Since starting this list, I’ve been struggling with what to do with the #47 spot. I’d initially had Michael Jackson by himself here but have been really thinking carefully about whether or not he belongs on this list. I can easily separate the art from the artist because Michael’s crimes are so grotesque, it takes effort to connect them to connect them to his staggeringly excellent musical output. However, I am not a victim of child sex abuse, so it is unfair of me to assume that everyone else should be able to do the same. I know I could have just switched out another tune for his, but I kind of wanted to address this because I do so love “Don’t Stop.” I want to credit Emily McGlynn (not on Facebook, also mentioned in the ABBA post) for kicking my ass about this. I put it on a jukebox in a bar in San Francisco when we visited last summer and she was like “What the fuck are you doing?” We argued about it for a bit before she finally said “oh, you’re separating the art from the artist?” I was like “well--yes?” I think she just wanted to stop arguing about it. She even apologized for picking a fight, but I want to say here and now that she’s absolutely right. It’s one thing to enjoy his tunes in the privacy of my own home. It’s quite another thing to play it in a public bar, where someone more deserving of support than Michael would hear it and associate it with a traumatic experience. The same goes for social media, so that’s that.
I’m happy I am able to remedy this issue by slipping this tune by Bratmobile in. I totally forgot about it when making the list and it certainly deserves a spot. I learned of Bratmobile in college. Pete had the Kill Rock Stars compilation which featured “Girl Germs” which was on Bratmobile’s 1994 EP, The Real Janelle, which if memory serves, Pete subsequently got me a copy of for Christmas or something. Their first album and the Real Janelle EP are great, but sound really different than their two later albums, on which I think they really came into their own. It’s the classic template for a lo-fi indie/feminist outfit of its time. It’s great and I love it, but my favorite stuff of theirs is the more later, denser, more filled-out efforts.
Ladies, Women, and Girls and Girls Get Busy are both really excellent albums, but I love Girls Get Busy best. Much of it is a response to 9/11 and the culturally and politically conservative wave that followed. As an aside, post-9/11 music has a deservedly cringy reputation, but it was possible to do great, on-topic post-9/11 albums. Particularly Girls Get Busy and One Beat by Sleater-Kinney. Songs like “Combat Rock” and “Far Away” from Sleater Kinney are squarely on-topic and most of the time, pull it off gracefully. For Bratmobile, “Shop for America” and “United We Don’t” are adequately contrarian responses to a troubling time. I haven’t seen anything that responds to the Trump presidency that fits the mood quite so well (except of COURSE Cancelled, by us).
“Shut Your Face” didn’t strike me at first until Pete told me to take a listen and tell him whether it’s about the Green River killer. I did, didn’t know, but looked it up and found to my delight/horror that it’s about CHANDRA LEVY. I love this for so many reasons. It’s a response to progressive men’s dismissal of media coverage being a distraction from war and presumably other “important” things. After reviewing the lyrics now, they also seem to take aim at conservative talking heads who used her death as a strategy in the context of Gary Condit’s misconduct.
Political/feminist music is intended to make you think about things another way and I’m pleased to admit that this one really worked on me. Like a lot of people, I felt like Chandra Levy’s story got the cable-news gossip-rag treatment because it was scandalous and I was guilty of having gotten tired of it, thinking that there were more important things. I didn’t think of Chandra as having lived a life of value. She was just a name in a news story that made me uncomfortable. Put another way, I didn’t think of her murder as violence against women. I thought of it as a thing that happened which CAUSED a media blitz. I don’t think about such things this way anymore. So, full circle: Emily’s calling me out about Michael Jackson fits well into this story.
I would guess that Bratmobile’s unique perspective is due in part to the case being semi-local to them. Just knowing now that Gary Condit’s DC apartment was in Adams Morgan makes the whole thing seem a lot more real to me, at least. I looked this up because the Washington Post had this interactive feature where you could look for all the homicides reported in your zip code within the District. I discovered this fun game shortly after we moved to town, back when we lived in the frou-frou, Forest Hills section of town. I had a moment when I searched for the previous 10 years (so 2001-2011). There was one pin identified on the map, waaaaay on the east end, right in Rock Creek Park. I clicked on the pin and seeing the name Chandra Levy made the hair on my neck stand on end.