The Price You Pay

maybe some day it will stop so we won't have to keep talking about it.

The Price You Pay

I recently finished Margo Price’s excellent memoir, Maybe We'll Make It, (yes that is a recommendation) and as you may have guessed from the title, the overarching theme (at least to my mind) was her commitment to her craft and her acceptance of the struggle to get there. Some of that is the drudgery, the working shitty job after shitty job, to make money to afford rent and studio time; some of it is the dedication to continuing to write, record, and then put out music even if it meant printing out CD covers at Kinko’s and selling them wherever she could (yes I realize many people have done this. it is still a choice and an effort); some of it was shit I could never do, like living in a tent in order to avoid paying rent in order to be able to afford continuing to write and play music without having to work the shitty jobs that will do their best to remove any joy you might still carry in your bones about your art. I am glad to read about this for the same reason I emphasized Patti Smith’s work in my book, because too many people make you think they woke up one morning and became a success by smiling and strumming a guitar once or twice. The work is everything and there is no such thing as an overnight sensation. We don’t usually hear from women about their struggle.

Because this is a woman’s story, and especially because it is the story of a woman in the music business, the predatory men are here and I am sure she only told us about 25 percent of what she actually went through. It is scary and pathetic and yet women put up with it every day. Every day. I am writing this in a diner and I see the men at the counter jockeying for the affections of the women working as servers, “jokingly” complaining at the register that they didn’t pay enough attention to them -- during morning rush hour when not one of the people working there stopped moving for half a second. You can’t tell them to go to hell when they are here every day. You have to smile and move on and Margo had to smile and pray and keep her wits about her at all times. At ALL TIMES. I felt that familiar exhaustion as I read the book, that constant undercurrent of surveillance and defense women have hardwired. Wouldn’t we have a better planet if women were not always having to be on guard? What art are we missing? All of these phenomenal artists trying to find their way with the extra burden of navigating small petty and dangerous men who can only remain powerful by wielding that fear and predation. I am tired.

I also thought about the women who didn’t include the details of these kinds of encounters when they told their stories, not because they didn’t happen to them, but because of all of the above. Or because at one point it was assumed that if you decided you wanted a career in show business and you were a woman, that you were basically asking for it. “That just goes with the territory,” “jokes” about the casting couch, and the ever-present assumption that women are only successful if they have fucked someone to get where they are. I am also a firm believer that no women have to share any of their traumatic experiences if they don’t want to (and for the millionth time I’m going to say: men, if you insist that no women you know have had traumatic experiences and so it can’t be that bad, I’m going to tell you that you don’t know because they aren’t telling you because you have made it clear via words and/or actions that you are not to be trusted).

The women who do open up have to face the barrage of everything I’ve written about in this essay and than some, but doing so helps other victims know they are not alone, even if they never tell anyone what happened (or almost happened, which is still traumatic). It is a sign of progress, I think, that these moments in a woman’s life aren’t made the centerpiece or the selling point of a story but are rather presented as things that happened, if that makes sense. The media feeds on trauma and exploitation and it is an endless maw that will never be satisfied, and I am tired of women having to market that part of their lives to sell their art.

But I am also left with that uneasy sense of what wasn’t in all of the other books written by or about women, because it’s impossible both statistically and realistically given everything we know about men and predation and how they were (and are) given space to continue freely and even if they are called to account once or twice, will be given a warm welcome to come back and continue apace whenever their crisis management specialist decides that enough time has passed.

Mostly I’m mad because I still don’t see men out there doing the work to stop this alongside us, that it is still whisper networks and exploding texts and voice memos from one woman to another to warn us. These assholes would have to stop if the other men around them told them to knock it off, which is how I know they’re not doing anything, or not doing enough if they stepped in once or twice. I’m angry. I’m furious. I’m tired.

This is a sidebar of sorts to this op-ed from Jessica Hopper, but it is something I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while now. What do we not know? Who is not safe to tell us? WHY ARE WE STILL FIGHTING THIS ALONE? Why are we still fighting this, period.

I had the chance to see Margo last weekend here in Detroit in support of her new record, Strays. She deserved a better venue (okay, anyone who plays the Majestic probably deserves a better venue) with amplification that supported the sound and lighting that actually illuminated the entire stage. But her band, the delightfully-named Price Tags, are rock-solid and her voice shone through despite any production-related limitations. She wore this delightful prairie-mama-meets-the-Vampire’s-Wife dress in a billowy leopard print chiffon that I immediately coveted (but could also never pull off), and at the encore, ran off to return in a slinky, tiny sequined number that immediately made me think “Nutbush City Limits” (I said this on instagram already, but I am dead serious and I would not joke about something like that!) The new songs were great live, still finding their feet a little bit, figuring out how to grow and expand in the live show, but “County Road” especially both lifted my heart and made it feel a little bit more tender while “Four Years of Chances” was cathartic as ever. I was also glad to get to experience “White Rabbit” in person -- it is a great song, it’s a difficult composition to deliver because no one else is Grace Slick and that voice is indelible, but Margo has the instrument to take it on and also manages to add her imprint to the performance.

The other element I particularly want to call out is the pacing of the show, which is a lost art. I love a sloppy, chatty rock and roll show as much as the next person, but there is something to be said for deliberately creating an experience through setlist sequencing and transitions that doesn’t feel forced but instead brings you, the audience, along with the band. It’s not accidental, it’s a deliberate choice, it’s something that takes rehearsal and discipline. It was tight, and that is absolutely meant as a compliment.

p.s. i am very proud of the headline of this newsletter. heheheheheh

I also wrote about Margo's most recent record, Strays