I was an English major with a focus on poetry writing at Harvard, and my poetry teacher gave me Joanna Newsom’s first CD– he was like that teacher who totally changes the course of your life. So I was super into The Milk-Eyed Mender, and then my friends invited me to go see Joanna Newsom play live when Ys came out. I felt like I’d been transported to another world. Ys has a lot to do with the death of a loved one and discovering your own creativity, all done through very mystical poetry, and I was also dealing with those same things. I felt like she was speaking directly to me the whole concert. I was like, “How can this happen?”
I listened to that album on repeat for so long. I could spend days trying to figure out just a single complex metaphor. The one that stands out to me is: “In the mud cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky’d been breathing on a mirror.” It’s like John Donne, who was a really early metaphysical poet, or Yeats. That image has so many layers and the ideas you can draw out of it are also manifold.
The main thing I learned in college is that if you’re going to make a piece of art, you’d better have some emotional urgency behind it; otherwise, it’s not worth making, and you’ll never accomplish anything with it. When I think of a performer who’s willing to be super weird and super naked and always writes with some kind of urgency, I think of Joanna Newsom. It’s a good lesson in being yourself. Live, she makes these faces, and she squats a little bit, and she is very physically involved with the instrument, which is cool. I try to do all that stuff, maybe not consciously, but I like to think that I’m not just standing around and staring at my shoes. I don’t really care about keeping up with appearances—I’ve pretended that the guitar is a machine gun and shot the audience with it. I saw a nine year old do something similar at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Camp for Girls showcase concert a few weeks ago. It was a little shocking.
New Jersey's Titus Andronicus playing at the Olympic Community Hall during Halifax Pop Explosion. Afterwards, guitarist Amy Klein announced via her website that Titus’ two Halifax shows would be her last with the band. She’ll be missed.
What we’re doing when we exclude women from rock and roll, and from the sense of rebellion that rock and roll promises, is disallowing women that independent perspective. We’re never giving them the chance to think critically about the world, and about the systems that oppress them. When we take women out of the arts, and take them out of art’s ability to critique the way things are, we’re making sure that women keep swallowing the status quo, day after day, and it’s the status quo that keeps us down.
“She’s amazing. Her words save me,” goes the chorus. This is an anthem in praise of a woman who tells the truth – and in doing so, inspires her audience to do the same. It’s not a love song; it’s about respect, self-actualization, about the way in which women can help each other to act courageously.
I can’t help but think about Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Kelley Deal, Tanya Donelly, Nancy Wilson, Chrissie Hynd, Wild Flag’s Carrie Brownstein, Screaming Females’ Marissa Permoster, Hilley Eye’s Amy Klein and EULA’s Alyse Lamb!
Who are your favorite female guitarists of all time?