Thursday, 25 August 2011

Reflection - Revolution - Ritual

Tag: P. J. Harvey

THIS WEEK I have been browsing female-centred music reviews and interviews and continuing to find related books or essays which I think I should read; also tracking down names of artists and bands. In turn this has led me to think about my relationship with feminism in the context of writing about music and to re-evaluate the purpose of this blog: celebration interviews with independent UK female artists; dancing and stomping on the boundaries of traditional female roles and creating their own “norm”. How do they do it?

One stormy night…
I visited the F-Word web site and learnt about Electrelanes, who have been absent for three years while doing PhD’s and then I clicked on a section titled Essays in order to read six superbly written instalments, by Cazz Blasé, writing women back in to the story of punk, under the banner “Punk Women Write Back”. I learnt that Riot Grrrl has not necessarily been taken seriously as significant by female rock, pop and punk writers, which will not be a fault of this Blog. I discovered lots of amazing books, such as “The Lost Women Of Rock Music” by Helen Reddington. I felt elated, as if I had found a treasure, in terms of research for my Blog and information which support my thinking, as a music critic and feminist, BUT I was also starting to loose my nerve - and along with it any belief in this Blog’s value. The reason? This blog's concept of celebration interviews, rather than an analysis, in the context of feminist theory. The sheer, unadulterated naivety of my idea, with a bonus, the notion that maybe some kind of method to survive the creative process, both in terms of making music and being able to survive on making music would appear like a shining thread through all the interviews - invisible only to those who “needed to know” or who are ready to see. 

   “Plonker!” I shouted to myself, standing up, leaving the screen page open and walking around the room quickly for a bit because I was highly embarrassed.

It reminded me of the moment that I realised I needed to go to university and learn the new theories: deconstructionism, semantics, post-modern feminism and psychoanalysis. (I didn't have any A levels but was accepted, based on an inspired, rather than wise, essay I wrote about gender and border crossing and also because I maintained weekly writing for a National newspaper and passed the preliminary Foundation subjects.)  

The understanding that I needed to update my education happened during an interview with Polly J Harvey, in my role as assistant editor for Lime Lizard. She told me that feminism was dead, or something along those lines - and I didn’t say a bloody thing. We talked about dreams and, serve me right, that night I couldn’t sleep. Why didn’t I say anything? Because I didn’t know what feminism was – in the middle class educated sense. At that time, it had meant equal opportunities on an official level, but still mind games, a sexual politics every present in an unofficial capacity.  I had led the life of a Queer (a woman who does not serve any female stereotype) and feminism in the public arena, upbringing and sheer enthusiasm and doggedness had provided that, but I didn’t know the theory; I didn’t know there were different types of feminism even, such as French feminists, who celebrate difference and to which I developed a preference for during my studies, particularly Luci Irigaray, Juliet Kristeva and Helene Cixous.

My experience of feminists had been as a young mum going to march with Babies Against The Bombs (that daughter is now 29!) and being told to wipe off my lipstick, take off my summery top and replace it with a dirty khaki tee shirt, with paint on (provided). In my head it was still about burning bras. I could see P J Harvey would be the kind to prefer a nice brassiere.

It hurt all the more – my ignorance and inability to push a point – because I had been inspired to seek out women-centred music after the experience of UT, live, which was my first live review for Melody Maker and commissioned by Everett True. I had previously been writing music reviews for LAM magazine, the free cultural magazine left outside London tube stations. I remember accidently stomping, in my doctor marten boots with fluorescent orange laces, on my first article - about New Zealand indie royalty, The Chills - as the page lay open on the wet tiles of Tufnell Park’s tube entrance.

The UT review was a response; in the middle of any UT song I felt that I understood everything – or at least felt that kind of confidence and hope – in flashes, moments of chord chaos and guitar swells. To disconnect you, erase the empathy and therefore any responsibility for you at all, they would fluster around changing, re-setting and tuning instruments, every one of them, it seemed to me. There was a guy in the band, I remember; with a smile so big you could put it on a pumpkin.

It didn’t take long to realise that there was an inevitable reaction when I skipped in to the office inspired by the latest independent female artist or band. For example, Lida Husik,  then signed to Shimmy Disc, who stayed at my house while visiting from the States. My enthusiasm was interpreted as “love” by a few (hello Zane!). Then it was my P J Harvey review, the first in the National press and I overheard the comment: “Another one of Ngaire’s lesbians.” It still amazes me how people’s sex lives relate to anything unless you want to have sex with them. Maybe it’s because rock’n’roll – if yer talking rockabilly and blues the core of rock and pop – means fuck or fucking. That said plenty of people knew her value because no doubt the guys at Too Pure who ran the White Horse in Hampstead, who put on her first London show, would have tipped them off too. For once this gig didn’t have a dog, or next door neighbour but the other three people were there. And the review was published.

Then an interview with Kristin Hersh in the Guardian came my way; courtesy of writer Lucy Gulland. 

Lucy was infuriated because the journalist who had written the piece had focused on Kristin's manic-depression (replace that with madness), self-loathing and judgements on her role as a wife and mother. Lucy wanted to know why we couldn’t know the logistics, such as how does she finance her recordings; write, perform and raise a family of four? (Scroll down the link to find Lucy’s comments in full.) Lucy made it clear what sort of interview it SHOULD have been and with that I realized, in a flash, that it should have been exactly the sort of interviews I am doing, and developing, on this Blog. 

I remembered my friend Lida reminding me how anger is energy. Originally, the fear of not being “clever” enough just deflated my pleasure of the text but this was different, there was something much more sinister about this interview and I had to get to bottom of it. Finally, I got out the cardboard box of feminist essays out of the attic. I can’t believe I kept them in the attic, the place where madwomen were kept, out of sight, on the edge, making as much noise as they want! I freed them and dusted off my non-fiction women’s shelf.

And I soon realised the male journalist was taking the traditional form of silencing the woman, in order that he may identify her as mother/wife/mad woman. If he had asked her about the points Lucy Gulland had mentioned (in Comment): how does she finance herself, take the family on tour and so on, that would have been giving her voice; defining her own behaviour as natural and of value, rather than her "serving" his image of the female roles. He could not acknowledge her as different otherness itself - and no doubt he's an intelligent man.
First thought: No wonder I'm single.
Second thought: This is why my blog is so important. I've decided.

Onward for ritual and revolution.

Next interview September. 

1 comment:

ngaireruth said...

In rather timely fashion, Ut happen to be embarking on a UK tour, including Manchester, Bristol, Brighton and London. Check out their web site link (above) to find out the full details.