Rock out with your …
Every couple of years, I look around to really take notice of the musicians who are doing something extraordinary — the musicians who are taking chances, trying new sounds and succeeding. These are usually oddball types who are well outside of the mainstream, but artists who will no doubt influence the future mainstream. They are the ones who survive more on the web, on tour and on mixtapes than on the radio (though I’m always proud to say you can hear them on WFPK). And they are almost always women.
St. Vincent’s robot guitar blitz; Tune-Yards’ percussive heavy loops; Neko Case and Kathleen Edwards breaking the rules of Americana, at once reminiscent of bygone heroes while adding new sonic textures; Laura Marling’s confrontational and usually gut-wrenching lyrics; Karen O, Sabina, Kathleen Hannah, Janelle Monae. And have you checked out Marnie Stern lately? Head to YouTube. I’ll wait while your mind gets blown.
Now, let me say that I always feel a bit apprehensive writing these types of articles. Anytime I write about “Women in Rock,” or anytime any guy writes from this slant, it can so easily come across as unintentionally sexist. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t even be a difference, right? An artist is an artist, and that’s that. And that’s true. But I do find that time after time again, it’s those on the X chrome of rock who continue to turn the music world inside out.
So this was the article I was going to write — until I got an email from a record rep pushing a new band that happened to be female-fronted. Do you want to know what the first line of the email was? “Proving chicks know how to rock!”
Whoa! First off, let’s understand that this guy may have the mental capacity of a 20-year-old bro-dude. Second, let’s also accept that there was no wife/girlfriend/any random stranger to tell him what a bad idea that line was. More so, though, what decade is he living in? Proof? Is that really a debate?
How easy would it be to go through the roll call of Koko Taylor screaming out “Wang Dang Doodle” or Janis Joplin screaming anything? Did he miss Tina Turner doing “Proud Mary,” Debbie Harry’s New Wave revolution, or Patti Smith’s brilliant album Horses? I mean, there’s a new single from Chrissie Hynde out right now, and I don’t think anyone wants to accuse her. What’s worse, I got this email on Suzi Quatro’s birthday. (If you’re not familiar, check out “Wild One,” a quintessential mid-’70s punk song that influenced the Runaways). It’s an email that came at the same time as the Nirvana Rock Hall reunion. While Kim Gordon was on stage growling through “Aneurysm,” this guy was living in an alternate universe where I imagine Woodstock ’99 was a cultural highlight.
Listen, I know I live in a land surrounded by NPR and Triple-A music. I’m not faced with sexism in music daily, but I hear it’s out there. Music is a business, and it doesn’t take a lot of trolling around the Internet to find out that we still have an equality problem in almost any business. We still live in a time when old white guys are trying to decide just how a woman should handle her body. Or if their periods are the work of Satan.
I’m not writing this to solve the problem (though wouldn’t that be amazing?). But I am writing this with my jaw still on the floor. I’m writing this with the memory still fresh in my mind of a radio program director less than 10 years ago telling me he wouldn’t add a female-fronted record to his aggro-rock station because his listeners would be turned off. Somehow, beyond all of my comprehension, I’m writing this from 2014.
My recommendation? The Louisville Outskirts Festival is happening in October. If, for some odd reason, you need “proof” that women can rock, then I hope once they graciously take your money, let you in the door and welcome you with a big smile, they then all collectively beat the shit out of you.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.