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Monday, July 17, 2006

Improper use of rock nostalgia

A few weeks ago, my friend Christine and I spent a few minutes mumbling dejectedly about Sleater-Kinney's "indefinite hiatus":
Christine: It was on Pitchfork... I can't believe this...
Alice: Oh. Well, did you see that Carrie Brownstein's favorite writer is Lorrie Moore? That's cool, right? [long silence]

The second stage of grief appears to be indignantly inappropriate nostalgia on Salon:
I've been listening to music and going to shows for more than half a lifetime now, watching indie rock devolve into backward-looking, fashion-damaged pop, while the culture grows ever more unwilling to admit feminism did anything but give women delusion, heartbreak and resentment. In this blue moment for indie rock fans and feminists alike, I need to pay my respects to three women whose noise never sounded like anyone else's and kept getting louder and larger the older they got. I need to see that, like vocalist Corin Tucker, you can be a 30-something mother -- a 30-something woman -- and still jump around onstage and smile and yell and unleash a thunder, that you can also exude joy while being tethered to a partner and a child, because increasingly, women seem to think marriage and parenthood mean you agree to bury yourself alive under a mountain of stuff -- state-of-the-art strollers, art-directed diaper bags, and 12-packs of toilet paper. I need to be reminded that my peers and friends are living correctives to those who believe that it's useless to free yourself from the bonds of biology, history and society, and that you can indeed live a life according to principles that pundits with nannies want to make you believe are quaint unworkable utopian relics of the '60s and '70s. I need to watch three women issue a billowing cloud of noise and in doing so defiantly redefine what it means to be female and an adult.

I liked it better when we were at a loss for words.

I think we can be sad about Sleater-Kinney, but Carlene Bauer's article doesn't do anything productive with the nostalgia except spout some overstated doomsday stuff. If the band made the author feel powerful, can she access that power in positive way that's not complaining? When you write a "X is gone and look at everything that's gone with it," you limit what you can say about X to negative comparisons. When I listened to Call the Doctor recently, I noted how many of the songs are about what you can do with nostalgia (for failed relationships, old rock songs, etc.), and there's not a sense of "this is the end, let me mourn." There's a good discussion of the "end of an era" limitations on the Salon letters page.

The piece is so negative: note all the negative comparisons not only to easy non-musical targets like Caitlin Flanagan, Maureen Dowd, and (bizarrely) Jennifer Weiner, but also to other female musicians like Chrissie Hynde, Courtney Love, Liz Phair, and Debbie Harry. But Bauer shouldn't need to tear them down in order to laud Sleater-Kinney--there's room for more than one female rock group out there. Even the riot grrrl scene gets a dismissive paragraph:
Confession: While I find Sleater-Kinney necessary now, I didn't come to them until 1999's "The Hot Rock." I was never a punk fan, and I couldn't get past the shrill bleat Corin Tucker began with. Also, the riot grrrl movement that they came out of -- lowercased radical feminism that gave men, those powder kegs of violence and selfishness and aggression, no benefit of the doubt -- sounded like dogma couched in terms of the playground taunt, and a sloppy, bratty presentation didn't seem the best way to convince your opponents that there needed to be change. I shied away from the scene for some of the same reasons I finally rejected Sassy: The furious jazz of opinion in the magazine made Seventeen read like Vogue, and it felt, finally, like a sorority of name-dropping queen bees lording it over the lit mag.

It's not like name-dropping for negative effect is any less of an exclusionary sorority. It's worse, because it narrows the field instead of expanding it, as does characterizing an entire genre as "dogma[tic]." The only other women who get positive appraisal in the piece are Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, and Simone de Beauvoir. They don't write rock music, and they're not producing anything anymore either. So why not look forward to people who are doing cool stuff now, or say a few things about the great albums (there's only one song mentioned in the entire column, and that's in the final paragraph)?

And if they're on hiatus, maybe Carrie Brownstein got to see Lorrie Moore at this. I love the line about the bat lobby, of course (link from Bookslut).

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Anonymous Anonymous on Mon Jul 17, 08:43:00 PM:
It's interesting. In the back of my head the line "riot girl is over" keeps spinning around, but I've been listening to all of S-K's records in recent days, and I'm more amazed at the band and their own musical journey. I'm actually really amazed at their most recent effort, _The Woods_, for its accomplishment -- hard hitting, sophisticated, indy rockish (layered? disingenuously complex? if a little sappy?) yet respectful of its 3-chord riot grrrl heavens-to-betsy roots.

So, my reaction to this over the past weeks, to my surprise (and not my chagrin), has been almost completely anti-political. I feel like any attempt at feminist over-analysis is going to devolve into that kind of pettiness that you just cited from _Salon_.

I also wanted to say that one day in my "Advanced" Feminist Theory class this quarter at Northwestern, we had a guest speaker from the political science department. It was Linda Zerilli, whose new book _Feminism and the Abyss of Freedom_ wields an interesting commentary on post-Butlerian feminist thought and features a re-appropriation of Hannah Arendt that I find pretty compelling. Anyway, during our conversation with her, someone said the phrase "First Wave Feminism" (evocative of those oldies like Wollstonecraft and Woolf), and a very loud thunder clap sounded outside and the room went silent for a good 20 seconds. I tried to spike the moment with some laughter, but no one really joined in. So, here's to another moment where only a suspended pause seemed apt.

Quite appropriately, I feel like this is a very long comment that doesn't say a whole lot. :-/
Blogger Meg Lyman on Tue Jul 18, 10:23:00 AM:
for fellow sleater kinney fans see my friend hannah's blog.