When I ask Sally Ross-Moore if she and her sister Nancy were “rebellious” teenagers, she lets out a low, knowing chuckle. “We were,” she says. For a minute it sounds like she might elaborate, but instead she trails off, lost in a hazy, private memory of the band that she and her sister channeled their delinquent energy into.
In an interview with another journalist about a decade ago, though, her sister had been more than happy to fill in the blanks. “We’d go upstairs in the state capitol building to the rotunda and spit on senators’ heads!” Nancy said, recounting the sisters’ favorite after-school activities. “And we used to get kicked out of movie theaters all the time.” Other extracurriculars included milling around their hometown of Sacramento, playing pranks on salespeople in overpriced boutiques (Sally, who’s now 60, would ask to try on child-size garments and then throw mock tantrums when the shopkeepers suggested a larger size), and—the preferred entertainment of most teenage hell-raisers in the early 1960s—going to rock shows. After one particular concert (a Beach Boys show in 1964, on a school night no less) Nancy had an experience that would change the girls’ lives forever. “I woke up—I’d only been asleep about 15 minutes—and I’d had this clear dream, vision, whatever you want to call it, of a group of girls onstage. In my mind it was just like the Beach Boys, but girls.”
Late in 2011, a song from a virtually unknown 20-year-old rapper from Harlem knocked the Internet on its ass. Azealia Banks's "212" was a wildly original debut single that found the rapper dribbling a steady stream of elastic wordplay and oh-no-she-didn't raunch over a skronky beat from producer Lazy Jay. And then there was the song's hook, a repeated provocation to a male rival for the affections of another woman: "I guess that cunt gettin' eaten."
"212" was voted Pitchfork's no. 9 track of 2011, propelling Banks to the top spot on NME's 2011 "Cool List" and earning her a coveted endorsement from Kanye West—all before she even landed a record deal. But some listeners just couldn't get past that C-word. In a December 2011 cover story for self-titled magazine, the interviewer asked Banks a question that no one would have asked, say, Lil Wayne, who was three years younger than Banks when his debut album dropped: "Is it weird to play these songs for your mother?" When she responded in the negative, he pushed on: "It's jarring hearing a young girl say 'cunt' so often." Banks brushed him off with pointed flippancy. "Sex is fucking sex," she said. "We wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for sex."
Hey, guys.... Um, this is Ke$ha. I just wanted to say something. Um, to anyone who’s being bothered, or abused, or harassed, or bullied, I just wanted to tell you that, um...it will get better. It will. No matter if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, however you are choosing to live is beautiful, and you have my full support and all of my love. And to be yourself, and it will be better. When people are mean for no reason it’s...horrible. But, I swear to God, it will get better. So please don’t ever give up.
America, it would seem, is on a bender. From the shot-fueled mayhem of Jersey Shore (the most popular show in MTV’s history) to a special booze-themed episode of Glee, to the blog Texts From Last Night immortalizing those crucial missives sent while sloshed, there seems to be no way to slake our collective thirst for entertainment exploring the fun of drinking—though attempting to do so has become a popular and lucrative pursuit.
Nowhere is this quite as clear as in the music industry.
Like any good lesbian, I care a lot about my hair. Sadly, as often happens with many a good lesbian, this hasn’t always led to particularly good choices when it comes to my ’do. During my closeted high-school years, I sported the LHB (long-haired butch, for the uninitiated) before shifting to the “can I still pass for bi?” bob in college. Post-grad, there was a coif that somehow rolled all Jodie Foster’s looks into one. And somewhere along the way, there were even bangs involved.
No one pays attention to breakup songs until they need them. When you first hear one you are probably not interested; you are probably turned off by its utter depression, and so you skip ahead to the next upbeat track, something with shouting and hand claps in the chorus, something for happier people.
Fortunately for you, the dirge you just flitted by is secreted away and catalogued in the depths of your mind's ear for your future employ. Months, years, possibly hours later, the shit goes down, and you are so sad. And you're searching, searching. You're pretty sure the only thing that will make you feel better is listening to something that makes you feel…sadder. Why does one crave the wallow? I do not know. But one does. You want full immersion in the dissolution. You don't want to just take the language courses. You want to go live in the country of origin; you want to stay with a host family.
Enter the breakup song to function as a vessel, a vehicle, a holding pen....
You only have to look to the history of Star Trek– inspired music—ranging from surf-punkers No Kill I to the Klingon heavy-metal band Stovokor—to see that fantasy and science- fiction fans have made music devoted to their obsessions for generations. Nothing in the history of fandom, though, can compare to wizard rock, a thriving subculture of musicians and fans devoted to Harry Potter–inspired rock 'n' roll. But don't let the name fool you: It's witches, not wizards, who dominate this scene.
cock rock: To some, the term conjures up images of rock gods in white jumpsuits, long hair haloed by a rainbow of lights, fans waving their Bics in unison as an immaculate guitar solo screams out from a tower of amps. To others, it evokes backstage legends of drugs and debauchery, the triumph of malecentric hedonism over social conscience, the unapologetic celebration of sleaze. To still others, it’s shorthand for memorable riffs with a backbeat that makes you want to throw some devil horns and bang your head.
Whether a music writer makes a living marshalling lyrical evidence for supposedly new trends or manufacturing arguments to shore up tired clichés—and whether you applaud women's progress in the musical arena or not—one thing's clear: Women in music, prevalent as they may be, are consistently positioned as an aberration or an exception. Even the phraseology is troublesome: "women in music," "women in rock," and the erstwhile "year of the woman" (thanks for the generosity, guys).