Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Women Who Rock Wednesday: Deborah Frost!

Yay, it's Wednesday! The day when I get to spotlight one of the many women whose art (be it music, painting, writing, whatever!) rocks my world. Today I am honored to feature the legendary musician and writer, Deborah Frost. I discovered Deborah and her music with her band the Brain Surgeons via MySpace, which as she addresses later is a great way to be able to discover really meaningful music without having to deal with the all the gatekeepers put in place by the music industry. Deborah gave me one of the most in depth, insightful interviews I've gotten so far on WWRW. It's a long read, but a really, really good one. I gotta say she completely schooled me on so much in this one interview, and I hope you learn as much from it as I did. As usual, please leave a comment about anything this interview made you reflect on and you will be entered to win a signed copy of the Brain Surgeons album Denial of Death and possibly some more Brain Surgeons swag! I'll announce the winner (chosen at random from all comments across all three of my blogs) next Wednesday.

But before I let Deborah take over the show, a couple quick announcements. Khyrinthia from blogger is the winner of the Liz Adams grab bag and painting! Please email me at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com with your mailing address and I will pass it on to Liz!

Also the fabulous Eli and Rae from nineseveneight reviews did possibly the most interesting interview with me ever, so you will want to check that out here.

Lastly, as I announced last week, in celebration of Teen Read Week, next week, I'm letting you interview my characters Emily and Regan from I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE! This is your chance to find out any backstory (or what happens next!) that you were wondering about for those characters and their band She Laughs. I haven't gotten many questions yet and I need your participation in order for this to work, so please leave your questions as comments or email them to stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com by Sunday!

But now without further adieu, the amazing Deborah Frost!!!

Q: It's an honor to have you on the blog for WWRW because as a Harvard-educated woman who not only plays music as part of the Brain Surgeons, but also writes about it, I think you can give us an interesting perspective on women's role in rock music throughout the years, but let's start with you. When did you start playing music? Did you come from a musically inclined family or discover it on your own?

Deborah: Thanks, it's great to be here. My parents were incredible music lovers-- their first Manhattan apartment, in fact, was next to a conservatory where you could hear everyone playing right through the walls and out of the windows, so I was exposed to this constantly before I was even born. My mother has always played the piano-- not on that level-- but there was always music and my parents were always going to the Philharmonic and the Opera. If my mother was home, it wasn't Sunday without the live broadcast from the Met blasting through the house-- they had a really good stereo system set up practically as soon as they were invented. Now mother probably goes to as many concerts as any critic-- though she only goes to what she likes! Leonard Bernstein had these Young Peoples' Concerts, and I was taken to them as a very young child in Carnegie Hall-- before Lincoln Center existed. And then I went to the New York City Ballet alot-- and not just the "Nutcracker"-- and what could be more fabulous than Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky-- and everything that Balanchine set his dances to. This was basically the soundtrack of my childhood. And then there were the Broadway musicals of the era--of course Leonard Bernstein wrote some of em-- by the time I was 9 or 10, I was incredibly into them. This was also the moment when Broadway musicals were great and not mish-mashed out by Andrew Lloyd Webber or Elton John. Not that Elton John hasn't been great-- especially his earliest stuff-- but not when he's connecting dots for Disney. I would spend hours singing and acting out all of the parts of "The Sound of Music" or "West Side Story" in my living room-- to this day, I can probably do most of them for you on the spot. I was thrilled when they had Sound of Music--because it had kids as characters-- but somehow I knew I'd never get a gig as one of these little Austrian blondes-- and believe me, I thought about it. Although I didn't start auditioning for anything til I was old enough to take the train by myself, I was very, very driven when I was really young and was always trying to figure out how I would get into some kind of Broadway show--or even, God forgive me, the Micky Mouse Club-- but in my day, there wasn't very much else on television, especially for kids.

I actually started going to my mother's piano lessons when I was about three-- which is when I also taught myself to read. So I thought it was just like another form of reading-- unfortunately, my sightreading has not improved too much since. Maybe it was something with the left hand-- it either got to be too much work or I lost interest and decided I'd rather jump around in a little leotard or ride ponies or whatever, and my mother was probably just as happy to have her music lessons back to herself-- though I was later in the school orchestra--playing the clarinet. I was really pissed off that they wouldn't allow me to play drums, which was my first choice-- it wasn't for girls. And by the time I was in high school, I studied classical singing and my teacher was really heartbroken that I didn't want to pursue opera. But frankly, I couldn't stand the idea of wearing a dress! Not to mention how rigid the roles were, and you had to sing exactly what was written and by the time I was in high school, I'd already been writing my own songs-- as well as alot of other things-- even if not a lot of people heard them-which was probably just as well-- for years. Probably as soon as I heard the Beatles write their own songs, I wanted to, too. But I actually have gone back and studied more formal singing again. Actually, James Hetfield, who is an awesome vocalist and has developed so much in general as a singer and musician, gave me the idea-- and I did it at first for the same reason he did, because I was concerned about blowing my voice out and just being more prepared for night after night. It's just like dealing with any other set of muscles-- and it's basically really painful when you hurt yourself and as you get older, it just gets harder to recover. And it's just not fun-- especially when you're concerned about giving people a good show. And if it's not fun, what's the point? You have to really love this or there's no way to do it night after night-- whether you're making money or not making money, or playing stadiums or dives. Because you have to do it under so many adverse conditions before you even get to the point where you might possibly break even, never mind make money, that that is really not that important-- and it's never motivated anyone I've ever seen become really successful-- and stay that way, which is even harder-- and I've seen alot.

But as for singing, I studied with a really great teacher here in New York, Leslie Giammanco, who's also a great opera singer and performer, she's done Broadway, the whole bit, and she also happens to be a friend and neighbor, which is particularly good for me, because I'm so lazy I hardly like to get out of my bathrobe and go anywhere. But what's ironic when I look back now is that as a teenager, I wanted the world and I wanted it now---of course I still want it NOW- but I didn't really want to take the time it would take to develop as a classical singer, I wanted to get right out there and scream with a rock band-- and what's funny is that I really didn't evolve as a singer--or anything else-- until I was probably the same age I would have been to hit my stride in any other genre or make my debut at the Met, lol. But growing up, popular music was not such a big deal-- though for some reason, I had the Doris Day single of "Que Será, Será" and also, when I was about three, I was in the restaurant of the Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach with my parents led by the bandleader who'd played my parents' wedding and I got up and I will never forget, it's such a vivid, indelible memory-- I didn't really come up to the first bend of the stand up bass-- I got up on the stage and sang "Que Será, Será" and the people in this huge fancy restaurant, maybe it was a ballroom, all clapped. And that was it-- I was hooked. On clapping. Maybe it had nothing to do with music.

Q: No doubt you have been an influence on numerous women in rock, but who were your early influences? And which women (in music, art, writing, any creative field) are you really inspired by lately?

Deborah: You don't want this interview to be longer than War & Peace, do you? In terms of rock, for me, the major, major thing was the Beatles. Elvis had come along earlier-- but as a child I was basically repulsed by him-- and there was no reason for me, coming from where I came from, not to be. It wasn't until much later that I appreciated his music. But as I've said before, most of the girls I knew immediately had the response that they wanted to be one of the Beatles' girlfriends-- I wanted to be THEM. In fact, really early on, when I was 9 or 10, I was trying to figure out how I could sing with myself-- and be like John and Paul TOGETHER-- my father got a Wollensack tape recorder and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't figure out how to make it multitrack--of course I didn't even know the name for it then. It wasn't until I heard Todd Rundgren--at which point I was about 17-- and learned how he did Something/Anything on a Teac 4 track--one of the first that was available for home use-- and recognized that was what I'd been trying to do--and of course, as soon as I could, I went out and got one of those. This is also why I called one of my first bands the Imaginary Playmates-- cause it was based on this idea of me singing and doing all the stuff myself. Of course I also didn't realize that you also needed a mixer or a preamp--and basically I decided pretty much then that the technology part was not what I was most passionate about and someone else could be the engineer! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, at first with the Beatles--and the Stones-- and most of the British Invasion--well, you'll notice there were no women influences, because there were NO women! Except maybe, Petula Clark. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I liked her too--I may still have the single of "Downtown" somewhere. But I appreciated good, well crafted pop-- and I still do. But another HUGE influence was Motown-- but it wasn't just the Supremes, or Martha and the Vandellas--I don't know that I would call them "women influences" just because they were biologicallly women. I was just completely into the songwriting and the sound, the beat. And of course, Phil Spector's production of the Ronettes-and people who imitated him-- or them--like the Shangri Las-- but with groups like that--even though I was too young to articulate it and there certainly wasn't a WHOLE lot of information disseminated--- I mean, there was 16 Magazine--which I devoured RELIGIOUSLY- as soon as I discovered it- but that was more fan nonsense--not that I cared--I was just so into this whole world that I wanted to see it and get as much of it as possible. But I also had other people who lived with--and/or worked for my family-- and I probably began hanging out with them a lot more than with my mother-- who had three younger kids to deal with and probably didn't even notice-- and music was something really vital that we shared. I would spend hours in the basement while my Southern housekeeper did the laundry, just listening to R&B radio and talking-- I could really identify with that character in Tony Kushner's Caroline or Change-- cause I thought, for the first time, that is, in a sense, me! But I was very influenced, early on, by R&B-- and for me, the music I truly, truly love--that resonates most personally and emotionally for me, always has some element of blues and soul-- which is one of the things that separates me and say, Robert Plant, with whom I've had this conversation, and really helped me clarify it all for me-- from, say, people like Metallica--as much as I admire them-- or Joan Jett, much as I love her. They're just a little too white. At the end of the day, as far as I'm concerned, Aretha Franklin IS and will probably always be, the voice of God.

Yet at the same moment, we also had an au pair from Belfast, Maureen Simpson, who I adored--and I was shattered when she had to go back to Ireland under somewhat mysterious circumstances and I know she came back and settled in White Plains and got married and had a few kids-- I saw her one day on a corner but we didn't really get a chance to exchange info--in any case, she knew where I lived-- but I've always wondered what's become of her--so if anyone out there knows---she had a brother Terrence, who was my penpal for years and another named Liam (William)-- her mother would knit incredible sweaters for us at Christmas--and she also exposed me to the plight of what was going on in Ireland-- which is something that at 9 or 10 I certainly would not have been exposed to otherwise-- it was not exactly front page news in the Times-- and something that has really been a concern of mine since. In fact, she got me very into Catholicism-- of course my mother was horrified to find my counting rosary beads and sprinkling holy water on myself-- and I was so into the entire megillah that I was ready to convert--until I realized that you couldn't jump into the baptismal font and come out immediately as Joan of Arc!

That was not the deal I wanted.

But in terms of rock, the first woman I heard singing a rock song was Grace Slick. "White Rabbit"-- and I can tell you exactly where I was, just like I can tell you where I was when I first heard Eric Burdon doing "House of the Rising Sun"-- which had almost as profound an effect. And it was very earth shattering for me. Mind blowing, if you'll pardon the expression. And then came Janis-- who was so clearly ripping her heart and her throat out on every song, which is really what I was determined to do too--for a long time-- even when I wasn't necessarily singing. If I were just writing a piece-- everything was beyond full-throttle--if there wasn't blood, fairly literally on every page--I wasn't trying hard enough. You can imagine what a joy I was for any editor. I cannot believe some of the things I did, and I really can't believe I survived any of them. Sometimes I wake up and I'm just amazed that I'm here.

As for other fields-- well there is so much literature that I've devoured, and SO many writers who've stimulated and inspired me, it's impossible to start. And I really hate classifying anything in terms of male/female anything--great art transcends that stupid kind of classification. Why not ask who my favorite Black or Asian writers--or artists with blonde hair or need wheelchairs or who are short fat Jews with an eyepatch? I would resent being looked at or categorized that way, so frankly, my gut feeling is I don't even want to participate in what I consider to be a completely idiotic enterprise. I mean you don't WRITE or paint or make music with your- or any--dick (unless you're some total chest thumping moron who participates in some fairly primitive derivative crappy metal or pseudo rock noise that has nothing to do with any art form, it's just monkey see-monkey do). So my gut feeling is that I don't even want to participate in that kind of discussion or even privilege that question. I think it should be outlawed. And if I were queen, I would!

Shakespeare influenced me, JD Salinger influenced me, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Raymond Carver, the list goes on and on and on, I don't even know where to start. The Bible influenced me, numerous classical thinkers-- there are a lot of historians I've been into at various points. Alot of junk has influenced me too! AS for female writers-- everyone from Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Jean Stafford, Sylvia Plath, Ann Sexton, whose daughter was a good friend of mine at school- it's endless. Jane Jacobs, who was not a fiction writer, was a huge influence on me. Grace Paley was massive. But sometimes if I have the time to go back to someone I simply could not get enough at some other point in my life--well, it's interesting to see if their voices still resonate in the same way. Paula Fox-- Courtney Love's biological grandmother-- who came to writing fairly later, as a fullblown human being--- her adult novels- as well as the way they relate to her memoir which allows you to really see how she was able to transcend the circumstances of her life and transform it into art-- incredible. If I could figure out how to do that, I would be happy. She's a tremendous artist. It's also amazing how the craziness of the women in this family has been passed on and the same patterns repeated through at least four generations, even when these people had no idea--due to being literally abandoned by their mothers in one way or another that they were biologically related. It's astounding. If Courtney Love has one functioning brain cell or iota of talent, you can see exactly where it came from--- as well as her insanity. If you're talking about contemporary writers, I went through a massive
Ann Beattie phase in my impressionable youth-- and I met her and hung out with her-- she was a friend of a friend who was also a teacher of mine-- to me that was a much bigger deal than ANY rock star-- and believe me, I've encountered quite a few--John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page--you name em, I've probably bumped into 'em somewhere along this strange wild trip. It was even weirder when someone I knew had been her first husband and later was married to another pretty decent writer called me up when he found himself suddenly single and got my number from an editor after supposedly liking some piece I wrote somewhere. I was beyond flattered-- but I was so in love with the idiot I am unfortunately still married to I don't think I gave him the time of day. Joan Didion was a major, major influence upon my younger years-- I was similarly awestruck upon meeting her, and likewise Nora Ephron, another major total idol. And her sister Delia is no slouch either. And she and her husband Jerry are just terrific hosts and just super wonderful, lovely people who help restore my faith in humanity, period.

But I've also spent I alot of time surrounded by and studying fine art-- whether in my own home, family friends' homes--I've really been privileged to have been exposed to alot of amazing, museum quality work in pretty intimate settings and not just in the great museums of the world, where I've also spent a lot of time. For me, communing with art is basically a religious experience-- though not a substitute for other kinds of spiritual practice, searching or reflection-- it's one of my most favorite and most private things to do. And there are many women artists-- Frida Kahlo, what's not to like?-- who I appreciate tremendously-- from Berthe Morrisot, Helen Morgenthaler and the tragic, perhaps underappreciated Camille Claudel (unfortunately the subject of one of the world's most boring French movies).

But there are also artists I adore-- Matisse, Klimt-- that give me a greater appreciation and understanding of female beauty and in fact, it is these great artists who can make you-- or anyone with half a brain-- see women as not as any kind of object or merely reflection of their own "male gaze," that favorite feminist saw. Rather they glorify the souls of their subjects.
Perhaps my favorite artist of all time is Van Gogh-- but its my identification with his suffering rather than his sex, which frankly means nothing to me.

As people who really inspire me right now-- Allison Anders may be my favorite filmmaker of all time, although she may not have as great a body of work as Truffaut, Spielberg, Howard Hawks, there are a lot of great filmmakers of all stripes whose work I love. It's funny though, I read an interview with Allison Anders-- which is what may have first really gotten me into her work-- because her first stuff--like Border Radio, which people loved--was fairly crude, by my standards, and I know this is blasphemy in certain circles, not that I won't blaspheme in ANY circle--but I was never into the whole X scene, and I sort of associated Border Radio with that LA punk vibe-- really, it took me a long time to even appreciate the Minutemen-- and I sort of came to it backwards, via my friendship with Mike Watt-- by the time these people all came along, I was a little more developed musically and not into that whole ilk. But anyway, I read an interview with Allison Anders, and the way she spoke about and related to music-- I almost thought I was reading about or hearing myself-- only these words were coming out of the mouth of a woman who grew up-- and is actually only 363 days younger than I am, though I think she's WAY more mature--maybe having a kid at 17 has something to do with it-- in practically Appalachia, in a completely different-you would think-- physical culture or aspect of the American landscape. And yet rock served very much the same purpose for her as it did for me-- which also involves coping with some very intense pain and personal tragedy. And she's been able to transform her own experience into some incredible art--I see things that other people may not even in her "flops," like Grace of My Heart-- but this is a whole other topic, which hopefully I'll get to explore in further depth at some other time. Things Behind the Sun-- which she didn't write, Kurt Voss did--but I think HE's best when he's channeling her-- is actually my favorite. I met her in Seattle, and did something I can't imagine myself ever doing to anyone else, which is literally kissing her hand, and calling her "Goddess." Of course, she acted as if she were very used to it.

As for musicians-- well of course, Joni Mitchell may be one of the most brilliant singer/songwriters of all time-- and also one of the bigger crackpots. And even though that "Shine" is utter shit, you can't take away her countless masterpieces-- any more than you can Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' or Paul McCartney's, no matter how dopey their latest rehashes-or excuses to go back out on the megatour-might be. Joan Armatrading has written some of my favorite songs. Jill Sobule, Amy Rigby, Lucinda Williams I love-- even though you might never hear it in my own music, and are not necessarily people who work within relatively the same genre I do, which will probably always be much more of a hard rock, maybe even metal-oriented thing. Though, really, I hate and resent labels of any kind. I think they're for lazy people-- and people who are lazy in a different way than I may occasionally be-- which has more to do with getting out of my bathrobe than anything else. It's not intellectual laziness. I just would rather waste less time getting dressed-- or UNdressed, as the case might be.
Joan Jett interests and fascinates and inspires me-- maybe just in terms of sheer work ethic-- more now than she ever did, for a whole variety of reasons. I remember talking to her, probably Kim Fowley set it up-- I don't even remember if the Runaways record had even been released-- and I just thought she was a snotty--well, I don't know if you could even call it snotty-- it was probably more just inarticulate-- punk kid. Cute, but not even that cute-- maybe it was just that she didn't seem all that bright. She seems much brighter now. But she was what, all of 15. I was maybe 19. I didn't think she was much of a musician, she didn't appreciate Fanny-- who I was very into, just musician-wise, at that point. I think the songs she wrote with Kathleen Hanna, which she's been playing for what, the last ten years now-- but then again, her whole thing is not really about doing new--or for that matter, even original, music-- and these are really some of the most original things she's done-- esp. because she's not re-writing Eddie Cochran--or the Who doing Eddie Cochran-- let's face it-- "Bad Reputation" is her "My Generation." But you what, you look at her audience-- and the people she's a role model for--who come to see her at the county fairs and chili cook offs where she gets a guarantee of $40,000 where some other oldies act like BOC gets $5,000-- along with the grandparents and kids and farmers and just the people who make America for you and me-- and it IS their "My Generation." And God bless her for it.

Q: As your bio says, you were a teenage drummer when you started writing about music. Can you speak a little bit about why you enjoy writing about music and how writing about music connects with playing music for you?

Deborah: Haha-- wasn't it some genius like Mark Twain who said no one but a fool enjoys writing I enjoy HAVING written. And then of course, you have to get up and do it all over again. There are moments when I get into the groove and really ENJOY writing. But it can be excruciating just to get to that point. I hate sitting in a chair. And there's no way to write, for me to write, anyway, without doing it. For a long, long time. Writing is also a very lonely, very isolating enterprise.

Playing I get to get up and jump around. And even occasionally meet some really cool people-- and I am basically, as I have realized fairly recently, a very social person even though I've also spent vast amounts-- and I mean years-- involved in this other very isolated thing and I really need to spend that time doing that in order to do it-- and not always for such tremendously great and/or rewarding results. But playing is the fun part-- when everything is going right. But it doesn't always. There's always the monitor that freaks out, or the note you or someone else misses. Some stupid person who throws something. Just some stupid something, in general. A zillion things. So I just live for the moments when it goes right. Because there is nothing, and I mean nothing, else like it. And nothing else-- no drug-- or any other kind of activity-- and believe me, I've tried most of 'em-- will do it. Like the stupid credit card ad that tries to define priceless. It's what's priceless. And you just try to hit it every time. And then-- you try again.

Q: Tell us about your band the Brain Surgeons, how the band formed, what you play, your role in the songwriting, etc. What are some of your songs that you are most proud of and what are the ones you think people who are new to the band should check out?

Deborah: Well, the Brain Surgeons are in a very funny place right now because unfortunately I am in the midst of a fairly horrendous divorce from my husband, who was also my creative collaborator since 1984-- even before we become romantically involved-- who is not only the father of my son, but someone I assumed would be my soulmate and dearest friend and partner for life. And there are alot of things I can't really discuss because it's all a matter of litigation and just really ugly and unpleasant on every level. But when you are dealing with a narcissistic sick person who will never get help (and is therefore incapable of being cured) who would rather accuse everyone else of having some problem rather than accept any responsibility for ANYTHING, this is what you get. I can't even take it personally because he's done it before, unfortunately. And it's been much, much harder for my son than for me-- but only because I've been through a lot of tragedies-- and pretty early in my life. But you know what, basically I have the same relationship to the Brain Surgeons as Flaubert to Madame Bovary-- c'est moi. And I've written a lot of great songs-- and I will continue to do so-- it's funny, that I think some of the greatest, and perhaps our most cohesive album, Denial of Death, was written during a particularly terrible time-- and I can't believe I wrote a song like "Plague of Lies" which I thought I was writing about someone and something else, and is all too unfortunately the story of my life. There are some great songs on that album, like "Strange Like Me"-- which was funny, cause Albert said, "I can't believe how you wrote that song about me. You got me to a T"-and I said, "You? I'm not talking about YOU, it's about me!" "Lady of the Harbor" is a really good song, in its last incarnation-- I actually recorded it and re-wrote it maybe twice. "Medusa" on Trepanation, the second album, is a really good song-- though I re-did it again, the way we did it live, on Beach Party-- but I did the vocal in like 2 seconds and I wish I did it again. Now that's a song I actually started when I was like 15, after reading Edith Hamilton- and thought Medusa, now there's a song. But I didn't get around to finishing it for decades. That's just the way it works sometimes. In the Brain Surgeons-- well, at the beginning, there might have been a couple of songs I didn't write-- there were some Meltzer or Patti Smith things, probably rejected by Blue Oyster Cult for good reason! Just joking, sometimes the demo might not have been too persuasive or someone else had to get a song in or there was some producer trying to turn them into the Cars for a moment (oh, that was GREAT idea) or maybe they thought they SHOULD be the Cars for a moment, or someone at a record company did. Who knows? Hey, they should thank their lucky stars they didn't stick around long enough on a major to let themselves bend over and try to be turned into Hootie and the Blowfish!

Q: As a woman who has been involved in the music scene for many years both as a musician and a journalist, how has the music landscape changed for women since you were a teenager? Every woman I've talked to still seems some degree of sexism in the industry, but in your point of view what challenges are still out there and what has gotten easier?

Deborah: The industry-- it deserves to die. See Hootie and the Carfish, above. I know for myself, the internet, which I've been involved with since it coincided with my putting out my first albums through my own company in 93/94, though I've really been involved with independent music-- and putting out other people's stuff one way or another since the Punk scene of the early 70s (which by the way-I don't consider the Ramones, or the Sex Pistols-CBGB-thing--or even pre-CBGB, the Dolls-- the FIRST punk thing-- to me it was the MC5, Iggy.) But you know what, ELVIS was a punk-- who was just exploited by a carny barker. The Beatles were punks, REAL punks in Hamburg. And you know what, even Mick Jagger- though he probably always had the same dreams at the London School of Economics as Jann Wenner had at prep school in Switzerland and that's how they all eventually end up on basically the same beach together--even he was a punk. For a minute. But anyway, the internet has allowed me to cut out the middleman- and the gatekeeper. Though I'm sure they'll all figure out how to put up new gates and new middles, because people who only want to make money always figure out how to do it-- whether it's in hedge funds or derivatives or turning record companies and book publishers into mere cogs in some rental car magnate or real estate developer's or Australian news baron's "empire." That's just how it works. It's also allowed me to do a certain kind of very simple market research-- which of course, no one who went to business school would actually be trained and or have any interest in doing, because that's all about turning things into formulas and science and cookie-cutting. But basically, what it also tells me is that what most of these industry assholes-- like the Jason Floms, with his father on the Time Warner Board, who actually got lucky with his Hootie or Skid Rows or Wingers (and where are they all now) for a minute once told me--"There are too many girls on this label"-- and all kinds of other shit that Joan Jett still goes on about hearing from the 23 labels who rejected her in when was it, 1981-- and then went on-- even if it took three years, to have a number one multi-platinum album that is still selling and more important, is still wonderful and MEANINGFUL today-- or that such and such is not "what the kids want." Well it tells me what I've felt in my own gut all along, that these people are full of shit. Rock is not about what kids want, any more than any other art form is about what old people or anybody else wants to buy or have shoved down their throat. Art-- of all kinds-- whether it's making music or tattooing something you feel is beautiful on your or anyone else's skin-- or trying to communicate something you feel passionate about and may or may not articulate something that someone else feels but can't quite figure out how to say in his or her own words fills a very important and very basic human need. And people who are driven to make it will always figure out how to do it-- whether they have to paint it on a cave or weave it into a basket. This is how we try to express ourselves and how we COMMUNICATE with other people who may not necessarily speak the same language.

As for sexism, I had to put up with all kinds of crap-- and so did everyone who was a pioneer, whether they were trying to cover the White House or baseball-- places where they wouldn't let in Black people with dicks for however many years. But that's their problem. In terms of music, guys-- whether Led Zeppelin or Metallica have had the privilege of saying "Fuck 'em all" for years. Now more women-- simply by virtue of having their own record companies or developing their own audiences-- and Joan Jett is a prime example-- or even the Donnas--and I think they are great, as is their management-- can say fuck em all too (although they all actually say it relatively nicely). I don't know whether this is progress. But the point is, women have own money to spend--although in this economy, they may soon have less of it. But also kids have grown up in a different environment. The Donnas or Joan Jett have as many guy as girl fans. It's not an issue to these people. Joan Jett may have a message--or be communicating Paul Westerberg's-in something like "Androgynous" (which is, in some ways one of the least hard rock but most interesting things she's ever done) or in her own "Change the World." But the world is changing-- the western world, anyway. If not fast enough. In other places, women are still forced behind walls and burkhas. And the men want to keep it that way. So they don't have to improve their own game. You really have to look at the much bigger picture.

Q: What is next for you? Any upcoming projects we can look forward to either listening to or reading?

Deborah: What is next for me? Ask the judge in my divorce case!! All I can say is you'll be seeing and hearing alot from me--probably on your local corner singing and dancing with a little styrofoam cup and I'll try to have a very nice sign. I don't know. Read my lips.

Q: I always ask two standard questions of my Women Who Rock. The first one is a two-parter. What was the first album you bought and the first concert you attended?

Deborah: Obviously I remember a single I had when I was 3-I guess I didn't buy it.
I don't really remember the first album I bought. I remember going to Korvette's..getting a whole bunch of records--like Otis Redding.

And I have no idea what was the first rock concert I went to.I went to clubs before I went to concerts--and I'm still much more into experiencing music in an intimate setting--of course, I've seen a lot of people most people later see in concerts very early on--sometimes I've been like the only person in the audience--or the audient, as I like to call it-- Springsteen, the Police, Tom Petty, Pearl Jam, Courtney Love- the Cars-- there are people I've been the first person here to write about-like PJ Harvey--but that's not because I'm into any trend--in fact I hate them-- I am totally non-trendy.

But I am into music--and what is gonna turn ME on.Actually, I basically hate concerts--for me, it's always been work, not fun, even if I have a backstage pass or I'm literally on the side of the stage while people who really know what they're doing-- like Jimmy Page or Robert Plant or the guys in Metallica-- are on. Look, it's weird to me to go to a concert w/out a notebook-- but then again, I was a professional rock critic when I was still a teenager-- and not be scribbling more notes than most people will ever do in any class-- but I was also a very good notetaker, and a great student, in the traditional sense, when I wanted to be. But I've very, very rarely gone to a concert for ENTERTAINMENT, per se. And if I get off, that's even better. I have rarely, almost never, in my life, bought a ticket for one. I don't go to parades either. I hate crowds. They're not a lot of fun for a small person. But that's not necessarily what provides me w/ a sense of community--which is why I think alot of other people, particularly young people who desperately want to feel a part of SOMEthing--go to them. They have a different kind of experience--and motivation--than I do. I would always rather be creating something or trying to learn how to better create it. There's nothing I enjoy MORE than just being able to be a fan-- and when I am, you will see me right up there in the front, non-stop dancing. It makes me so happy to be able to do that. But there aren't too many artists who make me want to-- and it's usually some kind of inspired occasion. Like the Rock Hall of Fame at the Waldorf. Hey, I was even rockin out to Lynyrd Skynrd. And I caught the glass slide!

Q: My other standard question is what was your biggest rock star moment? Maybe it was a concert you performed or one you saw or maybe it was someone you met or a time you just got the celebrity treatment.

Deborah: Honey, I've been getting celebrity treatment all of my life-- and I think I deserve it!
I met John Lennon when I was, what 16-- Robert Plant has driven me through the Alps. I've had a really wild life-- and there are things I've gotten to do just with my family that are just in completely different realms and they've been amazing experiences that I cherish and would rather keep to myself. I appreciate the highs cause the downs... believe me, they've been pretty horrendous, as bad as it gets. But OK, if I had to pick a rock experience-- no, it was not the day I saved Cher's life and every time since when I hear her horrendous, even pitch corrected bleating, I have only myself to blame--but that was really a gym moment, not a rock one. I would have to say when I went to Wrestlemania with Cyndi Lauper and hung out with Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and Mohammed Ali and my total, total idol, the Fabulous Moolah, that was pretty cool. She invited me to come to her wrestling camp, I still have the card-- but I was afraid I'd get too black & blue--what a wimp. But really the topper was when Liberace, who was a very sweet man, let me put on his gold diamond encrusted piano ring. Now that was fun.

See, as promised, an amazingly in depth and insightful interview. I want to say thank you so much to Deborah for spending her time answering these questions so thoroughly. I also love that someone I admire so much also believes that punk began with Iggy and MC5. And yeah, Wrestlemania with Cyndi Lauper??? Definitely one of the coolest rock star moments that has been shared so far. So what did Deborah get you thinking about? Leave a comment about it and be entered to win a signed copy of the Brain Surgeons album Denial of Death!

See ya next Wednesday with our fictional guests, Emily and Regan!


Keri Mikulski said...

Great feature and interview. Thanks for sharing. :)

Sarah Woodard said...

Great interview.

Anonymous said...

Deborah provides an articulate, personal view and insight into the history of the rock experience from the days when we were first stunned by the Beatles to today - great personal perspective - check out her music! thanks - enjoy your blog

Ted of Reddy Teddy (

Liviania said...

This was certainly more interesting to me than War and Peace. But now Deborah has increased my shopping list by a few people and gotten "House of the Rising Sun" stuck in my head. (I keep listening to more and more versions and none of them get me like Eric Burdon and the Animals.)

Anonymous said...

Well I saw Deborah for the first time on Cash Cab this morning and my wife suggested i google her and I read your great interview (her great outpouring of self in response to your tentative prodding). This is getting far out for me, a 67 year old bluegrass wannabe, so I think I deserve that album copy to find out more--Lou

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