girls together outrageously: the Lunachicks, Miss Mercy, & more

rebel girl you're the queen of my world.

girls together outrageously: the Lunachicks, Miss Mercy, & more

Fallopian Rhapsody: the story of the Lunachicks - the Lunachicks with Jeanne Fury

Permanent Damage: Memoirs of an Outrageous Girl - Mercy Fontenot with Lindsay Parker

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger

Over the years, I have been in various and sundry mailing lists and group chats with other women music writers, and the thing I remember most clearly is how, without fail, every woman in those groups either didn’t trust herself to get things right and researched and fact-checked within an inch of their life, while watching male writers not have to do half that work. More importantly, the men never had to fear that their entire career might come to an abrupt stop if they made a mistake or got something wrong, while the women always carried that worry. That’s in addition to having to deal with men walking up to us and asking us if we know who the band is on our shirt, asking us if we’re “writing down the setlist” or assuring us “you can look that up on the internet later” or something similarly condescending, or the patronizing emails we all get when a piece goes live telling us “good job!” as though we weren’t professional writers who got where we were through hard work. My current bugaboo is individuals who characterize my massive song-ranking lists as a “labor of love.” No! They are not! They are massive, difficult, complex writing assignments that I take incredibly seriously and get paid (not nearly enough, but that is another story for another time) to do. I did not take the assignments thinking, “Oh gosh I really love these bands and want to spend months researching and writing a 20,000k word piece on their entire body of work because i L-U-V them so much.”

Over the last five years in particular, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how hard women work to get everything right, and they never show their work because they’re too busy doing, while men continue to fail up and be aided and abetted by other men, some of which do not realize that that is what they are doing. I have done even more thinking about how women are not allowed to do this, or that they pay a tremendous price for being wrong in public. I also know I carry with me some element of first and second wave feminism where I was told both that I was as good as the men and belonged there, but also that I would have to work twice as hard to stay there once I got there. We can’t be sloppy. We can’t make a mistake. You will be letting down the side if you wear make up or don’t wear make up or wear a suit or don’t wear a suit. It is not just about YOU, you are representing the entirety of women in your particular sphere. Do not fuck this up. I had more than one female engineer at Microsoft during my time there in the late 90’s pull me aside and give me a version of this speech.

With all of that, I guess it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that lately I have been very drawn to books where women who are loud or sloppy or wrong or different in public do so with aplomb and abandon, and with zero excuses. I was living overseas in the late 80’s and early 90’s so I missed the heyday of a band like the Lunachicks, so getting to immerse myself in their story and their history now was like the feeling of taking off your good bra when you get home from a fancy party. Jeanne Fury, a music writer who I am proud to call my friend, corralled the band’s story into a hilarious, gripping, page-turning saga that I could not put down, and only did in order to sleep. It’s hard to take someone else’s voices and stories and shape them into a narrative for the rest of the world to read. It’s also hard to tell your stories when they’re hard and not all sunshine and roses.

That’s the element that was the most compelling for me, having grown up with this expectation that I will not ever make a mistake of any kind at all whatsoever. There are drugs and sex and rock and roll and addiction and all of the detritus of being a human being alive on this earth and out living it, and it’s not sensationalized or judged or sexualized through any lens but the band’s own and a writer who happened to also be affected by their music. Yes, you’re going to read over and over again about how radio stations or night clubs or record companies either wouldn’t play or book or sign the band because they already were playing one woman or they’d just had a group with girls appear at the club two weeks ago or we already have a woman on our label. This is something that happened within your lifetime, not during the 60’s or 70s before you were born. THIS STILL HAPPENS. There is no equivocation, there is no negotiating, there is no attempt to be non-threatening or “nice” or any of the thirty million mitigating factors women have to carry in their back pocket in order to stay safe or have a life.

I love these women. I am old but learned a lot from their story. Thank you, Lunachicks.

Miss Mercy was a member of the GTO’s, the Girls Together Outrageously, Zappa-produced group of women who were probably more performance art than rock and roll. I read about the GTOs as a pre-teen and teen and, you know, everything was sensationalized differently than the women who were making the art intended it to be. I have spent my whole life insisting I am not a groupie in William Miller-like puritanical fashion, which is not my fault because the majority of men I have encountered at a music event assume I am there because I want to fuck a member of the band and therefore I had no right to the space I was occupying. (I am tired, can we stop already?)

"This is Penny Lane, man. Show some respect."

I couldn’t even admit that I thought the GTOs were cool or interesting because they were groupies and I was NOT a groupie, I was a serious fan who wanted to be a music writer!!!. I realize that society and cultural norms and patriarchy and whatever wave of feminism created the situation in which I had to take that stance to even have an inkling of a chance of being taken seriously by far too many people, it created a black and white scenario where having a crush on someone who played an instrument would have potentially invalidated any chance I had at being taken seriously and also made it harder for every other woman who wanted to be in the music business to be taken seriously. Oh I knew she was just a groupie is the last thing you ever wanted to hear said about you or any other woman you knew. (And to be brutally honest, the only reason it’s not as much of a problem now is because I am too old. Now I am just invisible. That is fine.)

So now I can read about the GTO’s and enjoy their stories and what they contributed to the culture and give a middle finger to anyone who wants to infer whatever it is they desperately need to infer in order to make sure women stay in their place and don’t ever try to range further out. Miss Mercy died not long before the book came out, and that’s sad because I wish she could have seen the reception. Her story is hard and heavy, and her life was not easy. Some of that was caused by choices she made but also I’m not sure she had all that many choices to make. She lived through terrible things. But what’s remarkable about her story is the equanimity with which she conveys it. She doesn’t pretend that things are awesome and she didn’t make it into some kind of fairytale. She also notes, repeatedly, that she was “zaftig” and as such, wasn’t like the other lithesome GTOs.

There were absolutely times where I yelled at the book (yes. this is a thing I do on the regular) “MERCY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I loved her and wanted to try to help her. I adored that the other GTO’s, especially Pamela, still helped her out and kept an eye on her even when they knew that letting her stay at their house might mean that she’d end up stealing your jewelry to buy drugs. I love that because it reflects a selflessness I’m not sure I have. Another shoutout is due to the co-author because she had a fucking hard job. You have to tell the stories of drug abuse and neglectful parenting alongside the stories of jumping out of a cake at Alice Cooper’s record release party. Lives are messy. Humans are messy. Women rarely are allowed to hold both the fabulous and the messy at the same time.

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger is a memoir about a woman who grew up in the East Village and Lower East Side and whose parents were drug addicted artists, but who remembers much of her early life as happy. I will read anything written by a woman about New York City, especially the NYC I was too chicken to really immerse myself in. I was not walking around Alphabet City as a teenager nor was I trying to grow up and survive when I didn’t know where my mom and I were going to live, or squatting in empty buildings with my friends and their baby. This book is an elaborate and delicate construction where she is stringing together pieces of her life and her parents’ lives and using her father’s artwork and life as an artist and an addict to build her own autobiography in the midst of everything around her falling down or at least not staying upright. She remembers her father fondly and everything she uncovers from people who knew him doesn’t change that she loved him and he loved her.

I read it right after the other two and didn’t realize until I was done that there were dotted lines and duct tape and ribbon and other tentacles tying them all together. It is not a perfect life, but it is a life. Your parents can be drug addicts and not do a great job as parents but you can still love them. You can figure out how to build your own home and your own life not in spite of or because of but rather just moving forward. Just because you make a mess and get things wrong doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a life and that your life doesn’t have meaning. You do. It does.

I know you have read so much about Summer of Soul but it is deserving of all of its hype. Mostly I’m just grateful that it was someone like Questlove who found it and got the rights sorted out and not some random director who didn’t know enough about music and history and Black history and would have just shown us all the wrong things. I am still recovering from that Nina Simone footage. I am still so angry at the way this country treated her. (This applies to just about any talented Black woman.) Please make some time to watch it and if you can see it in a theater, I recommend you do so. I decided I didn’t want to go to the suburbs and saw it at a small art house in an old furniture store that is currently the only first-run 7-day-a-week movie theater in Greater Downtown Detroit.