Some of the highpoints for me at the EMP Pop Conference last week in Seattle (April 10-13th at Experience Music Project) were presentations about talented and powerful female musicians, from Yoko Ono to Candye Kane to a little-known (these days) vaudeville performer Eva Tanguay (pictured above).
Slate.com music critic Jody Rosen presented his paper "Girl Gone Wild: Eva Tanguay's Madcap Feminism," which was probably my favorite paper of the entire conference since it brought to my attention a very interesting musician from the turn of the last century who was entirely unknown to me. Jody noted that even though Eva Tanguay was a huge vaudeville star (attracting more than 15,000 fans to one of her solo shows), publicity seeker (she was the first popular singer with publicists on her payroll and staged publicity events), and dramatic presence (she wore of dress made of 4000 pennies, assaulted someone with a hat pin, and had high profile feuds); she is still all but forgotten today, barely mentioned in music biographies. At least after this presentation a few more people became aware of this artist, myself included.
One of my all-time favorite music writers, Ann Powers (seated in the center of the photo above), chief pop critic for the L.A. Times also brought a feminist slant to the conference, presenting her work "In Love with a Strippa: Sex and Power in the So-Called Post-Feminist Age," in which she outlined the origin of exotic dancers (look to the Algerian Village's "Little Egypt" performers at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair) and discussed their presence in music videos of today. She talked about the "good-time girl" strippers in '80s videos by Motley Crue and David Lee Roth and contrasted those images with the sadder "tarnished fantasy" portrayed in hip hop's take on stripper culture as exemplified by Juvenile in the video "Rodeo", in which strippers are shown not as fantasies, but as peers in the same underground economy as the musicians/protagonists in the video.
Kara Attrep gave a great paper "She Yoko-ed the Band," which outlined the demonization of female musicians, like Yoko Ono, Courtney Love, Clara Schumann, and Mary Parks, who have been criticized for allegedly leading to the downfall and death of their more famous male partners. Most interesting to me was hearing more of the back story on Yoko Ono and her successful career prior to meeting John Lennon. She was an early member of Fluxus, staged her own Carnegie Hall performance to a packed hall, and was very much seen as an up and coming artist in the 1960s. She claims to have not known John Lennon's music, definitely not an awe-struck groupie-type.
I also heard about lady blues performers in Maria V. Johnson's (she missed the conference, so her paper was read by the moderator) "Who's Gonna Be the Vessel? Blues Women Performing Alternative Community." She gave shout-outs to the work of former sex worker/musician Candye Kane, Delta diva Denise LaSalle, and Nedra Johnson (who asks her audience to "envision God as a fierce gay man or a granola dyke").
In upcoming posts I'll talk about some of the papers related to war, the military, elections, festivals, and indie/punk culture.
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