Sleigh Bells at Forecastle 2012
About a week ago I went to a multi-stage music festival for the first time in my life – Forecastle in Louisville, Kentucky. The first night I went with two friends, and when Sleigh Bells tore into their set, K joyfully set to boogying beside me. I couldn’t help but follow suit. After that we meandered to a different stage where a musical act was under way that I had never heard before, Flying Lotus. Once again K and I shimmied and shook to the music. Sweat, heat, bodies all around me, and on stage a joyful musician spinning his tunes.
Way back in college, I used to dance all the time in the basements of dilapidated fraternity houses, where anything from the Commodores’ “Brick House” to New Order’s “Perfect Kiss” might be playing. Dancing and singing along to all of that music I discovered through college friends was how I, an extremely shy introvert, could express the joy that music gave me. And for some reason it felt okay to physically release that joy when a song was on in those dark basements, even though I could barely make conversation with folks in the rooms above.
Now that I’m older, I don’t boogie in public all that much anymore. It seems so…energetic. Not to mention that I broke both bones in my ankle a few years back, so now various twinges sing in my right leg to their own tune. But my oh my – it sure felt good to dance and sweat during Forecastle, not only on Friday but also on Saturday to Washed Out and Girl Talk. In the midst of all that heat and sweat and movement to the beat, I felt in my bones what the main character of my book needs to feel too – how powerful and joyous music truly is.
So, one of the key aspects of this protagonist Thorn that I’m writing about is that she has a powerful voice. Powerful in a dual way – both amazingly moving and seductive, and also physically powerful, meaning she can burn things right up. When I first started on my epic journey of working on my book, conveying the importance of music to this girl seemed crucial. Now that I’m working within a concept of different universes, I’ve traveled away from the idea of Thorn decorating her closet room with pictures of Neko Case and Beth Gibbons. But, the raw vitality of a strong voice singing lyrics that matter remains at the heart of Thorn’s story.
I was reminded of this when I listened to Wild Flag’s new album – Wild Flag being a super group of sorts, composed of women from previous bands, most notably Sleater-Kinney. The first song, “Romance,” sums up almost perfectly how I envision Thorn’s voice and the importance sound and song will play for her: “Hey, can you feel it? The way it sways you,/The hum in your chest?/” And then a darker turn: “Can’t stop the bleeding or this leaving/Though I’ve tried/And when I return, with those fresh burns/You’re waiting inside.”
So after listening to the Wild Flag album for a while I naturally revisited Sleater-Kinney. This band represented grrl-power to me for a very long time, but I hadn’t listened to them in forever. I turned to their 1997 album first. Those strains of “Dig Me Out” took me right back to a time when I shook my head unabashedly to the beat: “dig me out/dig me in/outta this mess baby outta my head.” Oh, Sleater-Kinney – a lethal combination of astute lyrics, powerful guitar, and the surging voice of Corin Tucker.
My favorite Sleater-Kinney album for many years has been One Beat. All the songs are familiar, like a worn-out sweater I’ve turned to again and again. What draws me in is not only how Corin Tucker sings, but what she’s singing – the lyrics bore right in, driven home by Tucker’s voice. And again and again, there’s the underlined importance of music, moving to the force of the thrum. From the song “One Beat” – “I’m a bubble in a sound wave/A sonic push for energy/Exploding like the sun….Could you invent a world for me/I need to hear a symphony Oh oh.” From “Step Aside” – “When I feel worn out when I feel beaten/Like a used up shoe or a cake half-eaten/There’s only one way to keep on feeling/Move it up one time.”
If Thorn has only a small portion of the power of these ladies, she’s going to be quite a force of nature.