Music, Fear and the Riot Grrrl Revival

Posted by blatantblithe on March 1, 2010 Blog posts | Personal | | 4 comments

Hank came to visit me this weekend, and it’s been just lovely.  Yesterday we were talking about music, and he told me that he was considering taking a year out in the middle of his degree to record an album and tour with his new band.  I asked him how our relationship would work if he went touring around the country for 6 months.  When would I see him, and how often would I get to speak to him?  He told me that I wouldn’t be able to come with him because it would be awkward, and they’d probably end up sleeping in a van for most of the tour.  He insisted that things would be fine and that the relationship would still be strong.  I am sure that he will make an effort to keep in contact with me, but Hank pursuing his dream feels strangely uncomfortable for me because it highlights just how little I am doing to attain the same dream – that is, to write, record and gig my music.  I’m not at all resentful of Hank’s success, because I love him to bits and he deserves to be happy.  And seeing him happy makes me happy.  I would just like to do what he’s doing, and it’s difficult for me because I’m so scared of meeting new people and putting myself out there.  I have very little self-confidence, and the two areas of my life that suffer the most due to this are my social life and my music life.  As a songwriter and musician, the ideal thing for me to do would be to find other musicians to gig my material with.  But I’m just so scared of meeting new people and playing with musicians.  I’m scared of fucking up, playing things wrong, saying the wrong thing, listening to the wrong music, finding musicians who won’t be the right people, and of course, scared of playing live in front of so many people judging me.  I don’t want to be a joke anymore – I’ve had enough of that already.  Last week it was looking as if I was going to play piano at a Women’s Network open mic night, and I was so conflicted – part of me wanted to do it so badly, to show people that I had a voice and I had something to say, and to show people that I’m not as meek and pathetic as I appear.  The other part of me did not want to do it at all because people would be apathetic and I would be devastated.  It’s now looking as if it won’t go ahead, which I am surprisingly relieved about.  It’s so frustrating.  What’s wrong with me?  Even if I’m not an exceptional player, I know I’m not a bad player.  I know people at home in Wales who think they are God’s gift to the music scene, despite the fact that they have nothing to be arrogant about.  Why should someone like that be so ridiculously egotistical, and why should someone like me who can actually play be so ridiculously self-deprecating, insecure and fearful?  It’s holding me back, and I hate it.

Recently I’ve been getting better at playing bass, and can play a lot of songs by Rage against the Machine and Green Day (not my music of choice, but you gotta start somewhere).  Hank has been encouraging me to take my bass playing more seriously, and start writing and performing as a bassist instead of a pianist.  He told me that I have the potential to be an outstanding bassist, whereas I’ll never be an outstanding pianist due to the number of classically trained pianists there are out there.  There’s also more of a chance to kick ass on a bass than there is on a piano.  I do agree with him, and I love playing bass.  It’s the only creative activity in my life that feels pressure-free and fun.  I also like the idea of being a woman who can play bass better than most men can – I’d like to be that person who challenges people’s sexist beliefs about women in music.  The main problem is this: I’m scared that my time has passed, that as a late learner it’ll be too late for me to be successful.  By the time I can play properly, I’ll be working full-time, and probably too old and too responsible to throw it all away on a music career.  I can’t believe this.  I’m 20 and I think I’m too old! 
However, I read this article about the Riot Grrrl revival a few weeks ago, and it really inspired me to start performing and writing powerful music.  I don’t know all that much about Riot Grrrl since it was before my time, but the idea of DIY feminist punk-rock is very inspiring.  For me, Riot Grrrl is a reaction to the male-dominated music industry which tells women that they can’t rock out, and that their only worth as musicians is their image and their sex appeal.  Back in the early 90s when Riot Grrrl was in its heyday, women were overlooked in the punk scene.  20 years later and things haven’t changed much.  Admittedly, the world of pop music is currently very female-dominated, but 90% of female musicians adhere to a very strict definition of beauty, most of them are very sexual and wear very revealing clothes, and their lyrics deal with boring subject matter such as love, partying and sex (not to mention the fact that most of them don’t write their own songs).  Although I guess it’s a good thing that women are out there in the music industry at all, it’s still not much of a presence if all they are doing is singing about being in love while prancing around in their underwear.  They’re not making waves, pushing boundaries or challenging gender norms.  We need some more powerful women who play their own instruments, write their own songs, and have some bravado!  We need women in rock who sing about the things that really matter – misogyny, feminism, bigotry, politics, ethics, religion, sexuality and philosophy.  I want to be one of those women.  But this time round the riot grrrls need to learn how to play music really well and show the men up.  For too long, women have been told that playing rock is unfeminine, and that girls can’t ‘do’ rock.  Bullshit.  I want to defy all those messages and show that women can write and play good rock music just as well as men can.  I think Jennifer Hall summed those ideas up quite well (quote taken from Amber Forrester’s blog):

“I’m all for it (the revival of riot grrrl), but this time around we should really show ’em and actually learn how to play music. With the amount of musical ineptness that resides in most bands (at least the relatively popular ones) now, a brilliant, technically-able, thought-provoking, ass-kicking set of female musicians would be a revelation. As a musician that has worked hard at my craft for many years, I’m always vaguely insulted that I’m lumped in with bands like Bikini Kill and Hole, whom I appreciate for so many things, but not so much for their musical prowess.”
– Jennifer Hall, musician, Tripping Hazard

I feel as if there isn’t enough well-played female-fronted rock out there, and it’s very frustrating because I know we can do it if we want to.   I want to fill that gap, and be part of the new wave of Riot Grrrl.  It’s really difficult for me – I feel like my desires are clashing with my personality, that big part of me that constantly whispers negative messages in my ear, telling me that I will be ridiculed and attacked for singing about feminism, I will never be a good enough musician to make an impression, I will never overcome this shyness, I will never be taken seriously, my time has passed, etc.  But, for the first time ever, I’m feeling as if I really need to overcome this fear and anxiety and start kicking some ass.  I’m practicing every day, writing new material, and getting ready.  Fuck the haters.  Fuck the sexist musicians.  Fuck this horrible, debilitating social anxiety – it’s time to rock.  Who’s with me?  🙂

In other news: I started the 101 Things in 1001 Days challenge last week (I should’ve blogged about it then but I was totally swamped with work)!  This idea is from, in which you have to list 101 things you’d like to do in 1001 days (about 2.75 years) and document your progress.  I’m going to document my progress on this blog, and if you take a look at my nav bar above, you’ll see a 101 Things in 1001 Days page where you can read the challenges I’ve set myself and see how I get along.  Everytime I complete or fail a task, I’ll report it on the blog and update the page.  2010 is going to be a braver year for me, and this is a small step I’m taking towards improving myself.  Wish me luck!


  • DJ Moonlight said on Mar 2, 2010 5:03 pm

    very good blog! I’m really glad you’ve felt inspired by the recent talk of a riot grrrl revival. I think your music is brilliant, but I do understand how you feel about being insecure and shy.
    I’m just starting to learn ukelele, but get shy when people ask me to play in front of them!
    Oh and I love the photo of you- awesomes! <3

  • Saara said on Mar 2, 2010 6:44 pm

    Yeessss! I like this blog a lot 🙂 and I agree with that quote about riot grrrl to an extent. I like some riot grrrl bands, but it would be awesome if more girls could play well and really prove a point!

    I wish I could learn an instrument, but I feel like I’m too late at almost 23 with no musical experience (I don’t think my half-assed attempt at piano lessons when I was 9 count somehow!) 🙁 I don’t think it’s too late for you, though, you’re doing it and you’ve played gigs/been in a band before – you should just go for it! You know I think your music is great 🙂

    And I totally agree with Hayley, that picture kicks ass!

  • DJ Moonlight said on Mar 2, 2010 6:49 pm

    Saara- I’m 26 this year and have just started learning an instrument so it’s not too late for you!

  • Rachel Haywire said on Mar 2, 2010 8:25 pm

    Very inspiring post. Thanks for sharing! The time for the revival is now. Us.

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