Saturday, March 22, 2014

We Can Be Heroes: Women Who Rock

I'm was watching the highly underrated movie version of Josie and the Pussycats when I started writing this post. I love this movie and you should too. It's funny, campy, and features a boy band comprised of Breckin Meyer, Seth Green, and Donald Faison, and, more importantly, a pre-Sharknado Tara Reid. Good stuff. It's sort of fitting given this week's theme: women who rock. When I was six, I wanted to be Josie (the cartoon was in rotation when I was little despite coming out before I was born). I've always had rock star dreams despite the fact that I don't sing or play an instrument. A girl can dream.

When I set out to write about women that I admire, I knew that I wouldn't be able to select one female musician or band. There are just too many; it would be like asking a parent to pick their favorite child (although I suspect you all can) or if I asked my friend Anita to pick her favorite Muppet. Some things should just be left unsaid. Instead of picking one, I've decided to do a top five. I just love a list.

I dedicate this post to my album club - I hope that when we get the band back together we'll make some time to discuss these women who rock alongside your continued efforts to convince me of the merits of Billy Joel, 311, and sad electronica.

1. Patti Smith: Listening to Patti Smith is like listening to a poem. She packs so much meaning and passion into every syllable that it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. If you haven't read her book Just Kids you should go and do so right now. I had the opportunity to see her live about a year ago and it was one of the best concerts I've been too. If Patti Smith ever tried to take over the world, I'd be right there behind her. She cares and she has charisma but not in an annoying way. She also tells a great story and has a delightfully wicked sense of humor. For me, Patti is that true punk rock soul - a tad angry, a touch romantic, a dash sarcastic, and a mite unconventional.

Favorites songs: Because the Night, People Have the Power, April Fool, Mosaic, Gloria, Easter, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Redondo Beach, The Jackson Song

2. Tori Amos: Like most women my age (or so I assume), I listened to a lot of Tori Amos in high school. My high school theatre was a big part of this (it's what the cool kids were doing) but besides that, I really liked the combination of her classical training with modern touches. Tori was angry (for very good reasons) and the imagery and phrasing in her songs packs a huge punch.  Little Earthquakes was the first CD that I ever bought. Whenever I listen to it, I immediately flash back to the first time I listened to the songs. I hadn't really heard women sing songs like that. I saw her live on the Dew Drop Inn tour when I was in high school - it was definitely a show.

It's through Tori that I learned about RAINN, an amazing organization that provides services and support for victims of sexual violence. RAINN was the first charity I ever gave money to and it was because of a rock musician that I was even aware it existed.

Favorite songs: Little Earthquakes, Caught a Lite Sneeze, The Waitress, God, Marianne, Cornflake Girl, Take to the Sky, Not the Red Baron, China, Sugar, Strange Little Girl, The New Age, Smells Like Teen Spirit (the last three are covers)

3. Dolly and Loretta: Yes, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn are two people and I said this was a top five. But it's my blog and I make the rules so there. My grandfather loved country music. I have no idea where this Polish Detroiter got into country but I have fond memories of watching TNN with him (although I'm sure I complained a bit when I was 12) and it's because of him that I adore the songs Dolly, Loretta, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, and dozens of other "classic" country artists (for real, Ernest Tubb's version of "El Paso" is so good).

I love the stories of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn - they have the kinds of upbringings that are ripe for country songs. I love listening to them sing about love and loss. They're also a little cheeky which is always fun. What's great about both women is their ability to reinvent themselves: Dolly has had an incredibly successful film career (please watch Rhinestone) and a huge hit with "Travelin' Thru" from the film Transamerica. Let's not forget that Dollywood exists (I will get there one day). Loretta came back in a big way with Van Lear Rose released in 2004. Jack White produced and performed on the album. It is stunningly amazing; I can listen to it over and over again and hear something new every time.

Favorites (Dolly): Jolene, I Will Always Love You, 9 to 5, the entire Rhinestone soundtrack, Islands in the Stream (because reasons), Applejack, Love Is Like a Butterfly

Favorites (Loretta): Rated X, Portland, Oregon, Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man, One's On the Way, Little Red Shoes, You Ain't Woman Enough, Coal Miner's Daughter, Blue Kentucky Girl, Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)

4. The Bangles: Let's clear up something: Susanna Hoffs was not the lead singer of The Bangles. Vocal duties were divided evenly among members of the band (including sisters Vicki and Debbi Peterson, and Annette Zilinskas - original lineup). Hoffs was often singled out as the lead vocalist and she did sing some of their more popular songs. Of course, this is one of the reasons the band broke up but let's focus on the positive. The group was heavily inspired by 60s pop and folk and New Wave - their music is definitely a great combination of those genres. I wanted to be a Bangle (but not Susanna) in the worst way when I was about 13 years old. They seemed so cool and awesome. I wanted to hang out with them and move to California.

There's an episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelei and Sookie get tickets to see The Bangles. They plan on taking Rory and Lane but things change and Lorelei ends up giving the epic seats to Rory and the snobby girls from Chilton, hoping to help Rory make friends at her new school. Lorelei and Sookie sit in the nosebleed section. I like to think that if I have a daughter I will do the same thing for her at some concert. It probably won't be The Bangles but I'm sure some band I love will still be around if I ever have a teenager.

Favorites: In Your Room, In a Different Light (my absolute favorite), Hazy Shade of Winter (a cover), If She Knew What She Wants, Hero Takes a Fall, Eternal Flame (because we all love this song)

5. Liz Phair/Neko Case: Another combo but they represent significant periods in my life and thus must both be included. I started listening to Liz Phair in college (I know, shocking a girl listening to Liz Phair in the late 90s) and Neko Case in my late 20s. Musically, they're very different but they represent periods of transition in my life. Do I identify with everything from their songs? No, but I do admire their DIY aesthetic (I can't believe I just typed that) and their power. Listening to Liz and Neko makes me want to roar.

Exile in Guyville is one of my favorite albums of all time. Phair has often been quoted as saying that the album is a song-by-song reply to The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street. There are a lot of similarities and I always felt like it was her playing where the boys played. Her songs are raw, sort of deadpan, and sexually charged in a way that is very reminiscent of "cock rock" bands like the Stones and Led Zeppelin. I also wasn't as bothered by her more recent pop-rock songs; artists change and grow too. "Extraordinary" is a fantastic song.

I stumbled upon Neko Case when her album The Fox Confessor Brings the Flood was released in 2006. When I would drive around New Orleans, I would listen to that album, the first Raconteurs album, and Van Lear Rose over and over again. There's something soothing about all three albums especially as a collective entity. Then Middle Cyclone was released and the cover art was Neko like this:

How bad ass is that? It's also an exceptional album. Her lyrics are poetic and powerful and she has a country feel about her without being a country singer. Maybe it's because she's Canadian. If you're not following her on Twitter you should be; she's hilarious and mouthy and awesome. It's easy to just be like "here I am, this is who I am - deal with it" when you have Liz and Neko in your corner.

Favorites (Liz): Ant in Alaska, Divorce Song, Dance of Seven Veils, 6'1, Supernova, Extraordinary, Why Can't I?, Polyester Bride, Fuck and Run, White Chocolate Space Egg, Nashville

Favorites (Neko): The Virginian, This Tornado Loves You, Pretty Girls, Margaret v. Pauline, That Teenage Feeling, Hold On, Hold On, Mood to Burn Bridges, Bowling Green, The Next Time You Say Forever, I'm An Animal, Man, Ragtime, I'm From Nowhere, Madonna of the Wasps

So there you have the top five (or seven but who's counting?). There are so many I've left off: Dusty Springfield, Hole, The Supremes, Sleater-Kinney, The Breeders, Adele, The Runaways, Joan Jett, Katy Perry, Marianne Faithful, L7, Lisa Loeb, Lucinda Williams, Patsy Cline, Kelly Clarkson, Carly Simon, Carole King, Martha Reeves, Nico, Irma Thomas. I could do this for days and never get bored.

Spend the rest of Women's History Month (and maybe all of your time after March) listening to these awesome women who rock. If you need me to, I'll make you a mix. Seriously, I'll make you a mix (or at least suggest one to you in the comments).

Coming Soon: My final "We Can Be Heroes" post, an Instagram vacation, and it's finally (I hope) spring!

Josie and the Pussycats

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