Playlist of agency

So I was talking on Twitter yesterday about making a playlist of music featuring or about kick-ass women. I’ve figured out what I meant, more or less, and am working on refining the list even as I type this. Here, then, are my thoughts so far.

What the heck do I mean by kick-ass women music playlist? It’s a good question. First of all, do I mean the female artists or the narrative characters in the song? Does the music have to be performed by women? Written by women? Can male artists be involved? These basic questions led me to figure out that I wanted music about the female narrative character in the songs. This meant I needed a female vocalist — that’s how I hear the narrator, in the singer’s voice.

Caroline pointed out that “kick-ass” could mean angry. That wasn’t exactly what I meant, though anger was certainly welcome. I wanted, I realized, songs about female agency. Songs in which, regardless of what the MacGuffin of the song was, women sang about their lives and their selfhood. Songs that featured “I” in the lyrics.

This leads to further questions, though, and those are the questions I am currently pondering. For instance, are songs about addiction songs about female agency? The Sounds’ “Queen of Apology” is one of my favorite songs ever, yet it is a laud to the narrator’s helplessness. Caroline again pointed out that there is a long tradition in blues of reasserting one’s power over negative circumstances through the vehicle of singing about said circumstances. That the standing on stage or in a recording booth and singing “now you’ve got me on my knees / this will be the death of me” is an act of agency. I think I agree.

What about, then, songs treating relationships as addictions? “#1 Crush” by Garbage is a good example of this.

I would die for you
I would kill for you
I will steal for you
I’d do time for you
I would wait for you
I’d make room for you
I’d sail ships for you
To be close to you
To be a part of you
‘Cause I believe in you
I believe in you
I would die for you.

Where’s the agency in that? Well, I rather think it’s there. The freedom to control one’s self and life includes the freedom to make poor choices, to hold to damaging beliefs. If the narrator of that song wants to devote her life and breath to the object of the song, that’s her call. (And that’s leaving aside what part of all of Garbage’s ouvre is ironic or sarcastic. I wouldn’t swear to the sincerity of any of Shirley Manson’s songs, except “The trick is to keep breathing.”) Besides — whoever this narrator is, I expect that the crush will fade as all crushes do, and she’ll move on in time.

Which leads to breakup songs. These are in the list, I think. But I am making a personal aesthetic choice against songs that express sadness and grief in, well, sad terms. I favor songs that express those emotions through anger, sarcasm, and humor.

I’m trying to include songs that have women thinking about or singing about other women. So I’ve got Blondie’s “Maria,” (which I will always assert is West Side Story fanfic,) Jill Sobule’s “Karen by Night,” Laura Branigan’s “Gloria,” and Patti Smith’s “Gloria.” (And if anyone can tell me what the Branigan song is about, please do. Explanations via fanfic are always welcome.) I sort of think of these as songs that pass the Bechdel test, songs that treat all the women as actors in their own right.

And then there are all the other songs, including the vast number whose meaning I can’t fathom — mostly because I don’t understand the lyrics and haven’t looked them up. But they are united by a tempo, a speed of the beat. They are united by the women’s voices singing them. And they are united by their expression of the lives of women. “Gigantic” by The Pixies. “Glass Ceiling” by Metric. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. “Paper Planes” by M.I.A.. “Punka” by Kenickie. It goes on. At this moment the list has 133 songs in it. When I get this down to a manageable number, I’ll post the final result.

This is NOT the big post

I’m in the midst of two very long posts, the Best in Fandom 2009 post and the Music of 2009 post. Not the best music of 2009, you understand, just my music of 2009. Both of those are going to be long, and in the meantime, I have Vitally Important Life Events to share with the internets.

1. I am still pretty happy with the Palm Pixi as a phone. It does exactly what I want — it texts, runs a Twitter app, checks and sends email, and looks up webpages. On Thursday morning while I’m teaching school to one kid while the other is in swim class, I can read the latest Fantastic Fangirl essay posted by one of my compatriots! From my phone!

2. The Christmas presents are arriving at the house, ready to be placed in stockings. At my house, we give gifts with a couple rules. No more than $50.00 can be spent by the household on any one person. And ALL the gifts for a person must fit in their stocking. So this means a selection of small, thoughtful things for each person each year. (Larger requests from the children are parceled out among family and friends.) So, I think everything is here. Perhaps tonight, after the kids go to bed, we’ll fill their stockings. It is, after all, only twelve days until Christmas.

3. This week at work I’m running the non-radar problems I was talking about designing a few weeks ago. This means another controller and I go up to the lab and set up the problem, then try to see if it’s possible to do. We’re getting through about six problems a day, which puts us ahead of schedule.

4. I am obsessed with a playlist I made. Here’s the tracklist:

“Rude Boy,” by Rhianna
“Bad Romance,” by Lady Gaga
“Rockstar 101,” by Rhianna
“Monster,” by Lady Gaga
“Weekend Without Makeup,” by The Long Blondes
“Dance in the Dark,” by Lady Gaga
“Night Watch,” by Tegan and Sara
“Once and Never Again,” by The Long Blondes
“The Cure,” by Tegan and Sara
“Te Amo,” by Rhianna
“Heaven Help the New Girl,” by The Long Blondes

In my head, this is a narrative. A story. Which is what I do with all my music, makes stories out of it. In this playlist, the protagonist falls for a guy because he’s powerful and possessive and controlling and he wants her. He wants her because she’s beautiful and talented, and she slowly recognizes that he wants to possess those qualities in such a way that prevents her from owning her own life, her own self. Then the abandonment and emotional abuse kick in. During this time of decision, the protagonist of the playlist is invited by one of her close female friends to leave the guy and be with her. The protagonist turns that offer down, but does leave the guy and goes off to get over him with the female friend — who may or may not be controlling and possessive as well.

This, this is what my head is doing when I am listening to music. When I’m driving to and from work, listening to Lockheed on Random Play, I am doing this. Putting the songs together and trying to make sense out of unrelated things. Humans are pattern-making mammals — we’ll make sense and meaning where none previously reside. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the definitions of art.

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