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This self-consciousness is probably inevitable, given the fact that they're women, they're feminists and they make rock & roll, a genre historically associated with the ritualistic celebration of male sexuality: Elvis' pelvis, Chuck's ding-a-ling, the famous Warhol crotch shot adorning the cover of Sticky Fingers -- in sum, a swaggering legacy of iconic dicks. Not surprisingly, most great rock songs thus far have been about men fucking, trying to fuck or failing to fuck women. Consider the dominant metaphors: cock rock, music with balls, testosterone. How could women possibly perform rock & roll and ignore the inherent ironies? Says Brownstein: "I think there are ways of transforming rock and reclaiming it. We try to have fun emulating different archetypes, stepping into the shoes of some of the historic figures but also changing them and toying with them, trying to re-create them. It's kind of absurd, rock music, especially if you don't historically see yourself as being part of it. You approach it from such an outside role that it gives you a different perspective. There are definitely parts of it that you want to embrace because it feels silly and fun and empowering. And there are definitely parts that you want to smash."
"Male Model" is one of several songs on All Hands that deal explicitly with the renegotiation of gender stereotypes in rock music: "Does he write my songs for me?/Should I try to play just like him?/...You always measure me by him/Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to something big/I'm so sick of tests/Go ahead and flunk my ass." By the time Tucker delivers the command "Take the stage!" in her piercing trill, she sounds triumphant, elated, not pissed off or depressed. "It really has a huge effect on your life to have people singing about you and your perspective, things that you can relate to, rather than to have people singing about you as an object for other people to love or look at or someone they fucked last night," Brownstein remarks. "I remember when I was a teenager, I felt like my role was as a fan, on the periphery. That's not feeling really engaged. It makes the experience seem like someone else's. I'm glad that there are so many different kinds of women playing different kinds of music."
Although any political stance -- particularly a feminist one -- can seem quaint and unfashionable in this post-Lilith age, Sleater-Kinney addresses social issues without coming off as strident or simplistic. "Bringing people together, connecting with people, those things are really important," Brownstein explains. "Saying something honest and putting politics in music are still important. That's not the only thing we are. We're a rock band and a pop band and a punk band, and we're also a feminist band and a girl band. We don't try to compartmentalize those things. I like the fact that they can co-exist -- that we can sometimes be political, sometimes just be funny."
In the end, of course, ideas are only as good as their execution. Sleater-Kinney matter because they rock in an intelligent, memorable, uncompromising way, not because they're women, not because they're feminists, not because they've got some important political message to impart. They've written many great songs over the past six years, and these songs speak for themselves -- over the hype and the backlash, the jabbering of the Greils and Courtneys, the drone of reactionary rock dudes who think female anger is so Alanis, so 1996. "The best way to understand our music -- and I'm sure, because we're written about a lot, it might be confusing to people, what we are and who we are -- is to listen to our music and come to our shows," Brownstein concludes. "I think people will see how it makes sense."
Sleater-Kinney performs on Wednesday, May 31, at the Firehouse. Opening are the Aislers Set and the Gossip.
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