, Cold Cold Hearts and The Frumpies, never really aware of the fact that I was tuning into the same heroines all over again–just coupled in different pairings and wearing different wigs. In most cases, I was surprised to find that I actually preferred the obscurer of the projects.
This leads us once again to the three women exclusively named at the forefront of this review. These three women are prime examples of such an occurrence; I enjoyed them—ravished them all in their primary bands and then experienced a second coming once I dug deeper into their careers (though an accidental discovery, it may have been). Because I am a person that likes to analyze, I am also a person that likes to compare. Today I intend on making a comparison of two notable projects from each of these females; I intend on providing you all with an example of what they’re usually affiliated with and what I think they should be most affiliated with. These are all opinions, of course, and may not be perceived in the same light by each individual. That being said, on to the ladies!
The first I heard of Kaia Wilson was the faux-punk hopping of The Butchies’ song “Trouble”; a fun ride but one that provides nothing more than a slight sugar buzz. Like with Gina Young, I was initially stimulated by the fact that The Butchies sang about sharing love with a woman and how pretty other girls were—out loud! This is a flimsy plank to stand on, however, and I jumped ship as soon as the giddiness wore off. Through the Butchies I came across the perhaps more popular Team Dresch, which certainly provided me with less feelings of pop-ridden guilt and more of a sense that I was ‘rocking out’. With Team Dresch I got the same excitement of listening to women sing about women, this time minus the insubstantial cuteness of songs like “Send Me You” and “She’s So Lovely”, ditties so sweet that they ultimately leave you feeling a bit on the sick side.
I’m not sure just what took place, but after a brief period of enthusiasm I steamrolled right through Team Dresch, too. One by one the songs were removed from my iPod to make space for newer tunes that held more interest. Some songs that I had originally enjoyed began to grate on my nerves, and I skipped past the remaining few when ‘shuffle’ offered to play them. After a period of little to no Kaia Wilson in my life, I happened upon Adickdid. I’ll admit that it’s a slightly new endeavor for me and I have yet to fully immerse myself in the music, but I like what I hear. I’m not going to make the argument that Adickdid is any more substantial than The Butchies or Team Dresch, but it certainly is rougher and that’s something I’ll get behind.
Team Dresch songs like “Freewheel” give one the sense that the guitars are in charge, that they’re vibrating uncontrollably in the arms of the musicians and they’re just doing their best to hold on. Conversely, songs by Adickdid generate the perception that the instruments are being beaten to death– not played. It’s the difference between an animal that is wild with freedom and one that is abused to the point of rebellion–and one most always finds it easier to identify with the abused than the free.
Cold Cold Hearts’ “State Trooper in the Left Lane, Nattles!”, a song title that finds it hard to be taken seriously, and honestly shouldn’t be. At the opening of the song the drums march, the guitar makes an accusation, and the bass vibrates in your gut. In comes Wolfe’s vocals, sweet and bitter like marmalade- “So yeah, I’m coming downtown with a baseball bat”. All of it follows the true to life riot grrrl fashion; One can only imagine a small party of girls on a stage wearing suspiciously short skirts and Mary Janes, tights and scowls and guitars that look just a little too big.
The thing is, though, that I will take it a little too seriously and listen to the opening of this song over and over. There is something so handcrafted about it, so DIY that I can’t help but feel strangely empowered. The lyrics are nothing special, the music may be on the tedious side, but the riot grrrl mentality thrives. For me it was a nice change from the recital-like deliverance of Bratmobile; I always imagined a well-rehearsed Allison Wolfe at the head of the stage with pom-poms, kicking and scowling in time as originally planned. That isn’t to say that this song is void of such a vision; it’s not. Wolfe’s interluding string of “oh yeah”s isn’t far from the initial Bratmobile image of a tousled girl brigade, but the song reminds me a bit more of the unseatbelted strangeness of Bikini Kill (Which I’ve always preferred to Bratmobile and consider to be the epitome of riot grrrl) . In short, you aren’t completely sure about what you’re going to encounter around the next corner, and its certainly more interesting than determining the entire song from just the first few notes (see “What’s Wrong With You?”).
Certainly, I will always have a soft spot for Sleater-Kinney. Their self-titled debut album ranks at the top of my list of riot grrrl masterpieces, along with mainstays like Bikini Kill’s Pussy Whipped and The Raincoats’ self-titled from 1980 (yes, it predates riot grrrl, but it’s still very important). It’s not a band that needs plugging, however, and so I won’t be preaching the significance of that record. I have something else in mind.
Before Corin Tucker set her high-powered yowl to Sleater-Kinney greatness she pitched her vocals a’wailing for the one album wonder Heavens to Betsy–and don’t you forget it. There may only be one record, but it’s a damn good one. The guitars buzzed, the drums vibrated, and Corin Tucker wailed like she was performing an exorcism on herself. I hate to say it (and I almost feel like I’m breaking some riot grrrl taboo—though surely that line was crossed when I dismissed Bratmobile), but in my mind Calculated surpasses any one of the albums produced by Sleater-Kinney. Yes, this includes the debut. Though Heavens to Betsy precedes Sleater-Kinney, the album Calculated still appears to be just one step ahead. When Sleater-Kinney cheers, Heavens to Betsy howls. When Sleater-Kinney gets angry, Heavens to Betsy gets revenge. When Sleater-Kinney bites, Heavens to Betsy castrates.
Heavens to Betsy is what happens when Sleater-Kinney is on its last nerve. When one listens to the song “Terrorist” one gets the feeling that the whole song is coming at you, staring you down, and challenging you to back up your words with valid action. The guitars hold their ground, Tucker challenges you to a fight, and the drums chant, “finish them!”
Never before has Corin Tucker seemed so dangerous, and never has she seemed so damn free.
It does seem to be a strangely common occurence; many artists leave behind the sinewy gristle of their old projects for a smoother, more accessible sound—as if that’s progress. Kathleen Hanna went from Bikini Kill to Le Tigre, Kaia Wilson “traded up” from Adickdid to The Butchies, and Courtney Love went from classic Hole to…whatever she’s doing now. It’s as if a certain amount of experience comes with a certain decrease in passion, as if the more one takes part in such projects the more one forgets how expressing real emotion actually feels. You either experience a short (yet abrasive) career, or you watch yourself become an empty vessel, a brittle shell of plastic with no warm marrow to cushion your bones. I don’t see the improvement from early Sleater-Kinney to the release of The Woods, and I definitely don’t see the improvement from Calculated to Sleater-Kinney. All I can really do is revisit these brief gasps of sheer life and intensity and wish that they had held up just a little bit longer. This is why I will continue to meander about the Internet for any obscurity that can quench my thirst; I will always be looking for the ghosts of Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker, Allison Wolfe and Kaia Wilson, Tobi Vail and Gina Birch.
Filed under: Art | Tags: 100 Boots, Eleanor Antin, Female Artists, Photography
Photographer Eleanor Antin may be considered a rather distinguished female artist, but that doesn’t mean you’ve heard of her. Like with many female artists through the decades, Antin is one of the names incanted among scholars of the arts and those that go on an all out “women in art” witch hunt. You can find her, but the trouble is that you have to know who and what you’re looking for beforehand. See the problem here?
There should be no “secret club” of information, no “magic words” (perhaps chanting “Judy Chicago” three times fast?) that one needs to know in order to access the talents of these spectacular females. All of this information should be readily available and supported by cultural society. This is not to say that male artists gain a lavish amount of praise in our society; it’s true that artists as a collective group are under appreciated and seldom discussed in the general public. Having said that, I can bet you that for every male artist that does happen to become a household name (Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ansel Adams) there is a handful of women you will never learn of (Alice Neel, Carolee Schneeman, Ana Mendieta, Eleanor Antin) that you most certainly should learn of. The only solution to this problem is, of course, to discuss these women more often and integrate them into popular art culture, and that is precisely what this blog is meant to do. Being a student of the arts, I am just one of those folks that were lucky enough to be granted a covert pass into the female artist “motherload” (was that a pun? I can’t tell). Eleanor Antin is one of the many talented women that I had the great opportunity to learn of, and she is most certainly a woman that is worth discussing.
Eleanor Antin might be best known for her recent satirical mock-history work (Helen’s Odyssey, The Last Days of Pompeii) but it is her conceptual work of the early 70’s that leaves the greatest impression on me. Though I do admire her famous conceptual piece Carving: A Traditional Sculpture, it is one of those works that is so often discussed as a staple of modern feminist art that I won’t be saying much about it. It is, of course, worth the praise, but it doesn’t need the publicity. What I will be focusing on is the lesser known (yet equally groundbreaking) photo series, 100 Boots.
In 1970 Eleanor Antin thirsted to create a hero. She longed to construct her own modern day Odysseus and send him on a grand epic adventure (not through the vast treacheries of ancient Greece, but at least over the abundant California countryside). It was in her sleep that this desired protagonist materialized for the first time—Antin dreamt of 100 boots facing the sea. The very next day she got to work making her vision a reality; she traveled to her local Army Navy surplus store and purchased 100 black, empty boots, all of them blank slates ready to be filled with purpose and character.
The result? 100 identical black boots that find themselves on a wily adventure; breaking laws, scaling the organic countryside, engaging in warfare and ending up in the smoke-and-steel plains of New York City. Eleanor Antin describes the evolution of this epic visual narrative in a small introduction at the beginning of the 100 Boots book collection:
…We took 100 Boots down to the beach to look at the sea. We took him to the market, the bank, and the church. He seemed to be a good suburbanite. But sometimes he looked restless rounding a corner to nowhere. He began to champ at the bit, and, ignoring a “No Trespassing” sign, he climbed over the chain-link-fence protecting a power transformer. He had committed his first crime and had to hit the road. He caught a ride in an old Ford Falcon. Later he reappeared in a meadow, hanging out with the cows…and 100 Boots was on his way to his next adventure.
Perhaps the most inventive aspect of this piece is Antin’s method of getting her work out to the public; she sent each photograph of 100 Boots’ legacy to a random list of spectators as postcards through the mail. For three years various households across America received a visual update of 100 Boots’ progress, while an increasing number of people asked to be added to the mailing list. For many people the regular postcards began to become like the expected letters from a loved one, a welcome update and “wish you were here” from an old friend. “…the time of the mailings intersected with people’s lives,” Antin elaborates. “It spilled out of their mailboxes along with bills, letters, newspapers, Christmas cards, divorce papers. They could tape it to the fridge, tuck it away in a drawer, throw it in the trash”. Because of this imaginative method, Antin managed to create a work of art that she could integrate into the lives of others, one that could grow and evolve over time just as the individual viewers did.
The following are just a few of my favorites from the collection of 51 photos:
Unfortunately, this collection is not very easy to come by. Resources on the internet are sparse and often of low quality, and the book form of the collection has been discontinued. Unless one happens to live near MoMA (New York’s Museum of Modern Art) or was fortunate enough to be on the original mailing list, one can really only attempt to find a used copy of the book (23 copies are currently available on Amazon with prices ranging from $12.85 to a surprising $96.39).
Section on Women Who Rock will be posted later in the week.
Filed under: Literature, Music | Tags: Folk Rock, Gina Young, Lesbian, Michelle Tea, Music, Punk, Riot Grrrl, Women's Literature
“You’re Right Where You Should Be, Now Act Like It”
I’ve always been a regular library-goer, a borderline librarian wannabe. Even when I was in high school I dragged myself down to the school library daily, skimming the limited shelves for something new and interesting, any title or book cover that could catch my eye. Once I had just about memorized each and every book in the fiction section of the school’s supply I expanded my discoveries to include the little library by my house.
At my school library I had only gotten a taste of of the literature that could be, a tiny vial drop on the tip of my tongue of what the world had to offer in the means of women’s literature. Upgrading from the narrow and confining shelves of my school to the rows and rows of unexplored fiction of the public library was a bit daunting, but it was a challenge that was welcome. Like exploring a new land, I wandered up and down each shelf for something to reach out and tug on my sleeve, to draw me in and choose me as a reader.
It didn’t take long. As if approaching a shrine I slowly made my way up to one shelf in particular, to one book amongst so many of much brighter colors and much more fantastic typefaces. My feet took me there, my eyes found the title, my hands grabbed the book, and all of this happened as if preordained. Rose of No Man’s Land, it read.
I found my dad in one of the odd and awkwardly small sections, religion or health or maybe even “large print”.
Found something? he asked. I nodded. I think so.
If I could name one woman to you that has undoubtedly influenced me, I would most certainly name Michelle Tea in the first regime. At that time in my life I had had my fill of Go Ask Alice-type books; novels that contained the tired formula of “young teen treads off the beaten path, ruins life, ruins family, loses everything/dies a horrible death”. I knew that ‘certain behaviors’ had ‘certain circumstances’, but I also knew that most young adults reacted with the timeless ‘eye roll’ when they were presented with this formula. One was curious and couldn’t help but ask: But what about those who didn’t succumb to this famous synopsis?
In Michelle Tea’s Rose of No Man’s Land the main character Trisha experiences just such a night of exciting (and frightening) debauchery, indulging in all the self-destructive habits that are so popular at that age. In fact, the entire second half of the book is concerned with this one night– up until the very end. At the end of the novel the exhausted Trisha simply walks home. How refreshing, I thought, that one could experience so much in such a short period of time and still remain oneself (more or less). Unlike the majority of young adult fiction out there Michelle Tea was not shoveling morals; she was only concerned with telling a story.
This was my first impression of Tea, but it is not why I find her decidedly important. Though I’ve continued to find her individual stories refreshing it is the style in which she writes them that has had the most impact on me as a writer and an artist. Michelle Tea’s writing consists of an overtly raw and sinewy honesty, complimented by an introspective humor and enhanced by an unconventionally descriptive voice. She is the corroded queen of the back alley, the silver-spewing siren of a strange mix of pop culture and battery acid. Both a writer and a poet, Tea has already turned out a slightly impressive amount of novels in a relatively small period of time, and she doesn’t show any signs of relenting just yet. When she’s not writing herself she gives a leg up to other promising authors; In 1994 she co-founded the “legendary all-girl spoken word show ‘Sister Spit‘, and she’s also created Radar Productions, a non-profit organization designed to help young authors in the San Francisco area.
Among the list of Tea’s accomplishments are autobiography-like novels such as Valencia (which she won a Lambda award for) and The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, an official memoir titled The Chelsea Whistle, and one graphic novel with the title of Rent Girl. She’s also had her poetry collected and published in one book, The Beautiful. I wish that I could sit here and present sample after sample of her writings and poetry, but I’m not going to do that for sensible reasons. I can, however, help point you in the right direction.
In my opinion, her autobiography The Chelsea Whistle is one of her best put together works. Though Valencia is usually her most discussed (and argued) novel, it’s hard for me to construct a full and coherent review of it. Valencia tends to be one of those novels that is either ardently treasured or utterly hated, and I find myself confusedly on the fence. It is a lot to take in and a lack of information all at once, leaving the reader intrigued but ultimately disconnected. Because of this, I will instead provide a small excerpt from The Chelsea Whistle. This excerpt is from the opening portion of the novel, which I’ve always considered memorable and effective.
The Chelsea Whistle, “Sicko”:
“Childhood is morbid. That’s a word that I learned from my mother. You kids are morbid, she said, spying on me and my sister, small Madeline, playing with our cousin Allen, who everyone said was going to turn out gay from all the dolls his grandmother bought him. It was the era of “William Wants a Doll,” a tune that didn’t quite reach Chelsea, Massachusettes, a town five minutes from Boston that might as well have been five hours, five days. People in Chelsea went to neighboring towns like Revere, Everett, East Boston–similarly connected to the big city and all its culture but, like Chelsea, sealed off, retarded by the local yokels’ fears of big cities and all the different people who dwell there. Not that you’d call the sort of stunted human that occupied my town a yokel. Yokels were trailer trash living in wild rural areas deep in the jungles of America, a television myth. These low-ballers were “townies”, and they were proud of it. As if being born into this grimy pocket of New England were a cosmic lottery hit. East Boston–Eastie–had a tunnel that shot you into Boston, and in Chelsea we had the big green bridge that looped the edge of town, a dead warehouse district. You had to pay a guy in a little booth fifty cents to pass into Boston. That made sense. The city was holding us hostage. What didn’t make sense was having to toss the guy quarters on your way back, too. A toll to get into Chelsea? Its cracked pavement and trashy curbs, plastic playgrounds stained with spray paint and mean kids on every corner, wanting to kick your ass–that was Chelsea, and they made you give them two quarters to get into it. Like being bullied out of your lunch money. They’ll nickel and dime ya to death, my parents would often lament, and I’d think of this phrase as the twin coins were tossed into the giant basket on the Tobin Bridge, tumbling into the hole that would lift the bar and allow our car entrance to Chelsea. Outside of our misanthropic city, in Boston, children were free to be you and me, and William was serenaded for his dolly desires, bit it never reached us. It was like a cable station we just didn’t get…”
Other works of Tea’s that deserve your attention: Anything she has written is worth a look. This includes the handful of collections that she has edited and contributed to, such as Pills, Thrills, Chills, and Heartache: Adventures in the First Person, Baby Remember My Name: An Anthology of New Queer Girl Writing, and Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class.
All of Michelle Tea’s books can be purchased at Amazon.com. Go check one of them out!
Women Who Rock
In keeping with the theme of female ‘firsts’ for me, let’s talk about Gina Young. In my mind Gina Young is the Michelle Tea of music, if that makes sense. Like Tea I stumbled across her by mere chance (though on the internet), and like Tea I knew I had found something significant from the moment my eyes adjusted to the sight. I looked at the album cover, I read the album title, and I knew that I had found just what I was looking for at just the moment that I needed it most.
Intractable. A CD that is so evilly advertised on Amazon.com though never actually available, except through isolated resellers. There she was looking just like every girl that I wanted to know, holding up her modest sign like the welcome wagon at an airport; Here I am just for you; this is the very ride that you need. Back then it was unavailable, “out of print”, I believe, and not much has changed since then. This was a mere obstacle for me though, I could not be so easily dissuaded. I searched the internet for “Gina Young” and “Intractable” until I came across cdbaby.com for the first time (a source that I would use many times in the future, thanks Gina) and purchased myself a copy.
A few lyrical samples to wet your taste buds:
“…I’ll set the scene
Your eyes were lime green,
your nails dug into me,
we shared a quiet scream.
We were dreaming
that this was liberty
but found that bleeding
is still a girl thing…”
(Intractable, ” Intractable”)
I don’t feel like smiling.
what’s that smell?
it’s books burning.
Shh, don’t tell
the little witch is learning…”
(Intractable, “Fire, Fire”)
“I built my house of straw, he said
out of the blue
it’s not like
I even asked him.
And I thought
it’s funny how I
only ever had
tampon boxes to play with,
and he had straw, it’s funny.
they never told me that…”
(She’s So Androgynous, “Straw House”)
“…and I object
not just to this war,
but to all of the things
that you stand for.
Like dropping bombs
to lower the price of gas,
I guess the constitution
is just some piece of scrap paper
that you use to wipe your ass,
(She’s So Androgynous, “An Open Letter to the President”)
Back when I first stumbled across Gina Young I also happened upon two very different reviews of her music. One of them (like most of them out there) had nothing but praise for Young, commending her for her “political awareness” and unabashed sincerity at such a young age. Her lyrics were called clever, witty, and in your face. The other review, however, found these same sincerities and their delivery to be nothing more than childish. Young, they said, was no revolutionary; she was just a bratty young girl with opinions that she didn’t mind shoving down your throat.
So which review is right? Perhaps a bit of both. Young’s lyrics may not be groundbreaking, but they aren’t complete b.s. either. She may not be the next leader of the free world, but for a decent handful of infuriated young women she’ll make a hell of a lot of sense. The girl definitely has opinions (how many of us aren’t guilty of that?), but she often finds clear and attractive ways of getting them across. She most certainly does have charm, and she most certainly does have an edge of wit. There are a few of her songs that verge on a “diary-like” whine, but even these small stagnant pitfalls are entertaining and are often followed by modest bursts of sheer strength and brightness. I have felt myself slowly grow out of this music, but I will always maintain the opinion that Gina Young is a woman that you should experience.
Folks, this woman existed to me before Ani Difranco. Before Liz Phair, before Patti Smith, hell– even before PJ Harvey I heard Gina Young. Out of sheer luck, sheer chance, I tripped over the obscurest of voices– and found the most familiar. I haven’t always given her as much attention as she deserves and she’s since released two other albums (which progressively lose the magic of Intractable in my opinion), but like with Michelle Tea I occasionally plug myself back in and realize why I was so mystified the first time around. I hear the same fire that kindled my young feminist ego and feel the same chills, experience the same desire for a loud-mouthed revolution. Once again I am diesel-fueled into an all out feminist rage, ready to kick butt and take names and leave no prisoners (yes, all cliché statements– but who gives a damn?). Gina Young is a woman that deserves your ear, so take a minute to give her a listen, will you?
(This is by no means the best of Gina Young. Each and every song on Intractable is memorable and catchy as hell, and She’s so Androgynous isn’t a waste of time either. It was a damn difficult decision for me to choose which songs to post; if you enjoy these songs than you should most definitely purchase the full CDs and support the artist. You can purchase Intractable at cdbaby.com, and you can purchase both Intractable and She’s so Androgynous at iTunes. Go get ‘em!)
You can also visit Gina Young’s official site here.