Pat Blythe – Music’s a bitch……and music

I wrote this in 2015 when I was first writing for DBAWIS. I had originally called it The Women of Rock – Interlude, but it’s not really about the women of rock…..it’s more about the shit women have had to put up with in the misogynistic world we refer to as “the music business”.  I had already started a series called Women in Music, a sort of “where are they now” series. I decided to continue with a few more female-focused series…..Women in Rock and The Women of Blues followed. I kept getting sidetracked; following up on the various “tell-all tales” many well-known women of music were starting to share.

This was pretty much it for the 60s, 70s & 80s

Thing is, when look back I never submitted it for posting. Not sure why. Maybe I thought I would get too much pushback or nasty comments. I do know it was becoming a research article and maybe the wormhole just got too deep. Anyway, here it is…..comment all you like. A mammoth amount of digging went into this, plus, I’ve been deep enough into this business off and on for the past 45 years….I know what I’ve witnessed and experienced. You do the guessing…….

The Biz

March 2 was (and is) the anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s death and a meme of one of his quotes was making the rounds on social media. I found the subject matter rather timely! Many of us will find both the truth and the irony in what he had to say.

Yes, the music business is an extremely tough business to slide into. There are millions of hopefuls and wannabes desperate to get their toe in the door. Sometimes it’s just pure luck — right place at the right time — or who you know, or….. (you fill in the blank).

For women, unless you were gorgeous or over-the-top talented (or if you were blessed with both) and/or came with a few sets of balls (that would be the male members of your band) you weren’t likely to get a second look, let alone listened to. If you did, you were invited to make yourself comfortable on either a lap, the couch, or on your knees under someone’s desk. Not only that, you would get talked over, under or around….basically ignored, with questions and snide comments typically directed towards the male members of the band. Pat Benatar was one artist who notably struggled with this and didn’t hide her dissatisfaction and wrote a book about it, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”. Perfect title.

Pat Benatar

¹“….women usually fall into three roles when involved in a band….The first role is that of a diva, wherein the woman’s function is to ‘stand in one place, look pretty, and sing over the bombastic power chords playing behind her.’ Then there are the centerfolds, who use their sexuality to draw attention to the band. Centerfolds don’t mind being objectified in this way and actually like to play into the stereotypes that men create for them…. Rarer….the diva-folds, who are equally praised for both their looks and their talents.

The Groupies

¹”While the Courtney Loves and Kathleen Hannas of Riot Grrl were tearing punk a new one, metal was still a big, obnoxious sausage fest that showed ‘the fairer sex’ little mercy. During the reign of misogynistic hair bands, a woman’s plea to be respected as anything more than a stripper or groupie made for a tiring, uphill battle.” ….and the real groupies didn’t help. Cynthia “Plaster Caster” was one of the more well-known of them.

Courtney Love

Two movies in the early 21st century put groupies front and centre. In 2002 it was Almost Famous with Kate Hudson. The Banger Sisters followed in 2002, with Kate’s mom Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon taking the lead. (I loved both movies). Goldie portrayed her takeoff of Cynthia Plaster Caster, using photos, with aplomb. Certainly mother and daughter have the zaniness to pull these two portrayals off. A world that could be fun and exciting could also be dark and dangerous. You could say, however, the lambs went willingly……

Now before the ladies get their knickers in a knot, the cold hard facts are, girls and women went after this lifestyle. Pretty much any guy who made it on stage was worth their attention…..and if you were really famous……well, let the games begin. The roadies and security, a groupie’s ticket backstage, couldn’t stop them and typically joined in on the fun.

The girls had no qualms about using their bodies to get what they wanted. Rock stars picked scantily clad young ladies from the crowds to join them after the show. They went voluntarily….no one forced them. Yes, there was harsh and hurtful treatment and many were cast off like yesterday’s laundry…..but I say it again, they partook of the lifestyle happily, freely and eagerly.

<A whole lotta truth…..

As they aged, those with smarts and chutzpah used their connections and their (non sexual) talents, and became famous (the above mentioned Cynthia, Pamela Des Barres), others grew tired of the lifestyle and left, a few married their rock god (Bianca Jagger, Pamela Anderson, Patti Boyd) while others got heavily involved in drugs and alcohol and never really made their way out (i.e. Nancy Spungen who died in 1978)…..much of it much like the musicians themselves. Nancy with Sid Vicious . …rushin’ hands and roamin’ fingers

The male musician……

Sex sells in any business, and the more skin you can flash, the better. Lots of leg, breasts and shaking booties. But let’s address the men first. Yes, even the guys loved to flaunt it. The long hair toss, bare chest and very tight, low-slung pants, with just enough of the short-and-curlies peeking out to titillate.

Whether on stage or off, the men must were literally squishing and squeezing themselves into those pants, no matter the size of the family jewels. I wonder if they too had to lie down on the bed and zip up with a pair of pliers….and those tight satin pants….. At least they didn’t bounce and flap around on stage….most of the time. There was the odd “wardrobe” malfunction, the rip in the jeans in a precarious spot, but nothing to write home about. People really didn’t give a shit and quite frankly, the women loved it. We fast forward to the 21st century and it’s like we’ve taken a Puritan walk back in time.

…..and don’t forget the requisite full package on bulging display.

More packages……

The girls enjoyed watching them as much as the guys enjoyed strutting their stuff on stage. Everyone was looking for validation and the rockers and the groupies gave it to each other in spades. It was a time of feminism and sexual liberation and the both sexes took full advantage of it.

The female musician

Here’s an interesting quote. “The music industry presents both a platform and a problem for women. While providing them with the opportunity for creativity and a public voice, it insists on reinforcing phallocentric ideals and stereotypes of how they should perform and present that creativity.”

For the women who succeeded, it was rough, tricky, sometimes even dangerous, and very lonely. Drugs and booze were always close at hand to calm the nerves, boost the ego or dull the pain, and many succumbed. Women were, and are, especially susceptible not only physiologically but emotionally. So much seemed to depend on their sexuality. Whether they could write, play an instrument or carry a tune was not important. “You’re a woman more than a musician”, says Myriam, a rapper from the group ALIF. “The fact that you’re a woman affects everything.”

Standing – l-r – Jean (bass/vocals) and June Millington (lead guitar/vocals);

Seated l-r – l-r – Nickey Barclay (keys/vocals), Alice de Buhr (drums/vocals)

Fanny, known as the Godmothers of Rock, were the first all female band to sign a contract with a major record label (Warner Music) in 1970. Landing four singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971 they opened for Humble Pie and The Kinks. These four extremely talented women, who should have “made it” somehow faded into relative obscurity at the same time more attention was being paid to the male rockers,  who were rapidly rising to the top. Even David Bowie sang their praises, “They were one of the finest fucking rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever…”

The Runaways – supported and managed by Kim Fowley

For entertainers like Beyoncé,  Jay Z was highly influential in her career. Prior to Jay Z it was her father. Yes, she’s all grown up and most assuredly smart and savvy but the point is, in the beginning it was the men close to her that propelled her forward and you can bet Jay Z still keeps a close eye on things. Then there’s Britney Spears’ sad tale. She still isn’t entirely free of her father. Unfortunately, for many (not all) female artists there is a male lurking in the background somewhere quietly moving things along.  I say this because even today, if I walk into a car dealership with my son, the salesman always looks in my son’s direction when he’s talking, even though I’m the one making the purchase.

Queen B

Beyoncé – music hypersexualized

This can of worms is becoming more and more fascinating and there are far more than just two sides to this story. I thought I’d troll the internet (my first mistake) just to see if anything had changed, and from what I’ve found so far, apparently not….and it’s the 21st century! There have been scads of articles, disertations, blogs, commentaries, editorials, etc. written on the subject. Here’s a few of interesting points (in italics).

²”the best way for women to handle the issues is neither to pretend the challenges don’t exist nor to come across as an angry feminist and risk alienating half of their audience. Rather, women should acknowledge these challenges as something that is a part of life but continue on in their own way without letting it define who they are as a musician.” Hmmmmmm…..let me think on that one.

³”There is only so much ‘shaking it off’ a woman can do before it’s time for things to change. A woman’s role in the music industry is full of contradictions. We want female artists to be sexual, but we say they’re bad role models when they show some skin. Female musicians should be fabulous, but not too empowered or ‘bossed up’, because that makes them bitchy.”

dani

Toronto drummer/guitarist/vocalist Dani Nash

We want infantilized sinners and sex goddesses. We like them beautiful, seemingly obtainable, but not too ‘slutty’. If they are, then they become common goods — you know, the kind of woman who wants to be fingered while crowdsurfing. It’s time for our culture to start taking female musicians seriously as artists first, women second and mere sex objects — never.”

So what do we do? Caught between a rock and hard place. (pun intended) Yep, we’ve all got our two cents to add to this subject. A fascinating debate from both sides. I know, I know, the guys are sexualized, but not nearly to the extent that women are, and the men tend to retain more control over themselves and their careers.

Women2

Just a teeny tiny sampling

I am neither a feminist nor an anti-feminist. I’m a woman, a person who loves music…good music….and I don’t care who’s playing it or what they look like. The TV program The Voice had it right. Listen with your ears, your heart and your soul….. not with your eyes. No peeking. So, I continue to acknowledge ALL who have fought the good fight and have provided us with fantastic music and magnificent voices that will carry on. Enjoy!

Little Girl Blue – Janis Joplin

Charity Ball – Fanny

What’s Wrong with Me? – Fanny

Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? – Rod Stewart

Proud Mary – Tina Turner

Heartbreaker – Led Zeppelin

The Banger Sisters – trailer

I Wanna Hold Your Hand – trailer

Almost Famous (trailer)

The Circle Game – Joni Mitchell

Hot Legs – Rod Stewart

The Lemon Song – Led Zeppelin

Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones

Heartbreaker – Pat Benetar

Livin’ Lovin’ Maid – Led Zeppelin

This week’s podcast is a pull-no-punches, fun interview with the dynamic singer/songwriter Cheryl Lescom.

https://luvthemusic.podbean.com

Cheers!

Sources

¹Codeaires: Life in the Drab Lane blog entitled “Women in Sludge Metal – An Analysis,” authored by Dora Robinson; ²Women in the Music Industry – An Inside Look by Amber O’Shea; #Sarah Bellman, April 28, 2014; music.mic

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7
little-red-headed-dancing-girl

“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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