Kurt Cobain's shirt on display at the EMP

I hate being a One-Note Nancy, but Seattle’s Experience Music Project is a real sausage-fest. In fact, that’s exactly what one of its employees admitted to my partner when he complained about the lack of women represented in the museum and the gift shop. So, for example, when I entered that flashy gift shop I was prepared to buy (retail!) any one of the following books:

Turns out you cannot buy anything having to do with any female rocker — not even a refrigerator magnet — nor will you see much about them in the museum overall. So what’s new? And why am I bothering to work up a lather about it?

Here’s what I decided after watching (and writing about) all those cult movies about female rockers last winter: rock is still liberatory. For women, making music rather than just admiring the snarling, strutting, misunderstood dudes who’ve been celebrated for their art ad nauseum can be downright incendiary. It’s because women have been painted as the admirers of male rockers — a dynamic that portrays women as sexual rewards for worthy men rather than aggressive sexual figures themselves — that reversing roles seems so fantastic, so revolutionary.

Thus, how great was it to leave the extensive exhibits of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and the evolution of the electric guitar and turn instead to the Hands-On Lab upstairs, where piles of children and adults were going inside little studios to do computer-led lessons in playing instruments, singing, and mixing songs. And here they were — girls getting the hang of the drum set, the guitar, or screeching along to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” (Oh wait — that was me.) Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but after finding none of those great women rockers I grew up with represented in the museum downstairs — Blondie, Lydia Lunch, Joan Jett, Tina Turner, the early Liz Phair, Chrissie Hynde, Queen Latifah, Courtney Love — it was in the Hands-On Project that I started to see that gleam in girls’ eyes as they got over feeling self-conscious and instead focused on getting the beat right.

Which brings us back to feminism, doesn’t it? Is it just me, or does feminism have to fight the same fights over & over again, such that women rockers still have to fight for a place at the table? The only upside, as I see it, is that when women do get onstage, they still have the capacity to blow your mind.

 

Advertisements

After the horror that was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, I began watching Prey for Rock & Roll thinking, this is going to suck big time, so scale back your expectations. Feminist Music Geek hated it; so will I. I was so wrong. Granted, it’s got plenty of head-scratching narrative jumps, tired clichés, and cringe-making moments; like all those in my Cult Marathon for Movies About Female Rockers this movie is no critical success. But if you ask me, this should rocket straight to cult movie status. God forbid that you watch this film hoping for a logical story or top-notch acting. Instead, watch against the grain and it’s really entertaining. What more need I say but that Gina Gershon is a goddess?

Jacki (Gershon) is a bisexual tattoo artist and lead singer/rhythm guitarist in a band with her friends: bassist Tracy (Drea De Matteo, i.e. Adriana of The Sopranos), drummer Sally (Shelly Cole), and lead guitarist Faith (Lori Petty, who I’ll always think of as Tank Girl). Becoming a female rocker, Jacki tells us in an opening voiceover, was like a twisted religious experience:

I was this dorky 13-yr-old from the Valley when I had my first “cool” experience. My boyfriend Johnny Miller had his dad drive us to to see Ike and Tina Turner at the Hollywood Bowl. Oh man. She scared the shit outta me. It was the most bad-assin’ I’d ever seen a woman do. Suddenly the idea of becoming a teacher or a nurse lost its appeal. Sorry, mom.

But after years of small-time, low-paying gigs, she’s starting to have doubts. She’s about to turn 40, her latest g-friend has just left her, and the band has yet to sign to a label.

But if this movie is ostensibly about a crisis of relevance, it’s really got two other goals. The first is a fairly shamefaced celebration of how sexy rock is, especially when it’s performed by Gershon, Petty, Cole, and Matteo. It’s almost as if it had been filmed by a horny, attention-deficit cinematographer — the camera is always working against the narrative by scanning Gershon’s heavily tattooed body, spending too much time watching Cole and Petty get it on in the bedroom, following Matteo when she’s sporting just a bra. When Shelly’s hunky brother Animal shows up — played by Marc Blucas, better known as Buffy‘s lapdog-like college boyfriend Riley Finn, notable for being extremely tall, hunky, and yet ineffective — the camera looks more at his body parts (tattoos, abs, mouth) than his whole person. It’s downright soft-core.

So why isn’t this objectionable sexploitation? Because the second real narrative here is about female power and self-determination. And I still believe that even after having seen the terrible plot twists (argh: rape & revenge among them). Again, don’t expect some kind of feminist wonderland in Prey For Rock & Roll, especially in the last 20 minutes or so; but on the whole I liked seeing a movie about aging rockers who actually play a lot of good songs and offer up a satisfyingly pissed-off rape protest song:

Every 6 minutes
Someone says “no”
Every 6 minutes
She gets ignored

It’s not what you’re wearing
Its not where you’ve been
The fact that they think so
Tells you somethin’ bout sin

Every 6 minutes
A woman cries
Because every 6 minutes
Her pleas are denied

No one’s asking for it
It’s no woman’s secret desire
The fact that they think so
Is a man-made liar

The passing of time
Brings you closer to me
Cause I’ve got love and justice
Keeps you free
I’ve got .38 special
Reasons at my side
Face the ultimate “no,” big boy
This time I’ll decide
If I had a bullet
For every six minutes
I know just where to put it

Am I being optimistic? Is this wholly the response of someone who had the lowest of expectations going in? I wouldn’t fight too hard if you wanted to say so. But honestly, I think this is one of those films that beg for viewers to disregard the film’s on-the-surface narrative and look instead at the more radical, messy elements underneath. (Pussyrock Fanzine agrees.) The dude doesn’t exactly get the girl: for all his abs, tattoos, and puppydog lusting for Jacki, Animal gets a grand total of one kiss. These adult women face adversity and get through it without much hand-wringing. And they kick ass onstage. What can I say? It shows what I want this kind of film to show — that performing rock gives women a different kind of power than they get from other aspects of their lives, and that we viewers respond to it differently too — we glean a kind of power from these performances as well. I’d probably watch it again tonight if it were on; and I can only hope that other films in this marathon meet that standard.