[The Kills, performing a cover of Marilyn Monroe’s song “One Silver Dollar” from the film River of No Return. Lyrics here.]
I learned my politics from rock’n’roll.
It’s a fact, but these days I am listening to less and less music that’s overtly political.
I like reading between the lines these days, mostly because I spend so much of my days screaming and ranting about the real thing.
So last week I went to two shows, saw several of my favorite women in rock, and got to thinking about the politics between the lines of their performances.
Alison Mosshart, anyone who follows me on Tumblr knows, is sort of an obsession of mine. Last time I saw her band the Kills play I wrote about it at Bitch magazine‘s blog, and having just come from the conference on rock critic, feminist, political thinker (and my hero) Ellen Willis at NYU, I mused:
And so on the train home from Terminal 5, the long ride back to Brooklyn, I asked myself over and over what Willis would’ve thought of Mosshart. Of her witchy black hair and smile and snarl, of her hips and her swagger and her crooning voice when she goes all torch-singer. Of her very particular performance of femininity, her tomboyish preference for skinny jeans and boots and button-downs, blazers and layers and then layers of makeup, heels and a smile—when you can see it.
Of the way she shares the mic with her male bandmates as if maybe, maybe they’re fucking but also more likely they’re just buddies. And yet there’s none of that feeling like she has to play along with being one of the boys—her sexuality doesn’t have to be buried or flaunted, it simply is and is a facet of who she is.
Mosshart’s stage presence grows more electric each time I see her; she holds the audience in the palm of her hand, can bring them dancing to a fever pitch and then quiet the room completely to sing a torch song, an old country tune from a 50s movie that you’d never have thought could make you want to cry.
Friday night I went to see Wild Flag and Sonic Youth at the Williamsburg waterfront.
Wild Flag is Janet and Carrie from Sleater-Kinney along with Mary Timony of Helium and Rebecca Cole of the Minders. It’s a fucking 90s dream come true, the queens of Riot Grrl and 90s alt rock swaggering onstage to remind you that none of the boys of 2000s indie rock can do it like they do.
Carrie Brownstein in her skinny jeans with her foot on the monitor, Janet Weiss’s drums thundering through you (as we walked down to the waterfront, we heard the drums rumble and my friend said “That’s Wild Flag, I’d know Janet Weiss’s drums anywhere”), Mary doing kicks in a pencil skirt, Rebecca keeping time and bouncing behind the keyboards…why did I ever have a crush on the boys in the band again?
And then, Sonic Youth. Kim Gordon, nearly as old as my mom, in a candy-apple red skintight minidress that I wouldn’t even dare wear in public (and I wear some tiny things, Internet, it’s a fact). Fierce as fuck. The magic of Sonic Youth is that they never sound dated even when you know a song is 20-something years old. They were too weird, too special, too utterly themselves, and I have loved and wanted to be Kim Gordon since their music was flat-out too weird for me.
See, I learned my politics from rock’n’roll and I learned my feminism from it too, I think–learned not the theory but the gut-level truth that I can do anything the boys can do, that there is magic in a guitar lick and the pounding of the drums, that that rock-star cool isn’t something you just want to touch, it’s something you can want to be, and even though I long ago gave up hope of being a rock star I still try to swagger like one on occasion, peer out from under too-long bangs and shake my head and keep dancing.
I learned that, too, from the 90s hip-hop girl groups (more on this later, because they deserve their own post).
It’s enough to keep me going at the times I think I might break, the music, the support it brings me, the communities it’s helped me find.