Arts & Culture

Dylan is Not the Default: A Study in Women of Rock

Overdue recommendations, retribution and resentment for women of rock. 

Everyone knows that gender equality is an obsolete problem. If any of you are still uncertain about that assertion of ‘FACT’, the veracity of it can be affirmed by a nasally-toned, fact-abiding law aspirant on Instagram. Yup, it’s got millions of views, too. Well, anyway, who gives a shit about post-third-wave Feminism? It’s all about gender-bending dildos and tit-politics. I only support the real feminists. The old ones, you know. The ones when the Big Bang hadn’t happened yet and we were all Schrödinger’s cats living in a microcosm of stardust and galaxy traffic. Yeah, feminism was valid back THEN. Anything after that has been a convoluted rebranding of misandry as gender equality. Ugh. 

But guys, this isn’t even about feminism — but what internet debate these days isn’t? Some people can make a coffee visit to Dunkin’ Donuts into a gendered issue. And now, dare I infringe upon your private space and hammer noxious feminism into your music choices? You’re right. Any state or individual should not get to decide what a person does in their personal life. The kind of music they listen to, the clothes they wear or the beef they eat. That’s the kind of fucked up thing only our government can do. But anyway, I’m STILL not here to badger you into listening to obscure female English folk-singers or bellowing punk-poets. 

I don’t mean to say that your Workout playlist should be curated in accordance with a sanctified gender-equaliser. But maybe I AM saying that. Maybe every time the testosterone level exceeds 60% on your music statistics, an Amazon order for an old-fashioned smack-across-your-sparsely-bearded-face should be delivered within five to seven business days. Putting the humour aside, I am seriously advocating for some goddamn diversity in your consumption of music. My poorly worded thesis goes something like this: i) songs are just rhythmicised ideas and ii) maybe the only ideas you have been listening to have been from straight white cisgender men. And some of them were gigantic asses. Like Lennon. And Cobain. Yes, bite me, Rahul. Bite me.

But dear dude-bros, I’ve forever heard you complaining about women talking in indecipherable tongues as if they were villainous descendants of the Greek Sphinx. But how many times have you actually listened to women? In conversation or in music? Show me your playlist. No, seriously. Show me. Nickelback, Green Day, Kanye West…. Hmm. Cool. Well, here’s some women of rock to set things right. And when I say women of rock, the front singer from The Cranberries doesn’t count. Well, technically she does. But I’m tired of hearing that answer from everyone — so here’s some fresh options:

  1. Patti Smith (The Punk-Poetess) 
As far as I’m concerned, being any gender is a drag.” — Patti Smith | Image Credits: Rolling Stone

Freaking iconic. She’s a living legend. If you haven’t heard of her, where have you been? Oh, wait. Don’t answer that. I know: a patriarchal society that refuses to fix itself and keeps perpetuating certain exclusionary structures that disable talented and skilled women to be rightfully included in the canonical spheres of their respective disciplines. That’s where you’ve been living. Well, I’m glad you made the journey here. 

Patricia Lee Smith is an American singer-songwriter, musician, author, and poet. She was musically active in the seventies. You know, when punk was the thing. She entirely shaped the New York punk movement. She was dubbed as the punk-poetess because she wore fashionable rags and wrote pensive lyrics akin to Rimbaud’s poetry. Not that you could actually hear the words, though. It was punk and everybody slurred and yelled as much as they could, caring little for verbal clarity. But Patti’s album, Horses (1975), is one the greatest albums of all time. That’s not an overblown hyperbole for Internet-blog reasons. I could easily quote some of your favourite male rock stars who have attested to that sentiment — but that would be counterproductive since I’m actually here to dislodge that specific authority from them. But dude, Patti Smith is cool personified. I personally believe the seventies was one of the coolest times in history and she was at the riotous epicentre of it, coolly penning down lyrics of casual rebellion and grabbing a cup of coffee with Burroughs. Her memoir, Just Kids (2010), won the National Book Award in the same year. It will make you bawl your eyes out and also teach you a thing or two about how to live as a destitute, rag-picking artiste at the Chelsea Hotel during the early seventies. She’s a terrific writer — and a virile vocalist. She’s still writing dope books and keeping rock ‘n roll alive! 

Songs I recommend: Gloria, People Have the Power, Because the Night 

P.S. I also recommend her Instagram account which is the best thing ever!!! She uploads hazy self-portraits, advocates against climate change and reads Beat poetry. She has successfully transitioned from the fiery, uncontrollable punk-rebel to a totally adorable, badass grandma.

2. Joni Mitchell (The Folk Wanderess) 

I’ve looked at life from both sides now 
From win and lose and still somehow 
It’s life’s illusions I recall 
I really don’t know life at all”
— Joni Mitchell | Image Credits: @ladiesofthecanyon on Instagram

Oof, Joni. She is a Canadian folk-singer from the late sixties. She’s also one of the greatest songwriters of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine and my dead cat (who would inevitably purr whenever I played a Mitchell record). In her heydays, Joni was the archetypal flower-child, hitchhiking across American prairies and hanging with cocaine-snorting transvestites in island caves. Sounds cool, right? My mom would never let me! 

Anyway, her music is especially relevant today as she was one of the first critics of police brutality and climate change. Her song, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (1970) sounds scarily prophetic for our times, criticising money-minded corporations for paving Paradise to build a parking lot. These days, your cool cousin might be carrying a recycled tote bag (suitably printed with ‘There is no Planet B’) to college and sending hateful Tweets to Amazon for paying Bangladeshi women. (And I mean, more power to her!) But Joni did it way back. Her song contains tongue-in-cheek lyrics like ‘They cut all the trees and put them in a tree museum/Then they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em”. Like, yes, go off, sister!!! 

Also, her album, ‘Blue’, (1971) is definitely one of the most marvellous creations of the human race. Not one bad track. If you ever have a dramatic (or not-so-dramatic-but-you’re-dramatic-so-why-not) breakup, put on homegirl’s album and feel free to sob away. While her environmental activism is rampant in her music, she was primarily the storyteller of human dynamics. This woman also singularly exemplifies Woodstock (which is essentially the old-timey version of Coachella for those who aren’t big on rock music and history books). The ironic slash iconic thing is that she never actually could go to Woodstock (because of a traffic pileup, maybe? Yeah, even rock stars aren’t exempt from that) so she wrote a song about it which is the only thing about the infamous music festival that has survived. 

Songs I recommend: Both Sides Now, Case of You, The Circle Game

I’m not going to bore you with details that a Wikipedia search can easily provide. After all, if you want to scrub off the misogyny, you’ll have to do a bit of work.

3. Stevie Nicks (The Mother Witch)

Right now, I’m not involved with anybody, but I hope by 75 I will be again.”  — Stevie Nicks | Image Credits: Rolling Stone

She was in a band called Fleetwood Mac. Her onstage performances were so mystically evoking (precisely since she attired herself in long, dark gowns and there were always cool-as-heck fog machines) that she was basically accused of being a gothic witch. Yup. I mean it sounds pretty cool now but if that had happened just a century before, she’d be wailing the chorus to ‘Rhiannon’ at a burning stake. But like a smart businesswoman, she deftly capitalised on the negative talk and played into the whole witchy image. Decades later, she appeared on Ryan Murphy’s third season of the television show, American Horror Story, playing a witch as herself. (Which basically affirmed my suspicions that she is actually a practising witch and my only issue with that is why have I not been ceremoniously initiated into her coven yet??!!) 

Her solo act, Bella Donna, (which, by the way, preceded her collaboration with Fleetwood Mac) was also a total banger. It gave us the iconic anthem of reckless youthfulness, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’, which is still played in most “girl-centric” indie coming-of-age films. She was recently introduced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the second time by none other than the Harry Styles. Back in the days, she used to sing in Fleetwood Mac which was basically a band where ‘people who hated each other sang about how much they hated each other’. It sounds pretty aggressive but it makes for good music. 

Rumours, their sophomore album, is one of the best albums of — you guessed it — ALL TIME. But, like, for real, if you ever have a nasty break (or if you get not-so-sneakily ghosted by a casual Tinder date), feel free to head-bang to Stevie Nick’s rageful refrains of “Thunder only happens when it’s raining/Players only love you if they’re playing”).  

Songs I recommenced: Landslide, Dreams, Rhiannon 

*** 

I have many other such women artists who I would love to write about. There’s literally decades of undue infamy, vilification and obscurity of amazingly talented women to redeem. Here are some honourable mentions — Janis Joplin, Kate Bush, Amy Winehouse, Alanis Morissette and yes, the front-singer from The Cranberries too.

But I don’t want to overwhelm you with estrogen-empowered suggestions right now. If you want more, send me an email. Also, I love Dylan too. Please don’t come for me, college dude-bros. I have nothing against Dylan. But did he really deserve that Nobel prize? THE ONE HE DIDN’T EVEN SHOW UP FOR? That’s another hot take for another time. For now, may the force of the Female be with you. 

Featured Image Credits: East Wood Guitars

Sushrut Yadav
student.sushrut@gmail.com

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Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history.Freedom to Express.