Book Review – Girl In a Band

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Girl In a Band
Kim Gordon

The most refreshing part of Girl In a Band is that Kim Gordon is a really great writer. Not that I’m surprised by that – she’s written pieces for a variety of publications over the years – but so many rock star autobiographies are stilted, repetitive and trashy. Gordon approaches the story of her life as a grand piece of art, with different elements, mediums and characters, that are all explored, and related to the audience, with sensitivity and care. (Okay, there’s a bit of trash talk about Courtney Love that seems as if Gordon gave in to an editor insisting that she share the dirt, but for the most part, that’s the only point where there’s mud flying.)

As a California girl from the late 60s, Gordon is no stranger to gender stereotypes and misogyny. While the title comes from the oft-asked question from media “what’s it like being… a girl in a band”, the bassist seems to not have experienced much sexism from bandmates and peers (or at least none that she’s related), although her experiences growing up with a schizophrenic brother often left her feeling that she had to take on the traditional female roles of being docile and supportive within her family. Add to that the spectre of Charles Manson, who Gordon references on multiple occasions throughout the book, and you can see how she entered adulthood with lots of questions about her identity and her role in the world.

While people will know Gordon first and foremost as a member of Sonic Youth, and the (ex)wife of bandmate Thurston Moore, music is just one of her talents – she admits it wasn’t on her radar as a career until she met Moore. Gordon is also an artist, fashion designer, writer and actress. Much of Girl In a Band explores Gordon’s other projects, touching on relationships forged in the art, fashion, and music worlds. In any other book, this would seem like name-dropping but in Gordon’s case, it’s just factual, and allows her to give props to the creative talents around her.

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Film Review – Northern Soul

 

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Northern Soul is a little film by director Elaine Constantine that came and went without so much as a whisper. Released in the UK in 2014, Northern Soul debuted in North America at TIFF in September 2015 and opened to a limited release in October, disappearing the following week.

In as much as the plot was formulaic, Northern Soul the film mostly flew under the mainstream radar because so few people (especially in North America) know what Northern Soul music actually is.

Northern Soul grew out of Mod, separated from its skinhead twin in style and sound but with much of the same working class attitude. In the wake of Motown and other successful US R&B labels of the 1960s, many smaller, much more obscure labels began recording, pressing extremely limited quantities of discs by artists who would, for the most part, remain unknown. In northern England in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while everyone else was listening to prog rock, pub bands and more psychedelic-oriented mainstream rock, working class kids in the north were listening to soul music, competing to find the most rare and obscure titles. DJs would travel to the US specifically to comb record stores to find even more rare discs.

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Chauffeurs, Hairdressers and Tambourine Shakers – Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line

I have a great tattoo on my right wrist – a bracelet of cartoon cameos of old Hollywood movie stars, all women. I’ve always wanted to add another bracelet tat just above it – the same concept, only with cameos of the great women of rock (or at least the ones I admire enough to put permanently on my skin), except that there just aren’t that many to choose from. This is mostly because rock music, even today, is still all about the guys.

Sure, there have been fantastic female musicians, solo acts like Adele, and bands like the Go-Gos. But the number of women working side by side with men, who are considered equal to their band mates (and not just a sexy tambourine shaker) are actually pretty few.

Kate Mossman, the pop culture writer for the New Statesman thought the same thing, and recently completed a documentary on the subject. Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line (inspired by the autobiography of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, released earlier this year) ran on BBC on October 30th (UK residents can view it on the iPlayer, the rest of you need to find yourself some VPN access).

In it, Mossman explores the ongoing struggle that so many female musicians encounter. She starts with session guitarist/bassist Carole Kaye who worked with everyone from Richie Valens to Phil Spector to Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Kaye’s extensive catalogue should have set a bar for both respect and equality for female musicians – she did well for herself because of both her talent and her refusal to take any shit. Unfortunately, Kaye was a rarity and women in bands, even when they were as (or more) talented than their male counterparts, often found themselves not just playing music but, as Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads recounts, playing chauffeur and hairdresser as well.

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Happy Anniversary to the Miniskirt

While it would have happened eventually, a slow burn rather than an explosion, on this day in 1965 the mini skirt had its official debut as worn by model Jean Shrimpton at the Derby Day races in Melbourne, Australia.

The invention of the modern day mini is attributed to British designer Mary Quant (there is some historical reference to a garment similar to a miniskirt being worn in Egyptian times), but Shrimpton’s appearance in a short dress that would seem demure by today’s standards caused a fashion revolution to go mainstream.

Shrimpton was the world’s first supermodel, paid to appear at events in garments by certain designers or manufacturers; in this case textile manufacturer DuPont de Nemours International had engaged her to promote their new fabric, Orlon. The whole wardrobe was custom-made by designer Colin Rolfe, and kept secret, with no media previews.

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So when Shrimpton appeared at the derby revealing her knees – and a few teeny inches of her thighs – the official excuse was that Dupont had not sent enough fabric to make the dress the intended length. That the model also appeared without gloves or stockings at a very stuffy and conservative event probably didn’t help.

However, changing morals, youthful rebellion and that crazy rock and roll music meant that the mini skirt was quickly embraced by British – and then world – youth culture and has never really gone away. The hemline has moved up and down, as hemlines do, but it’s no longer considered risque, even when it reveals underwear.

Alternative sub-cultures also embraced the mini skirt and encompassed the garment into part of the uniform for punks, goths and mods. Here’s a look at the progress that little bit of fabric has made…

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Billy By Numbers – or – How the Future Fascist State Will Control Us With Free Concert Tickets

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Photo credit: John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

1 sweaty t-shirt thrown to a fan in the front row
3 songs from the new album
2 Generation X tracks (one obscure) for the old punks in the house
4 costume changes
1 in-joke (in this case about Gordon Lightfoot and Massey Hall)
12 frisbees tossed into the crowd
2 of the biggest hits saved for the encore
1 rocker chick sitting backstage who looked like she had been time-warped from LA’s Sunset Strip circa 1987
20+ the number of times the name of the city of the current concert was said to the crowd

First off, don’t get me wrong, I dig Billy Idol. Idol was the first concert I ever attended, in 1984, and the imagery in his “White Wedding” video, full of Bat Cavers in black vinyl and religious iconography, was the impetus for me to become part of the punk/goth scene and thus, the person I am today.

But let’s not for a minute forget that Idol is a “rock star”. That concert I went to in the 80s – filled a 10,000 seat arena. More than he mastered singing and playing music, he mastered his persona. He is a celebrity. And undoubtedly revels in the power that comes with that.

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Book Review – Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk

stein1Chris Stein /Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
Chris Stein
Rizzoli, 2014, 208 pages

Chris love Debbie.

If you got to spend your youth with the most beautiful woman in the world, wouldn’t you take a lot of pictures of her?

While Chris Stein is well known as the driving musical force behind Blondie, most people don’t know that his artistic CV is quite varied and that, since the late 60s, he’s never been far from a camera. Working and living with someone as photogenic as Deborah Harry, it only seems right that most of the photos are of her.

In his recent book Chris Stein/Negative – Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk, Stein not only chronicles the ascent of Blondie but the New York punk scene of the 70s.

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Film Review – 20,000 Days on Earth

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For what I am about to admit, the great Goth council will show up at my door and take away my Goth Card ™. But… I’ve never been a fan of Nick Cave.

I appreciate what he does. I understand and respect his influence. But his music has never moved me, and he doesn’t make me swoon. So I was able to go into 20,000 Days on Earth with no expectations, knowing very little about it, waiting to see if it made me like Cave more… or less.

Knowing something about the film beforehand would have helped, actually, as 20,000 Days on Earth is a fictional documentary. It’s Nick Cave playing Nick Cave. There is no official Nick Cave archive in a bunker in Brighton, England. Friends and co-workers such as Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld don’t actually appear in Cave’s car for a chat as he drives through the rain. (Digression – can I please have a documentary about Blixa Bargeld? Please?) Cave’s chat with his therapist is not real (the therapist, Darian Leader is a real psychoanalyst, but does not, apparently count Cave as one of his patients).

So what is the point of 20,000 Days?

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Review – Erasure at Danforth Music Hall – Needs More Vince Clarke

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Pared down.

While Vince Clarke and Andy Bell showed up and delivered the goods last night at the Danforth Music Hall, long-term fans, and anybody who has seen their previous live shows, would have come away with the same term – pared down.

Working with a basic laptop, and occasionally an acoustic guitar, Clarke’s synth grooves remained as lush and infectious as ever, but compared to their 2011 show at Sound Academy and the stand shaped like a giant gargoyle (complete with light-up eyes), or the 1997 performance at the Molson Ampitheatre (for the album Cowboy) where Clarke had so much gear it was mounted on scaffolding that he regularly climbed up and down, there was little going on, and little for the talented keyboardist to do. Whole songs from the new album The Violet Flame, with many tracks emulating a Northern Soul sound, left Clarke with nothing to do – he was spotted for long periods during songs standing with his hands by his sides. Like we say about just about everything “Needs more Vince Clarke!”

Missing also was the sense of humour and dynamic between Clarke and lead singer Andy Bell. In 2011, Clarke came out to help Bell with a costume change, using an extra-large pair of scissors to cut a red satin corset off Bell’s body. Nothing like that occurred last night, and Bell’s costume change, where he stripped down to a tank top and sequinned shorts, was done off stage.

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Bell is definitely an entertainer and an energetic one at that, but after opening the set with Oh L’Amour, we were treated to a series of tracks from both the new album and what could be referred to as “the muddy middle” of Erasure’s discography. Sorry boys, but the songs we all know and love are from the 80s and early 90s. Efforts to update or rework tracks didn’t always succeed. I commented before the encore that they were still to play Ship Of Fools, only to have my husband point out that they had done it already – hadn’t recognized it at all.

They made sure we left still loving them however, saving the best for last with Respect, Chains of Love, Sometimes, and Always.

Erasure will always have a place in my heart, mostly because they are so much fun to see live. Their show last night was still great, but was less than I’ve been used to. It was fine compared to most concerts you’d see of a similar genre, but Erasure is usually so much fun live that the pared down version felt lacking on a few fronts.

You can never go wrong with giving Vince more to do.

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What If Classical Music Was Performed Like Rock Music?

You know the deal – you WANT to like classical music. You know you should learn more about classical music, but its all just so… classical. The stiffness, the formality… boring.

Salut Salon is an all-female quartet from Hamburg that makes classical music fun, intermixing traditional chamber music with pop and jazz, and throwing fun poses and postures, as would be typical in a rock performance, into their routine.

They’ve been together in various formations (2 core members, violinists and founders of the quartet Angelika Bachmann and Iris Siegfried plus various cellists and pianists), for over 12 years.

They’ve toured extensively, including Canada, but the upcoming year sees them mostly focused on Germany. But check out the video and then even more of their performances on YouTube – they’re absolutely marvellous.

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Some Day My Prince Will (Probably Not) Come

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that I got tickets to see Prince on Saturday night, totally spur of the moment, outstanding 8th row seats with an amazing view, regularly $200, available day of for $67. Apparently this happens a lot with big shows, where a block of tickets is reserved for guests or promos and isn’t used, so the seats are sold off cheap. This would be good to know for future shows, except that I am fairly certain that I won’t be going to another stadium show any time soon.

Let me remind you, dear readers, of some facts. Sheryl = agoraphobic. Also, misanthropic curmudgeon. I don’t deal with other people very well, and particularly not in large groups. I work from home so as to avoid crowded buses, etc, etc. So with the exception of one very foolish decision to attend Lollapalooza in 1990, I haven’t been to a stadium rock concert since 1987. Literally. The Cult at the Halifax Metro Centre. And I was so stoned that my girl Sharon and I, in an attempt to get to the front of the stage, crawled on our bellies, military-style, under four rows of seats. So there’s not even a real point of comparison.

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Why Cyndi Lauper Looks an Awful Lot Like Macy Gray

As a teenager, I was a huge Cyndi Lauper fan. I loved her music, wanted to look like her, and for a year or so in high school, modelled my wardrobe after the outfits from the videos for her album She’s so Unusual.

By the late 80s though, I had moved on to other types of music and didn’t keep up on everything Cyndi. One night in the summer of ’88, when I was living in Kensington Market, we came home fairly late to find that the streets were blocked off for a film set. This was the summer of that bad vampire detective show Forever Night, which seemed to be filming everywhere in Toronto at the time, so we assumed that’s what it was, and went a few blocks out of our way to get home.

In the middle of the night we woke up to the same Cyndi Lauper song playing over and over again. It was a song I didn’t recognize but as it was a hot night my roommate Amanda and I left the door to our little attic balcony open to catch a breeze. Restlessly we fell asleep to the sound of Cyndi singing. The next morning, the whole market was abuzz about the Cyndi Lauper video shoot that had taken place the night before. Yep, Cyndi Lauper has been right there, on my street, and I had missed her.

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Yes… The New York Dolls… In Burlington!

The reaction was the same every time; “Burlington? The New York Dolls are playing in Burlington?? In the afternoon??” And then I’d go on to explain how, yes, they were playing a music festival in Burlington, along with The Diodes. No one was interested enough to come, though. They were saving their concert-going energy for Iggy Pop the same night, which was a great performance but was a too-crowded, too-hot mess in terms of actually trying to see the show.

But I’ve always been a bigger Dolls fan than a Stooges fan, so while, in retrospect, I’d have been happy to miss Iggy and the Stooges (not that I actually *saw* any of the stage during the show at all, so I sort of did miss it anyway), I was so not missing the Dolls. Even if it meant getting the GO train to Burlington and back.

And it was worth the effort. David Johansen was in fine form, as was Sylvain Sylvain. New(er) members Sami Yaffa (bass) and Steve Conte (guitar) were also sounding great.

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Old Punk Rockers Never Die

Okay, well, technically they do, eventually.

Last night, Greg and I attended a photo exhibit called Toronto Calling, of photos of concerts that took place in the early 80s in Toronto featuring bands like the Clash and the Ramones. We didn’t actually stick around to see the photos, though, as the gallery space was packed solid with old punk rockers, so much so that we couldn’t get in to see the photos.

The era in question took place before my time in Toronto, with most of the gigs featured taking place between 1979 -1981. I arrived in Toronto in late ’87, so this was not my scene per se, although I was listening to all of these bands back home in Halifax, a no-man’s land when it came to international tours. Hats off to Billy Idol for not forgetting about us in 1984.

But the remarkable thing was that here was a group of people in their late 40s – early 50s… and there was a still a solid punk vibe going on. Piercings, tattoos, oddly-coloured hair. These folks were still flying the freak flag.

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The Girl U Want

As most people know, my photography interests and skills lean more towards food than people, so my concert shots (when I bother) are not stellar. As demonstrated below, I took a pile of shots through the first few songs of DEVO’s set last night with the camera on the wrong setting.

But when you’ve been wanting to see a band live since you were 13, evidence that you were actually there (some 28 years after the fact) is probably in order.

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Getting Up There

Yesterday, I moved into a new marketing demographic. Now in the void known as the 40 – 49 market, I no longer hold the cachet of youth, but have not yet achieved the financial stability or respect of the baby boom. Essentially, I’m supposed to stop caring about being cool and hip and be fully ensconced in paying off my home in the suburbs, while contributing to a RESP for my 2.5 kids. I’m hoping this means advertising agencies will stop co-opting the music of my youth and will move on to early 90s bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana so I can go back to listening to the Cult and Modern English without picturing automobiles or cheeseburgers.

I’m not hung up about being 40. I spent the last year working up to it. “I’m almost 40!!” I’d declare when required to admit my age, instead of just saying “39″ and being done with it. I’ve had lots of practice getting it out there. Nor am I self-consciously starting to refuse to admit my age. That’s the one benefit to being festively plump – I look a good 5 to 10 years younger than I am.

No, as usual, my issues are more with where society says I’m supposed to be at this point in my life. At 20, being “alternative”, or “marching to your own drummer” is considered to be a phase of growing up. At 30, it’s a little odd, but there’s still time for you to settle down. However at 40, continuing to be a bit of a freak tends to take on new meaning, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever “settle down”, and be “normal”.

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Thirteen

There was a post the other day on Shapely Prose, a kickass fat acceptance blog, that included a heart-breaking letter from a 13-year-old girl who was considering suicide because of pressure from her classmates and her family. As of this writing there are over 150 responses, the majority of which seek to reassure the girl of how it all gets better because thirteen sucks so heartily for everyone.

The letter caused a lot of upset, sending almost all readers back into the depths of their own pasts to recall being thirteen.

For anyone who has been fat, heavy, plump, etc., their whole life, thirteen was likely a pretty shitty year. I know it was for me. I wasn’t actually the heaviest kid in my class, but as the other heavy kids were athletic in some way, and appeared on the surface to have a higher sense of self-esteem, I was the lucky pariah of the class who got picked on. Constantly.

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The Divas of R&B

Greg and I have been joking lately that we really need to find a hobby that doesn’t involve food. It used to be that we were in need of a hobby that didn’t involve music, but music is on the back burner these days. So earlier this week, when we were flipping through the paper to discover that the Toronto Jazz festival was adding a last minute “Divas of R&B” show to replace some blues singer, we ran around the apartment going, “Oh my god! Order the tickets! Order the tickets!!” Because the last time we saw Ronnie Spector in 2003, she blew us away. And this time she’d be on a bill with Darlene Love and Merry Clayton (one of the Raelettes, and who has also worked with the Rolling Stones.)

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