By Billy Miller
This story originally ran in the premier issue of W.i.g. Magazine, 1995.
It’s the early ’80s and you are Madonna. Or Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Exene Cervenka of X, Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, the Go’Go’s, or any of the strong, intelligent, very feminine artists carving out new possibilities for women. Proving to all (especially feminists) that you could be on top or bottom, mood depending. Contrary to the militant frigidity of post-sexual revolution gender politics, these women wielded sexuality like a stick just as effectively as a carrot. These were women in charge without the need to prove it, they just were. Their music, style, and body language spoke to heart, head, and groin (the tri-lateral package) without self-consciousness or fear of reprisal. They were role models and fuse lighters for the explosion of women in rock in the ’90s.
It’s hard to talk about the ’90′s fascination with ‘women in rock’ without patronizing. There’s always been a strong feminine legacy in the world of music. But it would be misleading and unconscionable not to note the recent ascension of girl to mainstream credibility in the areas heretofore considered the realm of dude. Just as in sports, business, art, and politics, women in general have been broadening-pun intended-the scope of their contribution to include sexual personae with feminine mystique. Too long negating female traits in order to be taken seriously in a man’s world, women have come fill circle to acceptance. Now they are embracing both power and femininity-and all the yeasty complications and erosion of gender identity this implies. At the forefront are our women in rock.
Rock ‘n roll has always been known as sexy and taboo-transgressing, but without near constant boots to the ass, it stagnates. Today, women are delivering that kick. The music has a new relevancy in the public forum emanating from the discovery of new female voices, what they’ve had to say, and the death of old stereotypes about who should be wielding the hammer of the Gods. It’s healthy, and it’s good. At least it’s angry again.
But just like everything, music is timing. It was never so much that Elvis, The Beatles, or The Beastie Boys ripped off black music, it was that they brought it to the masses when a multitude of ears pricked ready to listen. They were artists enough to identify the music that moved and spoke to them, savvy enough to have been making it while it smacked of broad appeal.
The same can be said of the state of ‘women in rock.’ It is the mid-’90′s and you are Hole, PJ Harvey, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Salt ‘N Pepa, Liz Phair, Tori Amos, The Breeders, D’Arcy of the Smashing Pumpkins, Belly, Kim Shattuck of The Muffs, L7, Sinead O’Conner, Luscious Jackson, Queen Latifah, Me’Shell Ndegeocelle, k.d. lang, Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries, Melissa Ethridge, Bj’rk, and still Madonna. You wanna be a rock star. No longer content to sit on the sidelines giving guys the guitar solos (and the guitar smashing), you own your sexuality as much as any male. In some ways you are coy, you tease, and are as exploitative of sex as the men who have been marketing you all these years. Maybe that’s the messy party of breaking down barriers, and you can’t have one without the other. Hopefully, good taste and public reaction will police you into being the jokester and not the punch line. You need to follow your gut-even if it leads to fringe of what’s acceptable. Especially if that’s what it means.
You can race from the top of a squeal to the basement of a long snake moan like PJ Harvey. You can talk smack about giving head as well as receiving it such as Liz Phair. You are Courtney Love. You can wail your guts out, revealing yourself in the way someone we all miss used to. You can touch that place he did.
You are woman and we want to hear you roar, about dreams and love and emotion and power and yes, sex. We want you to smoke ‘em, ’cause there’s no denying any longer that you got ‘em.