JOAN JETT IS MAD as hell, and she's not gonna take it anymore. Well, actually, a Manhattan friend of hers, Maya Price, is. What raised Price's ire recently—and Jett's too, once the pair commiserated—was Rolling Stone's special "Women in Rock" issue a couple of months back.
It started with the magazine cover. The dubious likes of Shakira, Britney, Mary J. Blige, Alanis Morissette, Ashanti, and Avril Lavigne were plastered under the titular Women in Rock banner, and while the photos may make reasonably good stroke material for the 18-to-29 male demographic RS is apparently chasing these days, only Lavigne could be considered to play anything remotely resembling rock 'n' roll (and industry scuttlebutt has it that the fame-hungry Lavigne is already prepping for her diva makeover). I'm sorry, but putting a cleavage-showing, designer Guns N' Roses tee on a coochy-dancing bimbo like Shakira does not make her a "rock" artist.
The issue's contents fared only a tad better. Elaborate puff pieces on the aforementioned photogenic sextet (plus Pink, Jewel, Tori Amos, Mandy Moore, Sheryl Crow, etc.) commanded the bulk of the special section. Meanwhile, genuine contemporary female rockers Sleater-Kinney got the, er, shaft, word count-wise, and it took a magnifying glass to even catch the passing mention of the Donnas; iconoclasts Melissa Etheridge and Lucinda Williams—too long in the tooth, perhaps?—were buried in the back of the magazine; and hard-rock pioneers like Jett and Heart only earned a small mention apiece in a top-50 roundup of "womankind's best rock albums." Can anyone tell me what the fuck Lil' Kim is doing in a "rock" issue, other than displaying a pair of implants that strippers aiming to land rock-star boyfriends can ponder as potential purchases?
PRICE, A WORKING female musician, fired off an indignant letter to Rolling Stone, and when the magazine deigned not to print it, she convinced Jett to post it in its entirety on her Web site, www.joanjett.com. (Still available on the site for viewing, incidentally, the text of the letter wound up circulating like wildfire in e-mail form across the Internet, inadvertently leading to speculation that Jett herself wrote it. Jett's manager, Kenny Laguna, posted a subsequent note to clear matters up, although his tone clearly indicated that he and Jett stand behind Price's sentiments: "I loved the content, but we had nothing to do with writing it. Thanks for the strong response to it.")
Price compared the RS cover to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, writing, "By RS standards, Rock is no longer a style of music but a trendy costume to be whipped up by expensive stylists and slapped onto the latest pop tart Barbie doll. Give a girl some tight pants and a spiky bracelet and POOF! She ROCKS!" And she went on to rip RS a new asshole for the artist profiles, in particular singling out Jewel, Mandy Moore, and Pink ("Wasn't she doing the white-girl hip-hop thing a minute ago?") as further reasons to be disgusted over what the tastemakers at Rolling Stone consider to be relevant.
"In your own letter from the editor," wrote Price to Rolling Stone, you have the hypocritical balls to say 'rock radio won't touch female artists, while the pop factory keeps churning out soundalike clones, and ambitious musicians with something to say find themselves left out in the cold.' If the issue had been called 'Women in Music' or maybe 'Some Cute Girls with Top 10 Records out Right Now' I would have no beef with it. [But] what about the Donnas? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs? The Distillers? A mag like RS has the power to shine important light on groups like these—instead they are afterthoughts, and that valuable spotlight is wasted on the same overexposed pop princesses WHO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ROCK."
Concluded Price, "Corny as it may sound, ROCK is something which is still meaningful and even sacred to some of us."
And she's right. A number of years ago, I moderated a panel discussion in North Carolina in which several local female songwriters and performers talked about their influences, their choice of career, the highs, the lows, etc. When the inevitable question came up, "What does it feel like to be a female rock 'n' roll musician?" one woman quickly blurted out, "Getting laid more!" Everyone collapsed in laughter—they all knew without asking that she was being facetious.
Because if you ask any female rocker the "what does it feel like?" question, once you get past the inherent silliness of the notion, most likely lurking somewhere in her explanation—which will not include the traditional male motivations of sex, fame, and free booze—will be a variation on Price's comment: They do it because rock 'n' roll is meaningful and sacred to them—a higher calling.
To paraphrase a line from Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous: Did you ever love something so much that it hurts? I know that Maya Price, Joan Jett, and a lot of other talented women do. If you'll pardon the expression—you go, girls.
Once upon a time, Rolling Stone was a credible culture barometer that could be counted on to provide intelligent coverage on a matter such as "women in rock." Go on, ask your grandparents. They'll tell you about reading in-depth profiles of, say, Fanny, the all-female outfit whose early-'70s run laid the groundwork for future generations of chick rockers. Legions removed from the sort of boy-toy outfit their name might've implied, Fanny—headed up by sisters Jean and June Millington—were proto-feminist to the core, and while their fortunes ebbed and flowed with the vicissitudes of a male-dominated music biz, they were defiant, proud, and a thoroughly, no pun intended, kick-ass group.
Recently, Rhino Records' mail-order-only Web imprint, Rhino Handmade, issued a four-CD box, First Time in a Long Time, which compiles Fanny's first four albums along with a slew of unreleased material. Listening to their blues-etched, glam-punk garage rock now, one can hear definite foreshadowings of what was to come with Joan Jett's Runaways, the Bangles, the Go-Go's, Hole, Babes in Toyland, L7, Sleater-Kinney, and more. Well worth checking out for fans of distaff rock 'n' roll.
Fanny's First Time in a Long Time is available from www.rhinohandmade.com.