Friday, March 8, 2013

my favourite women: female musicians during my teen years

Happy International Women's Day! On this special day, I'm going to talk about the albums and songs by female musicians that influenced me during my teen years. Another time, maybe next year when I'm getting perilously close to my thirties, I'll make another post about the female musicians I discovered during my twenties. But for now, here's what served as my soundtrack throughout high school and helped shaped my young mind, more or less in chronological order.

Jewel, “Pieces of You”- She’s not the kind of music that I’d listen to now, but when I started listening to her album Pieces of You, I was just learning to play the guitar and also just learning how to turn my poetry into songs. Jewel’s songs were easy to learn on the guitar, but had enough meaningful heartfelt lyrics that she taught me so much about songwriting. It was because of her that a twelve-year-old Gloria played her first concerts in her bedroom in front of all of her stuffed animals as her audience, dreaming about one day playing on a big stage to real people.

Fiona Apple, “Tidal” – I was going through the terrible teens when I discovered this album. I was struggling to deal with growing up – one moment I felt happy for no reason, and the next moment I was feeling sad like no one would ever understand. Fiona Apple’s Tidal held my hand through this whole process, taking my emotions seriously and treating me like an intelligent adult. I felt “Never Is A Promise” to my core, and of course, any survivor of sexual violence can relate to the feeling of emptiness that she sings about in “Sullen Girl”. Fiona sang about her feelings with sophistication and rich imagery, and to this day I attribute to her my tendency to use big words in songs, rhyming words like “eczema” to “cinema”. It’s okay to be the nerdy girl. It's okay if you don't feel like smiling. You don’t have to dumb your words down for the world.

No Doubt, “Tragic Kingdom” – Sadly, the 1990s for me was a huge dearth of female rock role models that I could look up to. This was because Napster didn't exist yet, so the only music a girl in the suburbs of Ottawa could listen to were whatever was being played on Kool FM or The Bear. The big rock bands on the radio were folks like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, very dudely dudes, and not a girl in sight. All the girls were on the other pop station, shaking their butts to songs like “Wannabe” or “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, and I wasn’t interested in that. There were a few exceptions though. There was Alanis Morrissette, but my mother wouldn’t let me listen to her because of her lyrics (she says the F word in one song!). I did have Gwen Stefani, thank God, and the wonderful girl power album that was Tragic Kingdom. Gwen Stefani was my voice during the 90s, with hits like “Just a Girl” and “Sixteen”.

TLC, “Unpretty” – Like I mentioned, I didn’t have nearly enough female rock role models in the days before Napster, and for a good chunk of my teen years I felt disillusioned with mainstream music on the radio because I saw them as corporate puppets putting out bland mush. One of the few exceptions was TLC. I was surprised by Unpretty, which directly criticized society’s pressure on women’s appearances. Feminism on the Top 40s Chart? It gave me a bit of hope and opened me up a bit towards the radio.

Queen Latifah, “U.N.I.T.Y.” – Another exception to my boycotting of Top 40s music was Queen Latifah. A song protesting street harassment? Bad ass! Who you calling a bitch? I was also pleased to see that Queen Latifah could be portrayed as the beautiful woman that she was, even if she wasn't the typical skinny blonde pale chick that starred in American Pie movies.

Lauryn Hill, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” – Lauryn Hill was the big sister that I always wished I had, telling me “not to sell my soul because it’s in” and “don’t be a hard rock when you really are gem”. I liked the fact that she was never afraid to speak her mind, and her boldness inspired me to no end. Plus, her tunes were great to dance to.

Sleater-Kinney “Dig Me Out” – one of my guy friends introduced me to Sleater-Kinney in high school, and tragically that is the closest I ever got to discovering the Riot Grrrls scene in the 1990s during a time when I so badly needed a female rock star role model. When I first heard this album, I thought, whoa, these girls are so weird. They sing weird and they’re play their guitars loud and they have no bass. Over a decade later, I started up an all-girl rock band with weird vocals, loud blaring guitars and no bass.

Luscious Jackson, “Fever In Fever Out” – Holy cow! An all-girl rock band! This is all I could think throughout the whole 90s. They weren’t necessarily super heavy or rock-y like Hole was, but still…a girl band. It was that rare to me.

Bjork, “Vespertine” – I dressed up as Bjork for Halloween one year in high school. People thought I was trying to be a swan. People thought I was weird. I didn’t care. Bjork was really weird, and I thought she was really cool.

The Cranberries, "Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?" - I actually don't consciously remember the Cranberries as being a major influence during my teens. I mean, I included "Linger" on a mix CD I made to listen to whenever I had PMS, and whenever I heard them on the radio, I remember thinking "they've got a female singer! How about that?" But I just remember liking them, not loving them. In recent years, I've gone back and listened to this album, and it's struck me: so much of the music that I love now are music that sounds like the Cranberries. I love the Cocteau Twins because they sound like the precursor to the Cranberries. The driving bass guitar rhythm like in "Dreams", the chorus effect on the guitars, the jangly sounds, the way Dolores harmonizes with herself..listen to my band's song "Beaver Pond Forest", and in between the blaring distorted guitars (where I am paying a loving tribute to Sonic Youth), can you hear my love for the Cranberries in the way my Stratocaster is heavily processed through my chorus effects pedal? Is that just me? Clearly the Cranberries influenced me, even if I wasn't aware of it at the time. Thanks, Dolores.

Portishead, "Dummy" - I remember watching the Live in Roseland video on VHS with my guy friends, and just feeling so spooked and amazed at the same time. There was the orchestra, playing all the string parts as though they'd originally been written into the music. There was the turntables guy, looking really cool as usual. And then there was Beth Gibbons, not wearing a stitch of makeup, holding a cigarette in one hand and gripping the microphone with the other. What eerie music. What an eerie voice. Beth Gibbons was so cool. Beth Gibbons made smoking look so cool. Afterwards, I got a copy of Dummy and listened to it until the CD got all scratched. Portishead opened the door for me to other types of music than just rock.