Sunday, September 6, 2020

Play MST3K For Me



Created by Wisconsin-born prop comic Joel Hodgson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (for brevity, MST3K) ran for twelve seasons over thirty years. The first episodes (considered Season 0) aired in 1988 on KTMA, a local station serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The Comedy Channel, soon renamed Comedy Central, hosted the show until 1996. The Sci-Fi Network gave the Little Show That Did a home for the rest of the decade. With the new century beckoning, the literal most futuristic show on TV no longer had a home.

And wouldn't until 2017, when a massively successful Kickstarter campaign allowed Hodgson to create new episodes for Netflix. The 217th episode aired on November 22, 2018. A year later, cast members confirmed the show's cancellation. After thirty years, three hosts, and two riffin' bots voiced by a grand total of six different men, the experiment was well and truly over.

I wasn't surprised; MST3K in any incarnation is destined to be, at best, a cult hit. Two mad scientists holding a janitor hostage on a satellite above the Earth, and foisting upon him the worst movies ever, films so reprehensible to the craft that he creates robots companions to join him in commenting on the onscreen action. (Or, as it's more commonly known, "riffing.") This is one of the medium's most unique premises. That it found one home, nevertheless four, is a minor miracle on par with Haribo confectionaries.

The show escaped my attention until early 1993, late in Season 4, when channel-flipping brought me to the sight of three silhouettes back-talking a stirringly amateurish…movie? Mistake? A Texas-based insurance salesman winning a bet? Yep, my initiation into the Mystery Science universe was "Manos" The Hands Of Fate. My fifteen-year-old brain was entranced by the mixture of smart and smart-ass contained not only in the riffs, but in the brief intermissions, better known as "host segments." Silly, satirical, totally in command.

From then on until the show's first farewell, I tuned in every week, although sometimes not for very long. Two hours is a lot to ask of a person, especially a younger person with homework and homicide on their mind. If the riffing didn't smack my chops by the first commercial break, I'd no qualms over trying my luck elsewhere on the dial. How many full first-run episodes I wound up watching in full is impossible to say, thanks to the capriciousness of memory, but between 60-70 is a good enough guess. And that's over six years. Watching all 196 episodes of Seasons 1-12 took twenty-seven years. Now there's a club for you.

With the lists to follow, I am less interested in settling classic fan debates, and more into offering my own takes. Whether these takes strike you as convincing or confusing is your own dilemma. (It's just opinions; relax.)


Untamed Youth, Ep. 112--Season 1's episodes tend to be slow on riffs and low on laughs. Getting through every ep is an endurance test many viewers will fail. Untamed Youth is the highlight, a showcase for Eddie Cochran's singing and Mamie Van Doren's buoyancy. Black-and-white teen flicks are gold in this format, and proof a film didn't need "mystery" or "science" to make for a fitting subject.

The Brute Man, Ep. 702--Starring Hagerstown's own Rondo Hatton, and prefaced with the endlessly entertaining short The Chicken Of Tomorrow, this should be an all-timer. Not so, thanks to a short-run time and a story that is both exploitative and enervating.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies
, Ep. 812--Didn't I almost have it all. A horror-musical fever dream whose writer/director/star looked like bootleg Nick Cage and directed like bootleg Enzo Castellari. He cast his wife as a dancer, and her tall, broad stature prompts a cannonade of transgender riffs. These riffs do offend me, but not for the reason you may think. I am no great fan of belittling trans people, but when an ostensible comedy show insists on being resolutely unfunny for a protracted period of time, I can't just let that slide.

Starcrash, Ep. 1106--A pre-Star Wars flick, this paid Italian vacation for Christopher Plummer also features such luminaries as Caroline "Dub Me" Munro, "Marjoe" Gortner, "Gross As Hell Like I'm" Joe Spinell and "David Hassel"hoff. Much of what I love about the Netflix era is here--relentless and clever riffing clearly delighting in its own existence--and some of what I do not love, also known as, those in-theater songs aren't as cute as they thought.


5. The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, Ep. 102--Rough patches ahoy, dead air suffused with the smell of liver and onions. Josh Weinstein's failings as red, rotund robot Tom Servo (AKA "J. Edgar Hover") are obvious--monotone delivery made more for radio, fondness for turning the opening credits into the same tuneless song--but his comrades in castigating celluloid (Joel Hodgson as hapless test subject Joel Robinson and Trace Beaulieu as the cranky and clever Crow T. Robot) are still figuring out the field as well, though, so who knows where Josh would've taken Servo with more time.

4. Escape 2000, Ep. 705--The second incarnation of the crew--host Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy as Servo and Trace as Crow--shouldn't bungle 80s dystopian trash so badly. Just burn it and call it a day for night! Instead, there's less laughs here than in a NICU.

 3. Robot Holocaust, Ep. 110-- I so wish they'd let this leaky boat of spunk gravy set for a few seasons, it's painful hearing them cut large swaths of air with each tasty pitch to the plate. (Another of Weinstein's shortcomings: minimal puppeteering during the host segments, maximal puppeteering in the theater.)

2. Racket Girls, Ep. 616--Gross, loutish, onerous, wretched. Saved from the dubious honor of worst by the inclusion of the short film Are You Ready For Marriage?, a magical guide for Fifties youths considering jumping the broken glass.

1. Last Of the Wild Horses, Ep. 611--Great, it's a Western. "Ranch war" my ass, more like "ranch dispute." Barely audible, and if not for the Star Trek "Mirror Universe"-inspired host segments, totally skippable. I'd rather watch Earth Vs. Soup riffed by Joey the Lemur, Timmy, and Jim Mallon.


25. Teen-Age Crime Wave, Ep. 522--Gun rights, girl fights, generation gap gone gaga! Sharp incisions of low-effort "youth" flicks are always welcome. Of course the teens crime waving here are well into their 20s. The invention exchanges and fan mail just weren't the same after Joel's departure.

24. Master Ninja I, Ep. 322--Master Ninja II has the You're A Good Sport, Charlie Brown reference; I has Demi Moore (for a little bit) and more "Van" than you can stand. Two different pronunciations of Queen Latifah! Big-ass medallion! Crow's poor head! MASTER NINJA THEME SONG!

23. The Final Sacrifice, Ep. 910--Too low? Too bad. This isn't even the worst Canadian film the crew took head on (although it is the most Canadian episode). Pudge Dude and Snivel Boy, fueled by beer and daddy issues respectively, bring down a forest cult! Some of the movies torn into by MST3K are distressingly stupid, leaving the viewer demonstrably dumber and more depressed by the end. The Final Sacrifice is dumb in a way that invigorates the viewer. Watch just once, and see if you aren't left with "hockey hair of the heart."

22. Teenagers From Outer Space, Ep. 404--Enough of ruffians going thuggish ruggish on Mommy's bone china. How 'bout alien adolescents who treat Earth like one big garden? Super-sounding, certainly. Joel and the Bots comment on the cute carnage with a song in their hearts and the result is a board with a nail in it so big that one day it will destroy us all.

21. The Girl In Lovers Lane, Ep. 509--Member of a quite exclusive club--"Riffed Films Worth A Watch On Its Own." Not that those movies (including Kitten With A Whip, Diabolik, and Tormented) are unfairly maligned pleasures. TGILL, specifically, is a game effort with one compelling performance and the pointless murder of one very likable female character. The boys take this rotting apple and produce a whole succulent pie--and a quart of thirst-quenching cider. Their mess-talk on Big Stupid is worth the ninety minutes alone, and Crow's gut-busting imitation of Jack Elam really should be playing in some museum as we speak.

20. Avalanche, Ep. 1104--The Netflix MST3K was far from flawless. Too many writers, too many riffs delivered rapid-fire with no room for the camaraderie that marked the earlier incarnations. And while he's a nice guy with a commanding presence (6'5" guys in bright yellow jumpsuits blend into the scenery about as effectively as a Baltimore Oriole in a conspiracy of ravens), Jonah breathes a lesser air than Joel and Mike when it comes to hosting duties. (The puppets, let's avoid that topic.)

Season 11 was good for one absolute classic, a '70s disaster flick where everyone involved is too dumb to live. Turns out RIFF BOMBARDMENT! works when the jokes exceed expectations. Features far and away the most memorable host segment of the Netflix era, too.

19. Final Justice, Ep. 1008--Greydon Clark plus Joe Don Baker divided by 1985 equals a burlap sack spilling over with comedy quartz. Certain fans might find the constant weight jokes hurled at the sausage-sucking lead are too much of a bad thing. I am not among their ranks. Whoever keeps a straight face during the ending credits is simultaneously a stronger, and weaker, person than I.

18. Village Of The Giants, Ep. 523--Bert I. Gordon is a legend for several reasons, not the least of which is his distinction as the director with the most films riffed in the show's history. Eight in total, just a sampling of his oeuvre. What the man lacked in budget, and nuance, and common sense, he atoned for with ambition. Giants, and the problems they cause, is the plot for several "Mr. BIG" offerings, and if VOTG isn't the most substantive, that's because none of them are. It is definitely the most "starring a young Ron Howard," however, and if you replace Tommy Kirk with Dean Jones and make the ducks berate their nephews rather than shake it in the club, it's basically a Disney film. Smartly, Mike and the Bots save their scorn for a totally different film--Willow--while marveling at the glorious goofiness unfolding before their eyes. (This affection seeps out of the theater, evidenced in "The Greatest Frank Of All," a magnificent tribute to the finest second banana on the whole damn tree.)

17. Mac And Me, Ep. 1201--An homage to E.T., Back To The Future, and probably Gremlins, Mac And Me is the stuff snark-a-lot writing staffs salivate brooks over. That infamous wheelchair scene Paul Rudd punished Conan O'Brien with? Is like the third most batshit sequence in the film.

16. Mitchell, Ep. 512--On October 23, 1993, three extraordinary events occurred: Joe Carter's game-winning home run in the World Series, Nirvana's only live performance of "You Know You're Right," and Joel Hodgson hosted his last episode of MST3K. Wire to wire, this is a fluffernutter of a farewell, chased with an Old Milwaukee balanced on a CD of the Doctor Detroit soundtrack. Every time I watch Mitchell, the air in the room grows heavy with sweat and stubborn stains.

15. Jack Frost, Ep. 813--A burgoo of myth and folklore, only built for gallium bowls. The Mike/Kevin/Bill trio is noted for a more acerbic approach than the other trio combos before and after, chucking shot puts at the tragedies onscreen whereas Joel or Jonah-led teams settled for tennis balls coated in snot and wrapped in old newspaper. Russo-Finnish absurdity seemed to mellow 'em, though. Even Crow Bear's "Grr!"s are more heart-warming than bone-chilling.

14. Cave Dwellers, Ep. 301--AKA, the show digs in and gets comfy. A Conan The Barbarian retread with a baffling opening the guys parody to near-perfection, Cave Dwellers is fulla "unk"--lunk-headed, clunky, hunky, funk-faking and begging for a severe dunking. Might as well jump.

13. Devil Doll, Ep. 818--A super-sized Twilight Zone written by a Rod Serling no longer willing to humor Ray Bradbury's passive-aggressiveness. Such a creepy, vicious story, populated with repulsive bodies of various compositions. The riffing is like talking about funerals while watching a murder.

12. The Girl In Gold Boots, Ep. 1002--Sleazy Sixties road trip-turned-crime caper. Several moments rank in my hypothetical "Favorite MST3K Moments," including the Teleportation scene, the Hollywood montage, and anytime someone is singing. By and large, a bop.

11. Girls Town, Ep. 601--With real reform school action! When Mel Torme is the bad boy, Paul Anka is the dreamboat, and Mamie van Doren is the (27-year-old) teen girl on the precipice, it's gold or go home. I tell you these flimsy "teensploitation" films were made for some good old-fashioned verbal maltreatment. What else, what else…oh, am I alone in wondering why no one flips out over the Platters cameo here, whereas

10. Catalina Caper, Ep. 204--Little Richard in Catalina Caper is the stuff from which legends are gradually removed, while receiving frantic assurances no one holds them responsible. The only comedy riffed by the crew, the general consensus is, "a well-meaning, if ultimately underwhelming, experiment." Personally, this eppy is as charming as a robot's unrequited love and bright as Joel's jumpsuit. Don't bring your wet blanket to the beach, buckos.

9. Soul Taker, Ep. 1001--The '90s were a pretty good time for crap cinema starring Joe Estevez. There's a real good movie here, hidden somewhere in Robert Z'dar's jaw, or perhaps split in two and crammed in Joe E.'s armpits. A fun watch on its own, unmissable with some MKB added. Oh, and Joel pops by to say hi and thanks for all the hot fish. And to prove red>blue.

8. The Giant Gila Monster, Ep. 402--Immaculate intermissions, pointless movie skewered joyously, why am I the only one with this in my top 10? Put a knee up for the Mexican beaded lizard.

7. "Manos" The Hands Of Fate, Ep. 424--First is not always best, or best-remembered, but the nostalgia veil is real. Real pink, real ticklish. Manos is a film so all-points poor, even Joel gets flustered. Amazing one-liners pile up like slave wives on the pyre, including a 65-second tour de force via Servo near the end that, much like the Komodo dragon, can only be admired and feared. Preceded by Hired Pt. 2, the Empire Strikes Back of shorts-sequels.

6. Werewolf, Ep. 904--The '90s were a pretty good time for crap cinema starring Joe Estevez. A cornucopia of cringe spreads the length of the table top in this, the single greatest argument against Arizona statehood. No one is exempt from contempt, from the hairstylists and wardrobe department to the special effects team to every single on-camera offender, everyone here puts the "ass" and "eww" in "cast and crew." Adrianna Miles gives the most gleefully terrible performance across all 196 films, her thick accent and flat delivery the equivalent of an Everlasting Gobstopper for those of us with a sweet tooth for hideous acting. The well-earned takedown is overall marvelous, and there's no greater credits riffing possible.

5. Zombie Nightmare, Ep. 604--The pinnacle of the Mike/Kevin/Trace era is overlooked by the fanbase for reasons, shit, I can't say. A hockey-loving, metal thrashing mad bodybuilder did not give the world this deliciously distasteful fusion of voodoo, zombies, law enforcement corruption and hair metal just for it to regularly place outside the top 50 on fan lists. The troops goof masterfully over every icky inch of what is arguably the apex of Adam West's big-screen filmography (y'know, since Tim Burton's a jerk).

4. Space Mutiny, Ep. 820--There's some installments I find inexplicably adored. Pod People? Eegah? "No thanks," and "nice try." Space Mutiny is justly praised. A slow-starter, it builds like the muscles on the raging barrel of our protagonist. The hallmarks of bad movies from earlier eras abound, which is why the riff delivers, over and over. We as a species should not still be making movies so inept. And yet.

3. The Pumaman, Ep. 903--The musical riffs alone would put this in the Honorable Mentions. (When do I not want the flavor of bacon in a dip?) The unlikeliest superhero since, hey up to you, The Pumaman is a lame from nose to toes, and his spirit guide is somehow devoid of personality and a more fitting subject to center a film around. A bottomless treasure chest of humor.

2. Overdrawn At The Memory Bank, Ep. 822--Soft-focus public TV punishment for a crime corporeal beings cannot possibly commit. Raul Julia insists on acting to his usual standard, the plot is ahead of its time (ditto the anti-antieater agenda) and as often happens (see #1) the reach of the filmmakers exceeded their collective grasp by several hundred feet. Possibly the highest percentage of laugh-out-loud riffs in any episode. Even the fat jokes are brilliant. The sketches are good, except for "When Loving Lovers Love," which is genius and spotlights the breathtaking UST between Pearl and Brain Guy.

1. Time Chasers, Ep. 821--In the intro, I mentioned the two great arguments among "MSTies." Joel vs. Mike generates the most heat, with the former even anonymously throwing a log on the fire way back when. The Crow debate, although not as famed, is also a corker. Trace Beaulieu was the best puppeteer on the show, imbuing the li'l golden guy with personality in a few brief gestures. Bill Corbett, well, learning is growing, and growing is learning. Vocally, each man established themselves quickly and definitively. Crow is a careener of a character, and the conventional wisdom states fans must either prefer Trace's mischievous take or Bill's dramatic cynicism.

Using this list to determine my own stance is foolhardy. Numbers bounce funny. Joel hosted 86 episodes; Mike, 90. Joel's era accounts for eight entries on the "Best Of" list; Mike, fifteen. Put differently, 9.3% of Joel's episodes are among my favorites, compared to 16.6% of Mike's. So Mike is my choice for Host With Most? No. Joel is, easily.

At least the humans fought on an even field. Trace voiced Crow for 128 experiments, eighty more than Bill. The OG holds it down twelve times on the honor roll. New Guy, eleven. That's 9.3% of Trace's turns, 22.9% of Bill's. So…bully for Bill, he wears the Crow crown and all that, yes? Well…yes.

Again...numbers bounce funny.

Like 7/7/1777.

Like Werewolf, Time Chasers is a solid argument for cutting some of the loose thread away from the Yooo-nited States. Like Overdrawn, the story holds surface-level intrigue, with nowhere near the money or talent necessary to fulfill its potential. And when I think of Crow, I am inevitably drawn to the Crow of this one show, how vital he is to the storyline, and how only Bill's Crow--put-upon, abrasive, ready to hock on a baby if one's stupid enough to crawl within spit-shot--could pull it off. He's not guided by affection, or justice, he's just about staying upright and functional, so screw Joe Don Baker if he can't take a joke! 

It's awesome when the "victims" of MST3K can roll with the punches (even the low blows), and you can count the cast of Time Chasers among the cool kids. Why not? Thanks to the irritable intellectuals from the middle of America, their film will outlive several Best Picture winners.

If only they'd riffed The English Patient...

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Beauty Lies In the Lives

(Wherein I give my readers the fucking link like a Legend Of Zelda porno.)

Two chapters away from finishing novel number four, it helps to have other projects settling on the side, patiently waiting for some sublime occurrence of frustration, aggravation or out-out ennui, at which point a game will ensue (Rock-Paper-Scissors, Odds and Evens, perhaps a thumb war if the intermission's run especially long) and I will find myself ranking Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes...appraising another book-to-film adaptation...picking my favorite Sonic Youth live shows by era....

Wasn't my idea, y'all. But 2020 wants me to do more than snapping pictures of ducks in between creating root beer floats out of imagination and aspiration.

My all-time favorite racket-gang's had a pretty busy year, for being out of commission since 2011. Started a Bandcamp page to provide "a home to live SY recordings and unreleased, self-released or stray SY recordings." Celebrated the 30th anniversary of their most important album. Displayed the common sense and decency not required of great artists, but hey, great if it's there. Continued along the path of intelligent compassion by participating in a fundraiser.

SY's first-ever show in Portugal is well-known along gig collectors as the "Blastic Scene" bootleg (and is among the sets available on the aforementioned Bandcamp page) and boasts a killer setlist: nineteen songs from seven albums, starting with "Cotton Crown" and concluding with "Brother James." (Far from perfect, but I'd put up with hearing "In The Mind Of The Bourgeois Reader" three times in a row just to hear "Theresa's Sound-World" once.) If you look back at the Youth's concert history, their adherence (obstinace, some might say) is pretty admirable. When they played to promote an album, they played said album, a few select others from the vault, and rarely deviated. Unadventurous, eh, but it meant that after a few shaky first gigs to chase off the dust and spray off the rust, man became machine, blasting star showers.

(The most annoying misconception about Sonic Youth is they were no fun. I saw the band live 58 times, and the vast majority of those times, I saw them alive. Wide and high and alive. Get me?)

"Would you consider the Portugal show one of the best from that era?" Patrick asked. I said, sure, but then again, I've heard a lot of SY concerts, three times as many as I've seen.

"I'd love to see you put together a list of what you think the best by era are."

 So would I, sir.

These eras are determined by Patrick and I, DBA "The J&P Show." They would be different if we were discussing the band's recorded history, rather than their live history.

11/20/1983-Trier, Germany-Exhaus
1/5/1985-Movaje Desert, CA
8/1/1985-Cleveland, OH-Stache's

Baby Youth. Pre-SS Beat Patrol. Raw, rugged, raucous. Ruckus was brought. Mothers were fucked, and fucked right back. The Gila Monster Jamboree is impervious to nitroglycerin. The Ohio date marked Steve Shelley's first performance with the group away from the safety (?) of NYC. His presence on drums takes the band into the next phase.


4/12/1986-Austin, TX-Continental Club
9/15/1987-Chapel Hill, NC-Cat's Cradle
11/5/1988-Chicago, IL-Cabaret Metro

Lotta C's, wow. The Austin show was made available through the Sonic Death fan club, and the Chicago show is up on BC. All three of these represent the "golden trilogy" period superbly. Even just a decently-recorded show from this time puts me in the mood to make popcorn the hard way.


8/11/1990-Philadelphia, PA-Trocadero
8/17/1990-Hollywood, CA-The Palladium 
9/24/1992-San Francisco, CA-The Warfield

Oh the 1990s. My life turned Sonic, right at the start. My personal record of zero broken bones would've ended somewhere in here, if I'd the means to quash the concert cherry. Wild, wild, wild. SY kicked an inordinate amount of ass at numerous Philly shows, venue irrelevant. Why, couldn't tell you. This was their so-called "commercial" era, when Nirvana made people believe like-minded acts were also salable. Flawed logic, for sure, but the records are still great--and the concerts greater still.

Also, I am a sucker for banter, for all the introductions/observations/jokes/pleas, and the Hollywood show is an amazing admixture of "talk" and "walk." 


4/7/1996-Dusseldorf, Germany-Philipshalle
5/28/1998 & 5/29/1998-Los Angeles, CA-Veterans Wadsworth Theater  
2/27/1999 -New York, NY-Hammerstein Ballroom

The last gasp before the Gear Gear Theft. Before some douchenozzles went full-throttle and left the band without any equipment for the next show. Luckily, said show was a festival, featuring many Sonic Lifers whose generosity surpassed expectation. You think those pilfering chumps have ever received such largesse? Life's weird so, maybe, but I'm doubtful.

The German show is also known as "The Easter Show" and also the greatest Sonic Youth concert ever. Setlist is mostly offerings from Jet Set and Washing Machine, distinguished by the sheer number of songs whose recorded peak was reached that night in front of several thousand Germans. "Starfield Road" comes to the fork and paints each tine gold; "Washing Machine" is too good for clothes; "The Diamond Sea" is actually several different gemstones, loupe depending.

The first LA show has the band's blessing, but kids, that second show is every bit its equal. If you're like me, and regard A Thousand Leaves as the group's artistic apex, it gets no better.

The '99'er is a wonderful example of a "between albums" performance, snatching a little from (almost) every bowl. The staggering cover of "Blonde Redhead" isn't up to the original, but it's Sonic Youth doing DNA.


8/3/2002-New Orleans, LA-Tipitina's
7/1/2006-Portland, OR-Roseland Ballroom
8/12/2011-Brooklyn, NY-Williamsburg Waterfront

It's not how you start, it's how you finish, and Sonic Youth's final show on their home turf is more than the answer to a trivia question. Things were still hunky dory, at least in the minds of schlubs like me. We hadn't clue one the end was nigh.

No, that's a lie. We (meaning, me and a few of my friends) thought even while the show was ongoing that we were witness to something wonderful--and weird. Undeniably, on both counts. Look at the setlist! Then listen!

21st century SY punched up real pretty. The Tipitina's recording checks every box for me, and circled a couple for good measure. On the heels of a lackluster showing in Seattle, Portland '06 was and is everything I adored about the concert experience. I miss it, or rather some aspects. Circumstances conspire, and truths must be faced. I think that's why I documented so much of it, why I honor the compulsion to revisit those prevent the mist from feeling comfortable in any role other than "guest."

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Liver Than Fried Onions

58 shows attended, 230+ shows collected, two books written--my Sonic Youth live history is unremarkable and impressive. Their first gig was in 1981; the final, 2011. My first was 1998; the final, 2011. There's a lot I've missed out on, even with bootleg trading and lossless audio sites.

So a list of the best SY live songs wasn't uppermost in my admittedly hyper-inhabited mind.

Blame Patrick, whose Murray Street revisit inspired an opinion that inspired an idea. There's more important writing assignments on my desk/hospital overbed (which aren't actually important), but a persistent Patrick is rarely thwarted.

My top 10 Sonic songs and this list do not match up, not close, and that's a testament to the potency of a live performance.

10. "Karenology"
       Changed her birth name after a few days on her own, this thunderclap from three states away. Exhausted of pipe organs and choirs, she refurbished the nearest God shack with hotwired banjos and cold-blooded percussion. I worshiped duly.

9. "Catholic Block"
     SY bringing back Sister faves in the 21st century! "Catholic Block" fared second-best, preserving the frenzy without sacrificing the mastery.

8. "Shaking Hell"
     An aged shell, an abraded skull. Silence is golden, so a silver vixen's song is brutally inevitable. Misshapen, 'cause mishaps happen.

7. "Hey Joni"
     So if "Eric's Trip" is the Taj Mahal (best seen in pictures) and "Rain King" is the Colosseum (beauty in ruination), "Hey Joni" is the Grand Canyon. 'Cause I really wanna fall into that bitch.

6. "White Kross"
     SY bringing back Sister faves in the 21st century! "White Kross" fared best, preserving the God without sacrificing the Jesus.

5. "Expressway To Yr Skull"
     Twenty-two strings, one goal: crisscross the nearest ocean without arousing the unwanted attentions of the relevant Coast Guard or the secretly-coveted notice of the boldest sharks. Roads, like love affairs, are best enjoyed in the mind.

4. "Starfield Road"
     Happy Easter! Fondant is a French word, meaning "removing one's panties without ripping the fabric." The worst version of "Starfield Road" is the best version of vertigo.

3. "Rain On Tin"
    Poetry and pandemonium. Holy and godless. A mesmeric ash pile in the middle of a wobbling Babylon. (Stare long enough, strong enough, hear the faintest whispers.)

2. "The Sprawl"/"Cross The Breeze"
     Peanut butter doesn't need jelly, necessarily, but it really wants it. On bread, on a joyous summer day, in tender hands headed for a grateful mouth.

1. "The Diamond Sea" 
     A caress that sends a heart skipping. A tad frightening, a Tad enthralling. Whatever's forever isn't of human concern, so whether a five minute edit or a twenty-five minute edification, whether studio or club, this is ultimate Sonic experience.

Thank you for reading my current diversion. Now watch the Easter show.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Fall Down On The World, Pt. 9--You Can't Spell 'Heart' Without 'Art.' Unless You're An Idiot


Florid prose vs. terse prose. Sentences that stretch and sprawl, soaking up sun rays and staring down moon beams. Sentences that bob and weave. Bop and bite. Prize winners vs. participants.

The problem is, I've positioned both styles as opponents. Hemingway fans cannot be Faulkner readers. Franzen readers are genetically predisposed to hate the works of Elmore Leonard.

(No, the problem is, I just cited four authors, all male.)

How often is it just about the finished product? The separation of creator and consumer, as necessary for overall health as fresh air and cold water, is the final judge, and the less commensurate the growth, the harsher the sentence. Too bad. The discrepancy keeps art fun, and nostalgia sad. (Like, matching tear tracks scorching your cheeks. Like, groping your chest bright red 'cause you can't punch a hole through.)

Why should the leaders love the legions, anyway? They show up late, and when they're not hiding, they're chattering. They say they're gonna, they really really wanna, but they don't. Fifteen dollars for thirty-six minutes that last forever, or fifteen dollars for a fundraiser started by a Vermont man intent on surprising his wife with an Akita pup for her birthday, 'cause that's a great choice for a first-time dog owner.

The stubborn souls deserve admiration, not pity. They hear "why" and reply "why not."

Misery loves cramped spaces, so for their first new full-length since 2015, Sleater-Kinney linked up with Annie Clark, who dominates under the alias St. Vincent. (There's choice gossip here, but since the sex lives of strangers fascinates me as much as the sex lives of friends, this review bypasses hearsay and "hearddone.") This news hit fans like a boot to the butt. Would it be a political record in the style of One Beat? How much of St. Vincent's pantheistic aesthetic would be integrated into S-K's resolute rock formation? Remember when David Byrne tried to make the B-52's sound like the Talking Heads, what's the odds?

On July 1, 2019, with the official release date a month out, Janet Weiss announced her departure from the group she galvanized. "The band is heading in a new direction and it is time for me to move on," read part of her official statement. Response ranged from disbelief to sorrow to rage. That Weiss walked after the new record's completion, and with promotional duties on the horizon, inspired a mess of messy talk, and Internet investigators flipped rocks and skipped stones in search of clues.

Four months later, during a podcast, Janet elaborated, explaining that when she asked Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker if they considered her "a creative equal," they answered in the negative. Unable to reconcile the band's outward message with the reality of their inner workings, she left. Her bandmates in the lurch? With her integrity intact? Depended on who you asked (or who asked themselves). Easy to hate the overly self-aware celebrity; hard to fault the wise old punk. C & C were fine in being truthful with their friend, and in deceiving their fanbase. Understandable, if not commendable--fans aren't friends, y'know.

The anticipation for The Center Won't Hold did not diminish. But the texture changed. Wrinkles, spikes, spots, smooth areas were few and far between. Which must've pleased C & C Music Factory. After all, they're just as punk rock for persisting as Janet is for quitting.

"The Center Won't Hold"--St. Vincent's presence, and influence, is instantly apparent. Welcome, twitched users. Old habits for new habitats. No one's lying, everyone's down.

Humans play with robots to prevent robots playing with humans. (Maybe Annie and the girls could start a new group called Tobor.)

"Hurry On Home"--An awful sultry panic attack, an all-timer in the catalogue. Hardworking verses and high impact choruses. One woman's clutter is another woman's clambake.

"Reach Out"--Processed and simplified (per producer's request), "Reach Out" pushes its nerves into the fray like no other song in their history. Connection requires notice; look out. Find a tunnel, or hollow out a mountain.

"Can I Go On"--Carrie suffers from terminal ambivalence. This makes her an intriguing figure, and (I imagine) an exhausting friend. Simulation theory's anthem is here, just in time for the march of April rain.

"Restless"--Hot Rockin' in the spot! Not all emotions bounce the same, and for proof, look here: there is a Guinness World Record for most iron bars bent in one minute. How does that make you feel?

"Ruins"--Tom from Motel 6 saved Corin from a bear attack one afternoon, is all I can figure. Here's the big difference between the S-K ladies: Carrie expresses how she wants to feel, Corin expresses how she actually feels. I'm done setting up fights...just saying.

"Love"--More new wave than "A New Wave," a dinky-tinky history lesson. The best words are four letters (even pizza, which is four letters, really). Three Lucy Van Pelts in a van, lament not that it ended; marvel that it ever lasted.

"Bad Dance"--Forever linked in my mind to "Bat Dance," my initial impression is the studio was a hindrance and this'll be a live banger. (I was right. Up the notch and punch the crotch.) This shit makes me wanna spit in my own mouth.

"The Future Is Here"--"Na na" for the naysayers who've deemed the canvas paint-resistant just 'cause they can't hold a brush right. I hope the nurse who passes along my dire diagnosis does so after eating cotton candy sprinkled with peanut brittle.

"The Dog/The Body"-- My preferred strain of anthem, where the subject shifts several times within the course of one listen.

I get Janet's plant-based beef substitute. She's not a force on the album since opportunities lacked. I'm less bothered than others, because the music doesn't strike me as dishonest.

"Broken"--A piano ballad inspired by the would-be dream killers. Every woman is inside this song, whether they want to be or not. There is no "not me," only "not yet."

The reception given The Center Won't Hold touched all points between "effusive praise" and "comical derision." It wound up on few year-end lists. A classic triumph it is not. A tragic collapse it is not. The riot grrls flipped because Dig Me Out had melodies on it. The Hot Rock dulled the band's edge to the point of distraction. I'm still waiting for the official version of The Woods. And there's some (assumed) former fans now, decrying the hypocrisy of their heroines, wishing they themselves had been more careful with the golden gravy boat, or just simplified their own passions.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Overtime Till Time Is Over


Another half-hour shift. Pour out some jelly beans, cram a pack of creme eggs into your cheeks, and marinate on the lesson as taught by the peanut butter jar and the chocolate bunny: consent is key.

"Party"--Ronnie Spector leathered out, is it a shock? No, it's sugar cubes in a sock. Shonen Knife turned My Bloody Valentine into a 60s girl group, please don't not invite 'em to the shindig.

"Dizzy"--Ice cream cones pointing out of the toaster! Let's go beat cinnamon buns together! Have good fun with a food gun!

"Sweet Candy Power"--Nineteen albums in thirty-eight years, the fake-out ballad is by now honed and gleaming. Peppermint Butler betta have my honey.

"My Independent Country"--Lightly-fried politics. In the nascent days of the Knife, the Yamano sisters used to sneak out of their house to play gigs. Your favorite punk band are in fact calves.

"Wave Rock"--Make the 2021 Summer Olympics even more special by introducing challenges. Ever tried finishing The Legend Of Zelda without a sword? Or slamming through Goldeneye with a Klobb-only arsenal? Beach volleyball with oily balls.

"Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches"--Underrated material for house-building. Willy Wonka'd blow a stream of steam through the top of his hat.

"Never-Never Land"--Skip across the trails and over the hills. Trust me.

"Peppermint Attack"--Atsuko Yamano's progressed from a drummer who somehow plays behind the beat and ahead of the beat simultaneously to a drummer who hits the dime every time. And that's great, but I miss the sloppiness. It's the difference between hand-dipped and soft serve, y'know?

"California Lemon Trees"--'Cause the lemon trees in NY suck, and I saw three dead pigeons underneath one, probably a family. Use a straw for imbibing gold.

"Match 3"--When you can't ascertain which Ramones song is being ripped off, is it good or bad? Naoko Yamano told Spill magazine "I just keep on rocking," and I'm 99% she's been barred from at least two onsens for singing "Rock Hard Ride Free" by Judas Priest in changing rooms.

How many stars out of five? Dunno. They're all happy and healthy, though, however many there are.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Rise Of Skywalker

The Last Jedi is the most divisive movie in the Star Wars universe. The middle of the sequel trilogy turned director/writer Rian Johnson into a lightning rod for either profuse scorn or effusive praise, depending on what segment of the fandom was speaking up at the time. The subversion of convention, the hints of romance between "the Jedi and the Jedi Killer," the abundant humor--these were the elements that won new fans disinterested in the OT/PT methodology while simultaneously pissing off the diehards who swore by the lore of Lucas.

Dissatisfaction with pacing, comedy and characterization--these are all legitimate reasons to not like any film. The loudest, longest excoriations of The Last Jedi reeked of a vicious hatred, a shameless disgust at seeing a more inclusive, diverse Star Wars universe. Which is not a legitimate reason to dislike a movie.

Once entrusted to Colin Treverrow, the ST finale was handed over to J.J. Abrams, whose re-imagining of Episode IV pulled the nifty trick of pleasing both critics and audiences. Could he do it again?

WHAT HAPPENED (Fair warning: I left the Blue Milk on the counter in the stereolab.)

My personal expectation: a flashy, gorgeous, and derivative experience thick with fanservice. The shaggy-haired, finely-muscled fuckboy who grabs your attention despite the warning signs because, well, who doesn't like watching a good fucking? I sure do.

Oh, who me? Born late '77, youngest of seven, most married and moved on by the time I was desperately seeking entertainment beyond peek-a-boo and Poky Li'l Puppy. My big brother (only eleven years older than me) boasted a formidable collection of VHS/Betamax tapes filled with movies he'd recorded off of our tank-like TV. Dozens of hours of escape, none of them pulled me in like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Fairy tales in space, Kurosawa with lasers, it was like nothing I'd seen or heard. I quit counting sheep, choosing instead to recite ESB dialogue from line one. The Glo Worm and the X-Wing were my favorite toys. Princess Leia was my favorite character.

And I was the only girl I knew--in a town full of people who worshipped fantasies of the past while vilifying fantasies of the present--who loved Star Wars.

Maybe there were other girls my age in the theater when Mom took my brother and I to the Valley Mall on May 25, 1983. I don't remember much about the first time I saw the "last" SW movie, save for the Imperial Guards, the Ewoks, and Leia kicking ass.

When the prequels were announced, I felt a sense of duty to buy tickets for all three. Same with the sequels. I never, though, felt a sense of entitlement. Whatever expectations I harbored, I tempered. The thrills resonated longer, the disappointments puttered out in the life of a sigh, and I never once reacted with the fervor of a loon, distraught over moving pictures on a screen not matching up with the moving pictures in my head.

This is a neat little trick I've far from perfected, and one the fans degrading Episode 9 (and 8, for that matter) would do well to practice.

The most interesting characters in the ST are scavenger-ass Rey and Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren. The young woman struggling with issues of identity and family, the young man doomed since conception to defy the expectations of his parentage. Searching is the vital verb, and so it proceeds both Rey and Ren are leading charges to locate Emperor Palpatine. Sheevy Baby's 'bout as dead as Pearl Jam's breakout single, and havoc-wreaking is in the stars! Training, trio and traitors, oh my! For an offering that aims to "tie it all together" (meaning all eight preceding films), TROS revels in adding new customs and characters. This works well…mostly.

Rey's training (as overseen by Leia, who has a saber now, y'all), is pretty fun until Kylo ForceTimes himself into it and BB-8 finds out what happens when a tree decides to initiate the hugging. The Emperor is out there, on the Sith planet of Exogol, and Kylo's found him, and now Rey has to find the Emperor, but she won't be alone thanks to her insistent Resistance chums. Enter shenanigans with Poe, Finn, C-3PO, Chewie and Rose! Wait, not Rose? Huh, okay, 'cause last film she was all gung-ho about staying in the fight and emphasizing love and now she's a pessimist?

Trio adventures are better late than never, packed with plenty of laughs and fake-outs and important reveals. Then Kylo drops the twist (twists the drop?) and either the shit becomes incredibly real or the real becomes incredibly shit, that's one I gotta leave up to y'all.

The final fight between scavenger and trash is fantastic, since Kylo finally remembers who he is and whoops ass. Only to remember who he is--again. The Resistance, led by new General Poe Dameron, battles the First Order while Palps and Rey-Rey powwow.

That Rey and Ben Solo were connected by the Force (a "Dyad" per Palpatine) isn't a surprise. I'd assumed this would play a part in the third movie, during their climactic final fight. Instead, Sheevy Baby exploits this bond to gain UNLIMITED POWA and end the Skywalkers. Which he both succeeds to do, and fails to do.

Celebration on Endor, the established party planet! Burial on Tattoine! Spotlight on John Williams, y'all!


The female protagonist kicked ass. Just like in the last two. Get mad, stay mad. Sure, there was resurrection via dead Jedi pep talk, and the wide-chested Solo boy escaped to the World Between Worlds before sliding into second base, but fuck me, she's got a cool new saber!

Ben showing his inner Han ruled, incidentally.

What's even cooler than ship porn? The one, the only, the Richard E. Grant, born to be a villain in a galaxy far, far away.

All right, enough bullet point writing. From the moment I sat my butt down in the theater, my nerves were crackling. Audibly. Like my partner pointed out more times than three that I should calm the entire fuck down, the previews haven't even started yet, ya antsy cunt. Then the movie started and I calmed most of the fuck down. The fate of Leia tested the tensile strength of my blood vessels, and each time she popped on screen, a curious admixture of gratitude and trepidation poured itself into my esophagus, and I rode every curve of the journey with pale knuckles and florid face. (Mad Luke bit it? Mark Hamill's still alive and ghosting. Mad Ben 'n' Rey won't bump pretties? Y'all got a kiss.)

The thoughtful utilization of archival footage aside, Episode IX became hypothetical
on December 27, 2016, when Carrie Fisher passed away. VII was Harrison's sendoff, VIII was Mark's sendoff, and IX was to be hers. Then real life intruded, denying audiences (and performers) the emotionally satisfying mother-son conclusion the whole damn story demanded.

Well, Disney hates Moms anyway. Enter Han Solo to make sure Harrison Ford keeps up with Samuel L. Jackson in all-time box office. Oh, and also to provide his son with the needed absolution to chuck the best lightsaber ever constructed into the water, drop the act, and save the girl. Between this, and the announcement of Leia's death, the Solo-Skywalkers provided the most emotional moments in TROS.

(Poor Chewie, all his old friends were lost to this stupid war. Least his girlfriend gave him a medal.)

Glad to see more of horndog pilot/pusher Poe, whose past with Zorii Bliss interested me far more than Finn's frantic inability to tell Rey something ostensibly significant. Oscar Isaac grabs his opportunity with both hands and throttles. He's dynamic, magnetic, and sells iffy dialogue in the style of the OG scoundrel pilot.

For more well-earned nostalgic good feels, C-3PO (the "C" is for "comedian") and Babu Frick (a Baby Yoda/Groot hybrid who will make a very nice Funko Pop one day soon) occupy the same chamber in my heart forever. Thank you, silly heroes.


Already, the fuckery. A split in critical and audience reception, talk of behind-the-scenes discord and Disney sacrificing Lucas's work for the sake of an entirely new Star Wars universe. (And yeah, I suspect if you peer at the pie you'll find Iger's thumb-holes gouged in certain slices.) Evidence of ret-conning, incomplete or contradictory threads (Finn/Rey, Kylo/Rey)…it's frustrating, but I feel those problems were going to exist with or without J.J. in the driver seat. I sympathize with fans who view Ben's death as reinforcing the lesson of "death is the only true redemption," who resent stripping Rey of her "other" status and denying her a fertile future on a lush planet, instead sending her back to the sand to live out her days as an intergalactic spinster with a basketball droid for a cat.

But goddamn I liked this movie.

The first act is too fast for its own good--why this movie wasn't three hours long is up there with Jack the Ripper and The Beast of Bodmin Moor I tell you--and not all the emotional beats thump, but it's a good Star Wars movie. I'd like to watch it again, though thanks to circumstances beyond my control, that won't happen for awhile.

I save my vitriol (in a Snoopy thermos, no less) for the gatekeepers who hunger to dictate fandom, the click-click commandos with more usernames than anatomical digits, YouTubers who've made projection and vitriol lucrative business, the prune-breathed oafs hungering for midichlorians and Force Ghost orgies who bond over their rancor for outsiders, a considerable percentage of whom check the box marked "female."

I can't claim absolute association with all of my like-chromosoned brethren in the fandom, since women are as gorgeously varied as men, but I'd never make them feel unwelcome. Those "shippers" who raise hackles by injecting gross romance into everything, guess what? I love 'em. I embrace 'em, I smooch 'em on the forehead, I offer 'em a swig outta my Snoopy thermos. They're enthusiastic, they expand the universe with fanfic and artwork, inspired by characters and settings and plots, so occupied they haven't the time to search out dissimilar spirits in order to execute harassment campaigns. (Already I'm seeing mean, condescending messages online towards fans who convey anguish over the fate of certain characters. Probably from the same men who threw the poorest of hissy fits over Luke Skywalker's boss sacrifice in The Last Jedi.)

Bless 'em. Telling other fans how to feel, trying to dictate the proper reactions, is lamer than Attack of the Clones. (Totally cool if you like that movie, though.) And I hope they make peace, soon, with the fact that Ben Solo, having been Kylo Ren, could not exist freely in the post-Palpatine world. Without his sweet sacrifice, he'd be doomed to a sour life.

Critics who call TROS a "fuck you" to TLJ are ignoring/missing the homages to Rian Johnson's work, be it Palpatine narrating Rey's supposed imminent turn or "the Holdo maneuver" referred to as a "one in a million" move ('cause it fucking was, one of the greatest moments in Star Wars, come fight me if you enjoy shadowboxing).

"Rey Nobody" turned out to be somebody, and initially that pissed me off.* Then my partner laid out an alternate read. "You are not your genetics" is still a valid moral. Rey's survival is not a victory for Palpatine, since she introduces herself as a "Skywalker" in the last line of the film. This defiance of her birth name is pure hope. What did Snoke say? "Skywalker lives. The seed of the Jedi Order lives. As long as it does, hope lives in the galaxy."

She's a long way to go, though. Burying the sabers of Anakin and his daughter in the sand. Honey, the sand? Jesus, babe, read the planet. (Or the shared Jedi texts, which certainly feature a chapter on the stated pet peeves of noted Jedis.)

The ninth and (allegedly) final installment in the saga is at once a relief and a reminder: they're just movies, y'all. 

*(Hi, and thanks for reading. When I say the twist pissed me off, I mean I voiced my displeasure in the theater, although thankfully only my partner seemed to hear. I don't normally behave so rashly in an audience, and while I regret my minor outburst--to the point I'm addressing it in a review--I take solace in the fact I'll never be as imbecilic as the douchenozzle wearing the bright red "Trump 2020" sweater in our theater.

Signing off, Jennifer Shakespeare.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Captain Donut & The Holes Make The Boys All Pause

Christ, it's like more attention is paid to what men aren't doing then what women are doing.

Late 2017, like super-late, like I'm still digesting the turkey and potatoes, Rolling Stone prints their annual interview with U2 front-bug Bono. On the surface it's a fluffernutter to promote the band's 700th album, free ad space that should probably have been given over to a younger, more sonically interesting act. Covertly, it provided one of rock's longest-running figureheads a chance to bitch and moan about how "girly" the genre had become. Insinuating that A) men in rock must meet certain standards in appearance and execution to qualify as worthy and B) women in rock just don't cut the mustard.

Well, it's like my mother says: "If you can cut mustard, throw it away."

Bono's lament is summarized thus: "In the end, what is rock 'n' roll? Rage is at the heart of it." Sure. But it's possible to maintain a heartbeat with no brain wave activity. You can technically be alive, and unable to live. Other qualities--nuance, compassion, curiosity--made the body move. And move and move and move.

The assumption that rock must necessarily project anger is as foolhardy as the assumption that women in rock are not angry. They are. A woman's anger, furthermore, is not to be misunderstood as a repudiation or a representation of a collective. Has any person listened to an all-male band like U2 and thought, "This is how all men are"? Is "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" the Irish national anthem?

Blame it on Bey. The year before Bono cried in Jann Wenner's right arm, Lemonade snatched up the lease and turned the world's most iconic living rapper into a lawn gnome. In her wake, more female performers assumed spotlight roles and dominated all manner of music charts: Solange, SZA, Lorde, Taylor Swift. Responses ranged from "About time" to "Fuck this."

The old endearments are the new endurances. Girls grown wary of glorifying and/or defying the "bad boy" and bored of communicating strictly with pants and moans. When the muzzles come off, all barks become bites, and an integral element becomes a neighborhood nuisance. 

Women, as the shoulders of the world, are also entitled to anger over issues both grave and goofy. Men are also entitled to inquire as to the source of that anger. If the answer proves unsettling, well, that's their squabble to quell. Not every guy handles this responsibility well, particularly those sent into apoplectic fits over seeing themselves depicted in the media less frequently (a cultural shift they interpret as a portent of a world where the benefits of masculinity are construed as detriments and their individual voices will be quashed for the sins of a collective).

Beware--the decision to obey the creative urge leaves one open to obloquy courtesy of well-salted nuts wishing their jars had lids. Decency is, by definition, harder to detect. Failure to meet the demands of some well-defined segment inspires puzzlement at the very least. Make 'em think, make 'em feel, and maybe you make 'em mad, mad enough to shore up a restless defense of a rigid values system they don't even fully value.

That applies to so much…let's keep it music.

Complexity ruins rock music, the wisdom wails. Keep it tough, keep it basic, say "hey" whole bunches. The only thing worse than a man exploring the Parisian catacombs of his masculinity is a woman treating her femininity like a toy store.(Dare to play fast and loose with gender identity and run the risk of exposing suspected allies as gone Terfin' USA, eager combatants in spoon fights over scorching bowls of Alpha-Beta soup. Then again society is still somehow befuddled by how bisexuality works.)

My ever-shrinking patience with the demonizers justifies its own post.  I get it, I got it, they'e frazzled, I'm frazzled, we are all frazzled. We ain't gonna agree, but we gotta get along, meaning--stop spitting in my mouth the second you see the opening.

Speaking of nasty mouth business…twenty-five years ago, when I was slobbering around the sweet spot of my adolescence, it happened. The Angry Woman In Rock became trendy. Liz Phair, who just the year prior sent indie underthings into overdrive with her sharp and profane debut Exile In Guyville, was set to release her inevitably-disappointing sophomore album. Rolling Stone magazine featured her on the cover of an issue also containing an article on "Women In Rock," which asked the likes of Courtney Love, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett and Madonna about family, feminism, and fucking fragrances.

Speaking of nasty stink business…1994 saw another follow-up album from a relentlessly thoughtful woman. Courtney Love and her cohorts in Hole released Live Through This one week after the suicide of Love's superstar husband. More beloved by critics than audiences (selling less than two million copies to date in the United States), the twelve song collection is a fine representation of a scuzzy bombshell buffeting back at the world. Courtney's very existence wrenched forth the best and worst in people, not a one of whom seemed capable of a reasonable reaction to the grieving widow.

Not nearly enough attention was paid to L7, an L.A. band who, unlike Hole, were all tits all the time. They were flying the flannel and dying the follicles, pranking and yanking with the vigor of the boys, and oh yeah, playing great fucking physical music. (And boasted a Jennifer.) Never got as lachrymose as Hole, though, which I suppose indicated a stunted development (or a fierce dedication, let's not quibble). Butch Vig behind the boards, appearances on big talk shows and a cameo in the last great John Waters film, L7 were poised to reign as queens of the grunge movement.


Millions were lulled into a naivete no less charming for its ultimate heaving absurdity. New York mag, in the summer of 1996, informed perusers "Feminism Rocks," even as the article focused heavily on Courtney's shenanigans and Alanis Morissette's recent ascension, the only mention of riot grrrl coming with Liz Phair's insistence music is powerless to create social change.

As the Nineties progressed, alternative's influence fizzled out. Enter, finally, 1999. An annus horribilis for the books. Hyper-masculine hybrid tunes ruled, dudes and their deals reclaimed their rightful combative stances and conflated every wrong in their lives into the last straw. Meanwhile I'm jamming a Missy Elliott cassette in my best friend's dark green Chevelle, an antidote to the scuzziness.

Everybody knew Missy, though. She wore trash bags and rolled with a guy named after footwear. Smaller radars detected drizzles of hope. Music in no danger of earning RIAA plaques or climbing Billboard charts. Music performed by women who struck raw poses to humble crowds. Where pizazz lacked, passion abounded. Yes, of course Sleater-Kinney, but I also mean the less-heralded likes of Erase Errata and Electrelane. Their rage was real--and unrecognizable to eyes conditioned to equate rage with a particular form, tone and timbre.

I've always considered Sleater-Kinney to be Team Dresch with more patience, tighter record collections and a nicer view. They garnered even more critical praise than Hole, and even less commercial success. No bass and competing vocals, one voice clinging to the side of the speeding railway car, the other attempting to lift the tracks clean off the ground via audiokinesis. And I'm like, fuck, this is as good as it gets. Women were still rocking, and electroclash handled the roll.


New days, new waves, new ways to stay safe and warm in a blizzard. The new stars of stage, screen and Spotify, oh fuck me release day is Friday now? Also, we're eating charcoal? Christ a'mighty.

Facing threats from the lowest common denominator to the highest courts, middling around is a less-sexy option than ever. When I think women in music these days, I think of two letters: e-x. Exhausting, exhaustive, exasperating, examination, exhilarating. Excellence, experimentation.

Ex Hex. Great new album.

Who are you listening to? An épicène artiste, a fierce-brained naturalist, or a merrily mediocre fantasist. Skip the razzmatazz and give 'em their deserved fair evaluation. Lady Gaga, at her apex, was the new Madonna. St. Vincent, apex still pending, is the new Bowie. (Her electric twinning with Dua Lipa is the glorious opposite of whatever the hell happened in the video for "Dancing In The Streets.")

Now's the time to be worked into an audible froth, to let the chirping circles become part of your daily soundtrack, and who can do it quite like a woman. Virtually all the dazzlers in the maligned rock genre are female. Snail Mail, Japanese Breakfast, Camp Cope. Red foxes in the forest, each one. Courtney Barnett's supreme songcraft compels me to sit by a swamp and sketch out a week's worth of remembered reveries.

Anyone yearning for the Missy, a sizzling amalgam of pop, hip-hop and funk, had to be patient. Forget Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, bogged down by quizzical beefs and serious oversharing. Remember Lizzo. 'Cause I sure did.

I became aware of the wild-haired, bodily-blessed black woman from flyover country in 2015, when she opened up two shows for Sleater-Kinney at DC's 9:30 Club, throwing out cookies and reminding pasty faces how black lives matter. Three years on, she's an Ellen-approved star, truly the new Missy. Shit, maybe she's Sister Rosetta Tharpe with a flute.

(Janelle Monae, artier and more angular, will never receive the mainstream due she deserves, alas.)


I've been looking at Lizzo and thinking, "Missy." Maybe I need to be thinking, "L7."

Away from the salt mines, L7 showed their support for women's reproductive rights by starting up Rock For Choice in 1991. A series of nationwide concerts raised money and awareness for the specific cause and for the importance of the youth vote in general. The final show took place in 2001. I'm telling you, we gotta bring it back.

Musical innovators, L7 were not. Respected and abetted by their male peers, L7 certainly were. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Fugazi--progressive-minded dudes sympathetic and sensitive to their travails. "Feminism" became a buzzword, again. (Yes, hesitate to hand out huzzahs for obvious righteousness, but hearing Kurt Cobain--the uncontested face of the genre--insist, "The future of rock belongs to women" meant something more than just a cursory acknowledgment of the right to pursue the life more solvent.) They wore flannel instead of blouses and crushed beer cans instead of rose petals, and they were proud to be women with a voice. They tossed blood at bored Brits (whose own music scene desperately needed estrogen) and galvanized overlooked segments of the American population.

We need that again.

Women in music are "between Nirvana and nothing," to quote Chuck D. Conjurers of the furious sound, signifying sweet and sour everything. Fuck the writers who spin in crude circles while asking questions that ceased to be pertinent a decade ago: Is she pretty? Is she ugly? Will she fuck me? Can I ever talk about her without feeling dizzy? (Smooth out the knots in your noodles or get rolled past.)

There's all kinds of niches for all kinds of bitches. Women are natural protesters, natural reshapers, and much like cheetahs cover great distances in impressive times. Some women are contented with being whimpering wives-in-waiting or fetching mistresses who mewl in key. Some women would rather die. We all sit side by side, spices in an endless rack. Diversification works, or it doesn't. Results will vary. The sine qua non is passion.

Ignore the useless and embrace the useful. Never listen to the person who throws out all the forks in the drawer just because one is bent.

Oh oh, yeah. Change the brassy bellow of the excited towards the exalted. No more, "You go, girl!"

Keep going, girls.