Girls to the Front: Women, Punk, and Memoir

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Girls to the Front: Women, Punk, and Memoir

It's time to read n' rock.

Come into the studio, on tour, and to the afterparty with some of the most intriguing and commanding women of punk. Historically, music biographies place men center stage while women have been relegated to the margins. But as Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill once charged, “girls to the front!⁠-- a motto later adopted by the Riot Grrrl movement. Check out these inspiring memoirs (and tunes) from women that offer an honest and uncompromising account of triumph, revolt, and heartbreak on and off the stage. 

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine 
As the former lead guitarist for the influential English band the Slits, Albertine chronicles her youth emigrating from Australia to North London, her schoolgirl days at the hands of her abusive father, and befriending Sid Vicious and touring with the Clash in the late 1970s. Side two covers the devastating breakup of the band and a period of remarkable loss and reinvention. Named as one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years, from this raw and spare testimonial emerges a woman who’s held steadfast in her convictions despite what has stood in her path. Listen: “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” 

Riot Days by Marii͡a Alekhina
In 2012 Alekhina, along with the other four members of the guerilla art collective Pussy Riot, performed their subversive and electric 40-second “Punk Prayer” inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in protest of the Russian Orthodox Church’s close ties with Putin’s regime. As a result Alekhina was proclaimed an “organized hooligan” and sentenced to two years in prison. Riot Days is a record of that time; through diary entries, song lyrics, and drawings Alekhina gives a fragmented look peppered with wryness at the unspeakable living conditions and consequential battle forged against the Russian criminal system. For a more comprehensive view of the band check out the documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. Listen: “Straight Outta Vagina” (YouTube)

Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage: A Chicana Punk Story by Alice Bag
Singer/songwriter, artist, educator and archivist, Alice Bag is a woman who wears many hats. Known as the lead singer and co-founder of the aptly titled Bags (later of the goth band the Castration Squad), Bag is an iconic figure of the first wave of Hollywood punk in the mid-1970s. In this candid scrapbook with nearly 100 photographs, she revisits her childhood in East L.A. where she was raised on musica ranchera and witnessed domestic abuse, which would later markedly impact her work as a performer. Bag also discusses her experience as a woman of color within the punk/hardcore scene, a space traditionally occupied by white males. Look for more Alice and the Bags in the groundbreaking documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, a profile of the L.A. punk scene during the late 1970s - early 1980s. Listen: “We Don’t Need the English 

So Real it Hurts by Lydia Lunch 
In this pastiche of defiant essays, prose, and verse, the frontwoman of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and a key player in the No wave movement (the avant garde music and art scene that splintered off from punk in downtown New York in the late 1970s), Lunch spins from one topic to another, tackling environmental and political apathy to debilitating addiction and insomnia. Along with these fierce meditations and cultural critiques, she interviews literary beat hero Herbert Huncke and noted author Hubert Selby Jr. Lunch has recently found yet another avenue for her inquisitiveness; she’s a freshly-minted podcaster with the weekly “The Lyndian Spin.” Listen: “The Closet

Revenge of the She-punks: A Feminist Music History from Poly Styrene to Pussy Riot by Vivien Goldman 
Anointed “no one’s more punk than Vivien Goldman,” the veteran music journalist, ex-Bob Marley publicist, and professor gives a definitive history that spans nearly half a century of women raging. In her sixth book, split into four main chapters on identity, money, love, and protest, Goldman takes readers on a fast-paced world tour (stopping in Indonesia, Germany, and Japan, to name a few) while she examines the related yet distinctive backgrounds, performance styles and messaging from a diverse group of rockers. An array of incisive interviews and commentary, humorous anecdotes, and recommended playlists that feature punk goddesses such as Poly Styrene and Grace Jones, but also share the spotlight with obscure musical scions. Listen: “Dream Number Nine” by Big Joanie (YouTube). 

Ready to hit the shelves and the streets? Browse the DCPL’s DC Punk Archive for concerts, exhibitions, recordings, posters and more! All tracks listed above are available via Freegal Music except where noted.