au pairs reprise — new punk (gender) history book

Greetings, all, with a special shout-out to those of you tuning in from Slovakia, Argentina & Peru!

It’s been quite a weekend, with yours truly performing his debut as a wedding officiant for some former students of mine. It was a delightful affair, and if you’ve got secular friends in the region of northeast Ohio looking for an officiant with punk historian credentials, I’m your man.

After Wednesday’s entry for post-punk gems, I simply can’t get The Au Pairs out of my head, and found that there’s even less information about them than most female-led punk combos, alas. I did track down this feature in Mother Jones, from June 1982, on lead singer Leslie Woods, in which she affirmed the punk credo of DIY: “The message we put over is anybody can do it.”

Mother Jones Magazine - June 1982 -- 28

Few bands, though, left us with as many danceable, aesthetically effective, and politically astute songs as “We’re So Cool,” “It’s Obvious,”   and “Pretty Boys”–to name just a few tracks off Stepping Out of Line, the 37-track collection on iTunes for a modest $17.99. A host of these tracks combine the propulsion of The Clash, the melodic funk of Gang of Four, and the feminist urgency of The Slits.  Woods is a big part of it, of course, but bassist Jane Munro (later Nick O’Connor) and drummer Pete Hammond work beautifully together, and on “wax”–a la  their Birmingham comrades The English Beat–the bass is kept high in the mix, and to good effect.

And yet: yesterday I picked up Punk Rock: An Oral History (2012), by John Robb, of Membranes fame, and long-time contributor to Mojo and Louder Than War (in which Stealing All Transmissions was recently reviewed). Give me a few weeks with this impressive beast, and I will offer a more elaborate impression, but it looks to be a solid UK complement to the Big-Apple-centric Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, and a solid contribution to punk rock historiography. The book devotes 400 pages to 1950-1977, and only the last 160 or so to 1978-1984, so perhaps we Au-Pairs aficionados should be satisfied with a fleeting mention as an example of a female-fronted band. Certainly a lot of forces weigh upon a figure like Robb when he’s assembling a doorstop-sized collection of this sort, and odd omissions are endemic to the process. As Jacques Lacan once noted, “I always speak the truth. Not the whole truth, because there’s no way, to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail.”

And yet, as the Situationists implored, “Be reasonable, demand the impossible!” So it’s up to folks like you and me, when we’re putting ink to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, to recuperate the histories of our finest “Three Minute Heroes.” See you, Wednesday!

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