I am not raising my voice. I am calm. As calm as a self-identifying activist and musician can be when some nonsense disturbs both those parts of my identity.
Despite rocknroll’s absurdly racist and sexist culture, stemming long before Elvis and long beyond John Mayer, music, particularly popular music (you can interpret this loosely, rock, rap jazz, etc. “not classical” or “concert music”), has also been a refuge for minority voices and social outcasts.
Folk music is about bringing people together through tradition. As is blues music, with the addition of overcoming the blues, whether they came from a shitty boss or a lover. Rocknroll is about fucking The Man, the System of oppression and outdated, colonialist power structures and values. Rap music does all that, and is currently the most cutting edge sonically and socially, which is probably why it scares bigots the most. If you find yourself saying / living the “I listen to everything except rap,” lifestyle, you may need to ask yourself some questions.
Music can be, has been, and will continue to be, one of the most powerful platforms for social change. Not just music, but art in general. If you are an artist and you publicly say “Fuck the po-lice!” or “Mississippi, God damn!” you can keep your job. If you do it as well as N.W.A. and Nina Simone, you’ll have created an anthem that helps to unite people. John Lennon can ask us to imagine no Heaven or Hell. Other humanitarian professions, such as public officials or priests, do not have the same liberty with their message.
But music’s relationship to our social and political world goes far beyond lyrical content. I don’t even want to be writing blogs to articulate this because by doing so I am becoming Chief Hypocrite, however:
We need to be elevating a more diverse set of voices in this culture--- in Omaha, and the music culture beyond.
Celebrating “women in music,” with an all-male bill is absurd. I am aware that most shows in Omaha already have all-male bills, and don’t play ANY music by females. However, if the goal of such an event is sincerely to celebrate “women in music” (which is somehow still a relevant set of words, that’s another issue altogether, Neko Case covers it far better than I could in this essay), the organizers of this event would have booked an entirely female bill.
It would be easy. It would be right.
Instead, this event looks like it comes from the Onion. The flier uses an image of Lady from Almost Famous, who is not a musician, but a fan (no disrespect to fans, and she’s the greatest fan of all). So is the message that women’s place in music is to simply adore the men on stage? (Almost Famous is one of my favorite movies, but it does not have a single scene of a female playing music). Maybe it was just hard to find a good picture of a female performer...
If it’s truly an extension of the Johnny Cash night, it sends the message that it takes ALL WOMEN IN MUSIC to equal the greatness of Johnny Cash. Furthermore, having females play Cash’s songs is unique and subversive. Having men take the spotlight once again is entitled and mainstream. There is not a single female’s name on that poster.
I am not raising my voice, because it is not the time for my voice to be raised.
Seriously though I think the bill needs a big makeover.
Many of the ideas expressed in here come from other lady musicians. I can give personal credit if they'd like. I am aware that being a white male gives me advantages in terms of voicing these ideas.
THIS MESSAGE IS AS NON-PERSONAL AS CAN BE. I AM AS CULPABLE AS THE NEXT PERSON AND I AM WORKING ON CALLING MYSELF OUT AND SPARKING DISCUSSIONS WHEN I SEE IT ELSEWHERE
Easy thing we can do to make progress on this issue: listen to only female songwriters / producers for a month. If you’re daring, do it for a year (if you did it for the next five years you still wouldn’t have gender balance in your listening lifetime listening consumption, I guarantee it). Check out the playlist below for a start!
1. Strange Fruit by India.Arie-- Haunting Civil Rights song with a modern update. Billie Holliday's version was the first I heard, but this is an incredible interpretation.
2. Man by Neko Case-- Neko Case is one of my all-time favorite songwriters. Her lyrics and production work are always top notch. This is a good one about gender and such.
3. The Vigilante by Judee Sill-- She's an incredible singer, songwriter, and produced and arranged her second album Heart Food.
4. Mississippi Goddam by Nina Simone-- Nina is one of those untouchable artists like Beethoven and Duke Ellington. This live version is her at her best, and shows her belief that politics and art are one.
5. It's a Mighty World by Odetta-- I don't know if any other singer alive could do this song. Maybe Aretha Franklin. Odetta is the Monarch of American Popular Music. She was also an actress and activist.
6. Doobie Down by Georgia Ann Muldrow-- I just found out about her and am stunned. I can't find track credits for this song, but she's produced and / or composed and / or arranged an astonishing collection of music this decade.
7. Supermodel by Jill Sobule-- She's got great lyrics, this one is pretty charged but super fun. Kind of an early No Doubt sound.
8. Rocksteady by Aretha Franklin-- Aretha is of course a fantastic singer but was also in fucking charge as a bandleader. This is one of the grooviest grooves that will ever be.
9. Do You Want to Play by Jewel-- My partner and one my best friends from Oklahoma both love Jewel, so I've always made sure to give her an occasional spin. Definitely need to do that more frequently. Love the lyrics / images in this one.
10. I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues by Billie Holliday-- She needs no intro.