Theses on Sleater-Kinney, pt. 2

Happy Sunday, poptimists and rockists alike! As I noted on Wednesday, in celebration of the Sleater-Kinney box set release (yes!), including full color vinyl, and next January’s new album (woo-hoo!), here’s the second part of what we used to call “experimental writing” in 2003.


As I noted earlier, there’s a rough correspondence here to Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845), as I found All Hands on the Bad One to be distinctive in its aesthetic effectiveness, its political effectiveness, and the ways in which the songs implicated the singer and the fans in different moments in the circuits of production and consumption.


Previous affirmations of grrl power have offered pliant interrogations of masculinity. Gender is merely girls, and the boys are written out, not fully problematized, nor fully implicated—nor theorized as irreducibly sexual and redeemable. For Sleater-Kinney, desire and the desiring apparatus are not deferred but opened, and expanded into new structural arrangements.

And as she split in two
Was she coming straight for you
And do you have a camera for a face?
Was she your TV show
Was she your video

“Was It a Lie?”

And the gaze of the male listener, with CD booklet in hand, finds Carrie, Corin, and Janet glamorous and demure, absolutely fashionable—wielding guitars, sticks, and picks, plugging in, turning on. A woman size 8, lovely with and without her technology. The politic? Problematize your voyeurism, and pass me my lipstick, s’il vous plait.


All post-punk musical life is essentially practical. All singer-song-music problematics find the solutions to heteronomy in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.

And will there always be concerts
where women are raped?
Watch me make up my mind
instead of my face
The Number One Must Have
is that we are safe

“#1 Must Have”


In their cover of “Fortunate Son,” a song I sang in my own incipient days of white-collar, working class consciousness, Sleater-Kinney re-casts the terms—neither son nor fortunate, other to Other—in radical amplification. On the live version, you hear female screams from the audience, and its almost the same voices, same pathos, when I see Sleater-Kinney two years after, in the basement of Oberlin College’s “Sco,” and there emerges an elusive quality: no matter how exhilarating I find this tune, this sound, there is a glass ceiling of gender present, keeping men a notch below on the hierarchy of practical, joyful autonomy.


The standpoint of the old cultural revolution was civil society (“C’mon people, now, smile on your brother …”). The standpoint of the new is autonomy and responsibility, an ecology of joyful noise and pleasurable decency.

Go back and tear the pictures from the page …
History will have to find a different face
And if you’re ready for more
I just might be what you’re looking for

“Male Model”


Previously, the heroines of post-punk have only criticized the world of rock; the point, however, is to seize it critically and joyously, and to liberate it.

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I also name-check Sleater-Kinney and a host of other righteous folks in an interview this week regarding Stealing All Transmissions, which is now out in fine US bookstores. Have a rockin’ good week!