In December, my husband and I went to see Sleater-Kinney at the Newport. I was supposed to review the show for this website so my husband could write off my drinks, but I never did. The thing I noticed most about the show (the band was amazing as always) was all the MEN.
MEN. Everywhere. Standing in front of me, being loud, wearing ironic t-shirts. When did Sleater-Kinney become cool for men to like? The women in the crowd ranged from incredulous, like me, to visibly hostile. My husband got a pass from the stink-eye because he was with me, and, as always, exceedingly polite.
I’ve continued to mull over that experience for the past year. Thinking about “#1 must have”, We Were Feminists Once and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. What’s happened to the feminist movement in the past ten years, and where do I fit within it? I realized it was time to re-engage. Three audio books later (How to Be a Woman, Bad Feminist, and Shrill), I feel like I’ve regained the beat.
The same old crap is going on
Some good stuff has happened
I still give a shit.
What does any of this have to do with Lydia Loveless’ Real tour kick off at Ace of Cups Thursday night? Nothing, and everything.
I am one of those annoying introverts who is always saying they’ll go to things and then doesn’t, because getting dressed and leaving the house. While introverted parenting is difficult in its own right, I highly recommend a baby as a permanent font of excuses to go nowhere. I had flirted casually with going to this show but not bothered to make concrete plans. When the title of the Facebook event changed to SOLD OUT, I texted my husband a sad face. A few minutes later, I had it on good authority that I would, in fact, be able to get in. A magician never reveals his secrets but one of my posts to Facebook later that night was “there are perks to having a rock star for a husband.” I was super excited but skeptical of my ability to stay up past 9P (at 8:30P my husband made me a cup of coffee). I thought about dressing up but opted for comfort: cut offs, studded belt, ‘Supernatural’ tank top and chemistry themed Toms. I wavered between driving and walking, decided to drive, couldn’t find parking, took my car home, and walked past a giant parking space right in front of the door to Ace of Cups. I know what the words SOLD OUT mean but damn! it was crowded.
I tried to look confident as I walked through the door with the SOLD OUT sign on it. “Amanda Wilson?” I said ,with audible emphasis on the question mark , and there I was, at the top of ‘The List’. I received an unidentifiable hand stamp and made my way to the bar for a G&T. My bartender was gorgeous and I tried not to stare at her in her tight Jack Daniels t-shirt and leather skirt. I wandered to an empty spot on the floor and looked around.
There were a lot of old people there – older than me! Middle-aged men mostly, and lots of women who looked like me (glasses, varying shapes and effort at dress). I remembered my husband told me to look around for people we know. So I went out to the patio, even though I quit smoking almost six years ago. Right out of the door I see Lydia and her sister, Eleanor. “I’m so glad you got in!” says Lydia, embracing me. “Thank you!” I reply, “It’s Mommy’s night out!” I say I feel guilty (“He’ll be OK,” Eleanor reassures me) not for leaving the baby with my husband but because he is a HUGE Lydia Loveless fan. “Really?” Lydia exclaims, “How old is he now?” The answer is eighteen months and ten minutes in the door I’m already the mom showing pictures of her baby to people at the bar. My son demands to listen to Lydia’s records most nights before bed, waving his tiny fist in the air.
We chat and I see some other familiar faces. One of the things we discuss is the intractable misogyny of the music industry; how male music journalists still ask the same stupid questions (“how does it feel to be a woman in music? What does your husband think of your lyrics?”) And how any response gets twisted into a negative (“Old guys like my music becomes ‘Why do you hate old people?”). Looking around, it’s clearly true that old guys like Lydia Loveless’ music. I think about the guys at the Sleater-Kinney show. I like for men to like music made by women. But is something getting lost? I’m not sure yet.
I follow Eleanor upstairs and try to stay out of the way so she can finish the conversation with her sister I initially interrupted. I ask if Eleanor wants a drink, she does but is not sure what. I bring back another G&T and a Fireball and Coke, which is apparently ridiculous evidence of how out of the loop I am regarding cocktails at rock shows. By the time I returned from the bar Eleanor had disappeared into the green room with Lydia. I’m appraising the guy at the door to determine if I can trust him to deliver Eleanor’s beverage when she opens the door and pulls me into the room. “I heard your voice,” she explains. I’ll bet. When I do talk, it’s incredibly loud. This difficulty in modulation contributes to my social anxiety, but I try to embrace it. Eleanor raises her eyebrows almost imperceptibly at the beverage options, taking the G&T and leaving me to sip my cinnamon toast (my husband teased me about it later).
It’s blissfully quiet in the green room. It’s just Lydia and Eleanor in there now, and as we talk as Lydia’s band comes in to make the set list. They say they don’t know what to play so I make helpful suggestions (Steve Earle! Heaven! Midwestern guys! Everything’s gone! The killing time! I would die 4 U!) Most of which I got to hear later. Eleanor introduced me to their brother and his date. A stream of people come in with various concerns. Eleanor says “someone needs to have a talk with the teenager guarding the door. He can’t let just anyone back here.” I feel special. I manage to act mostly normal, except when I try to show everyone the picture of a runaway cat that passed out in a catnip display.
I’m reluctant to describe Lydia’s appearance because a woman’s appearance is always described and because I don’t want to sound weird, but she looked like gold. I’m impressed by her guitar playing, how it gets better and better, and her command of the stage. I consider describing everyone’s appearance to justify this passage- Ben like something out of a country Teen Beat, killing the electric bass as well as he does the upright, Todd, dressed like Willy Wonka (that will be referenced later), his face completely transforming as he shreds the guitar, Jay with his wristband and Radiohead-esque soundscapes and George looking exactly as adorable and boyish as he has probably looked for twenty years, maybe with a shade more scalp showing through, demonstrating measured restraint when needed but a lot of skill. I enjoy the versatility of the live show, the sound reliable and not repetitive.
The set is incredible, mostly songs off the two most recent albums. I dance and feel amazing and remember why I love live music. I hate music reviews generally and refuse to describe the actual music in a series of pointless adjectives. If you aren’t familiar with Lydia’s music and you like Neko Case or Bjork or the 80s go listen to it. Lydia does a few solo songs with her electric guitar in the middle, Billy Bragg style. One of them is “Wild Horses;” her dad comes on stage to sing with her and I weep. Because it’s beautiful, because of the song, and because I don’t have a dad to sing with anymore. Jay plays a loop from Willy Wonka and Eleanor takes the stage, singing “Pure Imagination.” As the band begins the encore to their set she takes an elegant stage dive into the waiting arms of a friend.
The men were all up front, phones out, taking video. Tall and refusing to move. I think of the Sleater-Kinney show. I wonder if we need to start calling ladies to the front again, Bikini Kill style. I think of Lydia’s face in the green room, joking about wearing a gorilla mask, “I want to wear this so I don’t get groped on the way to the stage.” She is 26 years old and a star and she should be focused on what she wants to play and enjoying herself, not worried about some pervert trying to cop a feel when she walks to and from the stage. I feel maternal and possessive and aggressive. I want to say, “She belongs to us. Back off!” But I can’t because of course she only belongs to herself. I did tell her to dedicate “Midwestern Guys” to them in the crowd which she did, but I wonder if the irony was lost on them, like when I made a bunch of metal heads watch Metalocalypse with me and they did not get it. I know that ten years is not so long between our ages but us feminists in our 30s, did we fail her somehow? Thank you, Lydia, for sharing your gift with us.