“Women Who Rock” and wear sparkly things

Tina Turner, represented by two dresses. All photos on this page by Wendi Dunlap.

The new “Women Who Rock” exhibit opens today at the EMP Museum. I saw a preview this week, and though I enjoyed it, as I left the exhibit I had definite mixed feelings about it.

The exhibit opens with a great photo of Joan Jett with a “takes no shit from anyone” look and a guitar slung over her shoulder. The next thing you see is a timeline, then a piano — Lady Gaga’s childhood piano, as it turns out. Appropriately, the exhibit starts with the music, or at least, one of the tools to create it.

Around the corner you go, seeing memorabilia of some of the earlier influences including Bessie Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and LaVern Baker. It’s good that the exhibit reaches into pre-rock history, though I wanted more of it, history geek that I am.

Turning to your right, you see an impressive US-flag-style dress on a headless mannequin in a glass case, next to another mannequin frilly black and yellow dress sprinkled with tiny musical notes. The flag dress was made for Wanda Jackson by her mom; the yellow one was worn by Ruth Brown. There are some other memorabilia pieces in the display — Jackson’s guitar, Brown’s record — but what draws your eye here is the costuming. And this focus continues through the rest of the exhibit.

Joan Jett has a “Bad Reputation” and also NO HEAD.

We see sparkly dresses worn by members of the Supremes, really short sparkly dresses worn by Tina Turner, and flowing dresses worn by Stevie Nicks, Mama Cass, and the Wilson sisters from Heart. Loretta Lynn’s dress is essentially a 1980s wedding dress in pink: sparkly beaded bodice, big puffy shoulders, and a chiffon skirt. And a nice guitar next to it, but the “ooh, shiny” steals its thunder.

Some costumes are less girly: Joan Jett, of course, with a leather jacket (sporting a Keep Abortion Legal badge), and the outfit she wore on the I Love Rock & Roll album cover. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth is represented with a shirt bearing the phrase “Eat Me” and the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo.

The definition of “rock” is pretty broad by the time you get to the Britney Spears and Shakira outfits, basically sequined pants with bikini tops. Both mannequins have belly buttons. I think Shakira’s gets a six-pack; no such luck for Britney.

There is a case nearby with a mannequin wearing something that looked like something out of a horror film, red and gross. Yes, it’s Lady Gaga’s meat dress — “meat jerky by now,” we were told. At this point I heard one of the other reviewers mumbling thoughts similar to mine: “Why is it all clothes?” To be fair, it’s not all clothes. Quite a few of the mannequins come with guitars, and some have album covers or magazine articles on display showing the clothing being worn. A few have handwritten lyrics or letters. There is a wealth of text to read about each performer. But the fundamental format of the exhibit is basically mannequins wearing cool stage costumes.

Cyndi Lauper: “She’s So Unusual” because it is definitely unusual to have no head!

The focus on the costumes seems to be both a positive and a negative. On the negative side, the heavy emphasis on costumes seems to crowd out memorabilia that I have seen in other exhibits — more letters, press, vintage posters, tickets, etc. It tends to define almost all the artists by their clothing, displayed on those (mostly) headless, nearly interchangeable mannequins. (The only ones with heads were ones with hats. And those heads were generic.) What’s important, it says, is what’s below the neck. This is what defines each artist. And this is problematic.

Women in rock are not about their clothes — the clothes are a sideline and kind of a distraction. Show me more video, show me more memorabilia — how about the kind of display where it feels as if “you are there” seeing some of them perform, instead of dead faceless mannequins wearing pretty clothing? What was it like to see Ruth Brown sing “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” at the Mambo Club in Wichita, Kansas in 1956? What was it like to see Blondie at CBGB’s in 1977? The display is more “Nordstrom window” than “rock and roll.”

On the positive side, seeing so many mannequins does give you a bit of a feeling that “hey, there are a lot of women in rock, and this is only touching the surface.” And at the same time, it gives you that sense that they are just people like yourself — maybe shorter than you are, maybe thinner, maybe not — not some onstage demigods glowing under a spotlight.

I must admit that I personally find costume interesting. I’ve researched it, and it’s one of the aspects of history that draws my attention, so I enjoyed seeing the clothing, but I did not like that it really seemed to be the focus. Having costumes there is good, but the exhibit seems kind of imbalanced.

That does not mean you shouldn’t go see it anyway, though. Imbalanced or not, the exhibit is still fascinating. I just wish it could have been more.

Is this the Nordstrom half-yearly sale? How much for the dress in gray?

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #5, Bumbershoot Preview

This week I’ve got YEAH! Magazine issue #5 for you: the 1987 Bumbershoot Preview. We posted capsule previews for all of the local bands playing at that year’s Bumbershoot festival. If you were around here in the 80s, these names should bring back a lot of memories.

This was the last weekly issue. The weekly grind was a bit much for us so we switched to biweekly after this one.

(Click on the cover to download the whole issue as a PDF.)

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #4 is missing!

I went to scan YEAH! Magazine #4 today, and was disappointed to find that I don’t have a copy of #4. I thought I had a complete run of the ‘zine, but apparently not. I’d like to appeal to anyone who may have a copy of #4—I would like to copy it if you have one.

Since I don’t have this week’s issue for you, here’s a review of YEAH! #3 from the September 1987 issue of Blue Suede News instead.

Next week: The YEAH! Bumbershoot ’87 issue!

(Click on the image to see a larger copy.)

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #3

Following up on last week’s post, here’s YEAH! Magazine #3, featuring the Life, the Young Fresh Fellows, Sam Smith, the PopLlama Picnic, and more. (Click the cover to download the whole PDF.)

YEAH! #3, featuring The Life

This issue was reasonably solid, I think. The magazine’s volunteers weren’t burned out yet, and we were all pretty motivated. Some of the highlights this time around included another episode of Rob Morgan’s Two Katz and a Toaster, several references to Stump, The Band, and an early review of Soundgarden, sort of (as Sound Garden), by Danimal:

“Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron from Sound Garden, along with original Garden drummer Scott on bongos, were up next. Chris and Matt both played acoustic guitars; Chris played one of those with way too many strings. They played ‘Train Train,’ and a song, probably from this here new album, called ‘Painting My Face.’ A Syd Barrett tune and a great Zeppelin medley, then Scott got to sing Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Sloppy Drunk Blues.'”

Notice also that “Sound Garden” is listed twice in the week’s show listings—both times, as an opening band at a club show. Ah, the old days.

A famed Squirrels performance was also immortalized in this issue—the PopLlama picnic show at which the band jumped into the lake.

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine

What were you reading 24 years ago this week? If you were in Seattle at the time, it might have been this:

Or this:

YEAH! Magazine was published off and on in 1987-88. I founded the magazine during the summer of 1987, after a long conversation with friends at the Hall of Fame club in Seattle’s U District. I had just gotten back from touring with Prudence Dredge as a vocalist, and a few of us were bemoaning the state of local music-oriented media.

The Rocket, where I had been writing for a couple of years, was good, but only came out monthly, and included a lot of national and international acts, not just local bands. That year, an issue of The Rocket had Bruce Springsteen ocn the cover, and some of the locals were not pleased. Springsteen didn’t need the press, they felt. Why not feature the local talent? The Rocket was great for what it was, but a lot of people felt the need for more. There was so much talent in the Seattle area, and so much going on.

So I figured there was room for a “local music supplement,” as it were. Something that would come out every week and list all the upcoming shows in the area, and write exclusively about local bands. Let The Rocket have Springsteen and U2—we’d write about the Squirrels and the Fastbacks.

One of the bands I was peripherally in at the time (Prudence Dredge) was on Green Monkey Records. Other bands I saw a lot at the time, such as the Young Fresh Fellows or the Fastbacks, were on Popllama. The Popllama/Green Monkey groups tended to have a common fan base, and most of the volunteers I was able to scrape up for YEAH! were friends or fans of those bands, so we tended to have an (unhealthy, probably) emphasis on that aspect of the Seattle scene. There was a lot happening elsewhere, and perhaps if I’d kept publishing longer I would have improved the ‘zine by covering the rest of the scene a bit more. But it was difficult to do when I was relying so strongly on friends/fans of the bands I knew well, and my own limited experience. Later that year Dawn Anderson’s Backlash started publishing, and it covered the Sub Pop groups and other stuff that YEAH! wasn’t doing a great job of covering.

We introduced YEAH! to local music fans by showing up at one of KJET’s Mural Amphitheater shows and distributing as many of them as we could. (I think we only had 250-500 copies of the first issue.) It was fairly well-received. The next week, we did it again, and people were actually waiting for us to show up. It seemed as if we were a success, but then again, the magazine was free.

I continued publishing YEAH! through the fall and early winter that year. We did manage to keep up the weekly schedule for a while, but it was grueling, and no one—including me—was getting paid. Ad sales were eventually enough to pay for printing, and nothing else. (The early issues were mostly printed for free or cheaply via several kind benefactors. The first issue was printed secretly overnight on a heavy-duty photocopier at someone’s workplace. A few more were printed by someone with access to an offset press, for a small fee. Later we went to an actual printer in Snohomish and printed on newsprint like a real newspaper. But the cost was high.) I couldn’t manage the weekly issues anymore, and had to print less frequently. I think my day job that fall was occasional temping or part-time work. I don’t remember for certain. I think I was barely surviving, and it was stressful.

Along with the logistical difficulties of publishing came the problems of publishing a ‘zine about your friends. I should have expected what happened, but I did not. Feelings got hurt, people started to fight, and eventually I decided I had had enough. I packed up my stuff and made plans to move to Minneapolis.

I moved to Minnesota in early 1988. Before I moved, I sold YEAH! to Holly Homan and Joe Davenport for $300. I still contributed occasionally after that, but I was no longer the editor.

I came back to Seattle six months later (long but not very interesting story), and soon ended up writing for Backlash.

Recently I was looking through my collection of YEAH! issues, and I thought it would be nice to get them scanned and online for people to enjoy and reminisce over. The first two issues are here, and I will try to get the rest of the issues from my tenure as editor posted soon. Perhaps I will post them on the anniversaries of their original publishing dates.

I am glad I published YEAH! I learned a lot and had a lot of fun doing it. It did cause a lot of upheaval in my life—much more than I’ve gone into in this brief post. Much of that time was very difficult and stressful. But the net result was positive.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into Seattle in the late ’80s.

Possibly the worst music video ever

Someone on Metafilter mentioned this a few days ago, with a comment something like “what is up with this video?” But until I got around to watching it, I could not have imagined how weird the video really is. Someone on YouTube put it best: “I’m not sure if I just watched a music video or a prom clip of a transvestite hooker with her klingon date. A great song has just been ruined. But I might watch this video 500 more times, just to be sure.”

I bring you: Hall and Oates, “She’s Gone”:

Good taste in cover songs

While browsing YouTube tonight I found this set of charming covers of songs by Michael Penn, Erasure, A-Ha, and others. The videos aren’t much to speak of, and the performances are unpolished, but the singer, ExUSAF, has a good voice and does a fine job with songs like Penn’s “Try” and “Long Way Down”. And he hits the high note in “Take On Me” much better than I do. :) If you are the type of 80’s music cover geek that I am, the little piano break in “Take On Me” will totally win you over.

Oh, what the heck. Here are a few of the songs I liked best, after the cut — enjoy!
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Kurt Cobain vigil photos, April 1994

While I was going through photo albums looking for photos to upload to Flickr, I found a group of photos that I took on April 10, 1994, at the Seattle Center memorial vigil for Kurt Cobain. These are the photos.

I looked online for articles about that day, and surprisingly, found very little. Here’s something I wrote about it myself on Metafilter, a few years ago.

It’s hard to believe that 13 years have already gone by.


Driving at Night Again Mix

There are two kinds of road trip mix cds. One is the fast, loud, drive very fast sort of mix, the kind with tons of noise and energy. Then there are the ones you listen to when you’re driving along on a dark highway under a full moon, feeling a bit more thoughtful about things, even sort of melancholy.

I remember when I moved to Minnesota, and I was driving on a back highway through Montana, very late on a winter night (taking the shortcut to Belle Fourche so I could avoid most of Wyoming), and the moon was out, the clouds kept moving across the sky rapidly, a friend of mine was sleeping in the passenger seat, and my radio kept picking up ghosts of pop music broadcasts — most of which were playing George Michael’s “Father Figure” (which should date this trip pretty well for you, right there). I hated that song before, but the sound of it seemed to fit my mood. I was moving away from the only place I really knew, taking a gamble in moving to a new town with no job.

So, over the years since then, I’ve made a few mixes that seem to match that late night melancholy road trip mood. Here’s one. It’s just slightly too long for a CD so I guess I’ll be playing it from my iPod.

  1. “Finally” — The Frames
  2. “This Modern Love” — Bloc Party; I don’t remember buying this but it was with my iTunes purchases. (Was it one of the free tracks?) Anyway, it seemed to fit into the flow of this mix.
  3. “Conversations” — The Posies
  4. “Landed (Strings Version)” — Ben Folds; for the last year or so I have listened to this song over and over. It starts out like Elton John playing James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” but it’s so much better than that could be. And the strings version — it should be overkill, but it’s perfect.
  5. “Chicago” — Sufjan Stevens
  6. “Only Living Boy in New York” — David Mead; a cover, of course. It blends perfectly into the final note of the previous song, and starts a little piano trilogy.
  7. “Known Diamond” — Ken Stringfellow
  8. “Can’t Help Falling in Love (Again)” — eels; another cover, only two minutes long and a simple gem of a recording.
  9. “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” — Billy Bragg; perhaps the best song in his career. It’s hard to decide really, but this one is genius. The last four songs in the mix are almost more than one can take, I suspect. There’s a lot of drama in those 15 minutes. Better tone it down with:
  10. “…Baby One More Time” — Fountains of Wayne; another cover.
  11. “Nothing Wrong With You” — Finn Brothers; there are a lot of musicians I loved when I was 15 that have disappeared from the music scene. Thank God the Finns haven’t. (I had good taste at 15, huh?)
  12. “Begin” — Ben Lee
  13. “Mixtape” — Butch Walker; OK, here we get into the songs that a current 15 year old would probably love and would discover from the soundtrack of a WB show or something. This and the following two songs really have that feel. Very “high school drama.” But we all have these high school drama moments.
  14. “Brighter Than Sunshine” — Aqualung
  15. “Bad Day” — Daniel Powter; yes, I know, I am ashamed.
  16. “Forever in My Life” — Prince
  17. “Gentle Hum” — Finn Brothers; segues perfectly into:
  18. “Weight of this Word” — Sarah Bettens and FLORiS; segues perfectly into:
  19. “Respected” — Howard Jones; as in, 2005-vintage HoJo. It’s filed under “Electronic” in iTunes but it’s basically the same old Howard Jones, with a good pop hook and synthsizers. Anyway, this song and the previous have one of the best segues ever; they blend together like one song.
  20. “Walter Reed” — Michael Penn; dear God, I love Michael Penn. Why is he not a household name?
  21. “American Tune” — Paul Simon
  22. “Thunder Road (the live piano version from the 1987 box set)” — Bruce Springsteen; both of these last two seemed appropriate for the quieter parts of a road trip.

Random 10 end of March edition

  1. “Mad World” — Tears For Fears
  2. “Day After Day” — Badfinger
  3. “That’s Just What You Are” — Aimee Mann
  4. “Let Love Rule” — Lenny Kravitz
  5. “Girl U Want” — Devo
  6. “I Can’t Get Behind That” — William Shatner Featuring Henry Rollins
  7. “He’s Waitin'” — Sonics
  8. “Pickin’ Flowers For” — Best Kissers In The World
  9. “Robert Bradley’s Postcard” — David Mead
  10. “Love My Way” — Jon Auer

Random 10

No commentary today, just a quick Random Ten:

  1. “Switchboard Susan” — Nick Lowe
  2. “So Sad About Us” — Steve Brown; a Who cover from the Who’s Not Forgotten tribute album
  3. “The Wait” — the Pretenders
  4. “Try a Little Tenderness” — Otis Redding
  5. “Barely Breathing” — Duncan Sheik
  6. “Picking Up the Pieces” — Difford and Tilbrook
  7. “A Little Knowledge” — Scritti Politti
  8. “The Medication is Wearing Off” — eels
  9. “Wouldn’t It Be Good” — Nik Kershaw
  10. “The Harder They Come” — Joe Jackson (cover of the Jimmy Cliff song)

St. Patrick’s Day Random 10

Well, I didn’t try to make an Irish-themed Random 10 this week, just the usual first 10 songs in iTunes’ Party Shuffle. So here goes…

  1. “Fake” — The Frames (hey! an Irish band!)
  2. “New Mistake” — Jellyfish
  3. “Flavor of the Week” — American Hi-Fi, whom I saw in concert a few years ago, opening for…
  4. “You’ll Never Be a Man” — Elvis Costello. Who is of Irish descent.
  5. “Too Shy” — Kajagoogoo
  6. “Chorus” — Erasure
  7. “Hoy Hoy” — The Collins Kids (old rockabilly track)
  8. “Limitless Expressions” — the Posies
  9. “Touch Me I’m Sick” — Mudhoney
  10. “Narcolepsy” — Ben Folds Five

Sick again, Random Ten

Dang it, I just got over that nasty lower-respiratory virus, and now I’ve got another one. Or maybe the same one. I don’t know. It sucks, it’s not fair, and I’m going to pout for a while. And listen to a new Random Ten:

  1. “Maureen” — Fountains of Wayne
  2. “I Can’t Go For That” — ProGrammar; this is the Hall & Oates song, covered by a guy doing all a capella and human beat box stuff. It’s kind of fun.
  3. “The Fourth Dimension” — the Ventures; this is a cover of the Frantics’ song “Werewolf” (well, I think the Frantics themselves might have been covering it as well — I’m not sure), without the horror-movie narration and with more “spacey” sounds.
  4. “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” — Paul Young
  5. “Say You’re Wrong” — Julian Lennon; I admit to an inexplicable soft spot for Jules.
  6. “Common People” — William Shatner; one of my favorite singles of the last few years.
  7. “The Imposter” — Elvis Costello
  8. “Pale Shelter” — Tears for Fears
  9. “Weather With You” — Crowded House; one of my least favorite CH songs — the chorus to me sounds more like an old beer commercial jingle than a great song. But it has its moments.
  10. “Message to my Girl” — Split Enz