Friday, March 4, 2011

Women Who Rock, Part II

Okay, so this is the entry I immediately wanted to write when I returned last week from the Women Who Rock Conference, organized by Michelle Habell-Pallan, Sonnet Retman, and Mako Fitts. Although I felt it necessary to write on an everyday occurrence, you should know that the workshop that we participated in with graduate students, and being with the other women at the conference has sustained me since. As I went back to my predominantly white (and queer) space at SFSU, which I value, I was distinctly aware of a lack of women/feminists of color in my department, and the few on campus, that do the kind of work that those of us at the conference do--incorporating popular culture, music in particular, into our academic work, and recognizing the intersections of this work with our lives and love of music, activism, and community. Remembering the passion of women like Daphne Brooks, Sherrie Tucker, and Tiffany Lopez has kept me afloat, in places where it feels like I may sink under the weight of it all. I want to remember to cultivate that here.

The title itself, Women Who Rock, has a double meaning for me in this sense, as it was a conference about women in music and it included women that I admire, respect, and draw immense inspiration from. A few things that stood out to me about the conference, like the conference was organized by women of color and white women in collaboration, and there was significant representation of women of color who were invited scholars and community organizers. This may be a misnomer for some: something called women who rock (or women in rock, for that matter) and the main discussants and participants are women of color. That, in itself, rocks. I love the work that we did there as women of color and white women, taking authority and ownership over what continues to be a male dominated space, in practice and in the imaginary. And it's something that reminds me to focus more directly and take seriously my relationship to, writing on, teaching of, and love of music. I regularly teach classes on hip-hop, music, and popular culture and have just finished an article on Michael Jackson, so the experience and authority is there most of the time, but I feel like I shy away from the ownership of music and my commitment to it.

One important reminder that weekend was that, as part of the conference, organizers interviewed participants as part of an oral history project. During that interview, I was asked about my relationship to music. And it was wonderful. At one point I was asked if my parent's class background or work had anything to do with my relationship to music, which I hadn't thought about, from that perspective--and may take up an entire, other blogpost. I am a Black girl who was raised on music and feels an intimate connection to it. Music got me through, from the beginning, it seems.  Briefly though, yes, their work/class background deeply influenced my relationship. In one respect, in that my mother worked two jobs and I was at home a lot, waiting, in front of one of the stereo speakers in our living room, letting the music drown into my pressed up against it ears. Two artists come to mind as I reflect on that question: Sheila E. and Stevie Nicks. Maybe it's because I was driving this morning and "Gypsy" by Fleetwood Mac came on the radio and, even though it's not one of my favorites, I immediately sang every word. And then later, I was taking a walk, trying to complete this blog, and "The Glamorous Life" came on shuffle. Again, I mouthed every word, beginning with the opening line, "She wears a long fur coat of mink, even in the summertime." It just came to me, like I've been singing it everyday. And for me, those words were it, I was hooked from the moment my thirteen year old ears heard the song. It was similar to my resonance with Stevie Nicks' voice, as Fleetwood Mac's music was one in our house a lot. And these two women, their lyrics, their voice, their stance at times, mark that moment for me. They comfort me in a way in that they reminded me of home and being working class (really, working poor), at the same time that they let me know that I could get out. Nicks was the comfort and E(scovedo) was the signal that there was more. And while I had a sense even then that each had a little more male influence, whether Buckingham or Nelson, than I wanted, they were still fierce in the way that I wanted to be. I felt like I could be them if I wanted to, or at least take words like "she saw him standing in the section marked, 'if you have to ask, you can't afford it, lingerie'" and do something. Even if they were Prince's words, Sheila E. made it her own. And even if music, and the writing and commentary on music continues to be a male dominated field in and out of academia, I can still make it my own, and that's what the conference meant for me.

Even though music is central to all of the work that I do, the intersection of my personal life, the visceral feeling of what music means to and does to me, hasn't been as clear to me in a long, long time. At the conference, I was reminded of the power of radical (lesbian) feminist critique. Something about combining radical feminist of color theory (like This Bridge), with music and to have other radical women of color grooving along with me, was transformative.  So thank you again, Mako, Sonnet, Michelle, and Quetzal for providing us with a new space and perspective, new memories, and a new place to work from: definitely, as Maylei's says, a space of "critical love." More to come.