Dearest music of Kathleen Hanna and friends,

Outside my older brother’s door, in between sounds of Skinny Puppy and Cannibal Corpse there was a moment where I paused; I listened. Too afraid of teenage wrath that I may encounter, I stood attentively in the hallway. It was an earnest, fierce woman vocalist rocking out in a way I had not heard before; singing lyrics straight out of my feminist/activist/angry teenager heart! Later I discovered what I was hearing was a dubbed tape cassette copy of Kathleen Hanna’s first musical project Bikini Kill. The song was “Feels Blind” (still one of my faves).

I didn’t fully fall in love until later as I was incredibly uncomfortable with my own inner Riot Grrrl at the time. I truly have to dedicate this letter to my bro Duane. Without you dude, this letter would not exist!! I can say that for many of the tunes that I may write about in the future.

Bikini Kill made its way in and out of the soundtrack of my teenage years, following me thru years of punk rock shows in fire halls and crazy nights in dank and dark warehouse spots and church basements in Philly. Bikini Kill’s song “Rebel Girl” still gives me chills. When I landed in the state of Washington, birthplace of the Riot Grrrl movement, I would discover a whole world that Bikini Kill inspired.

It probably wasn’t until Kathleen created Le Tigre that my heart really exploded with resonance. My ears were kissed with this lovely sound of wild women making history (a collection of Zine writers, film makers and talented musicians singing their truth and social activism) in many different forms. One memory stands out. It was 2004 in L.A., and after seeing David Bowie (my other love) at the Shine auditorium, my husband Khenu and I made our way to an electro clash night at some club named Blue. We entered the club, hungry for good tunes and high from our Bowie experience. We were greeted by Le Tigre’s song “Deceptacon” blaring on the speakers and wild, uninhibited dancing followed.  I was reminded how this group made me dance my arse off as well as feeling like when I’m dancing to their music I’m in solidarity with other strong feminine voices.

Jump ahead to exactly one year later in San Francisco and I was blessed with the experience of dancing my arse off once again to Le Tigre and this time, right next to stage where Kathleen Hanna herself stood opening up for Beck! It was a perfectly odd pairing of a concert and the whole night was super rad. I’m pretty sure I pulled a muscle that night I was dancing so hard. I felt like a Le Tigre, Riot Grrrl, I’m-In-love-with-Kathleen-Hanna cheerleader and was unabashed in sharing my love for them that night. The crowd seemed inpatient for Beck to play so my husband Khenu and I really had to represent our love! So there wasn’t the electro mosh pit that I had envisioned yet it definitely goes on my list of top-five concerts.

When the documentary The Punk Singer came out, I was even more inspired. I was impressed with how she was so vulnerable; sharing about her music and the inspiration being from a troubled childhood and trauma that unfortunately many young girls and women go through. The fact that she sings about it and then makes a movie where she is so straight up about the horrible struggle with her illness (she has Lyme disease) and her hiatus from music is really brave. It doesn’t hurt that her hubby Adam Horovitz makes some appearances (yay Beastie Boys!).

Kathleen’s latest Bust magazine interview continued her truth telling. She shared how working on her Julie Ruin project helped her establish an identity outside of her illness (go music therapy!). Right now the pearly colored vinyl of Hit Reset is sitting atop my record player.

Soon after buying the album, I drove into San Fran to meet with a dear friend that I haven’t seen for years. I was about to bring her the Bust magazine article to give her in hopes that the article could add to her courage and strength to continue to fight her disease. This friend has also struggled with the symptoms of Lyme disease and has been through hell and back. As I brought this up to her she smiled with that smile of recognition of a synchronicity. She had been feeling ill for a long time, and didn’t know for sure that she had Lyme until she watched The Punk Singer! Since Kathleen was so authentic about her illness, my friend recognized that she had the same symptoms and it encouraged her to get tested! One example of how Kathleen, being brave in sharing her unedited truth no matter how messy, touched a soul.

Using the words of the same dear friend, “I plan to marinate in this latest Julie Ruin album” until we go and see her perform at the Fillmore in San Francisco in October! I feel so grateful to be able to witness Kathleen’s music again and to do so along side a fellow strong female warrior!

In closing, being an expressive arts therapist I have been and always will be magnetized to people that sing from their gut and from wounded places in their heart and bear their truth to all of us struggling humans. I aspire to have the same outlet and fearlessness as I continue to combat my own personal illness. Listening to the music now for me is helping me to reclaim my body, continue to fight for the right to have presence in this society as a woman, own my strong feelings and creative voice.

Kathleen, you are my Queen! Thank you for sharing yourself – even the darkest parts. In doing so you have shown light into the dark places of me and in many.

With love and admiration,
Heather

“Singing is my life, and I have to do it, or I’m going to go totally bananas.”
Kathleen Hanna

Flashback Fives: Born to Love Music

Along with our letters, we will also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This is the first, submitted by Christine from New York, NY.

One. There are so many theories about playing music to a baby in the womb. Will the baby hear it? Appreciate it? Recognize it later? Based on personal experience, the answer is yes. My parents played Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors repeatedly while my mom was pregnant. After I was born, the album became lullaby music—southern rocking me right to sleep. When my parents taught me how to use the turntable, guess what I played? That album is forever like a warm blanket to me. It feels like home. I was born to love it.

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The people responsible for my condition.

Two. Message boards and chat rooms. Can’t say what specifically prompted me to partake when I was 15. Boredom and the loneliness of living in a small rural town. I sought and found a few of my ilk, including Joe. Joe was a few years older than me, lived in another state, went to art school and loved punk rock. I devised a plan to meet him in person, succeeded and was smitten. We drove a couple hours a few times each year to meet. Not much could sideline me from putting the moves on him, but the opening riff of Lifetime’s “Rodeo Clown” stopped me in my tracks. Its perfect mix of energy and heartbreak is a 4-second summary of what could loosely be called our relationship. I initially played it feverishly to relive the soaring emotions of being with Joe. Next, on repeat to mend my broken heart. Finally, years passed and I was able to appreciate it and the rest of Hello Bastards free from emotional chains. Writing about this situation 20 years later, I am ironically reminded of Lily Taylor’s infamous ex in the film Say Anything…. Does everyone have a Joe?

Lifetime: Rodeo Clown

Three. The idea of Sleater-Kinney captured me from the outset. Women vocalizing their frustrations by writing and playing raw, bitter music about the challenges of friendships, relationships, work and life. I discussed and shared Call the Doctor with friends; disseminated it via mixed tapes and tape recorded copies. As an equally frustrated outsider, it was my duty to embrace it. Dig Me Out was released a year later. Aimlessly driving around in my car on a rainy afternoon, I thought “Now’s my chance let it sink in.” I drove and drove until the album ended, struck by how much they’d advanced as songwriters in such a short time. The music was less raw, still bitter and incredibly melodic. Of all their albums, it’s the one I discussed and disseminated the least. I held it close and feel equally as protective about it today. That’s how I know it was love.

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Two pieces of evidence: A devoted young fan, I wore a Sleater-Kinney shirt in my drivers license photo. You can’t see the graphics so you’ll have to believe me. More recently, I digitized my music collection and could not part with my beloved Dig Me Out CD.

Four. Growing up, I was infrequently exposed to what I considered real jazz. The jazz you read about in history books. Jazz that influenced the great writers, artists and musicians. When I moved to New York 10 years ago, I met someone who knew enough about it to give me a crash course. The moment he played Mingus Ah Um, everything clicked. It was a gateway drug, a green light, to explore the seemingly infinite world occupied by musicians like Miles Davis, Gil Evans, John Coltrane, Jimmy Giuffre. They say being a parent is the world’s biggest club. Understanding and appreciating jazz is the best one.

Charles Mingus: Better Git It In Your Soul

Five. Driving from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree, listening to the album Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son by Damien Jurado. That album, the desert road, the mountains, the brown and dusty blue, are forever etched in my mind as one of the most glorious and free moments of recent memory.

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Damien Jurado: Silver Timothy