Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

These monsters are real

When you listen to Heavens to Betsy all the time, you forget. When yr perspective is firmly squared behind songs like "My Secret" and "The Ones," to say nothing of the first B-mobile and Bikini Kill records, you lose sight of how brave and fierce these women had to be in the first place to come forward with songs about sexual violence and abuse, to pound the musical landscape with such seismic force that it would crack and shift and divide. It wasn't just a conspiracy of silence they were up against--it was an entire musical tradition, premised upon the "immortal" boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl-and-sings-about-it narrative that both reifies notions of men as poet-singer-subjects and freezes women as lyrical objects. For someone to re-write that narrative, to say, YES, I am going to work in the rock idiom but it is going to be on my terms and in the service of my own rage and surivival and subjectivity as a woman--that is how you spell revolution.

Today it's easy to lose sight of how radical a strategy this is, to parody, inhabit and reclaim "(male) rock guises & tropes"* in order to cope with sexual abuse. The Free to Fight LP has been sitting on shelves for well nigh ten years. But there was never anything inevitable or easy about it, and there won't be, so long as musical traditions romanticizing assault conspire with male entitlement to produce a culture of violence against women. Because the formula is still there--displaced but lurking & thriving in subtler, superficially innocent (read: EMO) forms, a la Kind of Like Spitting's "We Are Both Writers," in which our wounded guy-protagonist sings,

All I really want to do is get back into you
No tension, no worries...
I can't control my instincts
Why can't I be happy just to call you a friend?...
I'm getting reacquainted with my lower self
Redhead teach me compassion from your fragrant continent...
I'm so sick of trying to fight my body and you at the same time
I am righteous in my anger!
All I have to give you is my lower self

It's not like the KoLS example isn't nuanced or complicated, since the Bridges Worth Burning LP also offers up "He Calls Me" in addition to "Writers" (my sister Jennie reads it as homosocial/erotic rather than as speaking from a girl's point of view, but theorize fer yrself). And Ben Barnett is obviously not a hulking, blatantly pervy misogynist like, say, Gene Simmons. But listen to the "Direction" H2B 7 inch and "Writers" back to back and see how innocuous the "I can't control my instincts" lyric sounds then. Plus, "fragrant continent"? What the Saidian hell??

*Phrasing is adapted from Gayle Wald.

1 comment:

ido said...

I remember getting the "These Monsters are Real" 7-inch and the "Calculated" cassette back when I was in highschool. Maybe 1995 or 1996. Both completely shredded my perceptions and have stayed with me until today.

The world still hasn't caught up with this music.