It's not an easy time to be a young feminist. Even if you can get young women motivated to rally for feminist political causes, the excruciatingly toxic pop-culture swamp they're left to slog through is a cesspool of body-image issues, materialistic drivel, and hollow girl-power sloganeering—a noxious blend capable of paralyzing even the most ardent young activist. If the elders aren't more diligent, we just might end up with a generation of brainless, over-breeding Bratz, correct?
Not if Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto and her adoring fans have anything to say about it. Waiting for the band to take the stage at Berbati's Pan in Portland last Wednesday was the sort of experience that makes even the most jaded grrl feel hopeful. The performance was the band's first West Coast appearance in many months, and a benefit for Portland's Rock Camp for Girls, which was in the midst of wrapping up its annual weeklong summer day camp. Ditto had been working with young musicians all week, teaching vocal lessons and coaching bands.
"She's taught here for the last two years," explained camp publicist Connie Wohn, who was doing double duty that night as a stage manager. "She's a fantastic teacher, especially when it comes to vocals. She's super encouraging, and is really good at convincing girls they can do it."
While a sense of feverish anticipation is typically palpable at all-ages shows, the young women waiting for their heroine to take the stage could hardly contain themselves, chanting choruses of "We want the Gossip!" till they were hoarse and collapsing in a gleeful puddle of shrieks and nervous giggles when a stage light flickered or the sound-system volume vacillated.
When Ditto did stride up onstage, dripping with glamorous confidence, resplendent in baby-blue vintage wear and a bright shock of red lipstick, the appreciative eruption from the crowd was so impassioned it made my eyes water. Much is made of Ditto's Rubenesque stature, especially in the wake of her literally stripped-down appearance at SXSW this year and her recent nude NME cover, but the fact of the matter is that she's simply a fiercely compelling, highly physical rock performer in the tradition of Iggy Pop as much as Janis Joplin.
Her bandmates are hardly slackers themselves; loose-limbed drummer Hannah Billie and wiry guitarist Brace Paine thrashed about with as much bottomless energy as their leader, pushing through a nearly hour-long set that included revved-up covers of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" and Wham!'s "Careless Whisper" and, naturally, culminated with their dance-punk anthem, "Standing in the Way of Control."
In almost any other context, closing a show by leading a rapt crowd in a chant of "Sisterhood is powerful!" would feel both clichéd and outdated, but in the charismatic grip of Ditto, it felt fresh, honest, and downright inspiring. As Wohn observed afterward, "The sooner you give girls the tools to be themselves, the better the world will be."
Such an outlook would not be lost on Laurie Lindeen, author of Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story. Lindeen came of age in the early '90s as a patron and eventual participant in the fertile Minneapolis music scene, forming the all-female band Zuzu's Petals, dropping out of college, touring the world, and ultimately surviving some major highs (falling in love with and marrying the Replacements' Paul Westerberg) and lows (being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis). Petal Pusher chronicles that journey in a self-effacing, intelligent, and sweetly humorous tone that will please aficionados of like-minded memoirists such as Chuck Klosterman, one of her more vocal supporters. Lindeen will read from Petal Pusher Tues., Aug. 14, at the Sonic Boom General Store in Fremont.
Finally, the recent passing of legendary producer, multi-instrumentalist, and all-around rock 'n' roll scoundrel Lee Hazlewood is being lovingly recognized by the Ballard bar named in his honor. Hazlewood proprietor Drew Church will be holding a memorial for the original psychedelic cowboy on Wed., Aug. 8, with DJs spinning his catalog and the bar collecting donations for the Salvation Army, in accordance with the Hazlewood family's wishes.