Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pre-Women Rock

In the New York Times today: Rocking Out, No Boys Allowed.

This was not a standard garage band. For one, the members had picked out instruments two days earlier. For another, the jam session ended when a supervisor called, “Ladies, it’s snack time.”

The band formed at Girls Rock Camp in Atlanta, which teaches 10- to 16-year-old musical beginners to bang drums and windmill guitars like their rock heroes. The five-day camp has a simple message: Girls rock too. In a genre long dominated by men, the founders want campers to feel as comfortable being loud and expressing themselves on stage as many boys do. 

Oh, to be a preteen in July. These kids are precious, no sarcasm intended. Here's 10-year-old Katherine Butler, whose band Think Fast has already been riven by artistic disputes:

“We’ve had some hard times,” she said. “It feels like we’ve been a band way more than two days.”

And another anonymous rockette:

“I don’t respect Justin Bieber, but I really, really like him.” 

Bless. Absolutely darling. But wait.

A similar rock camp for girls opened in Portland, Ore., in 2001, and the idea has quickly gained steam. It was founded by a women’s studies student who had worked in the music industry and wanted to encourage more women to start bands. 

Encouraging more women to start bands. Oh yes let's. As the article reminds us, this is all so empowering. By all means let us gather up our tender young offspring and deliver them into the loving, empowerfulizing embrace of the music industry.

Summary: be solo, or a duo, because a full band is financially untenable; work much, much harder, under much more stressful conditions, than bands of earlier generations had to. Be very young, or have the ability to take the broke-ness, the physical and emotional knock-around, that very young people can.

Whoops, Mike Doughty, you're such a downer. Let's try that again. Being in a band is so empowerfulmentatious! You go, girl!
On a personal level, I have witnessed the impoverishment of many critically acclaimed but marginally commercial artists. In particular, two dear friends: Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chesnutt. Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their total  incomes fall in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.

Shortly before Christmas 2009, Vic took his life. He was my neighbor, and I was there as they put him in the ambulance. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart. Anybody who knew either of these musicians will tell you that the pair suffered depression. They will also tell you their situation was worsened by their financial situation. Vic was deeply in debt to hospitals and, at the time, was publicly complaining about losing his home. Mark was living in abject squalor in his remote studio in the Smokey Mountains without adequate access to the mental health care he so desperately needed.

Artists, comma, good news about. Anyone?


  1. This brings to mind the sort of story that appeared, with some regularity, in Rolling Stone and The Boston Phoenix (among others), back in the day (the day being the early 70's: Can Women Rock?

    After deciding that, yes, white men can play the blues, the good folks at various "rock" magazines and "underground" newspapers took up the question of whether women could actually play heavy metal without disqualifying themselves as female (or something like that.) Proponents of the yea would cite Fanny, Suzi Quatro (yup), and maybe The Runaways (Joan Jett, etc.) while those who were of the opinion that vagina = wimp would trot out Carly Simon or something.

    Fun times.

    1. Glad to know culture writers were just as good at science back in the '70s as they are today. (Population = 3 billion; sample size = 3?) There sure are some significant p-values on display here.

      If you find me a Women Rock: Yea Or Nay? story from the Phoenix vault, Sul, you get a prize. I'm not sure what prize, and I can't guarantee you'll like it, but there you have it.

  2. I wish I had saved some of those articles, and the "Can white boys sing the blues?" stuff, too. I'm sure they would have been truly hilarious reading by this time, possibly in a class with the "black athletes can't perform in the clutch" school of sports writing from the days before Jackie Robinson. I'm sure the prize would be worth having, but I have no gift for research (which is why I write mostly about myself and make up most of that.)