My Contribution to PopCon Critical Karaoke 2018
I’m thrilled to participate in this year’s critical karaoke session at PopCon. I’m doing L7’s “Pretend We’re Dead.” I’m publishing my talk here so people can follow along on Saturday.
This song was my teenage anthem.
Da-da, da-da, da-da
Always reminded me of Beethoven’s da-da-da eighth notes
It’s even kinda fate knocking at the door, karma really
From women who are fed.thefuck.up.
Fed up with a world made for men
With a world where they’re legible only as ‘women in rock’
Their gender the only novel thing they contribute
With patriarchy as the constant barrage of one.more.thing
Like the rest of the 90s, this feeling is back in style with #Me Too
Then as now, patriarchy is
In every city and every town, crampin styles
For women who are just tryin to live their effing lives.
Take mansplaining and silencing, for example
Even as a high school freshman in 1992
I could identify with the snark and irritation in the line
“They can’t hear a word we said/when we pretend that we’re dead”
My best friend & I took this to mean something like:
We reject your terms of recognition and value, being dead to you is just fine with us
I learned that instead of seeking recognition from people who were never going to listen to you anyway, it’s better to spend your time and energy building spaces that inherently value you.
This feeling of annoyance is connected to a broader political context:
“They’re neither moral nor majority”
This isn’t Trent or Billy whining about white boy angst
It’s about what it feels like to be a woman when both neoliberals and neoconservatives are doubling down on “family values.”
This feeling of being completely over it
Is difficult to recuperate into a productive political subjectivity or project
It’s not the spunky revolution grrrl-style now of their riot grrrl contemporaries
Nor is it the resilience of contemporary post-feminist pop.
It’s a white girl version of what I call melancholy–
Recovering from patriarchy in a way that isn’t co-optable into some spectacle of empowerment.
The feeling shares the affective timbre of The Au Pairs’ “Come Again”
Which, like this song, pairs that over-it affect with really fun music.
This is a roll-your-windows-down and loudly sing along song
It’s “fuck off!” as self-care.
A WOXY 97X Radio DJ once said this song began as “pretend we’re men”
A little research shows that provenance is fake
Nevertheless, it’s telling that a man heard this song as a genderfuck
Insofar as L7 claim their exasperation and feel good about it
They’re doing what patriarchal gender norms prohibit
With no “sorries” or qualifiers on their feelings
L7 express themselves in a very un-feminine way
SO unfeminine that DJ called that “yoko-ono-like warbling in the background”
Like Ono, L7 perform a kind of queered feminist failure.
As we listen to the vocal melody and guitar riff break down in the outro
I want to re-emphasize how hard this song rocks, and what a banger it was…and is.
White feminists tend to focus their attention on lyrics–
A song’s feminist politics are in its words
This idea is in part responsible for the deification of riot grrrl as The musical component of 90s feminism
Black feminism is much better at acknowledging the political power of musical pleasure
And this song’s power, especially for 15 year old me, was that it was fun, and it didn’t accompany the performance of spunk, cheerfulness, or rebellion. I could just be grouchy, perhaps even a killjoy of sorts.