This book is about more than just the music. As Ensminger states in the introduction, “it also explores issues at stake: social and gender politics, rampant violence, reproductive rights, modern feminism, genre categories, sexual norms, war and technology, the record industry and tour networks, DIY causes, humanitarian values, media narratives, street level power struggles, and much more” (p. 9). Punk of course has a great history of addressing political and social problems, usually head-on. For several of the women in this book, the music is related to issues of social justice. There are problems that all of us share, men and women alike. But there are also issues that are particular to women, and the artists celebrated here certainly do not shy away from addressing those as well.
As mentioned, the book has a loose style, and it is not meant to be comprehensive. And so the stories contained within are not presented in any chronological sense. The book starts with The Muffs, and Ensminger gives a brief overview of the band’s music. Then Kim Shattuck herself takes over, talking about producing the Happy Birthday To Me album and what she learned from that experience. That’s one of the cool things about this book. Through interviews, we hear from some of the artists themselves. Kim Shattuck (who died in 2019) also mentions some of the artists she likes and tells a funny anecdote about covering “Rock N Roll Girl.” We also hear from Jean Smith of Mecca Normal (in an interview from late 2016). Smith says, “That was our specific purpose – to inspire young women to form bands with their friends, to write, and to sing lyrics about their experience” (p. 16). She also has some interesting things to say about aging within the music scene. Others interviewed in these pages include Meredith DeLoca (of The Epoxies), Kim Coletta (the bass player for Jawbox) and Linda Younger (of Mydolls). Elizabeth Elmore (of The Reputation) says, “I’m generally pretty offended when I realize we’ve been booked onto a bill with bands we sound nothing like and have nothing in common with simply because the bands contain women” (p. 43). Other problems are on a more practical level, as Diana Young-Blanchard (of The DT’s) mentions: “Traditionally, most rock clubs do not cater well to ladies’ toilet needs. On the road especially, it’s hard to find a decent place to doll up before a show or take a crap” (p. 41). There is also a short interview with Kira Roessler of Black Flag.
In addition to interviews, the book contains short profiles of many other bands, including Romeo Void, Capitol Punishment, Germs, Delta 5, Sonic Youth, Babes In Toyland, The B-52s, The Elected Officials, and The Cramps. David A. Ensminger describes The Cramps: “They offer a peephole into all that is bleak, weird, pitch-dark, eccentric, and trembling in the crumbling daguerreotypes of horror rock” (p. 71). I was seriously excited to find Go Betty Go included in this book. That’s a Los Angeles band I love, a band that was part of that fantastic scene that also included The Peak Show and Los Abandoned. Many of the artists profiled in these pages will be familiar to you, but some are more obscure. One band I knew nothing about, but now wish I’d had a chance to see in concert, is The Insaints, led by vocalist Marian Anderson. Sounds like their concerts were wild, unhinged times. Chances are there will be at least a few bands you’ll want to check out after reading about them here.
Punk Women: 40 Years Of Musicians Who Built Punk Rock was published on July 2, 2021 by Microcosm Publishing.