Women & Songs

She’s Fucked My Memory: Searching for Rock’s Female Poets

It’s really hard to be a feminist without drawing everything into the movement.  Songwriting is in a third wave, fourth if one really analyses the music of the ‘80s instead of relegating it to a gluttonous misjudgment as music critics are so eager to do, unless it’s somber (Morrissey, the Cure, the Cocteau Twins, hyper-sexed (Madonna, Prince, Lords of Acid), or nonsexed altogether (Tom Petty, Roy Orbison). Dear Philistines, recognizing the brilliance of Depeche Mode – though wishing it were fronted Petula Clark – doesn’t mean you cannot regret your mullet. Songwriting is finally riding a self-actualized wave as if  grunge was the twelfth step…if you didn’t blow out your brains from the excruciating angst, then you probably feel a bit more hopeful nowadays; while you still think everything is shitty, you know on a cosmic level that shitty is sublime. Enter Arcade Fire.

 Sure, women are everywhere in music, even in places where no self-respecting human should ever tread (“It’s Britney, bitch.”). From the ashes of the Lilith Empire, young, glottal ladies have sprung up, armed with saccharine voices, classically-trained instrumentation, and something to say.  Like the chantueses of the ’70s (Joan, Joni, Ruth, Dusty): Martha, Regina, Fiona, Tori, Feist, Ani, Cat, Sarah, Serena…you fucking rock, you really do.  You’re kicking down doors without ever messing your pedicures. This is not to say that any of you would be cautious about getting grimy if pushed hard enough…but women fans like me are gonna need proof from time to time.  Chrissie Hynde never had to pursue the antics of Courtney Love to convince generations that she kicks ass.  And you certainly have a lot of cred (if indeed this is even an area you want to enforce – the other option, I am afraid, is going to the camp with Norah and Jewel, my how wounding millions of dollars can be!). Martha, you exorcise your resentment to those “Bloody Motherfucking Asshole[s]” and Ani, I mean, I’m not taking you into the ring to prove your feminism cause I’m no fool.  And the fact that I am so in love with Ms. Amos (it took awhile) proves she’s got the grit I require in my idols.

Something still separates these incredible, fantastic musicians from my soul-mate female icons: Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Shirley Manson, Debbie Harry, Sleater-Kinney, and Emily Haines.  These women, in my humble opinion, haven’t been distorted by the media like their more chanson-esque brethren, and I am not sure why. Indeed, PJ does not always have an “angelic” voice and thank fucking god for that, because she’s got a fantastic voice that does not lend easily to the weak stereotype abounding women in music (even when she’s singing a choral ode).  Of course, these women are often masculinized by mainstream journalists and critics and fans because their music isn’t “pretty”. So, you see, ladies, you can’t win either way.  Unless you’re Shirley Manson and you have a voice that is like velvet, unfurling from the bowels of the pissed-off angels over a field of pure sex, shrewdly avoiding ownership by anyone other than her almighty.   I think Shirley is a grand exception (to most every rule but in particular this one) and she is one of few who can convincingly sing with equal acridity and vulnerability.  I hope she thanks Siouxsie for paving the way and sacrificing herself to the gods of the Go-Gos to give Shirley the chance .

I admire the edge of those really cute girls who traipse sullenly and sing coquettishly – I often evoke the spirit when I am skipping along to Regina’s “Fidelity” or gazing with sweetness to Feist’s “Still True”, for example.  But lately, I feel more feminine camaraderie with Beth (Ditto not Orton), Justine, Karen, Neko, Maja, Alison, and Bjork.  Ladies, let’s snarl with our sweetness, and rock n roll until we’re too drunk to fuck!


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