Meditations on Sleater-Kinney

It was in early 1996 that I first saw Sleater-Kinney, as an opening act at CoCA. I was introduced to guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein by their publicist (and later manager) Julie Butterfield, and they both seemed so young, so small, quiet, shy. Carrie’s dad was there to watch, and I thought, aw, how sweet.

Then they began to play, not on a stage, just in the corner of the room. The opening song was the title track of their new album, Call the Doctor, and at the chorus, which had Corin repeatedly screaming that phrase and Carrie just plain screaming, I was transfixed by the sound I heard coming out of these women. It’s an anecdote I’ve related many times since, for after that show I became a full-on proselytizer for the band. That first year, every time I saw them, I dragged somebody new to experience the miracle. I demanded that the magazine I worked for then, The Rocket, do a story on them (a cover story, which I ended up writing). I had a “three-point Sleater-Kinney introductory program”; if, after my playing “A Real Man,” “Little Mouth,” and “Dig Me Out,” you did notlike the band, your musical credibility with me was shot.

Though I was fiercely protective of the group, and later fiercely proud of their success (which was inevitable, of course!), I don’t find myself feeling overly sad at the recent announcement that the band is going on, in the words of their press release, an “indefinite hiatus.” Nor does it surprise me. For the underlying beauty of Sleater-Kinney is that they have always done things their own way.

When the staggeringly talented drummer Janet Weiss joined the band in time for the recording of their third album, the amazing Dig Me Out, they became critics’ darlings, the next big thing, and could’ve easily written their ticket to the big time. But they chose not to. As Corin later explained to me, the major labels would let them handle the music, but the labels wanted to run the rest of the band’s career. “And that is the major problem—we want to be in charge of everything!” Corin said. “It’s important to us that we are in control.” And so they were, recording and touring when they pleased, ultimately being awarded the accolade of “Best Band in America” in 2001 by Time magazine—incredible recognition for a band that received virtually no mainstream radio play (though Carrie did appear in a Priceline ad with William Shatner). Last year, they released a (final?) masterpiece, The Woods, which had critics and fans falling all over themselves with superlatives once again.

So in a sense, what better time to call it quits? The band was together since 1994—longer than most relationships or marriages I know of. They’ve not only made their mark with seven awesome albums, it’s been a pleasure to see Carrie now referred to as a “best guitarist,” not “best female guitarist.” For these and many other contributions, large and small, Sleater- Kinney, I salute you.

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