This article is long and I plan to transcribe and write commentary on the whole thing. I will be adding more in bits, as I get them done. So stay tuned and check back. And, as always, feel free to chime in.-Liza
Rated XX: Recorded Women's Music. 1976. Review by Liza Cowan. Click to enlarge images.
This article is about my reactions to all the women’s music released on records and tapes to date. I define women’s music as music that is made by, for and about women. What this means, in effect is that women’s music is Lesbian Music. I am always offended to see women’s records for sale in straight stores. I have seen them in movement and “peoples” stores all over the country, and I don’t think they have any business being there. I do not want men to even set their beady little eyes on our culture; the thought of them actually buying or listening to women’s music is nauseating to me; and they most certainly should not be allowed to make money from women’s music. I have also heard stories about musicians from the women’s music community telling the patriarchal press about women’s music, and telling mixed audiences about women’s private business. I consider this to be a breach of confidence. The only women I know who limit their music distribution are Alix Dobkin and Linda Shear. Alix sells Lavender Jane Loves Women in women’s and gay stores only. Living With Lesbians sells in women’s stores only.
This article has been very hard for me to write because I am writing about so many different women, there is so much to say, and I have had to write about the things that I did not like about each record. There has been a movement dictum that we are not to criticize our ‘sisters’ and if someone does criticize it is called ‘trashing’ and everybody gets mad. I think this is absurd. When Alix writes a song I give her word by word criticism. If something is not clear, or inaccurate, or sounds wrong, I tell her. I think about what se has written, and I respond to it. When I am writing I always go to Alix for her to criticize my work. She tells me which parts are confusing or awkward, or suggests words. If I don’t know how to express something we discuss it until I can get a clear idea of what I want to say. We depend on each other for this. It has not always been easy. Sometimes it hurts, and I want to say, “It’s my writing, butt out!” but later I usually find that what she has said is true. She feels the same about my criticisms of her work. Penny, Smokey, and Mary also criticize our work, and each others’ work. The more we do it, the easier it gets.
Please keep in mind when you are reading this, that for each song or record that I dislike, there are women who love it, and equally, that each one I like has women who don’t like it. There are as many ways to perceive these records and tapes as there are women to listen to them.
I hope you all get a chance to buy or listen to all of these records and tapes. They are our culture and our history.
Aircheck, Electra Rewired, WBAI 1972, Liza Cowan
I discovered the women’s liberation movement in 1970. That same year I started to do feminist radio on WBAI in NYC. I worked on a program called Electra Rewired which was a weekly live feminist show. At first there were three women working on it, and my job was to find music. Sometimes I would ransack the station record library to find women composers. Pauline Oliveros and Ruth Crawford Seeger are two I remember playing. We would play Joan Baez, Judy Collins and other folkies. A year later I was doing the show alone. I played The Marvelletes, Carole King, Dionne Warwicke, Alice Coltrane, Dusty Springfield, Joy of Cooking, Billie Holliday, Carol Hall, Mary Welles, Denise LaSalle, Laura Nyro. The closest I could find to feminist lyrics was in songs like Natural Woman and Respect as sung by Aretha Franklin and Mama Didn’t Lie sung by Jan Bradley. “The greatest passion in this man’s world is making eyes at every young girl. To have one is how they get their kicks, but not me, because I know their tricks.” Another one was the Honeycones; The Day That I lost You, “you know, men are full of schemes, they’re masters of getting control of our minds and making us dependent on them.” Too bad that in this song she “found identity with someone else”. One of my favorite songs to play on the radio was I Hate Men from the Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate. At this time the only song I’d heard written by a feminist was Tired Of Fuckers Fucking Over Me by Bev Grant, which I could not play over and over on the radio. It was during these years that I first became conscious of the sexism in the lyrics of rock songs.
Mountain Moving Day, Rounder Records, Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, 1972
Mountain Moving Day
In 1972 the Chicago Women’s Liberation rock Band and the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band released their joint album, Mountain Moving Day. Each group recorded one side of the album. In the pamphlet enclosed in the record they say, “We didn’t want to write the female counterpart of songs like Under My thumb, Back Street Girl, It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, where men say to us, “you’re beneath contempt and we will celebrate your degradation.” As performers we didn’t want to get off by trashing the people we played for, and we didn’t want to have a star backed up by a squad of secondary musicians. But what did we want, anyway? We knew that we wanted t make music that would embody the radical, feminist, humanitarian vision we shared. And the lyrics were the obvious place to begin. The field was wide open. Most of the rock songs that woman have sung till now were about the pain men cause u – the pain that’s supposed to define us a women. We didn’t want to deny that tradition (women struggled hard for the right to sing even that much) but we wanted to sing about how the pain doesn’t have to be there – how we fight and struggle and love to make it all change…”
For some reason, I never heard this record until last week. As soon as I heard it I fell for it. It is full of turn-of-the-decade sisterhood energy, and, although I didn’t hear it at the time, it clearly brings back all the feelings I had when I realized how thrilling it was to be a woman on the verge of changing my life and my consciousness. In So Fine by the NHWLRB, Judy Miller says, “Now I want to say something about how we got to feel so fine. We haven’t always been this strong, and we’re not as strong now as we
Re gonna be. I takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of pain, too. We used to think that women really were inferior. We used to think we were only good for: pleasing me, having babies, doing housework, having shit jobs, doing volunteer work, and –you know- sex! We didn’t know that women could get together and” play rock music, fix our cars, give abortions, love our sisters, stay single, choose our own lifesyle and – you know – say No!” the WWLRB is really powerful in its lyrics and the way they are spoken and sung. From Secretary by Sherry Jenkins: “Get up/Downtown? Think Ill talk to Alice she may understand? No Trust/Big Bust/ Wonder if the new girls lives along/ men’s eyes/fantasize/Jodi wants to tell the boss to get off/Elevators/See you later’s / Tell all the girls, noon in the lunchroom/ And maybe we’ll all wear pants tomorrow.” The whole album is beautiful, strong, moving and funny. It is excellently engineered by Susan Jenks. The musicians and the arrangements are also excellent. The album was produced and distributed by Rounder Records, which is, or was then, mostly men. It is, to me, the musical equivalent to the book, Sisterhood Is Powerful.