Saturday, July 31, 2010
Another classic song that 'she did first'.
We all love "Fujiyama Mama" by Wanda Jackson, but the actual first version of the song was belted out by fierce ANNISTEEN ALLEN a few years before...
ANNISTEEN ALLEN -"Fujiyama Mama" (1955)
Rockabilly hellion WANDA JACKSON put her own brand on the song, with some storied assist from legendary guitarist Joe Maphis.
WANDA JACKSON -"Fujiyama Mama" (1957)
The song has some fantastic lyrics, but veers into questionable taste with its references to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Perversely, the song was a massive hit for Wanda in Japan! Perhaps it was the equation of Japan and the fury of Rock'n'Roll that made it such a winner there.
PEARL HARBOR And The EXPLOSIONS were no strangers to upending conventions and skewering stereotypes in the San Francisco punk scene. Here's Pearl flipping the song full circle in Japan, backed by THE CLASH during the years she was married to bassist Paul Simenon.
PEARL HARBOR + The Clash "Fujiyama Mama" (1982)
"I drank a quart of Saki, smoked dynamite,
I chase it with tobacky and then shoot out the light!"
Friday, July 30, 2010
Possessed by the fever of FELA, here's the TALKING HEADS in fluid delirium. They're backed by Nona Hendryx on vocals and Bernie Worrell on keyboards.
TALKING HEADS -"Slippery People" (1983)
And here's the ever wonderful STAPLES SINGERS putting their own liquid moves on it.
THE STAPLES SINGERS -"Slippery People" (1984)
Not long after, POPS STAPLES played the man with the mojo in David Byrne's film, "True Stories".
POPS STAPLES + Talking Heads -"Papa Legba" (1986)
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I like how a great song keeps its kick while taking on the flavors of each new artist. Here's the Funk classic "Use Me" as an example.
BILL WITHERS is one of those people whose songs are so cool they always come back around: "Lean On Me", "Ain't No Sunshine", "Lovely Day", and "Two Of Us". But besides perennial ballads, Bill could kick out some lean mean Funk with songs like "Who Is He And What Is He To You?", "The Same Thing That Made Me Laugh", and "Use Me".
BILL WITHERS -"Use Me" (live, 1972)
FRED WESLEY was the secret architect propelling James Brown's JB's, and the Horny Horns for PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC. This guy can say more with his saxophone than a hive of telemarketers.
FRED WESLEY -"Use Me" (1972)
Surprisingly, one of the first versions was by LIZA MINELLI, cruising on the heavy cred of "CABARET", and she does a bang-up job with it.
LIZA MINELLI -"Use Me" (1973)
Here's Japanese jazz singer KIMIKO KASAI finding it user-friendly...
KIMIKO KASAI -"Use Me" (1975)
As is her wont, GRACE JONES upends everything over a slinky Reggae groove from Sly & Robbie.
GRACE JONES -"Use Me" (1981)
MICK JAGGER did an inspired version of it with LENNY KRAVITZ in 1993, joined by his old friend and my MVP, Billy Preston, on clavinet.
Listen to a preview of it here.
AARON NEVILLE makes a fresh cruise with the groove in this moody video that lets us enjoy New Orleans before it got Bush-whacked. I like how he sings how his brother tried to talk sense into him and then you hear his actual brother ad-libbing along.
AARON NEVILLE -"Use Me" (1995)
D'ANGELO was another heir apparent to 70's Soul in the 1990's (along with Lenny Kravitz, Terence Trent D'Arby, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Dionne Farris). Here he is on a great musicians jam show with an alarmingly stellar backup band.
D'ANGELO +Friends -"Use Me" (live, 1998)
FIONA APPLE has said she only listens to Classical and The Beatles, but clearly she's heard more than enough to shake her thang here...
FIONA APPLE -"Use Me" (live, 200?)
IDA SAND finds some new angles for Jazz, Blues, and Soul in hers...
IDA SAND -"Use Me" (2007)
From left field, PETE YORN and the Mexican band KINKY make fine usage of Pyschedelia and Electronica...
"Yeah, I want to spread the news
That if it feels this good getting used
You can keep on using me till you use me up!"
Friday, July 23, 2010
LADIES FIRST brings you another classic that 'she did first'.
The oft-told story is that Ray Davies was wracked with nervousness while his wife was giving birth to their daughter. To focus himself, he wrote this beautiful lullaby. What's less known is that THE KINKS never really recorded it. Ray only had time to make a piano demo before embarking on their next tour, and the demo was only released decades later as a CD bonus track.
RAY DAVIES -"I Go To Sleep" (1965)
Instead, he passed the demo to his idol, Pop chanteuse PEGGY LEE, who was the first to actually record this perennial classic.
Preview the song here.
Shortly after, it started making the rounds in various versions. Here's a nice moody one by CHER.
CHER -"I Go To Sleep" (1965)
From the UK come THE APPLEJACKS with this version, a Beat group especially notable for having a female bass player in a notoriously boys-club era: Megan Davies (no relation to Ray).
THE APPLEJACKS -"I Go To Sleep" (1965)
And here is MARION in a striking high-contrast video from Germany.
MARION -"I Go To Sleep" (1966)
But most people know the song because of this famed cover by THE PRETENDERS. At the time, Ray Davies and Chrissie Hynde were in a relationship, and Chrissie had already covered "Stop Your Sobbing". Having never heard the previous 60's covers, she learned the song from a cassette dub of the original demo.
THE PRETENDERS -"I Go To Sleep" (1981)
In an arrangement inspired by The Pretenders' version, here's JULIE PIETRI doing it in French...
(special thanks to 'Anonymous' for pointing me to this one!)
JULIE PIETRI -"Et C'est Comme Si" (1982)
Here's the Alt-Electro band SOULWAX from Belgium hipping the headtrip.
SOULWAX -"I Go To Sleep" (1998)
RASPUTINA has a cult following merging Classical strings with Rock music, and here they incite the incubus.
RASPUTINA -"I Go To Sleep" (live, 2004)
And lately Aussie singer SIA brings some Soul and Jazz into the dreaminess...
SIA -"I Go To Sleep" (2008)
...while the musicians collective WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION brings an elegant Folk drift to it...
(thanks to Holly A. Hughes for pointing me to this one, as well as this lovely version by JUDITH OWEN!)
WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION -" I Go To Sleep" (live, 2009)
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Another relay race, with one song branching off in new directions.
The son of famed R'n'B bandleader Johnny Otis, SHUGGIE OTIS released a scarcely-heard album called "Freedom Flight", a kind of hinge between Sly Stone and the coming Prince. It included this catchy ditty with almost incoherent psychedelic lyrics.
SHUGGIE OTIS -"Strawberry Letter #23" (1971)
With producer Quincy Jones, the BROTHERS JOHNSON stepped out from session backups to their own spotlight with their funkier take on the song. It was a massive hit, one that still makes me smile fondly every time that opening chime and funky groove kicks in.
BROTHERS JOHNSON -"Strawberry Letter #23" (1977)
PHIL UPCHURCH, famed for his funkadelic guitar on late 60's Chess Records albums by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, ups the ante on the Funk with this response.
PHIL UPCHURCH -"Stawberry Letter #23" (1978)
The song has been covered again over the years by Tevin Campbell and Akon, and sampled by Dr. Dre, Beyonce, DJ Quik, and even avant-collage pranksters Negativland.
It's also the clear melodic blueprint for this song...
OUTKAST -"Ms. Jackson" (2000)
"In the garden, I see
West purple shower bells and tea
Orange birds and river cousins
Dressed in green"
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
SAY WHAT answers the lyrical question, 'what did they just say?'
In this occasional feature we'll look at playful asides that got slipped into songs. Sometimes it'll be entendres, backwards messages, or cheeky comments. Today it's "Touch Me" by The Doors.
If you listen to the end of the song, the triumphant coda has the chant, "Stronger than dirt!"
THE DOORS -"Touch Me" (1969)
This was an in-joke about the melodic resemblance to the popular Ajax detergent TV ad of the time, with its slogan, "Stronger Than Dirt!"
Sunday, July 18, 2010
THE RUNAWAYS movie is out on DVD and you should see it.
*(The DVD releases on July 20, 2010.)
Today's Blog is an open letter to all those young people who want to start a Rock'n'roll band. I'll be hipping you to why women are crucial to Rock, how to spot a sexist pig writer, and finally why that movie is essential to your health.
(The whole history of women in Rock is too huge to be told here; so consider this a primer for the Herstory with a general overview. In the near future this preface will be followed by new posts about each decade from the 50's up in greater detail.)
I think young women should see this movie to be inspired to make Rock better. The Parties Of NO want you to miss it, the same way they wanted you to miss the original band in 1975. It's time to kick them where it hurts.
Let's do this!
THE RUNAWAYS were a brilliant band in the mid 70's who did as much as anyone to open the gates for the other half of the human race to Rock freely. This is just a flat fact. BUT...they were part of a long path of Rock women from the 50's to now. This goes unacknowledged because of sexism or ignorance or often both.
The history of Rock'n'Soul is often trapped by two things: blindpsot narratives enforced by Rock critics and the segregation of Radio playlists. These limitations are theirs and we can reject them by looking at the whole picture.
There are certain outlooks critics have used for decades to shortchange women in Rock...and I'm going to destroy them for you right now.
THE STUPID ATTITUDES ABOUT WOMEN IN ROCK:
1) Rock has always been a man's game.
2) Only men can Rock convincingly.
3) Women are eye candy for conquest.
4) Exclude female Rockers from your histories.
5) Ignore Rock women for Pop women.
6) Repeat what your grandfather said.
7) Call them Women In Rock.
1) ROCK HAS ALWAYS BEEN A MAN'S GAME.
Not true. Women have been a part of Rock'n'Roll since the beginning.
Firstly, this was a natural extension of their vital presence in Country, Blues, Jazz, Mambo, and all the other varied roots of Rock. Here are some examples.
-The First Family of Country music was the Carter Family, led by guitarist Mother Maybelle. When anyone like The Staples Singers sings "Will the Circle Be unbroken", it's because of her. From her we also get June Carter, Carleen Carter, and Roseanne Cash.
-Blues music only took off in the 20's because of the huge popularity of its female stars like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Ethel Waters. We sing "See See Rider", "Sugar In My Bowl", "Hound Dog", and "When the Levee Breaks" because of them.
-During WWII, there were all-female Big Bands who toured the country while the enlisted men were away, like The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Ivy Benson & Her All-Star Girl Orchestra, and Ida Ray Hutton & Her Melodears.
-The Rhythm'n'Blues songs of the early 50's helped pave much of Rock, and female stars like Ruth Brown led the way. Ruth put Atlantic Records on the map with her big hits, and from their success we got the golden age of 60's Soul (Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin) and 70's Rock (Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones) because of her breakthrough.
In each case these musics were kept alive by the crucial works of women.
Secondly, it's lazy journalism to call Elvis the King of Rock. It's supposed to tribute his social impact, which is true and unassailable, but it just makes everyone else an also-ran. In reality the dawn of Rock'n'Roll in the 1950's was a pantheon of great talents who all deserve equal credit. We appreciate men like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Ritchie Valens, and Link Wray. But there were women right along with them that are only lately getting some due credit.
These women rocked, and you need to know it to know Rock'n'Roll at all: Wanda Jackson, Janis Martin, Big Mama Thornton, Sparkle Moore, LaVern Baker, Alis Lesley, Lorrie Collins, and Joyce Green are only a few.
Social attitudes and sexist marketing may have tried to confine women soon after into making marriage cheerleader songs in Pop 'Girl Groups', but women who wanted to Rock were in every genre that ever followed. There were female singers, guitarists, and full bands all the way through from Rockabilly to Riot Grrrl. To prove it, here are a series of videos I made profiling all of the women they told you never existed.
2) ONLY MEN CAN ROCK CONVINCINGLY.
Please. This is known as the Scared Little Boy mentality.
Let's nail this for what it is; gender hyporcisy. Most societies split humanity into gender, then they codify them by strength and weakness. Male=Hard=Strength, Female=Soft=Weak. Macho versus Ladylike. Thanks to Latin, entire languages are split in two with separate gender distinctions just to reinforce this fake division. The dumb end of males picks up this superiority complex and reinforces it through culture.
Enough, time to grow up. There is no difference. You're a soul in a body and you can do anything you want. You don't grow up to be a man, you grow deeper to become an adult. An adult has proper respect for the family of humanity and doesn't hold anyone back with immature ideas of why they are less than anyone else.
Now here's the deal: Rock'n'Roll in its true sense has always rejected segregation. It is the antidote to separatist deadends. It is all about hybrid and mutation: combine two cool things to make a third new thing. There is no such thing as either/or. Now repeat.
This dumb mope's attitude confuses expression with agression and thinks that empowers him. Who's interested in these six foot boys who love their muscles and their ego? You must spend a lot of time at the gym to be able to pull those strings and tap a drum. Such heavy lifting, that. Or maybe you just have so much more soul than a woman to be able to play melodies. Uh huh. The muscle in your head is weak. Rock'n'Roll is not about macho posturing, it's about personal expression. A guitar isn't a phallus, it's an arrow for the spirit.
Real Rock has always challenged gender. In the beginning, Little Richard and Alis Lesley mocked barriers of male and female style. The Beatles brought long hair in for men. David Bowie and Suzi Quatro turned sexuality inside out. Jayne County, Genesis P-Orridge, and Lynn Breedlove (Tribe 8) made gender a spectrum. Rock is liberation, not suppression.
Enough with this kid mentality. Now pick up your toys coz I'm tired of tripping over them.
L7 & JOAN JETT -"Cherry Bomb" (live, 1992)
3) WOMEN ARE EYE CANDY FOR CONQUEST.
Women have been in Rock since the beginning, but who does the magazine Guitar World put on the cover?: bikini models and porn starlets fondling guitars.
This kind of moron's attitude thinks girls are meant to scream at your concert, young women are groupies, and 'whatever' for the rest.
"Rock'n'Roll" was a Blues euphemism for having sex. Sexuality is the primal pulse behind almost all Rock and Soul music. Good. That's a natural and positive thing. But there is a difference between sensual and sexist. Sensuality is essential, sexism is an evil. Sort it out.
Two of the best 45's in history were Dion's "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer". It also sums up what's wrong here. Both run around having sex but he's a stud and she's a slut. That tired hypocrisy still governs our attitudes.
We laud Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Isaac Hayes, and Usher for the liberation of their sensuality. We should do the same for Betty Davis, Cherie Currie, Grace Jones, Courtney Love, and Peaches. Drop the double standard, what's good for the goose is good for the goddess.
4) EXCLUDE FEMALE ROCKERS FROM YOUR HISTORIES.
The official lazy journalist view of women in Rock is this: The Gogo's> The Bangles> The Spice Girls.
The lazy Rock critic view of women in Rock is: Janis Joplin> Suzi Quatro> The Runaways> Joan Jett> The Gogo's> The Bangles> Bikini Kill> Liz Phair.
These people have rarely heard of Goldie & The Gingerbreads, Fanny, or Birtha. Or think you haven't so they don't mention them. And you probably haven't because, hey, they didn't mention them.
This kind of attitude is because of the blatant ignorance caused by a sexist music industry.
It's really all about access. 45 singles were a brand new thing in the mid 50's. You were lucky to get one chance at doing two songs at a fly-by-night label. Even luckier if it became an area hit through local radio. There were no record corporations, no radio networks, no mass distrubution to help these people. You threw your luck in the wind and sometimes it worked. This was made far harder if you had brown skin, were a woman, or other annoying aspects of real life interrupting the program. So yes, there were many women who somehow managed to get recorded against these odds but they had no support system to promote them. Some like Wanda Jackson and Lorrie Collins were lucky to be on TV shows, Lavern Baker had the R'n'B crowd with her back. But the rest were systematically ignored out of the scene and history.
When The Beatles exploded and reignited Rock'n'roll, it's obvious that untold thousands of boys started banging away on starter guitars. But so did girls. They didn't want to just chase the Fabs, they wanted to be them. There were myriad all-female rock combos in the mid-60's, a lot of whom got to record at least a single, have a local hit, and go on regional tours: like The Liverbirds, The Luv'd Ones, The Pleasure Seekers (with Patti and Suzi Quatro), and The Ace of Cups, to name only a few. But Goldie & The Gingerbreads were the first all-female band to get a record contract with a major label...for singles. That's the hitch. No LPs. Then the label failed to promote those singles, even when one of them became a career-making hit when covered by a male band ("Can't You Hear My Heartbeat", Herman's Hermits).
In 1970 the first all-female band signed to make full albums was Fanny. This is one of the most important victories in the history of women in Rock. After a couple years they were joined by Birtha. They rocked as hard, played as well, made strong albums, and wowed the tour crowds as strongly as any male band. Too often, they got treated like groupies-with-attitudes by other bands, road crews, and press hacks. But they had forced the door open.
FANNY -"Blind Alley" (1972)
The tide began turning because of feminism and critical mass. Feminism took on Civil Rights' mantle as the expansion of equality and for most of the 70's was in general favor as such. Plus there were too many tough female acts coming out: Suzi Quatro, The Runaways, Heart, and Patti Smith. But the single most crucial catalyst for the explosion of women in Rock was Punk music. It's do-it-yourself attitude flung more women into Rock history than the previous two decades combined, an exponential wave crossing all genres through to the present day. They did it by creating their own access, their own labels, their own fanzines, their own undergrounds. In short, they went around the record industry.
Which is another way they get written out. Joan Jett, The GoGo's, and The Bangles are thought of as the beginning of women in Rock in the early 80's because you saw them on MTV. It's that simple. You could finally see them so it seemed like they came out of nowhere. They were actually indie acts that had managed to crack the mainstream and get some record label support for awhile.
The upshot is that your CD compilations and Box Sets rarely include those pioneering women. Your Rock museum doesn't nominate them. Your movie reviewer steers you from THE RUNAWAYS to that cookie-cutter romance comedy. The deciders still think women are Pop divas and any Rockers are rare flukes.
Did the first two NUGGETS box sets have women in them? No, so an underground series called "Girls In the Garage" compiled 9 (!) CDs of them. Then smart, sympathetic producers in the know like Alec Palao and Lois Wilson included several of them on later NUGGETS and GIRL GROUPS box sets.
Rock grrrls, rediscover history and rewrite it. Force your own access.
5) IGNORE ROCK WOMEN FOR POP WOMEN.
This typical ploy just happened when the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame nominated Madonna and Abba. They're fine acts. But let's be clear; they made great Pop, but they are not Rockers. Meanwhile, it took eight tries for The Stooges to be nominated (?!!!), and The Runaways or Joan Jett have never even been considered. Huh.
Likewise, the mainstream media of the 90's thought of women in Rock as The Spice Girls, seemingly without having the slightest clue about the Riot Grrrl and Queercore movements. Really?
It's always been this way. Pop women are selected over Rockers. The prom queen trumps the scary artist girl. Haven't we been beaten to death with Britney Spears for years, but who in the mainstream ever talks about the hundreds of female Rawk groups struggling for attention on MySpace and YouTube? The lazy narrative of Rock history thinks any Rockabilly women were an exception, and that women in Rock only meant Girl Groups. This forced catch-all homogenized women into a broad category of Pop music that's seen as a brief blip before The Beatles. They're relegated as polite belles decorating chapels of love, produced and manufactured by male creators. It reinforces the Female=Soft=Weak yawn. (Often the critic's formula is Pop=Soft=Female, Rock=Hard=Male.)
The sequel to this is to think of all 70's women as singer-songwriters. It's as if before The Gogo's there was only The Shirelles and then Joni Mitchell. Or Carole King, to compress them both. This Laurel Canyon mentality of women in Rock -as being limited to folk poets and intimate confessors, like Joni, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, and Rickie Lee Jones- was primarily purveyed by Rolling Stone magazine and the contemporaries they hung with. Those are worthy artists with a lot of range, but not the entire range of what was actually happening in the 70's with female rockers. Now I respected publisher Jann Wenner growing up and I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt. But damn.
Maybe a telling anecdote is this. In the mid 60's there was a great Garage Rock single called "Boy, What'll You Do Then?" by Denise & Co. The tough young singer, Denise Kaufman, turns the usual game around by chastizing her boyfriend for being a supressive control freak who holds her back from having wild fun. Denise then formed the all-female band The Ace Of Cups during the heyday of San Fran psychedelia. The former boyfriend she was upbraiding was Jann Wenner. Now, again, I want to give Jann the benefit of the doubt on this. And Wenner is the prime mover behind the Hall Of Fame. So, Jann...as someone who has dedicated his life and made his fortune protecting the legacy of Rock'n'Roll, show us that you can stand behind your proud woman and nominate real Rock grrrls into the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame.
You can start with The Runaways. And then make up for Goldie, Fanny, Birtha, and Suzi.
By the way, Cherie Currie was wearing her corset and underwear onstage a decade before Madonna, but she was blasting actual Rock'n'Roll when she did it.
6) REPEAT WHAT YOUR GRANDFATHER SAID.
When in doubt, repeat the lie you've always heard. This attitude is basically akin to the 'Bash Yoko' mentality.
Where does this outlook come from? There were no Rock critics until the late 60's. There was an elitist cult of Jazz critics, but what we now think of as great Rock music was written off as 'stupid Pop music for stupid people' by the Classical and Jazz scribes in the 50's and 60's. We should give brave new counterculture magazines like Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, Cream, Oz, and their ilk the credit for legitimizing Rock as a valid form of artistic expression.
But the male writers were only human with the flaws of their moment. They coined offensive terms like Kraut Rock that we still use, and they still thought women were groupies until the early 80's. Even Joni, who matches the most holy Dylan move for move, got subjected to that. But then...there's how Yoko got treated.
The reality was this. Yoko Ono was famous before The Beatles. She was a world-reknowned artist from the Fluxus Group, with John Cage and Al Hanson (Beck's grandfather). She was a feminist before most people had ever heard of Gloria Steinem. No one had a problem with Marianne Faithfull or Anita Pallenberg because they were seen then as sexy arm charms for The Stones. But they weren't Japanese, outspoken, and marrying the critically-preferred Beatle. Like the Kraut Rock thing, many critics and fans turned post-War hate against her heritage; they resented her individuality and were threatened by her politics; and they wrote off her work having seen or heard almost none of it. Because of them this became the broad social impression of Yoko, sealed in amber.
The lazy opinion of Yoko is: made screech music> broke up The Beatles >feminazi. This hand-me-down hate has been repeated ad nauseum for four decades now. Just watch what some 15-year-old male goofball misspells as a snarky comment on any Yoko video on YouTube. Well, I grew up in the South and I know a bigoted idiot when I hear one, whether it's a Fox blowhard with a chalkboard or Bigot III on his parents' computer. So I'm calling this third gen inbreed out.
Nope. The Beatles broke up The Beatles because it was time, be grateful we had them at all. Yoko made ranges of music that included ambient dub, proto-Punk, and melodic beauty. We routinely applaud Bowie, Eno, and Pattie Smith for similar advances while ignoring what she was already doing first. She was the strongest voice for Women's Lib that ever happened in Rock music. She is the big bang of truly fearless women like X-Ray Spex, Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Cosey Fanni Tutti, The Au Pairs, Crass, The Poison Girls, The B-52's, Jarboe, Diamanda Galas, Kathleen Hanna's riot grrrl brigade, The Boredoms, L7, Tori Amos, Shonen Knife, Cibo Matto, and Peaches. She also opened John Lennon up into what he considered to be his true self, and when someone insults her, they are insulting their idol.
Most Beatles fans are cool. Because, come on, they're Beatles fans. They love and respect Yoko for who she is and what she's done. But there are still some peripheral idjits and walk-bys who have a problem with her. To which I say, "in an age where everyone is jaded about everyone being co-opted, it's wonderful that she is still so dangerous and edgy that she still scares people like you. So suck it."
This parallel example sums up the sexist hand-me-down that still gets used to this day against Rock grrrls. The idiot bigot view of women in Rock is: can't play> uh, gimme a beer. Whenever you hear this slug, let him know his balls aren't his strength by breaking them.
I always think the double standard is hilarious. Garage Rock bands are touted proudly for being amateurs with heart and maybe one good song. Unless you're female, and suddenly you have to play better than Hendrix and have made "Revolver" before you get half a grunt of notice, and still no inclusion on the compilation. Well, maybe your grandfather might remember that the men won WWII because of the planes, ships, and tanks the women built for them. She could save the planet before you were born so if she wants to play a fricking guitar, get out of the way and shut up.
THE SHE TRINITY -"Climb That Tree" (1970)
7) CALL THEM WOMEN IN ROCK.
Then there's the whole thing of grouping them at all.
Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde will punch you in the face before you can call them "women in R- owwww!" They want to be thought of as musicians, stand or fall. And ideally they're right.
I remember the term 'negro' used by older relatives. It struck me as ancient and insane. 'Black' (identity) was the beginning of the social arc toward 'African-American' (citizen), and someday we'll get to words like Human or Brother and Sister or Sweetheart. This is one of those. We need to show people women have always been in every era of Rock until the commonality of it finally forces the focus only on someone's talent. I can remember when Tina Weymouth was relentlessly singled out as 'the female bass player' of Talking Heads. Now a female bass player seems like a standard requirement in most bands.
Now why did I go on about all that at length?
Because when you see any of these archaic mindsets creeping into any review of THE RUNAWAYS movie, or about your favorite band, or about your band, you can call it out for the lazy stupidity it is.
This film moved me. It spoke to a lot of emotional and cultural things that are just as relevent today as the era of the film. I saw none of that spoken to in some of the movie reviews I was seeing. Don't let them put you off. They're doing it for all of the reasons above. But they are failures at their jobs. 'To criticize' doesn't mean to rip something apart. There's a positive critique and a negative critique. A negative critique tears something up with no respect or solutions, which is useless cruelty. A positive critique respects someone's intentions while offering possible options to explore, which is helpful advice.
In particular, a useless review of THE RUNAWAYS tries dismissing it as a formula biopic. I thought that was self-damning. Maybe they've seen "Thirteen" and they're jaded to this story, or they've seen too many episodes of "Behind The Music". But what they don't speak to is that this really happened to 15-year-old girls in 1975 who were misused by all the adults around them in the record industry, the press, and the drug scene. The world treated children with a dream like they were whores. It took their great work despite these odds and threw it away.
I find these adults just as guilty today of pimping an ego-star culture that promises teens everything while using them for quick profit and discarding them. "Thirteen" only happens because of the symptoms of that same old-boy system. That system is kept in motion by a parade of exploitative clutter designed to use youth...like fake Idol contests, bling videos, and the latest device. But this movie condemns them for that criminal neglect and exploitation. It should be no surprise that your corporate-owned paper, magazine, channel, or website didn't speak to that. It struck me that 35 years later they're still just trying to write The Runaways off and steer young girls away to heartthrob franchise films. In that sense these reviews are just cynical manipulation and ass-covering.
Underlying that are the shopworn excuses for dismissing Rockgirls listed above. When you're reading a review of the film, separate out what's helpful or maliscious. If they have valid concerns about the structure of the story, or issues about missing characters and perspectives, or suggestions about how the impact could have been enhanced, that's all fair and good. But if they obviously can't wrap their head around the idea of women Rockers, broader sexuality, the social responsiblity to protect youth instead of using them, or calling out gender slavery, then flip them the bird right back.
Here's what I think about the strengths of the film, without giving anything away:
-The soundtrack is the smartest set of choices I've heard forever in a Rock film. They kick it right with Wanda Jackson's "Fujiyama Mama", already acknowledging the history of women in Rock, before rolling right into Suzi Quatro, the heir to 50's Rock and inspiration for young Joan Jett. From there it only gets better, with pitch-perfect choices of songs by Bowie, The Stooges, The MC5, The Sex Pistols, and more, each spot-on for the scene and the vibe. This movie makes a Rock lover's heart pump just the way these songs did for the teens in the story.
-Also impressive is the cinematography of Benoit Debie, most particularly in the intense intimacy of the close-ups. The use of grain, depth-of-field, delirium, and montage bring the two lead's emotions into fuller frution. And the lushly impressionistic love scene set to The Stooges' "I Want To Be Your Dog" is absolutely excellent.
-Kristen Stewart is Joan Jett. I didn't know that would be possible but she does it with such ease that it amazed me. She has the little things down, like body language, moves, vocal inflections. The singing was so exact I thought it had to be lip-synchs of Joan, but no, homegirl was doing it herself. I found Kristen's Joan to be strong, cool, sweet, sensual, anguished, and very moving.
-I've always enjoyed Dakota Fanning since "I Am Sam", a film that has deep personal connection for me. She captures Cherie's toughness and vulnerability really well. She does valiantly with the singing, but it would be tough for most to match the coolness of Cherie's basso edge.
-The movie is mainly about Cherie, Joan, and their insane producer Kim Fowley. A fixture of the 60's and 70's LA Rock scene, Fowley is infamous for his combustible combo of music insight and manic behaviour. Michael Shannon does an astounding job capturing him exactly, in appearance, style, and brutal hyperbole. I hate how he treated the band but I sure relish how well he was played.
-It's easy to think of The Runaways as twentysomethings who were punk as nails, but seeing how they really were only just teenagers, with all the goofiness, guilessness, and confusions of that age, really brought home to me how horrendous this situation could be for them. They just seem like kids getting deeper and deeper into something that can't end well. It's alarming and heartbreaking. A lot of the film's value comes from alerting you to how young stars should have a saner support system. (Nowadays young women are more fortunate with training grounds like the Institute of Musical Arts, and summer camps for teaching young girls. It should be pointed out these were created by female rockers who got abused by the music industry and put their wisdom to work for the new generations.)
-At the same time the movie reminds you of what it's like to be a teenager and have a dream in front of you that you're willing to run through fire to achieve. Their enthusiasm is contagious and reaffirms why Rock'n'Roll is a great catalyst for the soul. When Cherie flips off a chucklehead crowd that heckles her early on, I empathized as keenly as any time I've given a deserved kick to the pricks. Yeahhh!
-Another crucial dimension of this film is sexual identity and trying to express it while society selectively rewards or condemns you for it. One of the key aspects of the Glam Rock era was upending gender roles and expanding sexual preferences. The Runaways were a band with well-rounded sexual appetites. There's a double facet to that here. The Rock world was all too eager to exploit their emerging sensuality like they were lucrative jailbait, but would have destroyed them for the taboo range of their true desires.
At the heart of this film is a love story, a courageous one that reviewers are conspicuously silent on. Especially cowardly of them when 35 years on this is more timely than ever, with culture wars over suppressing or liberating same-sex love. Despite them, the film becomes that even more relevent in its connections to the underground gay and bi history of Rock, from Bessie Smith and Alberta Hunter to Lesley Gore to Carol MacDonald (Gingerbreads, Isis) to Fanny to Nona Hendryx to Queercore to Boyskout.
It reaffirms that, though history denies them, they have always been a part of history, and that that closet is getting emptier by the day.
PEACHES & JOAN JETT -"You Love It" (2006)
To all you young women who love "TWILIGHT", I say go to this movie and get inspired. Why just wear The Beatles on a T-shirt when you can become The Beatles? Or you can watch THE RUNAWAYS and become your own Runaways. Don't just moon over a goth boy, become a Goth band. The Runaways were a crucial breakthrough for women in Rock and you can be, too. Don't listen to negative people. Watch this movie...big, loud, and with cool friends.
THE RUNAWAYS movie is out on DVD and you should see it.
And then see this.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
ROCK Sex is back showing how pop culture links up.
Here's how Bubblegum Pop turns into sultry Soul.
ARCHIE, the popular comic book character, had a cartoon series in the late 60's. To stay hip with the youth, the cast formed a band and performed songs throughout the show in the tradition of THE MONKEES. Beyond absurdity, they scored a #1 hit that gets in your head and never goes away.
THE ARCHIES -"Sugar, Sugar" (1969)
The vocals were actually sung by Pop journeyman Ron Dante, with a bit of an all-star cast of studio stalwarts, including Girl Group scribe Elle Greenwich and Country star Ray Stevens.
WILSON PICKETT had an incredible knack for covering other folk's songs and surpassing the original. First off, he was Wilson Pickett. And secondly he was usually backed by the Stax bands or the Muscle Shoals bands.
Here's another sterling example of Wicked Pickett taking ownership of a song...
WILSON PICKETT -"Sugar Sugar" (1970)
Other unlikely but interesting versions were done by BOB MARLEY, KURT RUSSELL (yes, the actor), THE GERMS, BIG YOUTH, and PRAGA KHAN (Lords Of Acid)!
You have to admit, the song is too catchy, it's got a swing in it, and the lyrics are subversively kinky.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
In which Galatia 9 and Brucilla The Muscle go for a bite and already the shooting begins!
STARSTRUCK, the illustrated Sci-Fi masterpiece where Riot Grrls take over the galaxy, has new pages on FACEBOOK!
You can join the Group page...
...and also become a Fan...
We all know that the 80's renaissance of comix included WATCHMEN, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, AMERICAN FLAGG, MIRACLEMAN, and LOVE & ROCKETS.
But easily as bold, much more ambitious, and far more funny was STARSTRUCK. Yet the acclaimed series by Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta was criminally overlooked. And let's face it... it's because it starred kickass funny women instead of terse aggro men. Now it has returned in monthly issues with expanded art and stunning color.
Time to catch up to the better revolution and support STARSTRUCK today!
Saturday, July 3, 2010
LADIES FIRST brings you another classic song that 'she did first'.
Most Soul Music fans know that ARETHA FRANKLIN was backed up by her sisters on stage and record, and that CAROLYN FRANKLIN and ERMA FRANKLIN had fine recordings of their own.
Erma recorded the first version of "Piece Of My Heart" in 1967.
ERMA FRANKLIN- "Piece Of My Heart" (1967)
Kindred Soul sister JANIS JOPLIN admired that single so much that she recorded it with BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY on their classic album debut, "Cheap Thrills". It became a standard in her repertoire to the extent that many think it was originally her song.
BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY, w/ JANIS JOPLIN -"Piece Of My Heart" (1968)
Just to prove that there's plenty of Erma's heart to go around, the song has gained new life from Faith Hill, Melissa Etheridge, Pink, and Beverly Knight.
"But I'm gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough."