By Joshua Frank
08 July, 2006
days, as commercial rock n’ roll speeds head-on into the dumpster,
it’s hard to imagine getting upset about some rock band splitting
up. Certainly there are plenty of moments when I think more wannabe
Joey Ramones should unplug their guitars and call it quits -- vowing
never to play a strident out of tune chord again. That’s why I’m
shocked to say that when Portland, Oregon based trio Sleater-Kinney
announced last week that they were taking an “indefinite hiatus”,
I was crushed.
I remember daydreaming in
the back of a friend’s truck after taking a few pulls off a stale
joint when I first heard the sweet angst and guitars of Sleater-Kinney.
It was 1996 and their second album Call the Doctor had just been released.
My friend, who was in college out in Seattle, had picked it up right
before heading back to Montana for summer break. I ended up stealing
the CD later that night with no intention of returning it. I was hooked
and have been ever since.
Rock critics are quick to
remind us that the members of Sleater-Kinney are all female. Which,
for the sake of argument, couldn’t be less important. Their music
should stand alone. Secondly, most reviewers won’t even touch
bands like S-K. They are too edgy, too indy, too influential. And that
is pretty much why rock critics suck.
Over the years, since my
first Sleater-Kinney indulgence, I have grown to love their politics
as much as their music. Sure, I could pine on about Carrie’s searing
SG, Janet’s pulsating drum kit and Corin’s shattering vocals.
Or how they outgrew their Grrl Rock roots to evolve into one of the
great bands of my generation -- but I’d rather talk about what
S-K stood for and more notably, what they stood against.
In a November, 2002 interview,
shortly after the band had released their sixth album One Beat, lead
vocalist Corin Tucker summed it up for me. “Rock musicians can
provide social and political critique that can stimulate people,”
she said. “A big inspiration for us was the Clash's album, Combat
Rock, which was written in the ultraconservative Thatcher era …
I don't know why there aren't more artists writing about the pending
war or the government," said Tucker. "I guess protest songs
are sort of uncool these days."
Fortunately, One Beat was
loaded with dissent. During the build up to Bush’s war and in
the wake of 9-11, most rockers were on the sidelines, either waving
flags or waiting for the dust to settle. But not Sleater-Kinney. They
screamed and rocked against the invasion of Iraq and the incursions
on our civil liberties. They performed at numerous rallies and let the
anger and uncertainty of our political climate reverberate throughout
their lyrics and scolding riffs.
On a song titled “Combat
Rock” off of One Beat, Carrie Brownstein sang, “We'll come
with our fists raised, the good old boys are back on top again, and
if we let them lead us blindly, the past becomes the future once again.”
With One Beat, Corin Tucker,
Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss proved that together they were one
of the most important and inspired rock bands in the United States.
It is not just US imperialism
Sleater-Kinney had a problem with, but the way the corporate music industry
trampled creativity while simultaneously elevating megastars like Britney
Spears and Bono.
In an interview published
in Magnet Magazine, shortly after the release of their seventh and most
powerful album The Woods, the band announced why they would never allow
any of their songs to be used in an iPod commercial. As drummer Janet
Weiss put it, “I think commercials ruin songs … [I]t’s
hard for me to imagine putting one of my songs that I put my heart and
soul into a TV ad … To me, it's not even about the product. It's
about the song: what it does to your song, what context it puts your
song into and what imagery it attaches to your song. The imagery of
There is little doubt that
music drives revolution. And S-K took rock to its teetering edge, not
only in tune but also in spirit. And that’s why I hope their “indefinite
hiatus” is not “infinite”. Our world (and ears) needs
bands like Sleater-Kinney.
(Sleater-Kinney plays their last show in Portland, Oregon on August
Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect
George W. Bush and edits http://www.BrickBurner.org