KNOW YOUR HERSTORY
OR IT WILL CONTINUE TO BE HISTORY.
Another unapologetic, transgressive artist who smashed the rules of her 'discipline' to pieces; Nan Goldin. Nan took the trio photo, above right. Laura Kennedy, the girl in the middle, is no longer with us. She's one of many who burned brightly, then left us too young. Rest in peace and power Laura. The other two:
Pat Place, and Yours Truly in Contortions days.
HAVE YOUR SISTER'S BACKS. HAVE A LITTLE HUMILITY. Or DEAL WITH THIS WOMAN.
LYDIA LUNCH CIRCA 1980's as ROCHESTER RED.
(Trust me, her attitude has not withered since.)
Once there existed a unique tribe of women; the original anarcha-feminist punk-funksters, transgressive pranksters and all-around hell-raisers who broke all musical and 'high art' rules with fearless abandon, and with no apologies. If the tribe of which I speak were to have a brand, lets call them the Pirate Whores of New Amsterdam. Many of us died too young, either on the battlefield or from wounds incurred during the fight. I'm asking that you do not wipe us away as if we did not exist. I'm asking that you do not follow the American amnesiac way when it comes to women. And I'm gonna serve up the request with a bit of tough love. In other words, get ready for a soap-box rant.
The years were 1975 into and through the 1980s. They called us Punk. Many of us preferred NO Wave (not New Wave, as in the French film movement of the 1950s and 60s). Some of us were Guerrilla Girls, and early on, others of us had a collective called Les Guérillères, named after French feminist Monique Wittig's book. We existed before BRANDING was called art, when selling out was a one-way ticket to humiliation. Fame was not on our list of 'aspirations'. In fact, our DETERMINations were to make art, be free, and revolt against the ridiculous straightjackets the cultural gatekeepers tried to strap us into. No matter the absence of moniker, we are the originals, and don't ever let a Riot Grrrl tell you any different.
I recently watched a documentary film called The Punk Singer, about Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and most recently Julie Ruin. Donita Sparks of L7 and I had a good laugh about the film's revisionist slant. Kathleen as reigning punk queen, having started something? Figurehead of a NEW movement? I think Kathleen is great, I really do. But come on. There wouldn't have been any Riot Grrrls without the critical, revolutionary movement of artists/bands like PATTI SMITH, LYDIA LUNCH, THE SLITS, NINA HAGEN, MALARIA!, LIZZY MERCIER, CHRISSIE HYNDE, the AU PAIRS, THE BLOODS, THE BUSH TETRAS, DELTA FIVE, X-RAY SPEX, THE ADVERTS, UT, SNATCH, THE RAINCOATS, and an army of other women musicians and artists who picked up guitars, pens, mixed-media and Super-8 cameras all over the world. And let's not forget the NEXT wave, the LUNACHICKS, L7, SINEAD O'CONNOR and on. I'm not trying to grab any credit here, aside from having played a small part as a walking detonation of feminist art, fighting for her right to be. But I was there, part of that BORN IN FLAMES moment and can bear witness to the first true international feminist art movement.
What started Kathleen on her merry feminist way were not only the afore-mentioned bands, but the trail-blazing female artists involved in that same scene: KIKI SMITH, NAN GOLDIN, KATHY ACKER, ULRIKE OTTINGER, KAREN FINLEY, VIVIENNE DICK, BARBARA KRUGER, BETH B., JENNY HOLZER, LIZZIE BORDEN, etc etc (I'm sorry I've left dozens more out). And this needs to be said; if anyone deserves to be called the Queen of Punk, it is the Queen of Siam herself, LYDIA LUNCH. As early as 1977, Lydia was articulating taboo feminist issues with a carnal ferocity, originality, and revolutionary verve decades before the RiotGrrrls. (Anybody remember Lydia's spoken word performance of Daddy Dearest? Talk about transgressive.
She addresses rape and incest with no holds barred. Kathleen at her most revolutionary is an aspiring choirgirl in comparison.) I'm not trying to diminish the Riot Grrrls here— they fed the next generation of women musicians in the lineage of women speaking to power through music.
I'm asking that we women, especially women who call ourselves feminists, don't defeat our own sex by doing the same thing men have been doing for centuries. We must not negate or even diminish the crucial story of the women who opened the door for us, or erase by negligence their pivotal contributions to culture and 'his'tory, out of a sense of competition, in a quest for attention and fame. Especially the women in the generation preceding us– those who directly fed our art. They made sacrifices for us all.
Women, (and yes Virginia, even feminists), can be their own worst enemies in the best of times. It's rooted in our DNA, Not to be nice to one another, Not to play on teams, Not to have each other's backs. We're taught to compete with one another, to be more beautiful, more exciting than the next so men (or gay women with the same sexist ideology) will love and admire us, or so we can fill that one measly little spot that opened up for a woman director, writer, CEO, and we better fight off every other woman reaching for that lonely spot. There's only room for one here she comes here she comes! The dumbest idea ever, yet hear it sneaking through the conversations of so many women who ache for an illusory 'power' as opposed to an empathic good.
As the true first female art movement to rise up against any ideologies that would suppress us, (I'm talking about the New York scene of the late 1970s/early80s) we fought to break that self-hating chain. And we all need to continue to bash the living hell out of it. We need each other. We need to celebrate our warriors and not capitulate to this idea of grabbing the brass ring for ourselves, eternally at the expense of our sisters, or we're not fit to call ourselves artists. When we deny ourselves support for one another, we play into their game and remain mere cogs in this toxic wheel of greed that is crushing the life out of us all.
“She is the first singer I ever heard who could invoke female lust and horrific abuse in the same phrase,” says Kathleen Hanna, quoted in a recent NYT article about Lydia Lunch. Thanks, Kathleen. You mention Kathy Acker in your documentary, thanks again, but if Lydia was a mentor, as your quote suggests, then why are you positioned in your film as being the first feminist 'punk' artist to deal with such topics, as the film implies? I know how much you were influenced by the movement I speak of. I'm sure to many young women, those who don't know the herstory of who paved the way for you, you might SEEM to be the first, but didn't the filmmaker give you every opportunity to speak truth to herstory? Or maybe she didn't. Maybe she's more advertising exec than artist and it was all intentional, to pose you as the first and the reigning queen. Name-dropping women you admire in a song is great, (Hot Topic by Le Tigre, my fave of Kathleen's outings), but ignoring those who hacked open a path for you with their blood, sweat and tears in a documentary where you're positioned to take credit for what they started -- or allow OTHERS to give you credit on-camera for starting a 'new' movement when you know it's not true (silence on the issue is compliance) -- just
isn't right. And it surely isn't the feminist way. It's merely an electronic press kit.
Click for New York Times review.