March 28, 2017
It’s been a little over a week since Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales released Room 29, a song cycle of tales from the Chateau Marmont, and I’m still searching for a
review that deals with something other than Jarvis’s lyrics, or that reduces the piano’s sound to “tinkling.”1
I hate to be one of those (former) musicologists who bemoans the lack of music education among pop music reviewers. That old, stale argument is the masculine posturing
of a mindset that says, yes, the only real way to discuss music’s merit requires formal analysis of harmony, with maybe a nod to “surface” details like melody and timbre. I hate that attitude, and not because I’m not into harmonic analysis.2 Instead, I hate it because it reduces music to “the notes,” when it’s about so much more: expression, merging of sound and lyrics, timbre, production values, etc.
But while I do think reviewers can and should apply different values to different projects, it’s a GIANT FUCKING PROBLEM that reviewers have paid so little attention to the music of Room 29, and the song cycle form it takes. These two aspects provide keys to understanding how Room 29 works, and whether, for that matter, it succeeds. But it’s also troublesome that reviewers have slighted Chilly Gonzales, whose music creates the mood for Room 29, in favor of measuring the project on whether Jarvis’s lyrics about the sad, dead residents of the Chateau Marmont stand up to his keen observations of British life.
So, here I am, being a cranky musicologist, but endeavoring not to be one of the masculine smackdown versions, and insisting that this is a song cycle, and you have to consider the music, people. This does not mean using complicated jargon, or analysis that only music theorists understand. Instead, it means having a fundamental grasp of what this thing (that is, a song cycle) is and how to evaluate it, and, yes, paying attention to sound.
By calling Room 29 a song cycle, Gonzales and Cocker are placing their music a tradition that flourished in 19th-century Romanticism and emerged from its values. When constructing a song cycle, composers such as Franz Schubert or Robert Schumann focused on the work of one poet; each Lied (or song, if you prefer) would take its form from a preexisting poem; and the whole cycle would be arranged in such a way as to construct a large, emotional arc on a central theme.3
In a recent interview, Gonzales called Room 29 a “reverse song cycle,” meaning that the music came before the lyrics. He would send Jarvis the piano parts, and then Jarvis would compose the melodies and lyrics over them.4 Although composed after the music, the lyrics tell an overarching story and give form to Room 29, just as they would in a traditional song cycle. The title track, which sets up the themes of the album, sets up the ironic distance within this “comfortable venue for a nervous breakdown.” Jarvis observes, “A lifetime of spectating leaves you impotent, unable to join in without a frame of reference, watching the playback after the event.” The songs that follow are “playbacks after the event,” unflinching but also sympathetic portraits of the room’s former inhabitants: “Clara,” the depressing story of Mark Twain’s last surviving child; “Bombshell,” which reflects on the honeymoon of Jean Harlow and her second husband, Paul Bern (who supposedly killed himself due to impotence, but who may have been murdered by a former lover); Howard Hughes, whose life story forms not a song by Jarvis but a narration by historian David Thomson. Other, anonymous characters flit in and out as emblems of (old) Hollywood in “Tearjerker,” “Salome,” and “Ice Cream as Main Course.”
And that’s where most reviewers stop. BUT here’s what I love about this project, and what I think is so smart about it after repeated listens: Gonzales’s music—mostly piano, but also with some additional strings provided by the Kaiser Quartett—draws on the sonic traditions of the 19th century, as well as the classic Hollywood film soundtracks of the earlier 20th century. The songs deliberately evoke a past through the sounds that might be associated with those times: occasional flashes of ragtime through a syncopated rhythm, or fragments that recall something from Great American Songbook, or strings that murmur or swell like something from a 1930s soundtrack to a melodrama.
Room 29 isn’t necessarily inventive in terms of new-classical/pop song cycles (I would listen to Corey Dargel for that), but it is a beautiful illustration of how pop music can use piano and orchestral instruments in an emotional and affecting way. (Note: I am also a huge fan of old Hollywood, so this project automatically appeals to me.) The instrumental “Marmont Overture,” for example, uses rubato, a wandering melody, and lots of harmonic color to set a wistful stage for the sound effects of the Chateau Marmont. Each of these musical aspects alone can evoke uncertainty; put together, it musically predetermines themes to come.
“Bombshell” and “Belle Boy” use rhythm to great effect. “Bombshell” pulses in the treble register of the piano, a right-hand melody that follows Jarvis’s lyrics, but inevitably returns to a ticking time-bomb echoed in the strings. We expect ominous pulsing in the left hand of the piano, and locating it in the right upends expectations in a way that somehow makes the song more unsettling. When the song departs from this texture, through interjections from the strings, it only heightens the feeling the something ominous will happen. The lyrics—about Jean Harlow and Paul Bern—imply the missed opportunities in their relationships, but, like all good Jarvis lyrics, could be extrapolated out. But with the specificities and the knowledge of Bern’s death two months later, the ominous piano setting becomes a prelude to tragedy.
“Belle Boy” pairs with “Bombshell” in its use of a pedal-point in the piano’s bass note and in the strings. Here, the music gives the sense of the bell boy rushing through his duties, having to deal with all kinds of depraved jerks in the process. (It’s a little over-the-top, though, when an actual bell chimes. Who does Chilly Gonzales think he is, Hector Berlioz?)
While other songs in the cycle mix 20th-century styles, “Howard Hughes Under the Microscope” draws on Debussy. The impressionistic harmonic palette (some parallel chords here and there, harmonies that feel more about color than direction, etc.) allows David Thomson’s narration to achieve focus and adds a mood of wistfulness to Thomson’s description of Hughes, both as the Hollywood rich kid and the later, urine-sipping version.
With sweeping strings, “A Trick of the Light” brilliantly summarizes Hollywood glitz in general, and golden-age Hollywood. This song best illustrates how Jarvis and Chilly Gonzales weave the themes of the album into sophisticated and emotionally resonant music. Arpeggiated chords lead to deliberate rests, giving a feeling of uncertainty, as its musical direction swells and ebbs. The lyrics are about Hollywood, of course, but become so much more through Jarvis’s performance within the song, which builds to desperation. The lyrics could easily become melodrama, and so could the music (it ends with a sweeping orchestral section that would not feel out of place in an early talkie Oscar-bait film), but Jarvis and Gonzales manage to escape that fate (or maybe just do melodrama so well that I’m willing to forgive them for it).
“A Trick of the Light” also illustrates a final point about Room 29 as a song cycle. It comes late in the album’s order, after so many of the other songs have already illustrated the parts of the whole. It works as a grand summation and an expansion at the same time, just like a song late in a song cycle could.
- FFS, people, that’s just lazy.
- I’m a flutist and bassist who thinks of the world in single-line melodies as they intersect, not as simultaneous chordal things. I’m great with polyphony, y’all!
- For example, one of the quintessential song cycles of the 19th century, Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, creates an overarching narrative from a series of Heinrich Heine’s poems: the poet finds love, then loses it. This arc illustrates the Romantic mindset, in which pure happiness could not be understood without the deepest sorrow to frame it; sweet needs bitter to make sure it keeps from cloying; and true beauty cannot exist without the ugly (or even monstrous). Also, Heine haaaated being called a Romantic, and yet he’s recognized as one of ‘em, thus proving that the Romantics were the first hipsters. (Sorry.)
- I wish the interviewer had delved deeper into this. Chilly Gonzales implies it wasn’t really too back-and-forth (at least not at first), but that seems extra weird to me as a person who’s been in bands.
March 19, 2017
“Oh, we’re fucked.”
–“Fail,” from Depeche Mode’s Spirit
It takes a lot to get Depeche Mode to write a political album. The band has never exactly done political. Yes, they have a handful of mildly political songs: “Everything Counts,” “People Are People,” and (some say) “Master and Servant” (but do you really believe that, when Martin Gore was going around in leather bondage gear at the time? Yes, it has the lyric, “In bed or in life, it’s all just the same,” but…). But songwriter Martin Gore* typically sticks to a few themes: lust (“Question of Lust”), love (“Somebody”), religious imagery (“Blasphemous Rumours,” “Judas”), more lust (“Lie to Me,” “Behind the Wheel”, “Stripped,” ), lust with religious imagery (“Personal Jesus,” “Black Celebration”), lust with a hint of S&M (“Master and Servant,” “Strangelove”), and the occasional dash of supposedly unintentional homoeroticism (“Never Let Me Down”).
And that is fine. Lust has been valid topic for songwriters throughout pop history, a rich vein to mine in all its permutations (which Gore has). Depeche Mode would not be the same without Gore’s particular take on sex and sexuality; had Vince Clarke never left, the band would be remembered for some catchy, singable synthpop. Pairing Gore’s lyrics with dark, layered synths, Depeche Mode honed a sound–and a legacy–apart from their synthpop peers.
That unique sound drew me into the music. I’ve been a Depeche Mode fan for roughly 27 years now, which puts my arrival as a fan between Music for the Masses and Violator. In retrospect, that pairing marks the band’s high point, the moment when Gore’s sex-tinged lyrics and Alan Wilder’s dense, layered synth melodies fused into something utterly appealing to a semi-goth (goth-adjacent? goth-esque?) tween. Since Wilder’s departure, the band’s sound shifted, becoming more atmospheric and less dance-oriented.
Spirit keeps that atmospheric sound, but Gore’s lyrics have turned political.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m both a pop music scholar** and a Depeche Mode fan. My feelings about this album can’t be separated into neat, little segments, wherein the critic in me knows that the lyrics are lacking even if the fan in me recognizes that the spirit (no pun intended) is willing.
As a pop music scholar at the nexus of pop and politics, I see this shift on Spirit as a signal of things to come: We are fucked, I think (like Gore), if Depeche Mode has finally released a political album 36 years into their career. When bands as large as Depeche Mode, who lived through other times that demanded political action (They were flirting with homoerotic imagery during the height of the AIDS crisis, ffs), now suddenly pay attention, that alone offers a measure of the danger we are in.
Although Gore says he wrote most of the album before the election, the songs throughout the album speak to the need for change and the threats of the present moment. “Going Backwards” laments the detachment of observing modern warfare from afar. “Where’s the Revolution” laments the easy deception of the masses by people like Trump: “C’mon people, you’re letting me down.” “Worst Crime” laments that people are not doing anything: “Once there were solutions/now we have no excuses.” “Poorman” laments the inefficacy of trickle-down economics. “Fail” laments our failure at all of the above.
As a political album, Spirit doesn’t quite rouse the troops so much as express the despair and powerlessness that a lot of people feel, whether about Trump, or war in Syria, or Brexit, or the ill-treatment of immigrants by ICE, or extrajudicial killings of people of color by police. My initial reaction to this despair lacked charity: I got annoyed that Depeche Mode, all very rich dudes, would release an album chiding everyone else for not shaping a revolution to their needs. My second reaction was: I get it, Martin. I have felt this kind of despair and powerlessness at a fairly regular rate since November 8, and I don’t think it’s going to go away no matter how much money I send to good nonprofits, or how much I volunteer at Planned Parenthood, or how often I send letters, emails, and postcards to elected officials.
So, while Spirit may be the political album that expresses how I feel right now, I’m not sure it’s the one I need. It might have been the album I needed a few months ago–just like an album of sad songs does wonders to heal a breakup, an album about political despair would have made for some productive wallowing. But I can’t stay in my pocket of despair for eternity. I need to move on, and I’m not sure Spirit is the album to help me do that.
I will say one final thing for Spirit, though: At least it’s a clear, disavowing response to Richard Spencer, who called Depeche Mode the “official band of the alt-right.”
*The most political song the band has ever released was “The Landscape Is Changing” from Construction Time Again, written by Alan Wilder. As much as I love Alan Wilder and dearly miss his musical contributions, this song is a lyrical stinker.
**You can take the girl out of the academy, but you can’t take the academy out of the girl.
February 22, 2017
By the time I decided to knit a pussy hat for the Women’s March, there was almost no pink yarn left in NYC, and no time to order any. But there was a half-finished sweater, made of perfect-for-pussy-hats bright fuchsia yarn, that lived, still on needles, in a plastic bag in my cedar chest.
I pulled the sweater from the cedar chest and knew: yes, I could destroy this hideous monster.
The sweater, from a pattern from Stitch & Bitch Nation, was supposed to be French-inspired, romantic, a pale pink confection combining two different weights of yarn. It was light and floaty on top, and cinched in at the waist with a contrasting ribbon and stretchy ribbing below. It would be perfect to wear to the yarn shop where I worked in my final days of dissertation fieldwork.
If only I had stuck to the pattern. My disaster started when the shop didn’t have the right color yarn. Instead of pale pink, I went with a screaming fuchsia. Then, to show off my yarn-shop maven skillz, I substituted an interesting, cabled lace rib for the simple ribbing. It was a beautiful pattern, and well knitted. Unfortunately, it added the bulk of cable and the bare skin of lace, making sure I was hot AND cold.
It also added the appearance of a fifteen-pound weight gain on an already bad-relationship-expanded frame. When I put it on, I cried.
At the time, I’d never given up on any knitting project, mostly because I needed them for my job. But I couldn’t see how to make it better. I shoved it into a plastic bag, and worked on some stupid hand warmers so I’d have something new for work that week.
Soon—and I mean over the span of the next two months—I got a dissertation fellowship, was fired from the yarn shop for letting them know about the fellowship, ended the crap relationship, and moved back to New York. The sweater receded in importance. I forgot about fixing the sweater, because I had a dissertation to write.
And now, more than ten years later, I ripped that sucker. Because sometimes the only way to fix something is to turn it into something else.
Of course, I soon encountered another problem: I haven’t knitted in five years. I was no longer the speedy, facile-fingered gal I was in 2005. The first pussy hat I made was too big, because I didn’t check my gauge. It was also a little sloppy, because I kept knitting after 10 pm. And then I completely fucked up Kitchener stitch (don’t ask).
It looked like crap, at least by my “former yarn store worker” standards. But it was done. And I still had time enough to make another for the March.
I started in on the second. I paid more attention to my gauge, as well as my tension in my hands. I made sure I spent a large enough amount of time on it to make progress, but I also reminded myself to quit before I fucked it up. I did the Kitchener stitch finishing while fully awake, for example.
In the end, it’s a pretty good hat. It’s still a little big, but in a way that is cute, instead of bad-‘90s-alt-band. But I’m not embarrassed to wear it.*
Anyway, this post isn’t exactly about knitting, even though it is.
Since the election, I’ve been trying to write, but it’s been nothing but ugly sweaters. I start things, leave them half finished, and when I come back to them, I no longer recognize the thing I wanted the writing to become. They aren’t exactly as terrible as my ugly sweater, but, like that sweater, I don’t see how I can fix them without ripping them apart and starting over, even when they have beautiful parts.
And, some days, I just don’t even see the point in knitting—er, writing. That sweater didn’t seem like a worthy project once I got back to New York and immersed myself in a dissertation about third wave feminist politics and music. Now, my writing feels unimportant in a United States with a narcissistic, sexual predator president whose every cabinet member seems out to destroy the thing they are supposed to protect. Even in areas where I am an expert, I feel unmoored by the speed of everything changing around me: After years in academia, I’m not good at coherent hot takes.
But sometimes you have to do something, even if it means knowing your actions will be inadequate. You might have to destroy a sweater in order to make a functional, sloppy-looking hat. Or get out and wear that hat to a protest, even if you know that the people who need to listen to you believe wackadoo conspiracy theories and think that George Soros is giving you pin money.
And sometimes you need to write a bullshit essay about bad choices in knitting, because you need to start writing again, even if your writing will never be up to the task of reckoning with the contemporary moment.
*There’s much to critique about pussy hats in terms of white feminism, body politics, gender essentialism, and crafting, and why maybe I should be a little embarrassed by the hat. But that would be an entirely different post. In fact, it is similar to a pitch I’m crafting.
November 17, 2015
This episode’s guest, Lauren Oglesby, is a singer-songwriter from Seattle who now lives in New Orleans. Unlike the previous guests, I’ve never met Lauren in “real life”; instead, she answered my general call on Twitter for women who wanted to be interviewed.
So, in other words, Lauren is pretty brave.
In our first email exchange, Lauren pitched me with an intriguing topic: how contemporary Christian music had influenced her when she was learning to write songs, and how she’d gotten away from that both in terms of faith and songwriting. Now, I know nothing about contemporary Christian music. I was raised Catholic, and the post-Vatican II church music that I grew up with somehow managed to combine the worst attributes of church modes and 1960s folk music. So, of course I wanted to talk with Lauren to learn more about the Protestant side of the world.
Our conversation covers a lot of ground, from her songwriting process to falling in love with music. That little bit about loving music comes toward the end of the podcast, and it’s one of my favorite moments in the series so far. Seriously, it’s great to find someone else who feels the similarities between falling in love with music and falling in love with an actual human.
Lauren is also a tremendously talented musician. You can (and should!) check out her music here.
November 11, 2015
It’s the “not punk enough” episode of Loud Sirens! RIGHT HERE!!!
Punk is complicated, if only because it’s a subculture with an endless feedback cycle with academia. Was it complicated in the first place, or did Dick Hebdige make it so, and did the thousands of white, middle-class nerds who ended up in grad school after having a teenage punk band reinforce that notion? I dunno! But probably the Hebdige thing, and definitely the last bit.
Anywho, Jamie Varriale Velez and I both feel like we don’t quite measure up to the “punk” identity. Jamie’s analysis along lines of race, ethnicity and gender is both smart and impassioned, and is pretty much what I’d like to think is super punk rock. But we both know that what we’d like punk to be isn’t always what punk is. Ergo, not punk enough.
I first met Jamie at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, in the summer of 2010 (I think?), through our mutual friend Daphne. We were nerds among the cool kids, in a lot of ways—Daphne and I taught the “Women who Rock” session, which Jamie helped out on. We’ve been pals ever since, commiserating over academia and punk and punk in academia.
And, of course, we’ve talked a lot about our positions as women in relation to both those topics, and this podcast is no different! Jamie’s research on Los Crudos and identity politics in punk pairs well with my research on Riot Grrrl. Or, really, it’s a good study in contrast of the deployment of identity politics—what works, what doesn’t, and how aspects of identity become flattened when those politics involve women. (Like, for example, the erasure of women of color from Riot Grrrl.)
Jamie’s a FANTASTIC, funny, smart partner in conversation, and I’m amazed by her extensive knowledge about punk, including Greg Ginn’s astrological sign (Gemini!), as well as its implications for Black Flag. Who knew? JAMIE!
So, listen to the podcast! We might not feel punk enough, but who really does?
October 29, 2015
So, I’ve been having some delays getting the podcast onto iTunes for various dumb reasons, up to and including my own negligence, but also involving weird errors on iTunes for three days straight any time I tried to go to the “Podcast” page. Given that wee hitch, I’m putting a pause on releasing the next episode until I get this shizz straightened out.
BUT! This does not mean that you can’t listen to the three episodes already up at Libsyn! Here’s a little blog post about each episode, so you can check out each of the lovely participants: Meg Wilhoite, Erica Flores, Alexandra Apolloni.
Aaaand, I am also switching to a TUESDAY schedule. I am a keen observer of what gets the most circulation via my Tweets (blog posts and my other writing), and the Thursday release schedule just wasn’t working. I don’t want to do a disservice to any of the amazing women who offered their time to the podcast (so far!), and so I’m going to be putting this podcast out on what is, quite frankly, a better day for getting noticed.
The schedule going forward:
Episode 4: Jamie Varriale Velez (Not Punk Enough!)
Episode 5: Robin James (Postfeminism & Race! Depeche Mode! EDM!*)
Episode 6: Lauren Oglesby (Songwriting! Composing! Escaping CCM!**)
Episode 7: Liana Silva (Sound Studies, Part 1!)
Episode 8: Sammus (Nerdcore! Indie Hip-hop! Sound Studies, Part 2!)
More interviews are in the mix, but I order is still TBD.
*Electronic Dance Music
**Contemporary Christian Music
October 23, 2015
Episode 3 of Loud Sirens is HERE!
It’s a day late, but definitely not a dollar short! The guest for Loud Sirens Episode 3 is Alexandra Apolloni, a musicologist who earned her PhD at UCLA with a dissertation on “girl” singers in swinging London in the 1960s.* As someone who has done a little bit of research on Girl Groups in the US, I wanted to know more about Xandras topic of research–the London girl isn’t the same as the NYC girl, but both of them had a little more freedom than the generation before, even if that freedom came across in gender-restrictive ways. The way that Xandra talks about Lulu’s arrival story is so fluid and smart, I can’t wait for you to hear it.
Xandra and I have also written a lot about intersectionality. So, if you’ve ever wondered how feminist academics talk about intersectionality (and not how Tumblr kids talk about it), give it a listen. I blab a bit about structure, even though I know I’m not supposed to in this poststructuralist world. We discuss Xandra’s awesome 2014 essay, “‘The Biggest Feminist in the World: On Miley Cyrus. Feminism, and Intersectionality” which I edited for the American Music Review, and demonstrates that she’s aces at talking about her research.
Xandra’s research is GREAT and very exciting to me (she’s SO solid, y’all! GIVE THIS LADY A TENURE-TRACK JOB STAT), but the “topic of the week” is something utterly depressing: the music industry’s treatment of women. We’ve both seen various biopics (Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse) and read various depressing stories (Chrissie Hynde’s self-blame for her sexual assault; the Jackie Fox story) that illustrate this particular iteration of shittiness.
Can I tell you how excited I am for this episode, despite the depressing theme? It’s a great episode! You should definitely listen.
P.S. For those of you waiting for iTunes, the podcast is still awaiting its approval.
*She also has fantastic—and I mean absolutely the best–taste in spectacles. I have never seen her without an awesome set of glasses.
October 15, 2015
Hooray! The second episode of Loud Sirens is HERE!
This week’s guest is Erica Flores, the Program Director of Girls Rock Austin. I met Erica at the EMP Pop Conference in Los Angeles some years ago, when she and Allison Wolfe (of Bratmobile fame) acted as delightful gadflies in numerous panels. Their commentary was spot on, and (you’ll hear Erica tell it) led to them helping to shape the next EMP.
Meeting Erica and Allison (who I’d interviewed for my dissertation a few years before via phone) in person was a highlight of that conference for me. Although I don’t talk about it on this podcast, that particular conference was a low point in my academic career: I found out while I was there that I was out of the running for a big job where I’d been on the long short list; for the first time since the early days of 2004, I blew the presentation aspect of my paper by talking WAY TOO FAST after the famous person on my panel insulted me and my topic; and I had a terrible experience with one of the conference organizers. In short, I was in a bad place.
But Erica and Allison provided a balm for this suckitude, and talking with them (and with the always amazing Alice Echols, who chatted with me about my research for an hour) saved the conference for me. Erica and Allison are both smart, funny women, and I’m glad that Erica is the second guest on the podcast.
This episode’s main topic is Girls Rock Camp, a now-global series of non-profit, independently run camps where girls spend a week learning to play instruments in a supportive environment. Erica talks with me about the growth of the organization, how she puts intersectional ideas into practice with the kids, and the importance of creating an organization that pays attention to local needs.
Ancillary topics include: teenage rebellion, shopping for musical equipment as a woman, and our mutual love for The Cure and Britpop. Plus, bonus topic: We chat about the awesomeness of the Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie oeuvre.
A note on the podcast: I say that this one will come after one about intersectionality, but I had to change the order due to some technical issues on the other episode that I’m still cleaning up.
October 9, 2015
The First Episode of Loud Sirens is HERE!
The First Guest: Meghann Wilhoite:
Meg(hann) is a music theorist by training, an amazing musician (Faulkner Detectives, Death of Codes, and our unnamed metal project), and one of my closest friends IRL. We became friends at Columbia in 2007 under circumstances that bring out a cynical laugh from both of us, as is evidenced by the first section of the podcast.
Meg is, in many ways, the inspiration for this podcast (the other inspiration is that I’m tired of male rock critics talking with male artists and generally ignoring women, which is an eternal issue; the other other inspiration is the 50 or so women that I know who I want to have on the podcast). We’ve been talking about music since we met, often from very different perspectives. As a (former?) ethnomusicologist, I’m often more concerned with the cultural implications of a piece of music than I am with the notes; my friendship with Meg often reminds me that, well, those pesky notes are important, too.
Our discussion is a little more free-ranging than most of the interviews I have done since, and I probably talk 50-75% more than I would with anyone else (fair warning!). But don’t let my blabbermouthed-ness in this episode scare you away, because Meg is a brilliant person. We talk about leaving academia (which both of us have done), the sunk costs of research, Morton Feldman (the subject of Meg’s graduate research), and playing music as women in our 30s.
I had a very hard time choosing a name for the podcast. So I asked Twitter. I got a ton of puns, most of which were excruciating. (Verily, I had continuous puns for days, which have still not stopped but only slowed to a trickle.) However, within that pile of puns, I got a few good ideas. Among the first was from Heather Wheat, who suggested that I incorporate “Sirens.” And Jamie Varriale Velez, a guest on a future episode of the podcast, seconded that idea. And then someone else thirded it, and I knew that it probably should be part of the name.
And now comes the second part of the name. Earlier this week, in preparation for my interview with Liana Silva, I read her brilliant personal essay on women’s voices, volume, and ethnicity on the Sounding Out blog. The essay reminded me, although women’s voices in general are not supposed to be loud, those implications are amplified by race, ethnicity, class, etc. As a white woman with a VERY loud voice, I’m rarely punished for it in a way that “blames” my racial and ethnic background. So, it made me think a lot. In this podcast, I want to reach out to other loud women, and I want to explore complex issues of identity, like Liana does in her essay, with other women who are very smart about music.
October 1, 2015
Earlier this year, rock critic/journalist Jessica Hopper published The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, a bold title that riled some people, but held a real nugget of truth:
Women rarely get to be experts about music.
It doesn’t matter what kind of music. It doesn’t matter if you’re an academic, it doesn’t matter if you’re a journalist, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a musician. If you are a woman, your knowledge is suspect, at the very least held to a much higher standard.
The thing is, though, I know a ton of smart women who are experts on various aspects of music. My group of friends is filled with them, my Twitter overflows with an abundance of them, and my network of acquaintances I admire from afar has dozens more. But rarely do any of these women get to be experts in a public way–to demonstrate the kind of knowledge that dudely critics are just assumed to have as part of their essence.
This is a podcast where women get to be experts about music.
The first five podcasts will be:
10/6 Meg Wilhoite. Music theorist, writer, musician with various projects including Death of Codes and Faulkner Detectives (our band on hiatus, alas!). My conversations with Meg are the inspiration for this series. She’s a good friend, and our gchats and IRL conversations are some super nerdy shit. In the first podcast, we talk about being an expert, leaving academia, trying to write about music, and much more.
10/15 Erica Flores. Program Director of Girls Rock Austin, guitarist, and all-around communications smart woman. Topic of the Week: Rock Camp, intersectionality, and the difficulties of feminist praxis. And we also talk about The Cure and The Wicked and the Divine.
10/22 Alexandra Apolloni. Musicologist (focusing on girl singers of the 1960s!), intersectional feminist, and owner of the coolest glasses in the US (though she’s from Canada). Topic of the week: The Music Industry Sucks for Women. In a depressing but enlightening discussion, we talk about recent biopics and memoirs of women in popular music.
10/29 Jamie Varriale Velez. Punk rock Latin Studies! The topic of the week: Not Punk Enough. We talk about Jamie’s research on Los Crudos, hardcore boys and Riot Grrrl, and how race, class, sexuality and gender are (and aren’t) part of punk rock. Spoiler alert: neither of us feels punk enough.
11/5 Robin James. Philosopher extraordinaire and gal with the best haircut in your (or any) town. Topic(s) of the week: masculinity and femininity in philosophy and musicology; white post-feminism in Top 40 pop. We also talk Depeche Mode, though we don’t get too deep into obscure dance remixes.
AND THEN THERE WILL BE MORE!
However!!! I still need a name for this thing (by Tuesday, y’all!), and I’m drawing a blank. Suggestions welcome!