30 Dec 2008, Comments (26)

I’m still a headbanger, but these days, only on my desk

Author: Helen

Mia Dyson
Too silly

I do love those articles which come out from time to time purporting to tell us what the future holds for popular culture, always getting it wrong. I remember one from TIME magazine in the eighties which reckoned the Future for women in popular music was: Pat Benatar, Ellen Foley (who?), and some other footnote in history whose name I don’t recall. But they were all white, skinny and American (and mysteriously, all signed to EMI). Don’t despair, though; in 2009 we can have white, skinny women from the UK, New York and New Zealand. As long as they’re, well, ladylike.

This article title is “What’s next? The New Madonnas“, which reinforces from the get-go the avatistic message that women should not display mastery of actual instruments, but prance around performing femininity and sexual availability on stage with headset mikes, pointy bras optional. And guitars and drums are for blokes. I’m not against being a vocalist who doesn’t play; I’m against making it compulsory for women.

In the paper article, two photographs were displayed: the one of Lady GaGa in the linked article, plus a shot of Ladyhawke. I can’t find that on the web, so here’s a different image. Oh! Erk! … Only joking – that’s the Canadian Ladyhawk. here’s the other Ladyhawke here. Do you notice anything? Two women – sorry, girls – white, young, thin, attractive (yawn), apparently to represent the entire future of girly musicmaking in 2009. What makes it even more uncanny is that these two could be twin sisters: same blondeness, long face, long nose, white lips, panda eyes and fringe. Yeah, welcome to the ethnically and musically diverse early 2000s.

These “girls” like to describe their rather well-worn pandering to certain entertainment norms as “radical”. “I sing about oral sex in my underwear.” Gasp! Never seen that done before. Subvert that dominant paradigm, Gaga. Skimpy costumes and boobs: who ever would have thought?

You’ll note that there is no room for being overweight or less than conventionally pretty in that paradigm. As stage decoration, any plain or fat little girls contemplating a musical career should just forget about it. Now.

Now, according to this person (does she realise her nom de techno means “white sauce”?, this person looks “a bit stupid”. Ahem. Submitted without comment.

But let’s have the full quotation from La Roux from the article, because it was used as the callout in larger font on the page.

Girls look a bit stupid playing electric guitar and drums. It suits blokes better. But girls look wicked playing synths.

Layer upon layer upon layer of wrong there. It’s more important what “girls” look like than what they sound like, if they’re musicians. Instrument choice should be based, not on talent and inclination, but on rigid gender lines (and appearance). Oh, how edgy, oh, how twenty-first century. As a crusty old pop/rocker looking to see how far the younger ones have come since the days of my youth, I can only shake my head and look forward to merciful senility. Of course, what the quote means is “I’m only twenty years old and can’t yet distinguish between my own personal performance preferences and making stupidly prescriptive statements for everyone else.” Yes, she’s still very young and I should make allowances for that. On the other hand, the Fairfax press have apparently elevated this stuff to a pronouncement of wisdom for the coming year. Some degree of mockery is badly needed.

Further down the article, we find there are other and less flattering reasons for their success. It’s not just the Ladies’ and LaRouxes sheer awesomeness that has swayed the music industry: they’re cheap. As the recession bites, two people with boxes cost a lot less than bands with four people and guitar amps.

Serendipitously, while I was about to post this, I came across Michelle Schwartz’s Canadian Club post (via Stephie Penguin). Irked by the assumption that guitar playing is for the boys, which the advertisers revive Frankenstein-like from the 1960s (see how modern and edgy your prejudices are, Ms. Whitesauce?) Michelle uses the make-your-own-poster app on the CC website to make some statements about women guitarists. The Raincoats, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Joan Armatrading. And I’d just love to watch Dallas Frasca eat Whitesauce for breakfast, on toast, with bacon and double fried tomato.

Comments (26)

  • Oz Ozzie says:

    > You’ll note that there is no room for being overweight or less
    > than conventionally pretty in that paradigm.

    At least ths industry is nothing if not consistent – this applies to the guys as much as the girls. And don’t Meatloaf me – he was a freak in more ways than one, and one of the ways was following the long path he took to get the album up.

    As for the rest, sex sells. Music is sales. Sometimes I too think that senility cannot come fast enough.

    The best live band I ever saw had 3 young guys doing guitar, singing, keyboards. And one old, plain, overweight librarian type on drums. They rocked, and she rocked – and I lost some hearing that night

  • Helen says:

    Last time I looked, the blokes were allowed to keep all their clothes on, and the pretty ones generally don’t have a high-maintenance, expensive to maintain prettiness.

    The band can’t have been that good if you don’t remember their name! Link?

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    My hero Andrew Ford had photographer Henry Diltz — the bloke who took so many of the iconic photos of Joni Mitchell, CSN(Y), Jackson Browne and all that West Coast crowd) on the Music Show a few months ago when Diltz had an exhibition on in Sydney. They were discussing this photo of a young Joni, David Crosby and Eric Clapton (with unidentified baby, no doubt one of the ‘cats and babies’ from ‘Ladies of the Canyon’) and Ford said Clapton looked as though he was having lustful thoughts about young Joni. ‘No, no,’ said Diltz, ‘he’s looking at her hands. He was trying to work out what she was doing with those open tunings.’

    So it’s documented: Clapton taking guitar lessons from Joni, when they were all still in their mid- 20s. Those open tunings are unique and incredibly difficult. (Just ask me.) But do you ever see Joni listed as one of the great guitarists of late 20thC popular music? No of course you bloody don’t. When the women do achieve something extraordinary in the way of substance, they are routinely ignored. Except, of course, by the men who are learning from them.

  • Helen says:

    Pav, they had a Joni Mitchell thread on Crooked Timber a while ago – I posted this link to her segment in The Last Waltz, which is a big favourite of mine. She looks a bit wicked in the other sense, as if she was saying to herself, “Right, these guys think they’re pretty good? I’m gonna give them a run for their money.” And notice tht while Robbie Robertson and Nick Danko are sex on a stick, they still manage to be clothed from head to foot and play guitars while doing so.

  • phil@vvb says:

    (a) And they all adopt stupid names to go with their stupid images. Unlike Joni, Suzi Quattro, etc. Not sure about Joan Jett, though.

    (b) Allow me a snark, please. As you’ve used the phrase “get-go”, please tell me what it is that is being got, and where it’s going to go now that it has been got. I’ve yet to see this explained anywhere. When I was growing up – taller, not cleverer which is obvious, natch – it was “the word go” which made sense to me at least.

  • Helen says:

    Oh, I have to do a disclaimer about “Ladyhawke”, the kiwi: while trawling for the image in the AGE, which I couldn’t find, I learned that she had in fact started out learning drums. Although she has since learned the error of her ways, it seems.

    Phil, I interpret “from the get-go” as from when you get going, as in, from the start. Since I began reading multiple blogs every day, my language has become peppered with various americanisms which I don’t always eradicate.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    Mmmmm, Robbie Robertson …

    … wait, what?

  • Helen says:

    In para 6, I’ve linked to a picture of La Roux where I meant to link to Mia Dyson. Fixed now. That must have confused a few people.

  • Amanda says:

    When Bo Diddley was out here just before his death he was accompanied by two late middle aged female musos, which continued a trend from his whole career. Check out the picks of Peggy Jones and (particularly) Norma Jean Wofford here and if you can find anything “wicked-er” please to tell.

    Will you force me to link to Sister Rosetta?

  • Fine says:

    Ah, those poor, little ‘Lady’ girls. They’ll be chewed up and spat out within a year. I also noticed they looked like twins.

    Here’s my heroine, Patti Smith.
    Still as scrawny and stroppy as ever.

    I always found Joni Mitchell hard to take. It was that whole ‘hippy chick’ vibe I couldn’t handle. It took me years to realise she must be as tough as teak to have the career she has. I heard ‘River’ on the radio on Christmas morning and it was lovely and melancholy.

    I think traditionally every rock ‘n’ roll band needs their sex god or goddess. There’s lots of photos of Robert Page, Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger with their shirts off. And that dear, old codger Iggy Pop can never seem to keep his clothes on at all. But I agree, there’s still this weird attitude about women playing loud guitar music. Rock bands are sport teams for boys without any athletic ability. It’s a pity that the pretty, art school boys are just as sexist as the footy players.

  • blue milk says:

    Oh I loved this post, You Are Exactly Right. I hate this kind of shit.

  • Oz Ozzie says:

    Name of band? Never new it – it was just a band in a restaurant in New Orleans back in 99. But they rocked. For all I know, they only did covers, but I didn’t recognise anything.

    Was in Howl at the Moon in San Antonio earlier this year (highly recommended, btw). For the first time (for me), they had a female performer. She did the whole airhead bimbo thing – but it was cover for being one hell of a skilled performance. Sort of backatcha on this theme.

  • Caroline says:

    David Rawlings plays a mean guitar in the link below, and he’s not at all bad looking. Thanks for the link to Coyote, one of my favourites. Looking at a young Joni reminded me of Gillian Welch–who is slightly frogmouthed (God that’s a terrible thing to say!) but she is! As is Joni. High cheek bones and a jutting chin, good for the oral accoustics it seems.


    In this song, Caleb Meyer get’s it good and Nellie Kane achieves justice. Rawling’s guitar is extraordinary. Not one of Gillians sweetest singing performances, but a very strong song and of course live is best.

  • David Irving (no relation) says:

    Joni’s not just a great guitarist, Dr Cat – I never get tired of listening to “A case of you” with the Appalachian dulcimer.

  • shula says:

    That New Madonna’s article was one of the stupidest things I’d read all year.

    What a crock.

    And when did it become not sexy for a girl to play bass?!

    Not in my lifetime, mate.

  • Nabakov says:

    Some random observations.

    Mo Tucker is the unsung hero of the Velvet Underground’s sonic landscape. Didja know she used mallets instead of drumsticks and usually played standing up?

    The first musical acts I encountered that I had impure thoughts about were Kate Bush, Blondie, The Runaways and Heart. And why yes, they all gave considerable thought to how they’d look sexually attractive. But always to their own taste first.

    Whenever I feel the need for a really psychosexual barely controlled hard guitar thrash catharsis thingy, it’s often pretty much a tossup between the Stones’ 12×5 live version of “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadows?” or Patti Smith’s “Gloria”.

    I’ve always liked Pat Benatar’s nose. The songs not so much.

    Whatever happened to Betty Boo? Not many people realise she was a computer programmer, producer and DJ first who, like Gary Numan, created her material and look and feel completely in-house.

    Chrissie Amphlett. Over a couple of years and several songs, she basically identified and rode an certain Australian female energy that no-one has done before or since. If she’d played lead guitar as well, many more male heads would have exploded from the info-femo overload.

    Doesn’t Jimmy Page now look like he could end up on this site? I note in parenthesis that all the blokes featured on that site may have soft features but clearly radiate a distinctive and confident personality – which I venture to suggest was probably the deciding factor in selecting them as analogous to the blog title.

    Actually James Patrick Page OBE does look pretty cute for a 65 year old member of the British Establishment.

    Now when are they gonna give Kate Bush a life peerage? I’d love to see what she choses as her peerage title.

    Did I also mention Patti Smith’s ‘Horses” makes most blokey cathartic rock epics look like fumbling adolescent wanks.

    Check out this bass playing. Technically suave and deft. And supersexy also thanks to her moues and flashing eyes. The guitarist is not too shabby at all either. And these two ladies wrote/composed/arranged/produced all the music – with the rest of the band as just hired hands. OK it’s disco (albeit evolved from Gamble and Huff’s Philly sound) . But who could not dance to this song? (Also interesting to note how yesterday’s crappy video looks so arty now. Although the two cutaways to the undies helicopter could be put in more context.)

    Our musical act is still looking for for an experienced and eccentric percussionist. Must be prepared to work occasionally – for 20% above Alliance rates. Car not essential. No time wasters. Redheads welcome.

  • Nabakov says:


    “Did I also mention Patti Smith’s ‘Horses” makes most blokey cathartic rock “…epics look like fumbling adolescent wanks.”

    I so meant “Land” off “Horses”.

    “There’s a little place, a place called space
    It’s a pretty little place, it’s across the tracks,
    Across the tracks and the name of the place is
    you like it like that”

    Even Iggy Pop couldn’t have come up with such perfectly nihilistic line.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    Fine, if it was the hippie chick thing putting you off Joni, check this out as a corrective. But the staggering musicianship (flawless pitch/timing/phrasing/breath control — and in a live performance with her back to the band) is there no matter what mode or genre she’s singing in.

  • robert says:

    I am reminded of seeing Martin Martini and the Bone Palace Orchestra for the first time at the recent QMF. You have to love a band with song tiles like “we’re all just monkeys” and “Smile, we’re all going to die”.

    The lead guitarist, Natasha Rose, (http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=106459205) was looking like the dumpy 14 year old schoolgirl that is shunned by the thin ones while playing blistering stratocaster that was peeling paint three kilometres away. I do not know whether this was some kind of Angus Young reference.

  • jo says:

    Seconded and thirded all of the above contributions, but would like to add some other significant female musicians to the list, all FM hitz radio staples:

    I can’t link because of on-going “His Crazy Purpleness vs. Youtube” – but it was a female guitarist and female keyboard player who with his crazyness created the um, 72nd greatest album of all time (!!) according to Rolling Stone, number one album for half the year etc. includes the evergreen hits – Purple Rain, Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry.

    Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman were members of the Revolution. They left the Revolution after the Parade LP, and have been TV and film composers ever since, known as Wendy & Lisa. Here is someone’s blog with recent photos, one with Sheila E:


    And this recent vid of Sheila E. doing ‘glamorous life’ solo on huge kit at some drummers world weekend & is pretty amusing.


    And I reckon Lita Ford the teenage lead guitarist of the Runaways deserves a mention..by name.

    And this is for saucegirl: an early vid of Chrissie Hynde putting the galguitarsexy angle literally to bed. There is also an unplugged more recent version on youtube where she is discussing writing this song and then playing it…..with John Cale sitting at one piano and Nick Cave at another. ……v. hard to pick just one of her songs.


    You could be here for a month of sundays listing female country & folk musicians..so I’ll keep to white girl rockers:

    Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. You don’t get any higher up the alt. indie rock ladder than Kim Gordon: bass player, guitar player, songwriter and producer.

    This song below is by Sonic Youth’s side gig “Ciccone Youth” – it’s not the original video, I doubt one was ever made (and it was released in 1986 not what the youtuber states) I used to play this song at top volume on the ghettoblaster off my own my cast iron balcony.


    Dishonourable mentions of course: Courtney Love & Hole, Babes in Toyland, L7 (some of Courtney’s hits still stand up pretty well imo)

    And locally, one of THE bands and THE drummers of the 80/90’s was Lindy Morrison….drummer, songwriter and perennial Democrats candidate for Wentworth.

    And so it goes on…. two of the biggest selling Australian acts in the past ten years have been female songwriters with guitars amongst a range of instruments they play: Casey Chambers and Missy Higgins.


  • su says:

    I adore Gillian Welch, love the song you linked Caroline, and Time the Revelator even more so. Lordy that voice. She and June Tabor (there is now a whole hour+ length concert of hers on youtube somewhere) give me goosebumps.

  • JahTeh says:

    Susie Quatro without her guitar, unthinkable.
    Most of the singing bimbos these days aren’t musicians, wouldn’t know one end of a guitar from another and they’re supposed to be sexy.
    There’s nothing sexier than a female who knows how to make music with any instrument including her voice.
    I’m now going to find my Pat Benatar tape and play it full volume with an encore of Kate Bush.

  • jo says:

    A worthy entry in a Liam/FDB etc. arvo tube-a-thon:

    Vixen Live:


    with a Lita Ford-Ozzy Osbourne duet chaser…..or maybe not.

  • Nabakov says:

    Also worth name-checking here is the Pretenders’ last album, ‘Loose Screw’.

    I’m far too gone in my impersonation of a gentleman to suggest Ms Hynde is drawing new energy from her menopausal years.

    But fuck my Cuban heel boots, it is one emotionally savage, tender and witty collection of songs. Her voice, lyrics and guitarism are aging like a fine cognac.

    And her cover of “I Wish You Love” pretty much justifies buying/downloading the whole bloody thing.

    She’s still one of the most effortless cool dames around.

  • Nabakov says:

    Piss bum shit fuck, I forgot the closing line to my previous comment. Which was:

    She has never sounded more like a lioness.

  • Shaun says:

    Girls look a bit stupid playing electric guitar and drums.

    No, no, no. The reason person who looks a bit stupid playing an instrument is that they are likely using it as prop and don’t really know how to wrangle the damn thing properly.

    For example, Madonna has been seen recently manhandling a black Les Paul for some unfathomable reason. I guess it could be some attempt to say “Hey, I rock and can play a instrument” but as with most of her career, it comes off as “Hey, I’m trying to hard once again. Look at me! Look at me!”

    I detest posers with guitars as props! Reminds me of the guy I kept running into LA but that is another story.

    Now if you want someone who could actually play a Les Paul, I offer the late Kelly Johnson.

    When I was in LA in the mid-90s, the women guitarists and dummers I knew (mainly at the Musician’s Institute) were first class. You have never heard of them but they could play.

    The most amazing drum performance I watched was by one the women drummers instructors on a Whitney Houston song during a pop workshop. The power was amazing, stunned the entire room and she got the assembled peoples’ ovation.

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