December 18, 2014

Amazons of Rock

Last year I was fortunate enough to guest post on Raised on the Radio. Here, now, is my Amazons of Rock mix tape.

I grew up on Rock. My parents had hundreds of records, and their own individual, rock n' roll passions. My mom's side of the collection had show tunes and novelty records, but also Black Sabbath. My father's collection encompassed the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and of course the Beatles. I breathed eight bar blues and the discordant tearing of wailing- not singing- vocal cords behind a microphone.

When I turned twelve, I had a lot of guy friends. And we all loved rock music. But the music we listened to was male dominated. Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica...

And so my friends, mostly guys, told me girls can't rock. That rock is the domain of meaty, muscly, long haired men in plaid shirts or no shirts, headbanging or wailing and whining on the front of the stage. And girls... well... there was always Lilith Fair.

So I had to find a way to shut up those stupid friends of mine. I sat down and made them a mix tape. Because girls? They fucking rock.

I had to start with Janis Joplin. Because you always start with Janis Joplin. If you're going to make the argument that women can rock, there will be a token example. And the token example will always be Janis. Get it out of the way. Don't fight it. She rocked harder than anyone in the history of the earth. Listen to her wail, and tell me I'm wrong. This is the legacy of women in rock. We begin here, and then we can move on to the latter years of alternative.

The nineties were the heyday of alternative music. Our adolescent years were a series of albums where every single song could have been described as our personal anthems for a solid month. "Jagged Little Pill" was one of those CDs. Every song. From the first, to the hidden track she performed a capella at the MTV Video awards. If there was one woman current on the radio, current in pop culture, current in music who indisputably rocked... it was Alanis.

The years was 1996. And every teenage girl in America had the impulse to wallpaper her walls with these lyrics. Because we all had a feeling that it was going to be us. Not just a pretended adulthood and inevitable failure, but anger. Anger that we weren't allowed to express as girls. Anger that we didn't know how to put voice to in the image of Kurt Cobain. Girl rage.

Every corner of rock had women hiding in it. From the political to the insipid, women were everywhere. And even if it felt like you couldn't see them, they made up for it in haunting, vivid music. They were masters of imagery. Skunk Anansie never got too successful this side of the pond, but that just gave their fans more cred. We were the feminist rock underground.

Of course, "feminism" was almost a dirty word. It meant manufactured "girl power" and middle aged folk singers who didn't shave their armpits. It was hard to listen to the Shawn Colvins and Loreena McKennits and claim that they rocked. And that was where Ani came in, like a rock and roll fusion dreamscape. There was no question. Ani? Rocked.

This is where the boys would tell me that it's all well and good that those women can rock, and sure, they could. But they have no general appeal. No real commercial appeal. I mean, who listens to Euro-prog-rock and Ani Difranco? Where will you hear that but college radio? So I say, BAM- No Doubt. Am I making myself clear?

Oh- and what was that you were saying about Lilith Fair not being rock music? Because you would be wrong. Dead. fucking. wrong.

No matter how much fun the fans of rock made of the Lilith Fair women, no matter how often they got lumped into entirely separate genres of music, isolated from the general sphere of "pop rock," or "rock," or even "alternative," there could be no doubt. They wailed. They shredded. They rocked.

The fact is that the alternative music scene was full of women. Kick ass, take no prisoners women of rock and roll. The folk revolution might have been alive and well. Jewel might have been singing story songs about mentally disabled teenagers, Sarah McLachlan might have had love songs in every RomCom soundtrack for three summers running. The Spice Girls might have been bouncing around in their ultra-produced pop bubble. But women were tearing it up on the rock scene.

And for all of those naysayers who reluctantly agreed, "Okay, there are some women who rock now. And there was Janis, of course. But this is a new thing. There haven't been a lot of women in rock. It's a male genre. It's guys and testosterone and they do it because chicks love it." To that I said, "Yeah, chicks DO love it. And that's why they've been making spectacular rock since the beginning."

And a bonus track- because there should always be a bonus track...

There have been women in Rock n' Roll since before the Beatles, brother. And they've been killing it since your granddaddy's sock hops. Suck it up, little man, and make way for the queens.


  1. You mention Led Zeppelin but not Yes? Are you sure you were listening?

    1. You know, I somehow never managed to appreciate Yes until I was out of your house. So maybe I wasn't listening. :)



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