This is the first in a series of posts exploring the artistic interests and influences of the staff and faculty of IPR. The posts will dig deep into our childhoods and explore the roots of our tastes in music, literature, and film. They will lay naked the forces that shaped us as educators, artists, and consumers of media. As an added resource, companion packages are available in the IPR library to further explore the topics discussed in this series.
In this month’s post, Digital Video and Media Production Program Chair Trey Wodele writes about the roots of his lifelong obsession with female fronted rock bands.
Not long ago, I realized I was considering tickets for a show at Grand Casino, Hinckley. As a married father of three, I don’t get out as much as I used to. For me to use a babysitter-chip to trek out to a rural casino and see a show is kind of depressing. The show was Joan Jett and the reason I wanted to go is I love rock and roll (especially when the band is fronted by a woman).
ABBA: Swedish Disco
The first record album I ever bought was the 1979 release, ABBA Greatest Hits, Volume 2. It featured “Take a Chance on Me” as well as “Dancing Queen” and “Money, Money, Money.” I can still hear those songs in my head although the record is long gone. I have no idea how a nine-year-old kid latched on to a female-fronted Swedish disco-pop band, but it was the start of my fandom for female vocalists and women fronted rock bands.
As a small town kid, I was surrounded by 12-year-old boys in knee-high Adidas socks and Judas Priest T-shirts cut at the midriff. My musical tastes were definitely unique, but that didn’t stop me from secretly digging Olivia Newton-John and singing along to both parts on “Summer Nights.” And after she released “Physical,” I doubt I was the only one.
I love Rock ‘n’ Roll
For one thing, I acquired my Joan Jett I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll album from my friend Tom. He stole it out of his sister’s record bin, brought it over to my house, and never bothered to take it back. I can still picture Joan Jett – the album cover, propped up on the radiator next to my window – as we listened on my handed down, Realistic brand phonograph. When I saw the video on Friday Night Videos, Joan Jett was so tough, her guitar was slung so low, she was a female Elvis with slicked-back hair, a black leather jacket, and a curled lip.
We Got the Beat
My taste solidified when I discovered The Go-Go’s. I spent hours listening to Beauty and the Beat, staring at the band’s bubble bath portraits on the back of the album cover – especially Kathy Valentine, whose bubbles had shifted in a revealing way that was beyond shocking to an eleven-year-old in 1981.
The thing is, the Go-Go’s were pretty cool. Before DJs started rockin’ their power girl-pop tracks on WLOL 99.5 in Minneapolis, the Go-Go’s were part of the LA punk scene in a big way, sharing a space with the Motels and playing shows at Whisky A Go Go. They sold out their punk rock roots for a record contract with I.R.S. records and the move toward a pop sound cost them one of their original members. But they brought that punk rock attitude with them and it differentiated them from other girl pop acts of the time.
As a teenager, I left my girl bands behind, letting my love of Belinda Carlisle slip through the cracks. I moved to the city and was hanging around uptown Minneapolis in faded flannel and ripped jeans, listening to the Replacements and planning out my future tattoos. If you cruised through my record collection, you’d find every ‘Mat’s album, lots of U2, Soul Asylum, The Violent Femmes, The Cure, and REM, but nothing that would hint at my love of women rockers.
God Bless the Blake Babies
But, in 1989, just after I graduated from high school, I bought a cassette by a band called the Blake Babies that brought it all back. I fell for Juliana Hatfield’s quirky lyrics and the combination of her powerful vocals with John Strom on backup. Her pictures made her look so young and tough, like someone who I’d hang out with at Liquor Lyles. Maybe split a two-for-one and a dollar plate of fries while hoping no one would ask to see my terrible fake ID.
In 2001 or so, I saw The Blake Babies play at the 7th Street Entry. After the show, I walked up to the stage to ask Juliana about her T-shirt, which sported a simple Blake Babies airplane logo. It was the end of the tour and the merch had run out, so there were none for sale. Somehow, I convinced her to switch shirts with me; I gave her a grungy white T-shirt and she handed over a soaking wet, smelly concert T that I wore into rags.
Over the next few years, I listened to Luscious Jackson, L7, Trailer Bride, Eleni Mandell, the 18.104.22.168’s, and particularly, an Australian alt-country, singer-songwriter named Kasey Chambers. I would one day ask her to marry me after a show at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul (she pretended to not hear me, I took it as a maybe).
More recently, I’ve been listening to Haim, the Gore Gore Girls, and the Detroit Cobras.
This spring, I caught Courtney Barnett live on SNL and got on that bandwagon way late.
Barnett is everything I love about women rockers. Her voice rough and sarcastic, she rocks her left-handed electric guitar and holds herself like James Dean while she sings about the trivial moments in our lives with a deadpan yet sincere delivery. She clearly does not take any crap. Or at least that is her on-stage persona, and it works for me. She’s a young Joan Jett, a millennial Runaway, a Suzi Quatro for the 20-teens.
I never did make it out to the casino to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, but that’s okay, She plays there almost every year. Besides, it’s probably better to remember her as a young, rebellious rocker in tight leather pants.
But if Courtney Barnett comes to town, I’ll probably be there. Maybe she’ll have a T-shirt to trade with me.
Trey Wodele is the Program Chair for the Digital Video and Media Production department at IPR. In addition to girl bands, Trey loves rock-a-billy, punk rock, and Americana music. Some of his favorite artists are The Stray Cats, The Cramps, Hastings 3000, Johnny Cash, Social Distortion, and the Old 97’s. You can usually find some kind of pulp fiction on his bedside table, and his favorite movies include Buffalo 66, The Graduate, High Fidelity, Momento, and Rushmore.