Soundtrack to our (Feminist) Lives

Last week we got together with some women friends to talk about the music that’s influenced our relationships with feminism.  We put together a playlist, listened to each track in turn, and then discussed the reasons why it had made the list.

Talking through the tracks, I was reminded of just how powerfully music becomes associated with particular moments in our lives.  After we listened to L7’s ‘Shove’, the women of around my age talked about  Donita Sparks’s legendary tampon throwing moment at Reading Festival in 1992.   I’ll also never forget Donita blowing my poor little repressed mind on British youth television show, The Word, when she pulled down her pants during a performance to reveal a serious lack of underwear.  These may not have been the most helpful feminist acts ever taken (or maybe you think they were), but we agreed that they made us feel that something was changing and it was exciting.   For similar reasons, but from a few years later, Andy talked about No Doubt’s song ‘Just a Girl’ which threw stark light on her suburban upbringing, a childhood of bedrooms being painted pink by parents and an adolescence of being told not to drive at night.

Andy also nominated Lesley’s Gore’s proto-feminist 1964 hit ‘You Don’t Own Me’ which was part of the soundtrack to her childhood because her parents love all of that 60s pop, but which took on new meaning as she came to appreciate the lyrics and discovered that Gore later came out as a lesbian, a piece of queer knowledge that gives an added twist to the song’s meaning.   When we first started dating she put the song on a mix CD for me, as a bit of homage to the way that music has become a method of communication between lesbians.  I think the song still sounds fresh and relevant.

Speaking of leshian music, I was quite glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who thought Kathleen Hanna was singing ‘She’s got the hottest dyke in town’ on ‘Rebel Girl’ rather than ‘She’s got the hottest trike in town’.  And the oldest woman in the group brought along a vinyl copy of Alix Dobkin’s Lavender Jane Loves Women, the very first album made by and for lesbians, released in 1973.  We didn’t get round to listening to it, but maybe next time we will, even if it is, as she says, “a bit scratched”.

The politics of Kate Bush’s ‘Army Dreamers’ surprised us when we stopped just listening to the pretty production, actually read the lyrics, and found that they address the way that poor kids are sent off to die in war.  Kate Bush is very important to me; I spent a lot of time in my childhood dancing in the kitchen to her album The Dreaming.

Andy recommended Ani DiFranco’s ‘Talk to me Now’ from her first album released when she was 19 years old, which features the great line,  “I was blessed with a birth and a death and I guess I just want some say in between”.  There was a general agreement that DiFranco is particularly good at drawing the political implications out of personal experience.

Patti Smith’s extraordinary ‘Gloria’ was universally loved and still has the power to make me blush.  I actually bought her album Horses because of her photograph on the cover, not because I knew anything about the music.  There was a lot of discussion about Smith’s self-presentation and although I hate the word ’empowering’, right now I can’t think of another one to describe the effect people said she continues to have on them.

It was interesting that the Throwing Muses’s song ‘Hate my Way’ was liked and disliked by different people for the same reason – because it’s so raw and angry.  I think those of us who like it do so because it represents a woman completely owning her negative thoughts and feelings.  The part when Hersh lets rip with ‘My pillow screams too/But so does my kitchen/And water/ And my shoes/And the road’ still raises the hairs on the back of my neck.  It’s not the line itself so much as the way she delivers it.  Incidentally, I had a nightmare the other night in which I found out that the Throwing Muses were playing in my town and I couldn’t find a computer with internet access to book tickets.

Someone put Sonic Youth’s song ‘Swimsuit Issue’ on the list, causing me to reappraise a band I’d always rather resented because when I was a teenager, only the coolest kids at my school were allowed to listen to Sonic Youth.  I would never have dared to listen to them because it would have just looked like I was trying too hard.

I’d never really been convinced by Le Tigre before, but had to admit to enjoying ‘Decaptacon’ and ‘What’s your take on Casevetes?’  I am now persuaded to give them another chance.   The same goes for Chicks on Speed and even Peaches.   The list introduced me to some new artists to explore, M.I.A who sounds amazing and Fever Ray.  Other people were introduced to new music too, and some were espeically bowled over by the gorgeous mystery of Nina Nastasia’s ‘Dear Rose’ from her album Dogs.

Possibly the most important track for me on the list was P J Harvey’s ‘Dress’ from her first album Dry, which a friend put on a mix tape for me way back around 1996 and which started the ongoing love affair with Harvey that has brought me so much joy and pain.  I don’t think I’ll try and articulate my feelings; I’ll just post a video of her performing the song live.

We realise that we’ve hardly scratched the surface and that the list had many limitations, so we’ve decided to keep adding to our collaborative playlist and do it all again in a few months time.

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