Thursday, August 27, 2015

You've Got to Play America

The music business has always been a nasty piece of work if you are a woman:

Various tropes are repeated over and over again, like a riff you’ve heard too many times before: an aspiring bassist being told by a music teacher that bass is for boys, or a teenager being asked by her dubious male classmates to recite a band’s entire discography in order to prove her fan cred. The narrative gets even more disturbing and specific when you start charting the testimonials of women who pursued careers as musicians, sound engineers, executives, and journalists. The recurring message is that, for women, the music industry is a Banksy-designedChoose Your Own Adventure book, with each career path containing its own lady-specific land mines. 

Rampant misogyny is the music industry’s worst kept secret. Recently, legendary rapper—and the richest musician on the planet—Dr. Dre finally apologized for a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse against women. The apology stemmed from outrage over Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A biopic, which topped the box office without addressing Dre’s problematic past. In her essay “Here’s What's Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up,” rapper and television personality Dee Barnes described the night in 1991 when Dre “straddled me and beat me mercilessly on the floor of the women’s restroom.” Dre later told Rolling Stone, “It ain’t no big thing—I just threw her through a door.” He pleaded no contest to Barnes’s assault charges and settled with her out of court for an undisclosed sum.

I've always admired people like Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson--people who put up with exactly those kinds of obstacles and didn't quit and didn't give up because of them. Her reasons for leaving the music industry were more personal and tragic, of course, but when she was doing her thing, she was the prototype for someone who didn't let those things stop her. She did her part to make glorious, lasting music and then she moved on and had a life.

Miki and Emma Anderson had their own battles within the music industry to fight, and, surprisingly enough, it was more their own management than anything else:

From the days of Split, Lush's management pressured the band to do whatever it took to "break" America. Aside from The Cranberries and a handful of other artists, becoming a huge Stateside hit was in the '90s was relatively unprecedented for European bands. And even with a change of management prior to Lovelife, little changed in the attitude toward the band, the house of cards finally tumbling in an ill-imagined tour with Goo Goo Dolls and Gin Blossoms in the summer of 1996.

"They were totally obsessed," says Anderson, who makes no secret about her adversarial relationship with the band's management at the time. "They used to sit in meetings and say, 'Oh, next album we'll just do America. We won't even bother with Britain.' Just to wind me up. I thought, 'Well maybe there won't be a next album.'... By the time we did that Gin Blossoms/Goo Goo Dolls tour, I think everyone had just retreated into themselves. It was just a nightmare."  

"We were just being told what to do and we were doing it, and it was a mistake," she continues. "You get to the point where you sort of go, 'Why am I doing this?' We were actually doing quite well in Britain. We had a Top 10 album and three Top 30 singles. 'Maybe we should be planning to go back there and do some festivals, and capitalizing on that.' But it was like, 'No, you have to go back to America. You've got to go back to America.' And at the end I thought, 'Fuck this. I'd rather work in an office.'"

"I think I'd completely lost my mind by that point," says Berenyi. "I wasn't in a very good place. We'd been tossed about in so many different directions that I just thought, 'Alright, I'm just going to do what they fucking tell us to do.' Which wasn't great, because actually then I think Emma felt completely unsupported in the fact that she really wasn't happy with the direction that we were being pushed in. And she was right. But I just don't think I had any fight left in me. It was ludicrous, but it was just chasing that prize."

Finally, Anderson had enough and sat down with Berenyi and King to state her intentions. The band had one more European tour on the books, and Anderson was committed to finish her obligation, but after that, she was out.

Now, was this because they were a band that had started putting out singles that were getting more successful or was this an attempt to push a "girl band" with two women up front singing and writing the songs? I think it's more the latter and I think it fits in with the overall experience of women in the music industry.

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