I’m reading about Bratmobile in the previously mentioned (in this blog) book Girls to the Front (I can’t find the underline function on this stupid thing, but that’s proper format for a book title, I know.) If Bikini Kill were the #1 riot grrrl band, then Bratmobile would be #2 in notoriety. The three women who made it up, Allison Wolfe, Molly Neuman and Erin Smith, knew next to nothing about playing music, and just a little more about iconic punk rock like The Ramones. They decidedly didn’t care. They became a band in their bedrooms and learned to become musicians in front of an audience.
It was a revolution for women to be determined to be a legit band before knowing how to play their instruments well. Sure, men had already established that it could be done and they called it punk, but women still had to work twice as hard to prove themselves in a boy-dominated industry. In the early 90’s women were expected to be highly proficient musicians before the boys would invite them to share the stage. Kim Colletta, the bassist for Jawbox, and Sara Lund, the drummer for Unwound, were practically novelties in the DIY scene. Furthermore, they maintained the precedent of excellence before entrance. Boys, the taste-makers of punk, were moving towards artsy versions of punk and leaving behind raw, stupidity a la The Ramones. What room was there for a girl like Allison Wolfe in Fugazi, Jawbreaker or Dinosaur Jr?
It was radical for young women to grow up openly, within their scene. Bratmobile set a new precedent: voluntary vulnerability as strength. It’s like saying, “What is there left for you to make fun of? I already know I suck and that’s why I’m more brave than you.”
I’m playing drums in a punk band called Boner Attention. We don’t have any shows booked yet. We have three songs partly or mostly written. I play the drums, but not well. My younger brother, Ridge, is playing bass. A role he’s taken in several previous bands including Dicky Jaguar and Dropsy. The latter of which I sang in. My boyfriend, Aaron, is playing guitar, something he’s also done for a long time, notably as a solo project Instance of Gazelle. I’m out of my league, but I was sick of not being in a band and rallied the troops that were close at hand. Family member and lover. Like they’re going to say no!
I don’t remember the conversation in which the name Boner Attention came up, but it sounded drunkenly good and appropriately non-serious. Perfect. From the get-go no one has much in the way of expectations, neither audience nor bandmates. From the first “jam sess” I threw myself into the process eagerly and without inhibitions, remembering my predecessors: Bratmobile. I’ve been a singer around Denver for nearly a decade. Out front and outspoken, I have needed a break from the heavy burden of eyes + ears. I sit in back, half hidden from view, and only need to bang in time. I love the reversal of roles. Thus the experimentation began and continues until we can secure a gig. We’ll be ready in December. Book us: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Likewise I’ve been learning guitar. Guitar: the staple, the center, the maker of musicians. I can’t believe I waited until 31 to start. I know a handful of songs and I have baby callouses. It is my secret power. Just when the boys start masturbating over this record and that, there I am, maybe, someday, a songwriter myself.
I don’t know what qualifies a musician to call themselves one. I don’t know if I am a “drummer” or if I’ll feel like one after I’ve actually played a show. It is as though the voyeurism of strangers is a petty enough validation. If that were so, then I might be always raising some invisible bar. I might expect accolades the next time in order to feel genuine, and worthy of label: drummer. A recording, a tour, an article. Alternately, I could wait until I determine that I’m good. It was easy with singing – I just got a diploma to hang on my wall from the university – but punks don’t hand out certificates of achievement. Or, maybe I just start calling myself one. Like it is my decision who I am in this world. I could be a drummer, and a lot of other things too. I could be a musician.
Another riot grrl inspirational:
“One of the best things to me, about growing up in Olympia and the underground thing here is this whole true punk thing of making up songs and just singing them for your friends and how that happens at parties and stuff – just the way that I’ve always felt encouraged in this one way, that people do want to hear what other people are doing and encourage each other to participate and that whole support thing.” – from Jigsaw zine by Tobi Vail (circa ’91)
And for your pleasure, some old Bratmobile footage:
AND, I just found this on youtube!!!! Proving that Bratmobile continues to spread the riot grrl rev 20 years down the pike. The poster says this, “Bratmobile + riot grrrl in general helped me to… motivated me to start playing guitar. The first song I EVER covered was Cherry Bomb, which Bratmobile covered… I believe it was originally a song by The Runaways, yes? The Runaways. Okay. I covered the bratmobile version though…
Anyways, I haven’t played this song in years.” So there. I mean, here: