Let's Hear It for the Ladies of Houston Punk
Artwork courtesy of David Ensminger
Though often under-recognized by society at large, with its overweening narrative of punk rock being a bastion of disenchanted white males, women of all stripes have been intimate and ingrained members of Houston's local scene scene since its very genesis. Yet, few books have extolled the efforts of any punk women; hence, much of the legacy has been left to scattershot digital archives on the Web that fail to cohere and document their full sense of presence.
That's why I chose to create the blog Visual History of Punk, Hardcore, and Indie Women, not to speak on their behalf, but simply to amass the truth beyond the din of musical desperadoes. The entries, spanning more than 1,000 pieces of photography, ephemera, record art, and fanzine clippings, map in a matter-of-fact form the sheer breadth of females in punk over a 40-year period.
This is one way to give thanks to my sister, who spun LPs by the Motels, B-52's, Patti Smith, and Rachel Sweet every day at dawn as high school beckoned nearby. In our ranch home sitting squat in a flat Midwestern former farm patch, the piano refrains and thudding drums of "Pissing In the River" shook the walls as neighbors spat wearily into CB radios and let anxious dogs stumble across knee-deep snow.
Linda Younger of MyDolls
Unlike much of the testosterone-heavy musical landscape of stadium rock, punk rock overturned gender rules, attempted to level the playing field, and provided space for women to speak as loud as a bomb blast. Whereas Janis Joplin and Grace Slick were rare performers shoving aside the prejudice and sexism not just of an industry but of a long-standing inherited cultural epoch ("don't speak unless spoken to," huh?), Dianna Ray of MyDolls reminded me one day at her home, by the mid-1970s the Runaways, Blondie, Suzi Quatro, and Robin Lane worked to grab a foothold that opened new routes and possibilities.
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Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
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Soon, punk bands with instrument-wielding, butched or unkempt-haired, badge-adorned, ripped-and-torn thrift-store-clothed females spread like an uncontrolled social contagion, imprinting the music scene with the likes of X, the Germs, Bags, Alley Cats, Avengers, Contractions, Dishrags, Eyes and innumerable more.
Locally, from working at iconic clubs like Paradise Island/Rock Island/The Island to being knowledgeable staff at Real Records (operated by U-Ron of Really Red) or even owning Rat Records in Rice Village, women proved their worth behind the scenes even as others found limelight in the hazy glare of stages and smoldering clubs.
Story continues on the next page.
Women became integral to seminal acts such as Bevatron, Legionaire's Disease, MyDolls, the Derailers, Ghetto Blasters, and AK-47. Linda Younger of MyDolls likens the eruption of her own band to "a perfect storm...we were friends with several great Houston and Austin punk bands who supported us completely and kind of adopted us as their sister band(s), inviting us to open for them and even go on tour with them. There was social unrest and frustration."
"We wanted a way to express that angst by writing our own lyrics and music, not performing cover versions of what others wrote. The result was music that was not the typical punk rock of the day," continues Younger. "The title of our EP describes our approach: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick."
Later, as hardcore began to channel punk into the narrower straits of the hard-tough-fast amalgam, some women did tend to steer away from the mosh-pit mentalities while others embraced anything-goes noise, melodic punk-pop, psychedelic, metallic grunge, and post-hardcore throughout the diverse 1980s and '90s, like Rusted Shut, de Schmog, Pain Teens, Stinkerbell, Manhole, and Sad Pygmy.
Uber-fans like Kathy Kowgirl seemed to straddle every era: she walked the crooked path from the Big Boys and Hickoids to White Zombie, always the epitome of urban cool.
Come back for Part 2 Thursday.
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