Interview: Kathleen Hanna

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[The piece below is for Folio–runs Tuesday. But, since Ms. Hanna’s birthday is today, it made sense to preview it now, for the one-half of one-millionth of the world who actually checks this thing out–and thanks, by the way. I should also note that the section of downtown Jacksonville with MOCA and the newest Main Branch library are the best investments made in local public infrastructure in the past decade, a decade with many nice moves made.

The library’s music section is probably the best in Florida, in part because the collection is old, and in part because their acquisitions game is tighter than the Carlyle Group. The record collection alone was worth perhaps $100,000 before it was sold off piecemeal; WJCT did the same thing, and the cognoscenti worldwide sez “Thanks!” The zine collection is the most recent addition, and it touches on an aspect of regional culture crucial to its current leviathan status.

And next time you’re in Gainesville, make sure your visit includes a) the Butterfly Museum, b) Hear Again Music, and c) the legendary Civic Media Center, of which I could never say enough. Etc. and so forth, here ya go.]

Leader of the Pack
Kathleen Hanna on zines and scenes and feminist things.2011 Zine Symposium
“Zines: The Personal Is Political”
Jacksonville Public Library, Hicks Auditorium
Panel Discussion, 11am; Keynote Presentation, noon
Back when people wrote actual letters, I sent one to Kathleen Hanna, former singer for Bikini Kill, whose three imperfectly perfect albums in the ’90s set a sonic standard whose emulators have dominated the 21st century. Between her sound and their fury, Hanna (who turns 42 on the 12th) helped establish the continuity that ensured “girl singers” could do what they want, however they want to do it. What was next? I wondered. She sent back a package with some of the zines she was doing then; soon, Julie Ruin emerged, followed by Le Tigre. The original Rebel Girl is now an established veteran of all aspects of media, and one of the most influential women of her generation. She’s recorded eight albums since 1991, three EPs, seven singles featured on nine different compilation albums and, most tellingly, appeared on 17 different albums by other artists. She’s also the subject of two documentary features: The Punk Singer and Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour. (And, of course, her cameo in the video for “Bull In the Heather”!)

Hanna’s first visit here comes this Saturday, November 19, by invitation of the Jacksonville Public Library, where she’ll sit on a panel convened by curators of the library’s game-changing zine collection. Panelists include author, musician and FSCJ art professor Mark Creegan; artist/author Adee Roberson (http://www.pineappleblack.blogspot.com–very nice!); zine writer Travis Fristoe (whose credits include Maximum RocknRoll, Library Journal and Gainesville’s legendary Civic Media Center); and myself, a big fan of all their work. Hanna will then deliver the keynote address for the 2011 Zine Symposium. For adepts and adherents of the art form, this cannot be missed. Folio caught up with the ever-busy Hanna via Internets:

FW: Did the Internet kill the ‘zine trade, or somehow make it better?
KH: I think the internet gave certain obscure zines a place in the modern landscape they never would’ve had without it. Having said that, it is annoying to me when people buy older zines and then scan them and put some pages up on the internet without the author’s permission. They lose their original context that way, and often zines that were written in a specific time and place come off as overarching and ahistorical when, really, they were responding to specific things that were going on in local scenes at the time. Zines kind of were our blogs before blogs existed; they were meant to be quick and rough and
local and not overworked.If we wanted to write books, that were more permanent, we would’ve, but we didn’t. They were meant to be ephemeral and function in a specific time period.

FW: Have you ever worked with the Future of Music Coalition(futureofmusic.org)?
KH: I know Jenny and Kristin but I’ve never worked with FMC. [Note: Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thomson co-founded the band Tsunami.] They were, I believe both at the first Riot Grrrl meeting and were verysupportive and involved early on. I went to Junior High with Jenny Toomey.

FW: What are your thoughts on Occupy Wall Street? [Note: OccupyJax has
been in Hemming Plaza since Nov. 5]

KH: I think it’s great. I am pretty inspired by what young people do in general (not like it’s all young people, but it seems like quite a few young people were the instigators). It is interesting to me when people criticized it in the beginning, claiming it was all young, middle class people, and I was like “They are the ones who can manage to physically be down there sleeping on the bricks, and so they are, and that’s awesome, not a bummer!”FW: How do you feel about the “SlutWalk” trend?
KH: I am always happy when women are taking it to the streets and starting discussions.FW: What are your thoughts on the late Slits singer Ari Up?
KH: She was an innovator and I can’t believe she is gone. We lost her and Poly [Styrene] in a 2 year time period [note: both to cancer] and I think many of us are still reeling from this.

FW: Tell me about Lydia Lunch?
KH: LOOOVE HER. There are many spots on the album I am working on with my new band The Julie Ruin where my vocals are totally influenced by her style. She has influenced culture on such a deep level and never really been given her due.

FW: Is it possible for women to take positions that contradict the larger feminist community, while retaining feminist credentials? What must she say or do to be “expelled” from the movement?
KH: There are so many different ways to enact one’s own feminist ideas that it is pretty hard to come up with a unified list of feminist do’s and don’ts, and I personally hate that way of thinking. I am way more into allowing women to define feminism for themselves and keep on stretching its meanings. More arguments, more questions, more disagreements, this is what leads to a vital movement, not lists and rules.

FW: What’s it like seeing yourself on film?
KH: Um. Weird and embarrassing pretty much sums it up, but I have a distance from it now. After Who Took the Bomp? came out, I started being filmed for an upcoming documentary called The Punk Singer and my main thing is that I don’t really care if I come off like a jerk. I just want the movie to be engaging so people will go off on their own and check out my work and the stuff me and my bandmates made together.  I mean, on one hand I have a huge ego and love attention and all that, that’s why I’m a performer, but on the other hand I don’t take any of it too seriously, cuz I really am just an ant on anthill like everyone
else and my time here on earth is finite.

FW: Which of your recordings stands out as most representative of your aesthetic?
KH: I am most proud of the Rebel Girl 7″ Bikini Kill did and the first Le Tigre album. The song “Hot Topic” on that album is very much indicative of my aesthetic. Poppy yet still DIY with a big nod to the past.

FW: Who are the “Riot Grrrls” of today?
KH: Brontez Purnell of The Younger Lovers is my favorite modern riot girl. Also the women who run the website http://www.girlgangunderground.org/.

FW: Why have you never appeared in Jacksonville before?
KH: I don’t really know why, it was always hard to book stuff in Florida for some reason. Le Tigre played in Gainesville and Miami, but BK never played Florida at all.

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