Readers of this blog know I love me some post-punk, as there were so many interesting female artists who came out of this varied experimental reaction against punk’s formal rigidity. Evincing my Western leanings, I’m particularly keen on British post-punk. Much of the reason for this — and perhaps it suggests othering on my part, though it’s not my intention — is that these acts’ singers tended to highlight rather than downplay their accents.
While the British Invasion certainly made it acceptable for English artists to use their accents, many adopted unaccented (re: “American”) vocal styles. Some channeled affectations of the cadences, phrasing, and pronunciations of Southern Delta blues artists. I’d imagine that Scottish, Irish, and Welsh accents were not regarded as favorably, something Alan Cumming addresses when discussing a song by The Proclaimers on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.
I’m a big fan of accents. I was never much of an actress, but I have something of a knack for mimicry. I have no real discernible accent myself, despite my Southern heritage. I suppose my accent is something of a nonregional Midwestern amalgam inherited from my mother and honed by voice lessons. My southeast Texan accent can sometimes come into play, usually when talking to another Southerner, launching into a rant, claiming something to be “real good,” or dismissing it as “stewpid.” But I’m also quite fond of how some New Yorkers refer to canines as “dawhgs,” Southern Californians snarl and flatten words, and Georgians drawl.
As a music fan, I’m especially drawn to the seemingly patrician British accent employed by many female artists associated with post-punk. As an outsider (a Yank in the UK, a Texan in the states), there’s something fascinating about the uneasy juxtaposition of women’s deadpan singing in a supposedly proper accent against throbbing bass and angular guitar cacophony. It seems to go against English sensibilities of proper decorum, thus making the vocalists sound like they’re using cultural assumptions about their national identity to subvert conventional notions of white British femininity. As many of these artists were feminist and sang about sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, gender, and sexual politics, I think the function of accents should be considered.
Admittedly, there are some shortcomings to discussing accents. Regional specificity and class position in relation to educational training inform accents. I’m also not sure how much of this is an act, as playing up the working class Cockney accent has become increasingly commonplace in popular music (see also: Blur, Lily Allen, M.I.A., The Streets). And of course, there are a panoply of notable British accents — the singular Cockney permutations of East London’s grime scene most immediately comes to mind. But I often have this “proper British” accent in my head, so today I thought I’d briefly draw attention to a few other vocalists who employ it. We may be familiar with Ana Da Silva and Gina Birch of London’s The Raincoats and Julz Sale of Leeds-based quintet Delta 5. But what about Linder Sterling of Manchester’s Ludus; Tracey Thorn, Gina Hartman, and Alice Fox of Hertferdshire’s Marine Girls; and Trish Keenan of Birmingham’s contemporary act Broadcast? Let’s listen.
I just got back from the American Sabor exhibit at the Bob Bullock Museum, which I took my partner, mother, stepfather, and stepbrother to see. I specifically wanted to take my mom, a choir director, in honor of Mother’s Day. This wonderful collection focuses on Latino and Latinas contributions to popular music. Having heard guest curator/University of Washington professor Michelle Habell-Pallán’s plenary presentation on the collection at Console-ing Passions, I was itching to go. As a music history educator for Girls Rock Camp Austin, I couldn’t wait to start incorporating these artists into our curriculum.
Three days after Cinco de Mayo, it’s particularly relevant given the racism and xenophobia informing policies like Arizona’s SB 1o70, which my former professor Jennifer Fuller rightly dubbed as wrong-headed at a recent protest in town. If you live in the Austin area, make it a priority to see the exhibit this weekend, as tomorrow is its last day at Bob Bullock.
The bilingual exhibit doesn’t divide the work of these musicians so much by genre, as it’s clearly making the case that Latino and Latina contributions have been varied, ingratiating itself in rock, hip hop, country, dance, soul, jazz, and a myriad of other musical styles. Instead, the exhibit is organized by geographical locations. The emphasized cities are San Antonio, East Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and New York City, though contributions from folks in Tuscon, Houston, Chicago, and Detroit are also acknowledged. I particularly appreciated the care given toward providing a sociohistoric context toward migration patterns, cultural history, and the evolution of cityspaces in relation to the musical offerings and innovation of its populations.
There were many significant artifacts on display. I was particularly struck by outfits worn by Selena, Celia Cruz, Freddy Fender, and SB 1070 protestor Linda Ronstadt. I also enjoyed seeing Doug Sahm’s guitar, Eva Ybarra’s accordion, and Isidro Lopez’s speaker. I loved the wall of album covers and the displays of vintage posters, some of which were created by Los Angeles-based graphic designers Sister Karen Boccalero and Walter Nelez. I found the collected interview footage, oral history kiosks, and historical timelines for topics like lowrider cars, pachucos, Radio Jalepeno, the United Farm Workers strike, and the Chicano Rights Movement (which informed me of 1954’s sickeningly prescient Operation Wetback) most useful. I loved all the walk-in jukeboxes that represented each area and some of the more noteworthy songs or musical movements that emanated therein. I was energized by how many of these artists were politically active, including Los Illegals and Tijuana No!
I was also pleasantly surprised by how interactive the exhibit is. A dance floor is included for guests who want to learn salsa, mambo, cha cha, and a variety of disciplines these artists and their fans popularized. A mixing board is also available for folks who want to put together their own versions of “Song for Cesar” and “La Murga de Panamá.” I got a kick out of the Play That Hook station, which includes a piano with light-up keys to teach people how to play the hooks to songs like War’s “Low Rider.”
I especially loved how Latina musicians were incorporated throughout the exhibit rather than relegated to one section of it. I was delighted to see East L.A. punks Alice Armandariz of The Bags and Teresa Covarrubias of The Brat alongside San Diego’s Rosie Hamlin of Rosie and the Originals, whose teen pop classic “Angel Baby” (which Hamlin wrote) should be included with the One Kiss Can Lead To Another box set, along with singles from The Arvisu Sisters. I also delighted in discovering Martha Gonzalez of East L.A.-based Quetzal, who plays a tarima, which is a platform onto which the performer stomps rhythms.
I also enjoyed seeing and hearing the influence of Cuban musicians like La Lupe and Celia Cruz and the impact they had on future generations of Cuban American artists, most notably Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.
As a Texan, I was so proud of Texas Latinas’ contributions to Tejano. Eva Ybarra, Lydia Mendoza, and Laura Canales broke barriers as some of the first women in Tejano’s myriad of subgenres, forging a path Selena would later bring closer to the mainstream. Bands like Girl in a Coma make clear that a variety of influences from multiple cultural origins can be brought together and positively rock in the process.
Thus, American Sabor proves that Latino and Latina contributions to popular music have been intrinsic and influential. By emphasizing the diversity of participants within this large aggregate, it makes the point even clearer that they themselves are ubiquitous in music culture.
Hello readers! Hope you’re all doing well. I’m back in Austin and tidying up the house after visiting parents in Houston and Fort Worth. I got to see The Old 97’s at Sons of Hermann Hall. I kinda missed the boat on this band during their brief foray into mainstream modern rock at the end of the 90s as nu metal was taking hold, but they were great and really capture how it feels to grow up, drink beer, and get laid in the Lone Star State. Also, if you’re ever in Dallas and have the chance to go to this venue, I recommend it. It’s nice and intimate and has great acoustics. And it’s an upstairs venue, which I always love because it makes me feel like I’m going to a concert in an attic.
As I approach the new year, I’m also going to be celebrating another milestone in January — my six-year annivesary with my partner. In that time, I’ve seen lots of friends get married. And while I’m the sort of feminist who believes in choice and is happy to celebrate weddings, I am the sort of feminist who has a lot of ambivalence toward marriage in my own life. Suffice it to say that I’m not married though I do feel married, don’t have the desire to officially get married, feel weird about a culture that necessitates marriage, and would feel a lot more comfortable with the idea if everyone who wanted to got to do it.
Now, I’m fine with my girlfriends being excited about their weddings, getting married, and taking ownership of wifehood (note: for an interesting take on how wifehood is potentially empowering for lesbians, I recommend Audrey Bilger’s op-ed in Bitch‘s Art/See issue). That said, I also fully support the ladies who have no interest in walking down the aisle and becoming wives. In their honor, I thought I’d highlight some music videos from female artists who have a complex take on happily ever after (if you’re looking for Gwen Stefani’s bridal longings in No Doubt’s “Simple Kind of Life,” click here to view a previous entry). Click on the names and enjoy!
“A Sorta Fairytale”
Directed by Sanji
“Behind These Hazel Eyes”
Directed by Joseph Kahn
Hot N Cold
One of the Boys
Directed by Alan Ferguson
Directed by Jake Nava
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for King of the Hill. It kind of lost its footing after being on the air for so long, but I stand by season twelve’s “Lady and Gentrification” (aka “the hipster episode” aka “what happened to Austin’s East 7th Street”). I also stand by a touching finale, which left us with the image of propane salesman Hank Hill grilling with his son Bobby. Other reasons are as follows.
1. I’m a Texan. And while, like Friday Night Lights‘ fictitious Dillon, the location of Arlen is flexible — while the name of the town comes from Garland, sometimes it seems like Temple, other times Nacogdoches, other times Elgin, and other times Waco — both shows do a great job capturing the culture, values, and pace of life in small town Texas. By the way, I grew up in Alvin, which sounds a lot like Arlen and was filled with dudes just like Hank Hill. Some of them were my friends’ dads.
2. Bobby Hill might be the queerest ostensibly heterosexual pubescent boy American prime-time network television has ever offered us. That he was voiced by Pamela Adlon definitely adds a layer of queerness that, say, Nancy Cartwright can’t offer Bart Simpson. Also, Bobby cracked me up.
3. In the wake of Brittany Murphy’s tragic death, hearing her voice come out of Luanne Platter is strangely poignant. And while she eventually became woefully underwritten in the service of creating more screen time for her husband Lucky Kleinschmidt (and Tom Petty, who played him), I always liked Ms. Platter. Especially whenever she was fixing cars or skating in the derby.
4. Señora Paddlin’ Peggy Hill. While her skills as a substitute junior high Spanish teacher were questionable, her hubris got her into trouble, and she never owned the term “feminist,” I always admired her. For one, she was voiced by avowed feminist Kathy Najimy. Peggy herself had formidable Boggle skills, was a professional muser, and had a mean pitching arm. She jumped out of a plane with a faulty parachute and lived. And she never took any guff from her misogynistic father-in-law Cotton, but made friends with just about anybody, including prostitutes and drag queens. For a list of other awesome things Peggy did during the show’s thirteen-season run, I highly recommend checking out the Consumed issue of Bitch.
Best of all, Peggy was always trying to gain professional skills and broaden her personal experiences. This led her to become a successful realtor later in the series. But she was always trying to better herself. For example, in season two’s “Peggy’s Turtle Song” she picks up the acoustic guitar and takes lessons from a feminist instructor played by Ani DiFranco.
Now, I think this episode takes an unfortunate turn. As was often the case with King of the Hill, Hank tended to know best. So what was originally an episode about Peggy trying to find her own voice and growing critical of her marriage becomes a retreat from feminist dogma and back into her husband’s arms.
But I don’t think we should discredit Mrs. Hill’s angst, as she never lost it. Throughout the series, she proved herself to be a peer to her husband and never let herself settle. She stayed restless and opinionated. And I’m pretty sure she kept that guitar.
Tonight’s entry is in honor of my friend Liz, who may or may not be studying for her law school finals right now. She’s also the person who brought Ella Mae Morse to my attention, apparently finding her when doing a Google search on who the first person was to use the word “homey.” Apparently it’s this Texan jump blues singer.
Pretty awesome, right? I’ll make sure to remember the late Morse, especially when trying to map out the origins of rock music and the role women and girls played in shaping it. Powerhouse rockabilly gals like Wanda Jackson and Janis Martin are often cited as examples of female contributors to rock’s development, as they should be.
Their influence continues to be felt, perhaps most explicitly in contemporary singers like Imelda May, whose Irish heritage evinces that rockabilly isn’t exclusively a Southern thing. And perhaps even more inspiring is the fact that Jackson and Martin performed well into their autumn years. Jackson continues to perform occasionally and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. While unfortunately not as well-known as Jackson and forbidden from recording during the 1960s because of an abusive marriage, Martin worked many a stage until her death in 2007.
And there always seems to be an interest in determining rock music’s origins. Oftentimes, at the risk of seeming cynical, these moments of public interest occur, or are manufactured, when a record label decides to release a box set of some obscure artist’s work. While the market logic cannot be overlooked and should not be ignored, I think there’s considerable value in preserving these early recordings, and with it the memories, of obscure, bygone musical artists — particularly when they are female.
Some speculate rock’s origins extend into vaudeville, thus stretching the timeline of what many believe to be a form that began in the 20th century into the late 19th century. Jody Rosen has done a great job paying tribute to women like Sophie Tucker and Eva Tanguay. Both got their start on the vaudeville circuit, cultivated tremendous followings, nurtured rebellious streaks, and were full-fledged divas. They confronted societal expectations of female beauty and sexuality and expanded rock culture’s ethnic origins (Tucker was Jewish, Tanguay was Canadian). And through their unfortunate dabblings in blackface, at one time an accepted performance practice, they remind us that popular music has always had a troubling relationship with race, one that we should always work toward improving.
Perhaps most poignantly, both women were all but forgotten after their time. Due to developing recording technologies and digital archival practices, many of Tucker’s recordings have since been preserved. Tanguay only recorded one song, the anthemic “I Don’t Care.”
I’d like to add Ella Mae Morse into that pantheon as well, as she bridged two musical genres and historical periods, thus further developing the on-going development of popular music’s past and future.
So, I’ve been devouring Friday Night Lights recently. I’ve got four episodes left of season three, so don’t tell me what awaits the Dillon Panthers and their surrounding small-town Texas community.
I was pleasantly surprised this weekend while watching season three. I didn’t realize that Crucifictorious, a Christian death metal band formed by Dillon High’s Landry Clarke, was getting a new female bass player named Devin Corrigan. A good female bassist who proved a needed asset to the band, no less.
As an aside, I have now rewatched the season two episodes where my friend Brea played brainy, metal-fan music geek Jean Binnel. Now that I’ve watched almost the entire series thus far and know its larger context, I can say 1) I really like Jean and think I’d be her friend, 2) I want her to make me a power pop metal mix CD, 3) I think her small part might have been one of the best things about a sporadically brilliant but uneven season plagued by network tampering and the writer’s strike, and 4) Landry did her wrong, even if I like the girl with whom he briefly reunited.
I was also stoked that Devin was played by Stephanie Hunt, a back-up singer in T-Bird and the Breaks.
And I thought it was rad that the girl who seemed to be a too-perfect rebound girl for the recently spurned lead singer was actually a newly out lesbian teenager, as she reveals in “Keeping Up Appearances.” While she does kiss Landry before coming out to him, she does so to make sure of her orientation, perhaps suggesting that Landry is the first person to whom she has come out. I was impressed by a) her confidence in identifying herself as a lesbian, as I don’t imagine too many girls I grew up with felt comfortable owning their identity like that at that age in our small Texas town and b) Landry’s maturity about the situation. The episode ended with the band jamming to The Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly,” which Devin sang to Landry earlier to help him with a broken heart.
The next episode for me is “The Giving Tree,” which seems to focus on Crucifictorious’s first gig with Devin. I’m hoping for a good turn-out. I’d be there. My only hope is that we see more of her, hopefully with a girlfriend to boot. I don’t know if she will be appearing in season four, which premieres on DirecTV this Wednesday, much less the rest of season three, but I like her.
So, I have two entries drafted on Almost Famous and Sonic Youth’s cameo on last night’s Gossip Girl. Now, I could finish one of them and rush it to publication for you kind, attentive readers. But, I started watching season one of Friday Night Lights this weekend and some profound race relations stuff is going down and I intend to finish disc four tonight. If you’ve watched the show, you understand. If you haven’t, then I highly recommend starting, especially if you’re like me and grew up in a rural Texas suburb.
That said, two dude-friends pointed me in an interesting direction this morning and I thought I’d write a quick post on it. Peter reminded me of one artist I forgot about and David pointed out another act I didn’t know existed (but whose work I had heard sampled on Fergie’s “Fergalicious“). Thanks, guys. That these artists were obscure female rap artists who got support from members of rap group N.W.A. should not be overlooked, especially alongside the widely-held belief that N.W.A., and the subgenre of gangsta rap that they helped pioneer, were sexist and misogynistic (and also homophobic). And I don’t want to discredit those claims, as they have considerable merit. Barring examples from Ice-T, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E’s solo careers, and Dre’s assault on Dee Barnes while still in the group, I don’t think we have to look much further than “One Less Bitch” and “She Swallowed It” off Efil4zaggin).
That said, I think this argument gets challenged by the presence Tairrie B, who was signed to Ruthless Records, who also housed N.W.A. for a time, and was mentored by Eazy-E. It gets further complicated by J.J. Fad, who originally used their initials to form the group’s name, whose debut album, Supersonic was produced by Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince’s production credits. Now, this isn’t to overlook the gendered dimensions of the mentor-protégée relationship (though it would behoove us to remember that N.W.A.’s records often contained samples of records by female artists like Lyn Collins and E.S.G.). It also isn’t to overlook Tairrie’s normative white, blonde good looks, or that her metal career further temper the waters.
But it does emphasize the oft-overlooked presence women and girls of multiple racial and ethnic categories have always had in hip-hop and the support some men in positions of power in the game have given. It may not forgive a statement like “bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks” or level the playing field, but it sure as hell complicates standard conceptions of gender roles and racial norms in hip-hop’s industrial practices.