Help Me Out a Li'l Bit Here
Kim Gordon--vox, guitar, drums
Julie Cafritz--vox, guitar
Yoshimi P-We--drums, vox, trumpet, harmonica, guitar
Early '95. Still half the year to go before I could say farewell forever to formal education. School and I never jibed; our time together was awkward, a matter of need rather than want, requirement over revitalization. Teachers, and even other students, remarked that I was a classic case of "bright student who doesn't apply themselves." I suppose what turned me off was the formality, the rigidity. On my own time, I read widely--fiction, non-fiction, poetry, much-honored classics and underappreciated gems. Imagine a black hole at the intergalactic dinner table. That's how I treat information.
Prima facie, you would have classified me as a geek. You would have been right as rain. All I lacked were the corrective lenses--they'd come later, after I graduated. Yep--I went through twelve years of public school with severe myopia.
1995 was one of the better years of that decade, leastways for me. As a Sonic Youth fan, it was kinda hard not to love 1995. Not only did the group headline Lollapalooza that summer (one of the great "well, on paper…" ideas in concert history), not only did they release an album containing one of their all-time classic tunes, but there were side project releases from Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore (with Steve Shelley on the assist) as well.
Lollapalooza gets the bozack and gas face, however. Closest it came to Maryland was the goddamn race tracks in Charles Town, West Virginia. My best friend Lucy and I were all dead-set on attending--me for the music, she to get away from her grandmother, with whom she lived--but our grand plan fizzled out thanks to a lack of reliable transportation. The one and only time I can remember Luce's ol' green Chevelle letting us down. My anger over missing not only SY, but Pavement and Jesus Lizard as well, hung around my neck for awhile afterwards, but it had dropped away unceremoniously by spring 1998, when I finally saw the Youth live for the first time, at DC's legendary 9:30 Club. Several years after that, as I laid incredulous eyes upon footage of Pavement being pelted with mud during the very Lolla gig I was going to be at, forcing them to abbreviate their set, I realized I hadn't missed very much at all. That was a very silly couple of weeks I spent being angry over what could have been.
Feeling especially unoriginal, I told myself, "No regrets, Coyote." Then I realized I'd never once spotted a coyote in Hagerstown. (Playwrights, sure, but no coyotes.) So I murmured, "No regrets then, unleashed pit bull" and wondered if I could really, truly live the rest of my life so carefree.
Kim Gordon contacts long-time friend/former Pussy Galore'r Julie Cafritz. "Let's adopt a baby boy elephant," she says, no discernible inflection in her voice. Julie agrees without hesitation, the way only a best friend can. As the ladies are sussing out the logistics of pachyderm ownership, the idea of bringing a couple other people on board is suggested. That's how the SY/PG/Boredoms/Pavement hybrid known as Free Kitten started.
Conceived and executed with all the deliberate sloppiness of hillbilly goulash, Nice Ass is the most "of the era" album involving a Sonic Youth member in a significant creative role. The alt-rock/indie in-jokes contained within were plentiful and potentially off-putting, especially to people named Billy Corgan. But so what? Free Kitten's gutsy blues-punk tribble rock electrified the French, baby.
"Harvest Spoon"--I never was a Riot Grrl. I believe wholegutedly in egalitarianism, so scorched earth divisiveness never rang the bell. Nope, not even when I was a teen, and that's the time in a person's life when they're expected, hell, encouraged, to believe in things with all of their heart and a bit of their brain.
The only thing I love more than an educated woman is an educated woman with a great sense of humor. That's why Bratmobile got play from me, while Bikini Kill--despite being the far more heralded band--did not. That's also why Kim Gordon meant more to me than any other female musician, even the ones closer to me in age and/or geography, those hyper-politicized essay writers I was supposed to gravitate towards in frenzied kinship. Kim relocated from California first to Toronto then to NY in pursuit of an art career, eventually dropping the paints and pencils for strings and cords, proving that individual integration is a move much gutsier and more pregnant with revolutionary possibilities than calling for audience segregation.
A decade into her musical career, Kim was still subject to her unfair share of sexism. When Neil Young's douchenozzle road crew drooled over strippers and gaped in wonder at this chick with the opening band who acted like she belonged onstage with the guys, Kim didn't respond with foot-stomping, hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing or even zine-publishing. She let her disgust simmer and stretch. Behold--metaphors! Evocative imagery!
Could she have unleashed a throat-throttling "fuck you and everyone who willingly stands within five inches of you" to those dimwitted sexist bums? Certainly. But the music sounded obscene enough, stepchild treatment and all.
"Rock of Ages"--The in-crowd at my high school was outta control lame. All those handsome and beautiful creatures cared about the things I couldn't even pretend to be moved by. Far removed from my redneck of the woods, Sonic Youth, Pavement, et al. represented the rolling stoned in-crowd that at least had the decency to sound better than most everybody else.
"Rock of Ages" is not a Def Leppard cover. Different cat altogether. Chester Cheetah in one speaker, MC Skat Kat's homeless brother in another. Blinding sheen versus corrugated steel that has been intentionally rusted. An actual kitten playing a red-and-white Fender Strat is the only thing chillier.
Kim and Julie, see, concocted a glorious piss-take pep talk consisting of literal shout outs to all the indie heartthrobs, with their sexy mugs and spindly arms. They even dare to be gauche by mentioning the dude in their own band! (I recall a mag writer at the time wondering if "Mark, 32" referred not to Ibold, but instead to Fall frontman/boss-level football results-reciter Mark E. Smith. Eh, pretty sure Mr. Smith was already 32 years old by the time he exited the womb.)
"Proper Band"--Listening to the lo-fi likes of Sebadoh, I was never once struck with the desire to disown the music that moved me as young girl. With few exceptions, the exceptionally-produced pop music of the 1980s endures, just as powerfully as the four-track bedroom recordings of a careworn former HC kid.
Sometimes, I just stare at my music collection, and wait for all those discs to start fighting with one another. (I should mention here that I don't use drugs. Seriously!)
"We're Kitten and we're better than you."
No such thing as a mature amateur. Either they're ensnared by snarling insecurities over the fact that their songs will never come off as crisp as Duran Duran, or they rhyme "band" with "sounds" and suddenly things are okay.
"What's Fair"--"Girls are freaks, don't even try."
I hear the cats jingling some jewelry…
99% of the kids in any one of my classes were the enemy. Either passively or aggressively. Those who fit into the latter description would toss sundry objects at me--balled-up paper, pen caps, staples. The former type would be those students seated in the very same row as me, who found great amusement in passing notes to one another containing on-the-spot observational humor about yours truly. Ugly fat face, ugly cheap clothes, ugly deep voice. Haha, she doesn't even realize she's passing notes talking shit about her! Until that day I did. Did they even have the decency to be chagrined? Did they hell.
School is a house of learning, after all, so I learned to keep one open just a little wider than the other. To this day, I do not miss nor misinterpret a social cue. It's like the opposite of Aspergers.
Like right now! You held back that eye roll pretty well, but you couldn't avoid that oh so slight ihuff of breath signalling impatience.
"What's Fair" is a perfect example of why no one but me listened to this stuff. Sure, I could have scratched a nerd and discovered a casual SY fan in my midst, but Free Kitten? With their laissez-faire approach to songwriting? Come on, it sounds like they're just making it up as they go along. Christ, their equipment sounds like it's about to die. The guitars and pedals are all like, "No Kitten, stop using us this way, or we're gonna jump!"
"Kissing Well"--Sometimes a swig can lead to a waterborne coolness infecting your system. Not here. Ah well. I preferred liquid sugar anyway.
The second-longest song on Nice Ass is unfortunately the least-engaging. The K&J Show sound bored, and not in the way they sound bored throughout the rest of the album, I mean these women come off legitimately disinterested in the performance aspect of being in a band.
"Call Back"--The primacy of the feline in the domesticated animal kingdom is arguable. Economical in size, softer in vocalization, exemplary fastidiousness re: personal hygiene…oh yes, a strong case can indeed be made for the cat.
For a creature that supposedly loathes the water, this Kitten is swimming with the current, strokes tight and strong. Still no gold to be spied gleaming from the ocean floor, though. Highs, lows, choke choke. Back on land, the word salad bar is now open and stocked full of fresh-ass ingredients.
Henry Rollins namedrop! Lucy loved her some HR. Couldn't name a Black Flag song at spray-point, but his spoken word "confrontations," where he bared at length the bigger-than-yours-motherfucker heart that beat beneath all that inked-up musculature, she couldn't get enough of that crap. I had to sit there, phone held up to my rapidly-reddening ear, and listen as she would play selections from The Boxed Life, pausing only to ask me rhetorical questions that I would nevertheless answer with annoyed grunts that she never picked up on, because unlike me, she never developed the opposite of Aspergers.
My favorite aspect of Henry Garfield's inexplicable rise to mainstream acceptance in the 90s was the attention he received over starting his own publishing company. Fuck yeah, books! He's got a band? And they sound like Black Flag meets Black Sabbath meets black tar heroin? Not interested!
Imagine Kim with her own publishing imprint. Imagine Kim doing her own singer-songwriter solo album. Imagine Kim curating a music festival. Oh heart, why does my imagination insist on breaking you so?
"Blindfold Test"--The "da da da" song, I love this one! Catchy as yawning, but with just a touch of abashment.
Pin-up girls and all-American boys, guess who doesn't need you?
"Tryin' to find a lovely time."
Where could I do that at? Not in Hagerstown. Shit no, heaven and Earth had to be pushed pulled and prodded with sprinkles on top and all along the sides just to ensure a night where I didn't gaze forlornly at the TV, frantically pushing buttons until I arrived at some ephemeral escape, anything to not lose my mind wondering if I would die in the same culture-free hellhole I was born into. Lucy seemed sure that I would be one of the success stories, but curiously held no such hopes for herself. Hagerstown is that kind of place, y'see--a place for people who are content to say, "It's not much, but it'll do." For those who observe their surroundings and proclaim, "It's not much, and it'll do me in," action must be taken sooner rather than later. I'm not finished yet, I'd remind myself. I really haven't even started.
"Greener Pastures"--Kittens gonna kitten. Meaning? Meow, mamas. Roll over, paw at the head of that much larger dog and purr.
Cash? None. Responsibilities? Few. Favorite author? Dr. Seuss.
"Revlon Liberation Orchestra"--"Soft and sexy," over and over. Dual vox takeover, pillowy and furry, quicker and harder to pin down--which shouldn't even be the intent. Why are the drums off in kitchen baking pies for astronauts? 'Cause they're hungry and NASA is some cheap bastards.
"Like Sylvester without Tweety Bird!"
Forget X-Girl; Lucy and I dressed up in Girl, Why? Supersized tees, all the better to hide the blubber, frequently decorated with a cartoon character making some silly face or spouting a sillier catchphrase. Lucy stretched her jeans to capacity, while I--in the interest of feeling as little of my cellulite pressing against fabric as possible--opted for sweet sweet sweatpants.
And no make-up. What would be the point, precisely?
Me: I'm gonna be a writer, I don't need that extraneous crap. I'll be selling my words, not my face. Lucy: Right on. I don't put any on 'cause I'm just lazy!
"The Boasta"--Julie Hatfield on the mic. Kim and Yoshimi switch instruments for the ninety seconds allotted to scrape as much chipped paint as they can into a cup of already-acrid coffee. Ugh, coffee. My folks seemed to have the Mr. Coffee switched on to "Always and Forever." Wake up, smell the damn Folgers. Arrive home from school, smell the damn Folgers. Go to wish Mom a good night, she'll respond in kind just as soon as she's done taking a pull from her damn cup of Folgers.
The way Julie changes "solo" to "solah" to make it rhyme with "told ya" is the sort of playful attitude to lyricism that Ready Red desperately needed for his verse on "Do It Like a G.O." Sure enough, there is a solo here, basically just makin' gravy for the biscuits. Now that is a smell from home that I enjoyed.
"Scratch the DJ"--Hey, a kitten's gotta scratch somethin'.
A hip-hop tale of vengeance against a violating disc jockey who dared opine over the airwaves that Belly ruled whereas Kitten drooled. Kim's Cali speak-sing makes for some hilariously great accented syllables and profanities delivered so casually I almost forgot they were "bad words." Hard for me to envision such a seemingly-mellow person bum-rushing the booth and knocking out a talking asshole--really seems more of a "Julie thing"--but how can I disbelieve a voice like hers?
This is my favorite on Nice Ass, just edging "Blindfold Test." I'd say mentioning LeShaun (rapper of the greatest song about fingering a dude's ass you are likely to ever hear) is what puts this one over the top.
"Secret Sex Friend"--Forty-one seconds of hells-a-lockin'. Gotta song in your head gotta get it out get it out get it out NOW.
Not long after giving myself an orgasm for the first time, I concluded that sex was something surely hindered if not ruined by the presence of another person. Not long after hearing this track for the first time, I imagined my own super-duper sex friend got off by wearing a bright yellow strap on that she'd christened The Bangnana.
"Royal Flush"--Three and a half minutes? This is totally their "Achilles Last Stand." Actually it's Kim's lament for the "sugar pop queen," which may have been a reference to Mariah Carey. I don't know. Free Kitten were built for the short, sharp shocks.
"Feelin'"--What turns "pretty good" into "really good"? Is it one word? One taste, one glimpse? When the weekend drear got me down, I just made one call.
Hey Lucy let's go to the park, nah we ain't gotta walk. Let's just park the Chevelle in the gravel lot. We can grab some BK on the way and eat it while we catch up. Nobody's gonna bug us 'cause they'll be too busy doing drugs or drug deals or engaging in some empty sex. Nobody's gonna look twice at our pockmarked faces or our expanding waistlines. Five minutes? I'll be out front.
"Alan Licked Has Ruined Music For An Entire Generation"--Who? How? Ah nooo, Free Kitten have just told an in-joke that I can't somewhat appreciate! And considering the track is only eight scree-ing seconds long, this one must be the most gut-busting of them all!
Son of a bitch, it was! Forget dissing the god of the "twee-rock," dude, someone was still referencing Tone-Loc in the year 1994!
Y'know, I never wanted to swallow the treasure, so to speak. Whatever bands I enjoyed, I didn't feel protective of them or their music. Loving Sonic Youth didn't make me feel smarter than anyone else. I would have been so happy having a friend with whom to share the more "subterranean" selections from my CD collection. Alas, that I had a friend at all seemed accidental.