Beer and Pavement

An Open Letter to Sleater-Kinney

Posted in An Open Letter, Records by SM on October 23, 2014

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Dear Sleater-Kinney,

So, you’re back. Like several of my favorite nineties’ bands – Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc. – you took some time off from each other for other projects, but you’re back. And we’re all so happy.

I remember the day I found out your were no more. It was in Hawaii on the Molokai. I had on my t-shirt from the All Hands on the Bad One tour, browsing the aisles at the only grocery store when another tourist stopped me to say that you had broken up. “Hiatus” would have been a better descriptor, but the news hit me just as hard either way. All the bands of my youth were nearly gone, causing me to fear for more than just my record collection.

Either way, I don’t want this letter to be about my relationship with your career and output. Rather, I want to celebrate the fact that you are back and to make a request.

In terms of reunions or coming out of hiatus, you all did it right. First, there was the little surprise of the box set. I preordered mine instantly and it was totally worth it. The packaging and accompanying book is beautiful. I don’t have all of your albums on vinyl until now and they’re all colored, 180-gram vinyl to boot! In terms of remastering, from what I’ve had a chance to hear, this too was done the right way. Instead of just turning everything up, many tracks were balanced out and the effects of cheap recording sessions is wiped out with a professional’s expert hand.

Of course, the coup de gras was the 7″ with the new song “Bury Our Friends” which is huge track filled to the brim with power and emotion. This new song – the first in 9 years – is how you announce your return. No fanfare. No announcement. “Let’s just toss a new 7″ into our retrospective box set for shits and giggles!” And of course there will be a tour and a new album – January 20th according to the 7″.

You are doing it right, friends. Most bands wait until they need the cash to get back together. Most bands don’t release new music. Most bands overdue their own box sets with loads of rarities (read: “junk not good enough to release the first time”) or completely over-produced versions of the originals. But not Sleater-Kinney. This is how a band gets back together. This is the blueprint from now one.

Now for the request.

You are one of my six-year-old’s favorite bands. Sure, that list includes Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Kidz Bop, but it also includes anything Kathleen Hanna touches, Wild Flag, and Blondie. She needs to see a live Sleater-Kinney performance and I can’t really drive/fly her on a school night to Chicago or Omaha. It would be ideal if Sleater-Kinney finds their way to Columbia, Missouri. (Of course, I would settle for STL or KC.)

In the spirit of transparency (and in case it wasn’t already clear), I am a huge Sleater-Kinney fan. I too would benefit from your band stopping in Middle Missouri. I won’t front.

We have a nice venue in the Blue Note who just hired two women as manager and assistant manager. There’s Pizza Tree and their bánh mì pizza(!) or baked goods, records, films (on the screen or to go), and drinks in the Uprise/Ragtag complex on Hitt Street. There’s vegetarian at Main Squeeze and two doughnut places by the time you would arrive. I can tell you more, just write back with requests.

In closing, I wish you the best of luck with the record and tour. It’s great to have one of the greatest rock bands of my life back at it – especially one my kid likes. I hope you find it in your heart of hearts to stop in COMO. It’s worth the stop.

Best,

Zac

P.S. – Will the whole band make an appearance on Portlandia next season?

P.P.S. – Will Pearl Jam open for you? I don’t really care if I see Pearl Jam. I just think it’s fair that they support you since you supported them the last time you were out.

P.P.P.S. – Carrie and Janet, my daughter wrote a letter to Wild Flag a while back. Are you planning on responding? She wrote one to Kathleen Hanna and Hanna wrote back. Just saying.

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Kathleen Hanna Speaks at Columbia College (or Filling a Blogging Void in Middle Missouri)

Posted in Life, Live by SM on March 21, 2013

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Last night I took my four-year-old to see punk and riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna speak for a Women’s History Month series held at Columbia College. While between projects at work, I decided to see what was written about the talk. The regular news sources summarized Hanna’s visit succinctly, but there was nothing coming from a local blog. There aren’t many good blogs in this town these days, but a void needs filling and I’m about to get back on that horse.

As I mentioned above, I took my daughter to see a woman whom I think is a great role model as she grows and develops. Kathleen Hanna is a strong, smart, and creative adult woman I want my kid to look to for inspiration. She has people like that in her life now, but it doesn’t hurt to find more.

My kid was in awe. First of all, she insisted on sitting in the front row. We skipped over a couple of seats that looked to be saved and settled in. It just so happened that one of those seats was Kathleen Hanna’s! When a woman began to welcome the audience, my daughter asked whether or not that was Kathleen Hanna. I promptly informed her that no, Kathleen Hanna was sitting next to her. It was all that four-year-old could do to contain her excitement.

She really loved any time Hanna referred to rocking and bands. See, my daughter loves riot grrrl bands. She’s particularly fond of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag. (She just wrote a letter and drew a picture for Wild Flag to be mailed ASAP.) She loves the power and upbeat energy from that era of music. The fact that it’s all made by women doesn’t hurt either.

Hanna gave the kind of talk one would expect. She told her story, full of valley girl vernacular. She had slides of rarely seen zines and flyers. There were grainy videos of her various bands. She had great anecdotes of major indie and punk rock players. She told stories of inspiring young women fighting the patriarchy at every turn.

A running theme was her attempt to take back space normally occupied by males. There were rooms in a community center, rock venues, even the space in front of bands to be occupied. Underlying all of this was the space men and boys take up that can’t be seen, the space occupied by ideas and words. Hanna challenged these spaces and found room for herself and the girls who joined her in the fight.

At some point, a guy sitting in the back yelled out some fairly off-topic statements and questions. I won’t dignify either the content nor the deliverer of such idiocy as it completely disrupted the night by identifying or detailing what was said. Hanna was knocked off course a couple of times. Finally, she regained her bearings and told the guy to “shut-the-fuck-up.” Then she demanded he leave.

Instead of leaving quietly, the “heckler” continued to be obnoxious until college staff and a few audience members helped him leave. The debate over his comments continued today on Facebook, but I don’t want to spend anymore time on this as the dude was totally out of line.

Two beautiful things resulted from this conflict. First, the outburst demonstrated Hanna’s point about men always taking up space that wasn’t theirs, infringing on a woman’s chance to express herself. Second, it provided an opportunity for my daughter and really any young woman in the crowd to see a need for feminism as well as said feminism in action.

Fuck that dude and all the jerks and bullies like him.

Hanna recovered and continued to present her story. I geeked out over a video of Bikini Kill. My daughter geeked out over a Le Tigre video. We both laughed over the cabaret video Hanna shared.

It was a fun and empowering night. I wish my daughter could have met Hanna, but that will have to wait for the letter my girl intends to write to one of her newest heroes.

If you see this, Kathleen Hanna, know that you made an impression on our little college town and one four-year-old in particular.

For more on the talk, check out The Missourian’s take.

A Daughter’s Request

Posted in Life, Records by SM on July 19, 2012

Studying Wild Flag.

Most of Sunday, my daughter and I spent our time together watching YouTube videos of Riot Grrrl bands and listening to Wild Flag. Of course, there were several renditions of “Call Me Maybe” in between, but the day belonged to rock. This sudden interest into Daddy’s music was spurred on by a couple of screenings of School of Rock, a film where Jack Black pretends to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious elementary school where he discovers his students to be gifted musicians he convinces to play in his band. Thanks to this one film, the grrrl is all about the rock music right now.

The obsession has continued through the week as every evening is filled with more YouTube videos and bedtime is dominated with Daddy sharing his exploits as a live music fanatic of the last 20 years. She is particularly fond of videos in which Kathleen Hanna pogoes. Her requests for more stories has me searching the recesses of my brain for G-rated rock show tales. It’s an interesting time to be Lucia’s father.

What it all has led to is a request from my daughter to see her first rock show. Apparently, seeing Dubb Nubb several times has not fulfilled her need to rock. I am now faced with finding the right situation where I can make this dream come true.

I was a late bloomer. My first rock show didn’t happen until I was 18. We lived an hour from any city featuring rock concerts and even then I wasn’t interested in the hair metal and country most of my classmates were going to see. Then, one St. Patrick’s Day, my brother and two or three other guys drove the hour to the Newport Music Hall in Columbus to see my first rock show: Soul Asylum with Vic Chestnutt and The Goo Goo Dolls (when they were punk-ish). From that night on, I was hooked. I can understand my daughter’s longing to see music performed live.

As a parent, I have to set some boundaries for the kind of show she can attend. I mean, she’s not yet four (9/11) and this puts some serious limits on what she can and can’t see. for example, she will not catch The Melvins for her first live rock experience, even if it is on a Friday night. I’m considering some basic criteria for this event, criteria that may put off her first concert experience for another year, but that’s okay. There’s plenty of time to rock.

The show will need to be outdoors, mainly for two reasons: not all shows are all-ages and the noise factor. It’s one thing to get your 16-year-old into a bar to see a band; it’s a completely different thing to sneak in a four-year-old. Besides, I’m not sure that’s the best environment for someone so young. The outdoors provide space for people to spread out and avoid awkward situations around small children and vice versa. Plus, sound doesn’t seem to do as much damage when it can harmlessly float to space and not bounce off the walls. My hearing is shit and there’s no need to put my kid through that before she attends elementary school.

Bedtime is an issue. I’ll have to find a show on a weekend or one that takes place earlier in the day. The trouble with this is that most of the outside shows here in Columbia are on weeknights. That makes for a rough morning getting her to preschool. An all-day even is the next logical step, but we’ve missed out on most of the festivals for the summer or at least their bargain pre-fest prices.

Finally, the band or bands to see have to be worthy. Although it is not for me to say which bands or musicians you should like, I do have a right as a parent to steer her toward whatever music I feel is acceptable. Of course there will be a time when my opinion won’t count, but until then, I control the stereo in my house and I have the credit card.

So, this adventure may have to wait a year. Next summer she’ll see her first rock show. I just hope I can deliver Kathleen Hanna or Wild Flag.

Womyn’s History Month

Posted in Activism, GenderBender by SM on March 9, 2010

OK. So, I don’t know that this piece is post-worthy or not. I’ve had no time to work on it and really don’t care anymore. There were to be pictures and videos and possibly more footnotes than you could shake a stick at, but I’ve done as much with this as I can. It’s time to move on. Be nice in the comments. I have things to say in the coming days and weeks. Don’t unsubscribe just yet.

I used to teach fourth grade1. Every year, I’d make my students study up on Black history in February and women’s history in March. One student asked why they had to study about women for a whole month. I explained that every other month was men’s history month. The boys in the class thought this was great, but I squelched their celebration with the revelation that this isn’t fair to only recognize the contributions of women for one month a year, something they understood as poor African-Americans in the inner-city2. I earned a lot of respect from my girls that day.

So, it’s March again and it’s still Women’s Womyn’s History Month whether I’m teaching or not. It’s sad that we have to set aside a whole month for such topics just to insure that kids are presented with a balanced perspective on history3, but that’s how it is.

If I wanted my daughter to follow in the footsteps of any female rocker of the past century, I’d choose Katleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre fame4. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, even the underground rock scene was terribly sexist5. Hanna and her merry band of grrrls stuck it to the hardcore boys in the most punk way possible: They made uncompromising, vag-to-the-wall punk rock. Bikini Kill and the like stood up to the boys and put them in their place6.

It wasn’t just about the music. Hanna and others lead a revolution within feminist ranks, calling attention to the racism, homophobia, and classism that once plagued the movement7. Some refer to this era as the onslaught of third wave feminism. Whatever it’s called, Hanna and the Riot Grrrl movement broke down a lot of barriers. Suddenly, it was kewl8 to be feministy and not so hippie-dippy9. Hanna’s brand of feminism spoke to those not totally sure about its causes10.

For a taste of what I’m talking about, check this interview she recently did for GritTV here. Also, one can peruse Bikini Kill memories as told by their fans in the ultimate demonstration of community building over at the Bikini Kill Archive.

Of course, Hanna is just one of many feminists/female-rockers-who-may-or-may-not-be-feminist I’d love for my daughter to look to for inspiration. A top-10 list is below…

1. Kathleen Hanna (Read above.)

2. PJ Harvey – No one rocks or takes more control of their sexuality than Polly Jean Harvey. She is so ridiculously bad-ass that she the same effect on her listeners as a  Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop. She’s not classically beautiful, but she gets your attention and tells you how it’s going to be.

3. Kim Gordon – She married a younger man in band mate Thurston Moore. She doesn’t stand out just because she’s the only w0man in the band, but because she’s friggin’ awesome. All that and she invented the baby-t.

4. Beth Ditto – I have never seen more of a punk rock moment than the night six or seven years ago when I witnessed Ditto take it off for the crowd, flaunting her voluptuous body for all the dykes11 in the house. The best moment of that show was when she called out the kid in the “Feminist Chicks Dig Me” t-shirt and informed him that they didn’t.

5. Kim Deal – I know she’s had a rough go of it with the drugs and alcohol, but she is arguably the most successful of all the former Pixies…in terms of record sales. That and she’s from Dayton.

6. Liz Phair – My early exposure to feminism happened when I first listened to Exile in Guyville. It’s been downhill from there.

7. Bjork – Unapologetically weird but not in that creepy, Tori Amos sort of way. No one sings like Bjork or attacks paparazzi like her either.

8. Thao Nguyen – Cool and self-assured, I don’t think any other musician I follow on Facebook sends me more political messages than Thao.

9. All of Sleater-Kinney – They should probably be higher on this list, but it’s not a contest. One member is maybe the best two or three drummers in indie. One member writes the best music blog on NPR’s site and makes a good viral video now and again. The third just belts shit out. When is their reunion tour?

10. Herself – Lucia, my daughter already has demonstrated a love and proficiency in music.I only hope that I will do enough to encourage her growth. Either way, she should always look to herself for inspiration in both her feminism and musicianship.

I know I’m missing someone. Who are you honoring this Womyn’s History Month?

Bonus Non-Rocker: Angela Davis – How many folks have ever had a former Black Panther as their professor? Davis talked the talk and walked the walk way before the Riot Grrrls. She is still one bad mother.

Notes:
1
It’s a long story, but I may find myself back in a classroom yet.
2I mean, Black History is not only given a month itself, but it’s been relegated to the year’s shortest month. What kind of racist shit is that?
3Of course, I realize even these special months do not insure a balanced approach to history. For that, we must depend on Texas to make the right decisions and we know how fruitless that will be.
4Actually, I’d choose her mama, but in the interest of keeping this blog universal and devoid of too much personal information, I’ll leave her out of it. I’ll just say that my partner is the smartest and most thoughtful person I know, a perfect role-model for our daughter.
5Sans a more-enlightened rocker like, say, Ian MacKaye. Either way, there was not a lot of room at hardcore shows for girls and women. Hell, there wasn’t even a lot of room for those of us guys who don’t need to thump our chests and tear off our shirts.
6I could insert some emasculating idiom here, but it would defeat the point. The idea is to turn shit around on the boys. It’s always about sticking women back in the kitchen and all that, but why don’t we make the boys fix our sandwiches??
7OK. It still plagues the movement and many other movements. However, what Hanna and the Riot Grrrl movement did do was teach us to critically look at all perspectives, especially those that have been so embraced by our communities for a certain length of time.
8Sorry for the Carles slip there. I have been reading too much Hipster Runoff lately. Lucky for you, I am usually able to avoid such a miscue.
9FYI, I really don’t care for hippies, but I now just find them harmless, useless.
10By this, I mean boys like myself who were pulled in by the rock rawk.
11I mean this only in a loving way. I am reclaiming the term for my lesbian sisters and brothers.