Wednesday, April 28, 2010

previous condition (or: the deal-with-it dog meets the worthwhile cause)

"Chill out, dude, it's just _______."

Yes, there are many points in discourse (in its many forms) where we start to take ourselves too seriously and have to step back and re-evaluate our positions, choose to step away from an argument, rephrase our words or let something go, particularly in light of the general absurdity of the world we live in. That's only reasonable.

However, there's still a lot that is meaningful and real - even in said absurd landscape - that's worth fighting for. There are convictions we hold that are important, and speaking up when relevant is our responsibility.

The "chill out, dude, it's just _____" tactic is one I've encountered again and again when I speak up for myself or for values that I believe are important (and one I've seen employed against countless others when they do the same), and it's always used by the person who has created the situation that is being spoken out against - that is, the person in the position of power, the person that represents the status quo. It's a specific tactic that is used to minimize the worth of the arguments against, and I've seen it in every aspect of my life (from negotiations at work to conversations with punk kids). It dovetails nicely with institutionalized sexism/racism/homophobia, which already sees the othered group as less-than.

"Can't you take a JOKE?"

"What are you, the PC police?"

To be offended by something we have to be humorless and uptight in this worldview (rather than ... reasonably offended by something which is offensive). Hysterical women! Angry black people! Those gays, running their mouths again! What's always fascinated me is people who create provocative art that obviously pushes classic taboo buttons getting bent out of shape when they're called on ... doing exactly what their art sets out to do.

(Newsflash: the "PC police" don't exist, and I am all for free speech. However, that also means that if you are free to say something that I find offensive, I am free to speak my opinion on said statement. In other words, the tail of the deal-with-it-dog wags both ways.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

the machine that tore speech to pieces

I'm reading How to Wreck a Nice Beach by Dave Tompkins, who has obviously been invested in this project for a good long while - the history of the vocoder from its Bell Labs-national security roots to its significant presence in music.

I'm a latecomer to the Cult of Tompkins, but I'll scribble my name on as many cards to carry as I can. (Now I'm cursing myself for getting rid of all those old Wires, right?) His prose is lush, dense, playful and evocative (like Vollmann in places but without that annoying shadow of self-importance that hangs over a lot of WV's work) and the depth and breadth of his knowledge and research are remarkable. HTWANB is a pleasure to read at every level. It's also full of potential song titles/band names. Go get yourself a copy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

not yr fucking fetish object (2010 remaster)

I've been in love with music my whole life. I was raised by two musician parents, both of whom encouraged me (and continue to encourage me) to make and love and be critical of music. I started learning to repair amps because it was the family business - I was inspired by my dad's experience with it and lucky enough to have his resources at my fingertips (I'm still an apprentice in many ways).

I was also lucky enough to be introduced by my parents to DIY music before I would have discovered it on my own. I got into punk in the early '90s and never looked back. As I grew and learned about politics and became deeply invested in changing the system for the better, I was galvanized by riot grrl (a movement for which there is clearly a need for a critical history; there were powerful and beautiful things about it just as there were dangerous lessons about classism, racism, transphobia and so on to be learned) and by bands like Minutemen - our band could be your life, indeed. My experiences in music opened me up to questioning power, questioning consumption and to making art out of hideous experiences - to friendships and frustrations.

Fast forward to 2010; I'm still making music, still buying records, still giving a shit. I doubt I'll "grow out" of it at this point. It's not news that there are women involved in music at every level from consumer to producer - musicians and songwriters, label owners and employees, promoters, reviewers, publicists, record store owners and employees, so on and so forth. We're everywhere! Why, then, is it still an uphill battle to be a woman involved in music? We've made inroads, right? We're visible, right?

The answer is sadly simple: because music culture (both mainstream and DIY) is still a sexist paradigm. It's one of those cultural corners where women end up ants under the magnifying glass, on fire because we've gotten a concentrated and focused dose of misogyny.

Silvana at Tiger Beatdown makes some points in her post that I agree with, particularly this one:
"Being a feminist who is into music and cares about feminism and women in music is a giant pain in the ass, because music is the greatest haven of all time for ITSJUSTMYOPINION-ism. Because, you see? Music is art. Which means if you try to criticize someone’s personal taste, especially if you are suggesting that they don’t like woman-made music because THEY HATE WOMEN, you will get nowhere. There is almost no argument you can make that will have any effect whatsoever, because it’s just my opinion, man. And people believe, they believe with all their hearts, that they are entitled to their opinions when it comes to art, even if those opinions are stupid."

Then her personal viewpoint diverges with mine, because I love music that she describes as "dude music," music made "by dudes for dudes," music that she doesn't find personally resonant (which I obviously have no quibble with). I've found something to glom onto in some of those styles, even in styles that are harsh and nasty and that you have to watch for misogynist/generally sketchy undertones in. (I grew up on death metal, fast hardcore and early '80s industrial music, for goodness' sake.) By no means do I dismiss music made by women; I love and support other female musicians and love a lot of music made by women too.

I know a lot of other smart, strong, feminist women who also find "dude" music appealing.

The trouble with being a feminist who likes "dude" music as much as she likes "lady" music is that you will run the risk of being a weird fetish object to a lot of the men you come across. You might be treated at first like "one of the boys," but it will become quickly apparent that a lot of the men you meet through musical channels are fascinated by the fact that you are A GIRL but you like THE SAME THINGS THEY DO. (The flipside of the Fetish Object is the Invisible Girl - the woman who simply doesn't exist and isn't acknowledged or is quickly dismissed no matter how loud she yells because she doesn't fit into a prescribed role.)

I fell into the velvet chains of this role for a while when I was younger. I am somewhere in the spectrum of physical attractiveness between Traditionally Attractive Babe and Hideous Gorgon, and I used to focus on the things about my body and self that were not traditionally attractive and beat myself up for them (because that's what consumer culture encourages us to do. P.S. Buy this thing that we promise will bring you closer in line with the ideal we're showing you!). When the men around me started trying to get in my pants because I was A GIRL but I had "good taste" I thought it was flattering instead of a technique meant to minimize me, put me on a pedestal instead of allowing me to be an equal.

I know some women who have bought this bill of goods so completely that they tear down other women involved in their scene because they've been buttered up so many times with the li(n)e about how no other women are as "cool," have as much cultural cache, like such "dudely" things as they do. This hurts my heart so fully and dearly because I'm so close to it. It is destructive and it is real and we need to fucking cut it out. It's the same internalized sexism that causes women on fashion blogs to critique celebrities' weight. It comes from fear and self-doubt and the pressure of misogyny.

There is no reason that this conversation can't be loud and continuing and always present. We as women in music can change the culture and are doing so right now in many different venues. This entry is just one drop in the ocean. Let's flood this fucking world.

P.S. I'll also use this entry to plug Women in Music, an incredible organization, total trash music, a great blog focusing on women in DIY music, and Tuberculosis, a young LA band I can't stop listening to.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

cameo demons

Somewhere along the line (maybe within the last ... year or so? - though this has been an ongoing process and the load has gotten lighter over the last ten years in general) my life ceased to become an absurd knot that could never be untangled but that required constant painful effort. While I'm busier and more productive than ever, I also have to remind myself that there are new challenges ahead and that I can't just coast for too long.

Also, Malicorne's "Almanach" is the weird dark '70s folk-rock record you probably forgot about but should dig out if you're feeling like hearing some hollowed-out sick and ancient somber tones. I periodically forget about it but it's so perfectly bent and able to make sense both within and without the context of its production.