I found a stack of old CDs in our attic a few weeks ago, and I was enjoying the nostalgia of listening to mix CDs I made 10-15 years ago. But as I’ve gone through the various tracks, I noticed a disturbing trend; many of the social issues being addressed in this CDs are still issues a decade later.
First, and most timely, was Le Tigre’s “Bang Bang”. Here’s a YouTube clip, but beware, it is an NSFW song:
For those who can’t catch the whole video, here’s a (censored) sample of the lyrics:
Wrong f—– time
Wrong f—– place
There is no f—– way
this is not about race
Who’s gonna call 9-1-1
When they can’t tell a wallet
from a mother f—– gun?
When it first popped up, I thought for a moment my car had flipped to a news station (the song opens with a newscaster’s voice), then I realized this was a song addressing police brutality and race from 15 years ago. Sadly, change a few news references and this same song could have been written 15 days ago. Regardless of your feelings about the Michael Brown and Eric Garner incidents, it’s heartbreaking to realize this isn’t the first time communities have had to grapple with these tragedies, and it won’t be the last.
Then another Le Tigre song came up in the rotation, “F.Y.R.” (again, somewhat NSFW for language):
And here are a few lyrics, again in case you can’t watch the video:
Celebrate gay marriage in Vermont by enforcing those old sodomy laws.
One step forward five steps back.
We tell the truth they turn up the laugh track.
Feminists we’re calling you.
Please report to the front desk.
Let’s name this phenomenon.
It’s too dumb to bring us down.
This is more of a general lament than a specific incident, but it’s focused on the idea that in fifty plus years of feminism and the women’s movement, we’re still struggling to move forwards consistently. Even today that’s the case. The “gay marriage in Vermont” line comes from Vermont making news for legalizing civil unions. Meanwhile, today 35 states offer same-sex marriage, with an additional ten that were approved but suspended pending court appeals. Meanwhile, Michigan and Arkansas have been in the news lately for their virulently anti-gay discriminatory bills, and what’s scary is how much momentum seems to be behind them. One step forward five steps back indeed.
Moving on from Le Tigre, the mix CDs also held quite a few songs from my favorite band of all time, Sleater-Kinney. Again, these are songs that were written almost fifteen years ago, but they’re singing about social issues we’re still struggling with today.
Sleater-Kinney’s “#1 Must Have” is an awesome song all by itself, as a slice of how it felt to be a woman in rock in the early 2000s after the riot grrrl movement had been underground for years. It was also written in the aftermath of Woodstock ’99, which is key to the example lyrics, as well as the whole song.
I’ve been crawling up so long
On your stairway to heaven
And now I no longer believe that I wanna get in
And will there always be concerts where
Women are raped
Watch me make up my mind instead of my face
The number one must have
Is that we are safe
(Everywhere you go teenage
Is the rage
Inside your pants
And on the front page
Everywhere you go it’s die or be born
If you can’t decide then
It’s your own war)
Obviously, women’s safety, sexual assault, and the expectation of safety in everything from going to a party at a frat house to riding in an Uber car have been in the headlines lately. The lament “will there always be concerts where women are raped” applies today to any number of everyday activities. Nothing has changed in the last fifteen years, and that song still applies today.
Finally, Sleater-Kinney had one more song that really struck me as prescient. Supposedly, the band saw a video of a woman being hit by a train on a loop in a bar; whether this was a legitimate video, a loop from a movie, or something else it’s hard to say. But what they took from it became a song that holds up a mirror to the worst of our reality TV obsessions, which as we all know has only gotten worse and not better over the years:
Was it a lie?
Did it fill your head
Did it entertain?
Will you feel alive
at the end of it?
When the collision came
She died right away
Her body flung almost sixty feet
And as she split in two
Was she coming straight for you
And do you have a camera for a face?
And on that sad note, here’s my hope: that in 15 more years, when I stumble across this stack of CDs again, that I listen to it and think “Wow, the world was a much sadder place then..I’m glad we’ve made it better.” It won’t be easy, but as we head into 2015 I hope we can try.