Thursday 5 November 2009

The happiest woman among all women

"Wittgenstein, he.... took the other bus, didn't he? Yes, he surely must have. It's a woman's way of looking at things-"The world is all that is the case." Patient, accepting of things. A man would never write that. A man would write 'The world is all that I perceive it to be.'"

-Mrs Lintott in the History Boys.

Despite the iffy political correctness of comparing gay men to women, I like this a lot, because it is of course exactly right, and made me think of that ghastly macho fuck, Nietzsche. Though of course it's more Berkeleyesque than anything to insist your perception is the truth, and he wasn't quite so masculine... Nevertheless, marvellous.


On a similar vein, here's my favourite quatrain ever:

"To act coarsely enough
to pass for one of the boys,
At least appearing to love
hard liquor, horseplay and noise."

It's from 'Atlantis' by Auden.


And to continue this theme a bit further...

Tobi Vail once said that Bikini Kill had failed because women in music were either not taken seriously or taken too seriously, or words to that effect. I always assumed she meant it about people like Tori Amos, who most people dislike either because they find her ridiculous or because they find her depressing. But I think it's even more relevant now.

A few years ago I considered mentioning this quote in a blog because it was at the time when Amy Winehouse and Duffy and their contempories were really the only women in the charts, and it was just repulsive. It was as if women could only be popstars if they had this after-dinner jazz bar style of singing. But now it's even worse, isn't it, with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, and all this sassy, obtusely sexy shit. Lady Sovereign, she was what the modern female pop star should be like-funny and serious, aggressively talented and easy going. There's nothing wrong with music that's connected to sex and fun, but if you took the sex and, more importantly, the jokey wink-wink-isn't-this-really-a-bit-shit side of things out of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, there would be nothing left at all. Even Susan Boyle was all about sex appeal as far as the press were concerned, but in that case it was her lack of it.

It just seems an inevitable feature of modern pop music that women are defined by either their alledgedly self-imposed gravitas, or their fun, one-of-the-lads deficiency of it, instantly dumped into one of these two joyless trenches, with the no-mans land between belonging exclusively to the.... men.

Where is the little sparrow of our time?

The same is true in poetry. Plath was the Tori Amos of the poetry world; when a male writer has eccentricities (eg Larkin), it is part of the fun, when a woman does (as Plath absolutely did), it is the first thing that's mentioned when she's brought up, an irremovable part of her identity. Even Stevie Smith, who in my opinion is often hilarious (certainly more so than Betjeman) and struck the balance just right between comedy and sincerity, is most famous for 'Not Waving but Drowning', which is so miserable a lot of people think Plath actually wrote it. And Carol-Ann Duffy, who I like a lot, is seen as a miserable lesbian cliché even by some quite serious poetry students I know.


Anyway, back to Vail. Bikini Kill knew how to play music. What always attracted me to punk was its liberty, its piss-taking, and its feminine side. This is why I always liked the new york dolls and I never liked black flag. Punk is a music that is inherently hilarious. To try to make serious punk music is like trying to make serious happy hardcore. That's never been its purpose for me. It's just so, so stupid and ridiculous. And Bikini Kill knew this, and Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail have continued to know it after Bikini Kill. 'I wanna puke on yr stereo' by the frumpies has always been one of my favourite songs cos it's about as inane as anything can get, and anyone who takes le tigre seriously just isn't getting it.

Now, here's the way to do it.


Michael said...

ooh a bit harsh on GaGa, whether or not you like her music (which unsuprisingly I do) I always get the impression she really believes in it. In some ways she kinda represents what you like about punk in that she isn't afraid to be a little flippant both to make a point and for it's own artistic sake. Ben Thompson from the Telegrpah said she 'has taken all the dreariest aspects of celebrity culture... the blankness, the narcissism - and somehow made them fun again.' I think this describes her well, she doesn't take fashion and showbusiness to seriously but actually embraces the theatre and front of it all. You should have a look at Lynn Barber's interview of her in the Sunday Times, you might find her deluded and perhaps a little pretentious (which I guess she can be at times) but I was struck by her honesty and her incredible (if boardering on the un-healthy) work-ethic. I especially like this line:

'when I came out it was, ‘Oh, she’s attention-seeking!’ Or, ‘She’s trying too hard’, or ‘She wants to be noticed’, whereas the very nature of performance art is that it wants to be noticed, so everyone’s kind of missing the point.'

technicalities said...

This is the post that prompted me to start my blog. A string of things that all resonated super-strongly with me, male feminism and sincerity, saying things about pop that need to be said and generally aren't. (The Susan Boyle line!)

(btw, I terrified you by drinking water in your kitchen in the dark one week after this.)