Do your boyfriends write your songs?
Show Us Your Riffs
I grew up in a punk rock city. Most people think of Oshawa as an automotive town, but blue-collard workers breed an anti-middle class mentality. Cue the combat boots, rebellion and noise.
As an adult I wear dresses, own suit jackets and most often wear feathers in my hair despite Halifax’s high winds. Teenage me had bleach blonde spiked-hair (egg whites, no gel), wore cardigans with thumb-holes, shopped exclusively at Value Village (before it was trendy) and believed in revolution. In retrospect I looked more like a dyke back then when I was hanging out with metal-heads than as a
modern day femme.
Every weekend passed at the Dungeon, an underground all ages bar below Laser Quest. In the early days the venue was home to Kanker Face, The Mark Inside and The Void (now Cuff the Duke).
At school I kept peace with the jocks, hippies and yuppies despite my personal politics, though no one was more surprised when the photography teacher asked me to be the yearbook editor. Didn’t he know that I secretly hated everyone? I did live and breathe photography. I loved the darkroom’s chemistry, escapism and sense of sorcery. Even then I understood the significance of documentation.
I identified as a rocker –later a feminist, a dyke, and a riot grrrl –whatever didn’t get me lumped in with the rest of the Eastdale eagleadolescent flock. I understood the language of alternative culture before I understood myself.
I didn’t wear leather, plaid or spikes but went to Rancid and
Distillers concerts. Bratmobile’s show at the Reverb opening for The Donna’s changed my life. I wanted to wear sequins, put my cropped mop in pigtails and tell the boys what I really thought.
My best friend Ashlee and I saw Hole twice that year. Both nights I screamed along the lyrics to “Boys On the Radio,” while Ashlee twirled and whirled with the blonde blur of chaos that is Courtney Love. We kissed the ground and bottled air. Ashlee still has Courtney Love’s fishnet tights tucked away somewhere in her bedroom.
We tacked flyers to the wall and swore by the anything released by Kill Rock Stars. I sent love letters to the already deceased Kurt Cobain, but secretly dreamed of sleeping with Kathleen Hanna. Riot grrrl picked my sorry teenage ass up from the ground, dusted me off and smeared confidence across my pudgy face. I exchanged my adolescent awkwardness for a pair of Mary Janes, knee-high socks and a
pleated skirt. The universe didn’t seem to be such a horrible place with headphones burning in my eardrums.
Music became my lover when I felt I was immovably unlovable. Rock n’ roll became a lifestyle, a state of being. It was as vital as oxygen to my survival.
I’m not talking about your hip grinding cock-rock anthems, as it wasn’t some poster boy on the radio who stole my heart. The strength and sexiness of a woman’s voice through a microphone shot through my body like a spiritual awakening.
Veruca Salt, Babes in Toyland, Le Tigre, The Gossip, PJ Harvey, Bikini Kill, L7, Bratmobile, Free Kitten, The Plath, Cibo Matto, Sleater Kinney –this source of sisterhood untied the noose and gave air to the conformity and suffocation that were my grueling high school years.
Ashlee and I pleaded with our parents to buys us instruments, she took on lead guitar and I picked up a plum-coloured bass. We coated our eyelids in tar-coloured eyeliner, tore up our fish net stockings,
plastered the basement walls with posters and formed our own angst-ridden band, Mercury Vapors.
We weren’t satisfied by watching the boys play their out of tune guitars; we wanted to be the queens of our own noise. We mostly stuck to Hole covers, occasionally learning an L7 or Bikini Kill riff.
The camera’s self-timer option helped us stage band photo shoots, as we mimicked the poses of our favoured performers from glossy rock digests. Our band was drummer-less so we never played a gig outside of
the basement. Beyond our rock n’ roll mockery, suddenly just being women inspired us.
Despite how miserable we both might appear in our yearbook mug shots (see our unwashed mops and First Choice haircuts), we no longer allowed sadness and self-pity to consume. We just turned up the volume and danced around our bedrooms until we felt nothing but the melody.
My true eagle spirit rang years after high school. After an editorial meeting for the university paper, Laura, Ashleigh, Lindsay and I joked about starting a band. For fun one night we rented a room at the Rock Garden. We quickly downed cans of Faxe and nervously played with our
backs to one another. Despite three of us being English majors, our band was primarily instrumental. The only clue to our literary background was our excessive use of punctuation in our chosen band name: Oh, Beautiful!
Majestic! Eagle! Instead of being merely Laura, Ashleigh, Lindsay and Shannon we became Laureagle on glockenspiel and toy accordion, Ashleagle on synth/keys, Lindseagle on drums and percussion and Shannoneagle on bass.
Our song titles made up for our lack of poetic lyricism; see: “The beautiful snowy owl is death on mice, rarely ducks” “The day the bird lost its down,” “L’em de Lemiere,” “a.k.a. The Locust,” “When you love animals your hearts fill with wonder (and sparkles come from your
eyes)” and “Animals National Anthem (as performed on Noah’s Arc).” After our first gig with The Stolen Minks and The Maynards at the North End Pub a sheepish dude with slumped shoulders and a striped sweater came up to the stage.
“You guys are really good,” he said, offering his hand in congratulations.
“Thanks,” I replied with a gracious smile.
“I have a quick question to ask, though,” he asked.
“Sure, shoot.” I said.
“Do your boyfriends write your songs?”
Two of us were queer, the others somewhat in question. No our boyfriends didn’t write our songs. Jesus fucking Christ.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked, annoyed while continuing to wrap up my patch chord. “You think girls can’t write music?”
“No, no,” he said. “Girls can write music, sure, just not music like that. It’s actually good.”