And then, soon after, you start to internalize them and spit it back out.
They say that by the age of 12, kids have seen over one million advertisements, and that doesn’t even include the media portrayals of women they see in television, film, music and video – the majority of which have at least something in common with that beer commercial. That’s why, if I was going to invent a female protagonist for a movie or a book or a play, she wouldn’t look like Gal Gadot. No sir. She would be a stealth operator, a sleeper cell in the heart of America, a girl no one on earth would feel threatened by, someone absolutely nice. On the outside, she’d seem like the humanoid equivalent of a tabby cat: she could walk right by you and you might not even notice. But inside, where no one could see her or attack her or tweet about her or call her stupid or a groupie or a slut, she’d be this seething mass of secret talent: more creative and special and kickass than every single boy in every single band that would surround her night and day.
Because of course, my protagonist would be a musician. She’d love rock ‘n roll. But unlike so many of its practitioners, she would be polite about it, not arrogant. She would always say thank you to her guitar techs when they handed her guitars. She wouldn’t crave attention for herself. She wouldn’t have a giant gaping hole in her soul in the place where her self-worth should be. She wouldn’t pop the tops off frothy beer cans, or even wear lipstick: indeed, one time, when you showed her how to use your under eyeliner, she would wipe it off and go, "That looks ridiculous on me." She wouldn’t have publicity pictures of herself looking soulful or lost or sexy, she wouldn’t pout or show cleavage, she wouldn’t live in Hollywood, date celebrities, or eat vegan, she would wouldn’t watch her weight.
She wouldn’t even KNOW her weight, that’s how badass this protagonist would be.
And when people would say, “I sure wish there were more people like her,” she’d reach behind her back and say, “Really? Well that’s good…” And then she’d pull another person forward and say, “Because guess what? I have an identical twin sister.“
Of course such a person couldn’t exist, it sounds too novelistic. And if she did exist, she wouldn’t start out being successful on her own, because it’s probable that the first band she was in would underestimate her drive and musicality and talent. In my novel, that’s what would happen, anyway… until my protagonist would take a break from that band and put out one of the most iconic, most sampled, most delightful, most revered records of the 1990s, a record with a single that nothing will ever quit on.
In short, until she dropped the mic on them.
Of course, that story couldn’t even happen in today’s music industry, wherein the way women have been treated has been solidified by a forty year downward spiral of marginalization, objectification and just general ishy-ness. But if something even close to that occurred somehow, back then in the 1990s – and I’m not even saying it did -- than the person who it happened to would be my Malcolm X.
What I am trying to say here is that, just by existing, Kim Deal speaks truth to power. Only Kim Deal doesn’t speak it. She IS it. (And Kelley too, of course.)
Anyway, that’s what I thought, the second I walked into the Rickshaw Stop last week, which happened to be the exact same second that Breeders stepped on stage, since it was an early show and I kind of mistimed getting there. I walked in, and Kim opened her mouth, and I was like… plunged into some kind of sci-fi vortex, into the alternate universe from whence I emerged from, stumbling awfully, all those years ago.
The club, which holds, like, 200 people, was super, super, super packed, but nevertheless I was drawn on a heart-string forward into the maw of the crowd, and it didn’t matter if I wriggled by people, pressing the flesh, because they were all my height, and anyway, it was a warm place, full of love. I had to smash myself against the wall to move myself forward, and then I ran into a little, low, table, and I stood on it, where the view was perfect. A girl took my hand to steady me as I climbed up.
"Do you think there is room for me?" she said. Of course there is room for you on this bandwagon, I thought, and I helped her up. Then we took turns standing on it with the people standing near us.
Meanwhile, on stage, Kim and Kelley and Josephine and Jim were holding forth. The notes were sort of spaced out, the rhythms are sort of spiky, the lyrics are never easy to read between… it’s a very unexpected sound, but it’s its own thing. And those of us who like it, love it. It bashed, is what it did. It rocked our souls and made us happy. I mean, we are living in some very toxic times right now, are we not? And the Breeders are a super secret antidote of sorts. Thank god I got a shot.
Just to recap, Kim was in the Pixies. Then in 1990, Kim formed the Breeders as a side project with Tanya Donnelly and Josephine Wiggs, and when Tanya left she replaced her with her twin, Kelley. In 1993, I think it was, they were recording the album which became “Last Splash,” in San Francisco and staying on a houseboat in Sausalito. I went over there one night to interview them for Option and we stayed up all night listening to the new songs. That night was like, it is almost unspeakably memorable for me, because it was the only time in a whole decade of writing about musicians that I experienced from the inside, that is, in which I was able to participate fully, rather than listening from a distance, from that place of weakness and abjection that I was perennially relegated to in those days. If I had learned the language of the future, I would have said to myself, this must be what it's like to be empowered. But I didn't know that then. I just thought I had fallen into some warm, random embrace...and I thought it would happen again.
And in the morning, I was like, “Oh god how I love this, but prolly no one else will.”
Happily, I was wrong.
But…how do you describe the Breeders music to the uninitiated? You can’t, I think. Their music exists in a particular context, the early 1990s, when loud soft loud – that exact cross between Husker Du and Peter Paul and Mary, as the Pixies want-ad put it -- was invented. You can’t describe the Breeders to people, and they might not get it anyway. Get the joke of it all, that is, plus the essential joy of it all: the dialog that the band members are having with music, the way they approach life. When Kelley says, “Hey, guys, we know a Beatles song!” it’s really the unconscious reply to an unspoken criticism, to a whole fucked up narrative about guitar skill and inventiveness and gender, one that probably doesn’t emerge anymore in front of these women because they have literally transcended it, but which is really clear from their choice of Beatles song, “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
It’s not a conscious joke, or a conscious dialog, either, it’s not even angry, it’s just…their whole approach to life. Their performance of it – which is on “Pod” – is one of the great joys of my life, as are “Cannonball,” from “Last Splash,” and “Iris” and “Doe,” as is their covers of “You and Your Sister” and “Wicked Little Town;” as is just the sight of them on stage, rocking out how they do. The happy grins. The shalala voices. The fun that wafts off the both of them, amidst the furious and effortless strumming of the guitar, the ha-ha ‘solos’ that simultaneously do what they do, andyet are totally functional, but also secretly mock the whole idea of having a guitar solo in the first place.
It is the visible relationship between the two of them that is funny and sweet and is so like me and my sister, me and my best friend, me and a ton of people I know, but absolutely nothing like anything else you see in public. Ever.
It is just plain “Divine Hammer” which has an absolute grip on my brain this week, such that I can’t get rid of it.
Oh, I don’t know what it is, actually. But whatever it is, it is real, like the real tremor of recognition, of faith you get, when you see someone who is totally untrammeled by the more horrible vagaries of popular culture; someone who is defined not by the color of their eye shadow, but by the content of their character.