May 26, 2024

ATLANTA — Sandy Springs, Georgia, in the 1980s wasn’t exactly a hotbed of countercultural activity, so Katherine Yeske Taylor found her way down to the Little Five Points Pub and Trackside Tavern in Decatur.

She had legitimate reasons to be there: she was interviewing rock ‘n’ roll musicians including DeDe Vogt and Caroline Aiken for the school paper at North Springs High School.

These early experiences led to writing for Flagpole in Athens as a UGA undergrad, a job at Creative Loafing, and a lifelong career as a freelance music journalist, landing stories at such publications as Billboard, Spin and American Songwriter.

An agent suggested the concept for Taylor’s first bona fide book, “She’s a Badass: Women in Rock Shaping Feminism,” and the idea immediately resonated with the Georgia native: “I can take that and run,” she thought. She will discuss the book Jan. 20 at Charis Books & More.

A lifetime of contacts helped smooth the way for interviews with 20 women whose stories appear in the book, from pint-sized ‘70s pioneer and TV star Suzi Quatro to adult contemporary star Paula Cole to Indigo Girl folk-rocker Amy Ray to transgressive noise-rock diva Lydia Lunch. (Interviews she craved but couldn’t secure: Chrissie Hynde and Tracy Chapman.)

Taylor discovered that female artists were subject to the same harassment and prejudice that women in other fields dealt with, but that, despite their scant numbers, they also helped break through some of those barriers.

Some even used the hostility to power their own creativity.

Taylor relates her conversation with vocalist Ann Wilson, who, with her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, joined the band Heart in the early 1970s. After a concert one evening a jerk backstage made a crude suggestion about the relationship between the sisters.

Her anger blossomed into the song “Barracuda.” Said Wilson, “It was mostly just venom that I felt.”

Several musicians mentioned irrational policies at radio stations that claimed they could play only a certain number of female artists every hour, or morning DJs that had a “no chicks” policy.

Taylor sequenced the chapters from the earliest rockers, including Quatro, Wilson and X vocalist Exene Cervenka, to the youngest musicians, including Canadian Fefe Dobson and Mexican American singer/guitarist Sade Sanchez, of L.A. Witch.

She wanted to show that the climate for female artists is improving. “It’s getting better for sure,” said Taylor, 50, from her home in uptown Manhattan. “I hope this book makes it clear that certain things that used to happen a lot don’t happen as much now.”

She also found that among her subjects there was a wide variety of attitudes about gender politics, and many different strategies for dealing with everyday abuse.

Donita Sparks, vocalist/guitarist with the all-female punk band L7, said that despite their anti-establishment attitudes, male punk rockers responded with “vitriol” when she identified as a feminist. “Some men were kind of terrified of us.” She praised the younger women who created the “riot grrrl” movement: “Thank gods for Bikini Kill.”

The 1990s band Bikini Kill demanded a “girls to the front” policy to keep the women who went to their shows from getting injured in mosh pits. But Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail tells Taylor that even the band’s own safety was never assured, recounting an incident at a concert in Boston when a male audience member punched their roadie and knocked her out.

“If you look at history, you can see that progress is not linear,” Vail said; “it goes back and forth.”

Other artists suggested women need to stop whining and become more self-reliant. Lyda Lunch invited Taylor to dine at her Brooklyn apartment, and showed off a voodoo doll with a metal pipe at its core: a handy weapon if she needed one.

Lunch said “I don’t understand the new, ‘He looked at me – that’s an assault. He touched my back – that’s an assault.’ I don’t understand why at this point women aren’t tougher about it.”

And there were those who rejected the term feminist out of hand. “I don’t do gender,” Quatro said. “It was clear that a certain number of these women don’t want this label applied to them in any way,” said Taylor.

This response didn’t fit her original concept for the book, but then she realized that contrasting opinions needed to be in the story.

Taylor herself has seen the “boys club” mentality at certain publications, but has avoided or eluded most physical threats. “The closest I ever came was sometimes when I did in-person interviews and artists had a little too much to drink and got a little handsy, and I had to extricate myself.”

At the same time, Taylor was gratified to learn that in every musician’s story there was at least one man who was a booster. “Every woman that I talked to, without me prompting, made sure to tell me one story of a man who had been a good ally, someone who helped them that didn’t have to, who was important to their lives and their careers. They all independently went out of their way to say that. It was a relief. I didn’t want it to be a male-bashing book.”

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EVENT PREVIEW

Katherine Yeske Taylor in conversation with Amber Ritchie, board member of Y’all Rock Camp ATL

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20. Free; the event is also livestreamed on crowdcast. In-person attendees must wear masks. Virtual attendees must register at crowdcast.io. Charis Books & More, 184 S. Candler St., Decatur. 404-524-0304, charisbooksandmore.com.

Copyright (C) 2022, Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Portions copyrighted by the respective providers.

This story was originally published January 17, 2024, 3:00 AM.


source: star-telegram

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