GrrlBeat @ the Feminist eZine RiotGrrl Archive
Welcome to GrrlBeat!
"GrrlBeat" was a series of women's music articles written by Leslie Harpold for RiotGrrl.com during the 1996 - 2001 period. Sadly RiotGrrl.com is no more. We have archived some of the articles here for research purposes and also because they are an enjoyable read. This is not a complete archive of every GrrlBeat article ever written, but it is enough to provide a sense of what GrrlBeat was.
The articles include:
Punk Rock Grrl
This is the all Music ish of RiotGrrl, and since all the other hipsters here are pecking out their take on the world of tunes, Iím taking a different road.
I have a confession to make.
I was never really a punk. I had a few punk like ensembles that I would hide in the bushes outside my bedroom window in garbage bags with my Maybelline Black eyeliner, and I would slip in to them in the front seat of my friend Carrieís car as we drove to downtown Detroit to try to weasel our way into the punk clubs. Mostly, though, it was kelly green sweaters and wide wale cords, with penny loafers and Alice Bands. I would gel my hair back, and put on some safety pin earrings and try to get Suburbia off me, and then have to stop at the gas station to wash my face and change back into my good girl get up to re-enter the house.
I had a great childhood, true middle class, a dog and a wholly likable strong female role model. I grew up in a Disneyworld, untouched by the nastiness of the Urban experience, so it was attractive to me and I sought it out.
Real Punks were underclass, underprivileged and were later joined in the ranks by the upper-class, kids who could afford to be bad, which, although it sounds ludicrous, is more true than you can imagine. Upper-class kids had parents who could buy them out of situations, and the social status and latitude to not be as accountable for their actions. But I was in the middle class, and without the net of protection of the upper-class or the true frustration that underclass experienced, I was left with two choices, take the risks or strike a pose. Plus, the drugs of choice for the punk movement were heroin and cocaine, mostly cocaine, and it was those self destructive rich kids who could afford the coke. I, being a chickenshit suburban kid was totally frightened of drugs, a fear which has mercifully served me well over the years, as I have circumvented the whole set of problems associated with an affinity for drugs and a proximity to the music business. Drugs (I assure you this preaching will be brief) donít mix well with anything, least of all an industry known for itís excesses.
I struck the punk pose, in my checkered pants and skinny tie, rounded out with a pair of Chuck Taylors and I wanted to co-opt the look and attitude of the punks. Manners, however were too deeply drilled into me, and personal cowardice kept me from doing anything but swearing loudly and looking dissatisfied a lot, and the occasional foray into the slam dancing area. The wrecking stuff, the spitting, the being really loud in public, that was for real punks, or at least people with more guts than I, I had snuck out of the house, so the ramifications of getting in trouble were too great for me to take a stand like that.
It was exciting, to be that bad.
The first two shows I ever saw were the Ramones and Iggy Pop. I was 14 years old, and I had a girlfriend who was 16 and had a car.
There's a bar in Detroit called Lilli's that was at the forefront of punk. Iggy, the Ramones - they played there all the time. I wanted to go. So, I slapped on all the black eyeliner my blue eyes could support, trying to look punk (it was hard with a bob) and unbuttoned my shirt as far as I could muster and tried to get my friend and I into the club to see the Ramones. The bouncer wasn't buying that I was 19 though, and suddenly I got inspired. I said "Of course not, but my brother is in there and he's supposed to give us a ride home and blah blah blah" and let myself verge on tears. I begged him to let us in to look for him, so we wouldn't get into trouble. He did, and we spent the whole night dodging him because he didn't want two obviously underage girls inside his liquor licensed club. But - I was hooked. I saw the Ramones - and the energy - the whole thing sucked me right in. I was three feet away from the guys in "Rock-n-Roll High School"! (for you young Ďuns, the first punk movie) I was totally electrified, and knew I had to come back next week, when IGGY would be there. [being from Michigan, Iggy is pretty much akin to the godhead.]
Next week, a different bouncer, so we used the same story. I was heading into the bathroom to check myself right before Iggy came on, and the bouncer from the last week grabbed me by the arm. Busted. He took me into the office, and I was scared, I mean scared shitless. I didn't know if he was going to call my parents or try to do something less honorable, I really thought I had gotten myself in over my head. he sat me down on the desk and asked me what I was doing there.
"I came to see Iggy" I said.
"You don't have a brother, do you?" he asked.
He told me to wash some of the makeup off and stay away from the bar area, the loser punk boys who were too old for me, and if I ever got caught by the police in the club he didn't know me at all. I had a new friend.
I've seen the Ramones about 50 times, no exaggeration, and Iggy close to the same. It's less about loving the music than being addicted to the feeling. When I saw the Ramones at Roseland in New York City two years ago - a fifteen year old boy and his girlfriend came up to me and said, with too much amazement to let me feel comfortable "You like the Ramones?" They were shocked. There were a lot of aging hipsters there, I don't know why they picked me, I don't even look that old. (well, apparently I did that night) "I said "of course!" and they were like "that's so COOL!" and the kid pulled a flask out of his jacket and handed to me. "Have some tequila," he offered. I cracked up, remembering all the alcohol I had snuck into shows when I was underage. I also remembered the rule "Never drink anything you didn't pour yourself at a show" but this wasn't backstage, it was in front. And so I took a big swig, and the kid gave me the "alright" thing teenagers do where they bob up and down in quiet victory. I felt like a grandmother at the tender age of 28, but it was a great experience, rounding off my whole Ramones experience.
I kind of think it would make for a better story if it had happened when I was at Manhattanís Coney Island High (a nightclub) at the Ramone's final "secret" show, but at that show I just dodged some ex-boyfriend and tried to avoid the mosh pit. Iggy I'll still see, whenever possible. Because some Iggy records are good, and some are bad, but Iggy is always Iggy, skin too big for his body, naked and writhing, forcing the music down my throat, and I always get the same feeling - of getting away with something. That feeling has led me to and kept me close to music.
I guess that makes me an aging punker, although I'm not quite old enough to have been a real punk. Grunge, Alternative, even New Wave, (I had an asymetrical haircut in the eighties, I feel I can trust you enough to admit that) are more of my generation and I was more a part of the whole "Grunge" thing than any other "thing" music has created in my lifetime. I was there when the flannel flag was flying the highest. Now thatís just mainstream or "modern" rock. The labels may change, but the reason I stick around, is that the feeling, the excitement the edge - it never fades. I am this much into music because itís been my window to other lives and experienes. It touches parts of me I canít always find without itís help.
Let me put the question to you - where has music taken you? What have you done to see your favorite artists? What musical movements do you feel most a part of?
Let me guess. You want to know why your favorite artist didn't take home one of those shiny old style record player statues at the Grammy Awards, right? Sure, I can hear you raging against the machine, talking about the man sticking it to us again, and how not only were the really good people not nominated, those who were nominated that you like didn't win. Grab a tissue, wipe your tears away grrls, and come sit next to me. I'm gonna teach you about the real world today.
You may say "Screw the Grammys they don't mean anything!" and on the level you're thinking you are correct. Fans of a certain artist will like that artist with or without a nod from NARAS (the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) they will buy the records and go to the shows, no matter what. It also retards the process of that artist getting tot he album that will make you scream "sell out!" due to the high production values, and brag to your friends that you were a fan when they were still cool. Grammys rob you of your street cred, but what they are good for is selling enough records so that the artist can move to a much nicer street, where the credibility is measured in much more clear terminology, dollars and cents. There are lots of people, and I do mean lots of people who buy records merely because they are Grammy winners. Some people just lack the innate knowledge to decide for themselves what they like and are more than willing to let NARAS point them in the right direction. If you don't believe me, walk into your local record store and look at the display marked "Grammy Award Winners" and notice that they are selling like hotcakes. This feeds the advertising modicum "people don't know what they want until you tell them".
What are the Grammy's for? Well, the jaded part of me says they are kind of massage tools for the egos of record company execs, but to get to the real story, you have to dig a little deeper.
To some extent this is true, especially these days. More records were released in the last three months than in the whole of 1984. That's a lot of records grrls, and with all those choices, there has to be a signpost here and there.
Let's break this down into parts for further exploration.
Who Are the people that vote?
I mean, after all, if you voted, you'd have voted for all the "cool" bands, right? NARAS has three classifications of members, but the only one we're concerned with right now is the Voting Member. The voting member must posses the following credentials: professionals with creative or technical credits on six commercially released tracks (or their equivalent). These may include vocalists, conductors, songwriters, composers, engineers, instrumentalists, arrangers, art directors, album notes writers, narrators and music video artists and technicians.
Right there we see the line start to get drawn in the sand. This is an inside the industry thing, the people voting for their own. In some cases, voting for themselves. The Grammy people stress that it is "truly a peer honor, awarded by and to artists and technical professionals for artistic or technical achievement, not sales or chart positions."
The GRAMMY Awards consist of a three stage process: entering, nominating and final voting. NARAS members and record companies are invited to enter recordings released during the eligibility year that they feel merit consideration for GRAMMY Awards. After these are screened for eligibility - that is - that they have been nominated in the proper category and released within the year of eligibility - they are approved by the national Trustees. This list may contain more than 10,000 entries.
NARAS voting members receive a first-round ballot and entry lists for all categories (except those nominated by special nominating committees; Members' votes result in five nominations in each category. These finalists are announced at press conferences in January.
In the end, actual Grammy winners are decided by the voting members. All voting members may vote in the general categories (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist) but are limited, on both ballots, to a specific number of fields (rock, pop, country, r&b, jazz, classical, etc.). This limitation is so that people are voting for the people in their area of music, presumably, the area they are most familiar with. Techies vote the techie categories, designers vote for the packaging award, so it really becomes even more peer based in the more obscure categories.
Think about this. These are professional people. If the record is a commercial success, they are making a profit from it. This, in any industry is definitely a hallmark of good work, creating a product that people will buy. You have to just concede hat people who are working in the record industry are using a different set of criterion than you personal "this rocks" or "this sucks rocks" scale. If something sells a million copies, then in a lot of ways, it must be good.
Let's use the song of the year as an example. Who was nominated? Celine Dion, Tracy Chapman, Smashing Pumpkins, Eric Clapton and Alanis Morissette. This is the big category, and remember, for the big categories, unless some new artist came out with a song that was really innovative, really catchy and sold really well, I'm talking upwards of 6 million copies, this award will always go to the most established artist. In this case, Eric Clapton, who's been pumping out music for 30 years. Remember, in this category, everyone votes, the classical music people, the country people, the engineers, the artists, everyone, so these votes will reflect the artist that has most successfully permeated mass culture, not pop culture. Pop culture is now, mass culture is forever. Is this starting to snap into focus?
Babyface, who everyone was continuously hyping is the next Quincy Jones. He's the producer everyone is falling all over themselves to work with. Rightly so, since he was nominated for 15 different records. Having produced everyone from Clapton's "Change the World" to Madonna's "Take a Bow" the whole soundtrack from "Waiting to Exhale" and even Vince Gill, a country artist, he's been able to as a producer, transcend genre and become the one to watch. Not since Quincy Jones has a producer so quickly established himself as a hitmaker. So, if you're wondering why everyone was falling all over the guy at the awards, now you know. When you're hot, you're hot, and everyone wants a piece of you, and this is Babyface's moment.
Okay, so how did that little weird genius Beck win an award if these are the criterion? Odelay was a great record. It was both musically and technically innovative, and it managed to get airplay. Beck's influences obviously range from disco to bluegrass and meld smoothly into hooky tunes, and he has the musical talent as both a performer and songwriter to carry off such an eclectic performance. Beck really did so something new, and managed to break through the major labels, get airplay, and then become popular. People don't know why they like Beck, but the strong undercurrent that they should like Beck is unavoidable. Every music critic put Odelay on their top ten, most right at the top. Myself included. When something is new and that good, whether or not people understand why they like it, or what makes it so special, they will acknowledge it, if only to not be left behind such a strong cultural wave.
Some other winners were obvious - Leann Rimes the Best New Artist has already had two million selling records. Maybe that's not new by your standards, but if the Grammy Trustees say new, that's all that matters. Hillary Clinton won best spoken word album, because face it, she's the First Lady. Imagine the social horror that an organization like NARAS who tries to tout itself as being based less on the Grammys and more on promoting music education in schools didn't give a big nod to the President's wife? Tacky and bad politics.
No one is ever satisfied with who wins the Grammys, and they never will be. If I hear one more grrl saying "but Leslie, I think this and such band is so much cooler than the winner" I'll pop. The Grammy's have nothing to do with reflecting the taste of the public. The whole reason they are televised and made such a big deal has a lot to do with the fact that it makes for good television. I will never own a Celine Dion record and to me her voice is like nails on a chalkboard, but I do understand why that is a great record, if not a great record for me. In truth, there are no music awards that are really a reflection of the people. The Grammy's are designed to be a reflection of the recording industry, and any time you get that many celebrities in one room, you better put it on television because people will watch it. That's just good business. Which is exactly what the Grammys are about.