Or maybe I've just been barking up the wrong tree. Maybe the place to find strong women on the evening stage isn't down at the rock'n'roll club. Sure, I've had my ass whipped up on over the years by the likes of Chrissie Hynde (first Pretenders tour, before half her band OD'd and she married first Ray Davies, then that whimpering donkey from Simple Minds), Joan Jett (whom I once, ca. '80, observed blowing Iggy Hisself clean off the stage during a low ebb in His career when His best song was "Louie Louie," an experience comparable to seeing the Lakers with both Kareem and Magic still in the lineup having their heads handed to them by George Gervin's San Antonio Spurs), and Patti Smith (a transcendent performance at the Gypsy Tea Room near the end of the century, which made a believer of me in spite of my previously having been, um, not a fan). More recently, I've been impressed by marathon-running singer-songwriter Heather Knox, the 50% female L.A. band Slow Signal Fade (whose button I proudly wear on the closest thing to a rock'n'roll jacket that I've owned in 20 years), and singer-guitarist-trumpeter Regina Chellew, ex-Captain Audio, who now fronts the Dallas-based band Day of the Double Agent (not "Dave the Double Asian"). And who could forget Pam Pride, back when she was running Fort Worth's only lesbian jazz bar, fronting a bemused-looking trio she probably got through the union, responding to a request for a Willie Nelson song with what has to be the funniest thing I ever heard anybody say onstage: "I would tell you to suck my dick...but it's out in the car."
Still, it's the exceptions, as they say, that prove the rule. And the rule only applies if your orbit is restricted to certain types of venues.
So, a few weeks ago, when Kat's friend Tammy Gomez invited her to present some of her "digital art" (ignorant ass that I am, I continue to think of them as "QuickTime movies") at an event at the Arlington Museum of Art in support of V-Day, I thought it might be an opportunity to, how you say, broaden my horizons a bit. V-Day, I learned, is an organization that annually presents performances of The Vagina Monologues to benefit groups that work to stop violence against women and girls. Tammy herself is quite a phenom. A Fort Worth native and a world traveler, she's probably done more than anyone to promote poetry and spoken word performance in the Panther City. She's taught workshops and done performances all over the world, and been published often, most recently in the anthology Bicycle Love. Her reading of her 1993 poem "Manslaughter," about a "domestic violence" killing in Austin, was an object lesson in how to do spoken word the right way, but with commendable humility, she positioned herself in the middle of the program. No star trip here. One thing Tammy does very well: bringing together diverse performers to create bona fide events. When I saw the card for "eVeryDAY a Woman: voices (of) truth in art & verse," I was a little skeptical. If managing creative people is a little like herding cats, trying to cram 19 performers into two hours is a recipe for, at least, a high degree of frustration. Or so I thought.
A confession: When I see performance art coming, I usually run the other way. So much of it is silly, self-indulgent, self-important. Too often, the subtext (which subsumes the avowed purpose of the work) is "Look at me, look at me." (Of course, the same thing is true of a lot of musical performance; I just happen to relate better to noise with a beat than I do to "the perfect order of speech, and the beauty of incantation." My bad.) Declaimed poetry usually hits me the same way, although I'm learning (through my literary daughter who likes to go to poetry slams). Maybe it's a hangover from when I used to moonlight at Borders and my second least favorite night (after chess night) was the night the poets took over the comfy chairs in the music department and we were barred for the evening from playing any music.
To make it easier for philistines like me, there was some music on the program, by a couple of singer-songwriters I'd heard of but never heard. Gigi Cervantes' music is almost painfully intimate and personal, her guitar playing just a whisper to complement the arc of her voice, but even I was unable to resist the couple of numbers she performed (an original and a Dar Williams cover). Tracie Merchant sounded earthier, rootsier. Her politics (a reminder that even in a post-9/11 world, dissent remains as American as, well, folk music, and a Woody Guthrie cover -- she performed at the festival that bears his name last year, and is descended from Grapes of Wrath Okies who stuck around through the Depression years) were tailor-made for the leftie-sympathetic audience, and her music should appeal to anyone who dug Billy Bragg and Wilco reimagining Woody. I left with a CD of her stuff that I need to listen to the next time I have a day free to devote listening to new music. (During the working week, I usually stick with the comfortable and familiar. I suck.)
Beyond that, the good stuff was so good that I was able to suspend my habitual dread of spoken word. Monologist Yvonne Duque, who directs and teaches theater workshops at the Rose Marine Theater, had great presence and really inhabited her material. I need to see her in a play sometime. Martha Whitehouse read hilarious excerpts from a novel in progress. The book in question is a mystery, but the bits she read described a life situation that had a lot of resonance for her listeners, even out of context. She said so far she's only received rejection notices, but "good ones -- the kind that say 'This is really good, but we're not publishing stuff like this right now.' " A pity -- she has a great, original voice. I just want someone to publish her book so we can sit around my house and crack each other up reading it aloud. (Which is what we do instead of watching TV, most of the time.) Megan Harris came across like someone's wiseass punk-grrrl kid sister but recited a series of short poems ("I'm really ADD") that hit like Burroughs cut-ups, only loaded with vivid, evocative imagery. Best of all was Natasha Carrizosa, a bilingual championship slam poet (which seems a weird distinction, but no weirder than Martin Amis' story in which he imagines a world where the fortunes of poets and screenwriters are reversed) whose work is rich with riddim and sensuality. I dug her work so much that I went online and found examples of it here and here. Who knows, I might even have to start showing up at the Black Dog before the poetry slam ends.
I'm highly biased, but I also dug Kat's piece, "Take Me As I Am," real much. Kat's been doing these little movies for awhile, mainly for her own edification and enjoyment (and for friends and family). She's mos def not into exhibiting her work for public consumption, but she agreed to do it just this once out of respect for Tammy. I love watching other people create, and it was a gas watching her start out with some material (in this case, images from lurid vintage paperbacks and movie posters), tinker with the images, add words (randomly selected from the texts of the books), and in the process, come up with a concept -- the archetypes which society projects on women, and a possible response to that. It also got me thinking about something a friend told me about how, with the advent of digital photography, people have gone from taking, say, a hundred pictures a year that document their lives, to a couple of thousand. What's going to happen to all of these images 2000 years down the road? Will there still be ways of accessing all of these digital media, or will future archaeologists wonder why, around the start of the 21st century, people stopped taking pictures? (Yeah, right, as if celluloid and paper are gonna survive the ages.) A sobering thought, when so much visual art and writing (um, including this blog) exists only in the electronic ether of 1's and 0's.
I still dunno what to think/say about the situation vis-a-vis wimmin in Clubland. But I do know this: Anytime I see someone doing something I can't understand, but know is real, I call it magic. And there was a whole lot of that going on that night in Arlington.