That title haunted me all weekend, which something of a conundrum I suppose, since the haunting propelled me to a place I simply couldn’t be at that moment (no opportunity to blog).
Aaannnddd….that was the end of what I wrote in July. I *think* I tried to blog once after that point, but I also think I got about that far. I’ll not bore you with the tales of why I couldn’t write then and am forcing myself to do so now, but I’m sure the time will come when I can fess up.
Lord knows I usually do.
So, I’ve been forcing students to read old posts lately–those on the punk project that–embarrassingly–I never finished. Never really got good and started, for that matter. Reading through them reminded me of the other music project I intended to follow (well, one of them), and as fortune would have it, a book landed in my lap of late which recalls that particular project.
I wanted–once upon a blog post–to explore the gender identities in both punk and glam music cultures. I did look at some elements of gendered fantasy in glam, but I never finished (at least as far as I recall) the arc. I do believe I’m going to make myself get back on this particular hobby horse.
Last week, I was busily and happily buying books, and the following was recommended to me: Roxana Shirazi’s The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage. A number of sources have reported on this book since it’s publication in June (the linked article in Bitch has a host of links to other reviews and comments or, hell, just google it–warning–many of the pics posted on reviews and blogs are NSFW). Why was the book recommended? I’ve no idea–I assume it has something to do with the cover, which includes a certain GNR logo (the stories include a handful of GNR members and former members as well).
I don’t disagree with Shirazi’s “academic introduction,” “A Few Thoughts on the Word Slut,” at least in theory. I can get behind an attempt to reclaim “slut” from it’s derogatory usage,* in ways similar to “bitch” (a term she does not reference as a comparison). Should sexual double standards die an unseemly death? Sure–why leave all the fun to the cis, straight, sexual male folks? I am down with female sexual empowerment (and queer, and asexual, and….you get the idea, right?)
Only…I’m not sure that’s what I read here.
See, I can’t really disagree with Zeisler’s skewering of Shriazi’s book either. I found the autobiography to be extraordinarily depressing (which is saying something–it made me feel worse than I was already feeling!), in no small measure because of the conflation of abuse and debasement with empowerment. Now, it appears that in other sources (I’ve scanned, not read, them, so no linkage here), Shirazi clarifies some of her points about feminist empowerment, which is lovely, but as a feminist, empowerment tome, this book really doesn’t cut it for me.
A couple of things it does reveal, though. First, Nikki Sixx is, like, real man. Totally. Like, a person and everything. Who digs gardening! Shirazi reads this is boring and…ohmy!…not very rock. As you might imagine from the post linked there–I kind of disagree with her assessment and am baffled by her surprise, since, you know, there are these deliberate projections that are employed to sell music. And then there are the men behind the projections.
Projections and the humans associated with them are not identical–even if said humans do occasionally believe their own PR, and I think it safe to agree that Sixx has likely done just that from time to time in his career. Granted, the gardening-desirous human she encountered was decidedly not who she wanted that day, and her perceptions–misguided as they might be–are hers to own.
None of which changes how morbidly depressing this book seemed to me. The childhood setting (Iran) seems more exotic than significant. The childhood events, are curiously understated, particularly given other topics she addresses much more directly and without the soft-focused lens that glosses the exploration and abuse that marked her childhood– a “divine euphoria” during a Persian evening with her grandmother (38) or “duck-shaped bread,” the waiting for which caused her to shake “with uncontrollable joy” (23). Like the gardens of Nabokov’s youth in Memory, her childhood Iran was not perfect by any means, but her voice treats it with undeserved reverence (realizing that this is often true of childhood narrative–and more because it is her childhood than because of the setting. I think. The last remarks in the book suggest otherwise to me) that belies the remainder of her narrative. That’s intentional, I’m sure (I hope); I can’t imagine that the final evening of group sex with Buckcherry was intended to be a parallel to her childhood. If it was, it fails in every direction, as she had no power in her childhood, and I’m not sure she demonstrates that she had it in her later years either, especially not in the last bits about the politician.**
For the most part, her sexual encounters are…well, let me quote April Levy here on the subject of “sexy” versus “plastic erotic” from her book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture:
I don’t feel titillated or liberated or aroused. I feel bored, and kind of tense (81).
That’s pretty much how most of the encounters she described left me feeling (though, in truth, so did much of Dirt, to which this is frequently compared. I can’t recall feeling as put off by I’m With the Band, but that may be a case of failing memory). Some of the events are outright abusive–cases in which she was in no condition to consent, for instance. Some are just…odd. Some are so hyped up as to look comically banal in the end–such as her watersports with Synester Gates from Avenged Sevenfold (and that she seems delighted in his later discomfort is just disconcerting and irritating).
That she was absolutely obsessed with Axl was, admittedly, a bit heart-warming. Her allowance that VR-era Duff is hot [she dismisses Appetite-era Duff as “essentially a subservient drunk” (105)] also gets a nod from me. For reasons that are a tad unclear, Slash is dismissed as “not her type” at one point, and later she looks for him desperately. Her accounts of interactions with Matt Sorum and Scott Weiland are..well…let me put it this way, I can’t say that is the first such description of Matt I’ve encountered and her accidental dismissal of Scott just amused me.
Shirazi and the other women she describes seemed determined to embody a particular image of rock woman–in one of the opening sections, she looks around, sorting through the particulars types of woman (BTW–“fat” women and “old” don’t come off well. Are you surprised? I used the scare quotes here because I can’t really tell what either means for her) at the show. I won’t say that guys necessarily come off much better (especially if “fat” or “old”), but they do get more of a pass than the women, especially if “fat” or “old” or otherwise “not my type” comes equipped with–and I feel it necessary to quote her here, but I can’t find the page–a huge penis–she refers to one man’s as a “museum piece,” if I recall correctly. This image of women (my that was an impressive digression, wasn’t it?) is angel and whore–all corsets, lace, denim, and leather. Breasts are large (“watermelon” perhaps being her most often used descriptor) and hair silky and highlighted. Oh, and women are thin, though exactly how she means that is a bit unclear.
It is from this angle that I hope to force myself back into writing–the mythic construction of the rock n’ roll groupie. So, I hope, here we go…I’ll try–try–try–to make the title post the truth.
*OED sidenote: favorite meaning for slut? “Foul Slattern.” Huzzah.
**Her article in HuffPo damn sure doesn’t. Goats. Seriously? Yes, I get the joke, but the rest of the article leaves me as listless as her book.