How Rocky Horror Became a Cult Phenomenon

Call us old fash­ioned but invok­ing pump­kin spice and The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show in the same breath feels trans­gres­sive to the point of sac­ri­lege.

The cre­ator of the Poly­phon­ic video, above, is on much firmer foot­ing tying the film to queer lib­er­a­tion.

Pri­or to its now famous cin­e­mat­ic adap­ta­tion, The Rocky Hor­ror Show was a low bud­get the­atri­cal suc­cess, with near­ly 3,000 per­for­mances and the 1973 Evening Stan­dard The­atre Award for Best Musi­cal to its name.

Review­er Michael Billing­ton laud­ed Tim Cur­ry’s “gar­ish­ly Bowiesque per­for­mance” as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the self-pro­claimed Sweet Trans­ves­tite from Trans­sex­u­al, Tran­syl­va­nia, but also acknowl­edged some drab­ber pea­cocks defy­ing gen­der expec­ta­tions in that pro­duc­tion:

…for me the actor of the evening was Jonathan Adams as the Nar­ra­tor: a bulky, heavy-jowled Kissinger-like fig­ure who enters into the rock num­bers with the state­ly aplomb of a dowa­ger duchess doing a strip.

Play­wright Richard O’Brien, who dou­bled as Frank-N-Furter’s sepul­chral but­ler, Riff Raff, con­ceived of the show as a spoof on campy sci fi and goth­ic hor­ror films in the Ham­mer Pro­duc­tions vein. He also owed a debt to glam rock, which “allowed me to be myself more.”

(Hats off, here, to Poly­phon­ic for one of the best nut­shell descrip­tions of glam rock we’ve ever encoun­tered:

Glam rock was a queer led move­ment that was built on the back of gen­der non-con­for­mi­ty. Visu­al­ly it was a hodge­podge of style from ear­ly Hol­ly­wood glam­our to 50s pin­ups and cabaret the­ater aug­ment­ed by touch­es of ancient civ­i­liza­tions sci-fi and and the occult.)

“The ele­ment of trans­vestism was­n’t intend­ed as a major theme,” O’Brien told inter­view­er Patri­cia Mor­ris­roe, “although it turned out to be one:”

I’ve always thought of Frank as a cross between Ivan the Ter­ri­ble and Cruel­la de Ville of Walt Dis­ney’s 101 Dal­ma­tions. It’s that sort of evil beau­ty that’s attrac­tive. I found Brad and Janet very appeal­ing too, espe­cial­ly the whole fifties image of boy-girl rela­tion­ships. In the end, you see that Janet is not the weak lit­tle thing that soci­ety demands her to be and Brad is not the pil­lar of strength.

Audi­ences and crit­ics may have loved the orig­i­nal show, but the film ver­sion did not find imme­di­ate favor. Review­er Roger Ebert reflect­ed that “it would be more fun, I sus­pect, if it weren’t a pic­ture show:

It belongs on a stage, with the per­form­ers and audi­ence join­ing in a col­lec­tive send-up…The chore­og­ra­phy, the com­po­si­tions and even the atti­tudes of the cast imply a stage ambiance. And it invites the kind of laugh­ter and audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion that makes sense only if the per­form­ers are there on the stage, cre­at­ing mutu­al kar­ma.

A prophet­ic state­ment, as it turns out…

Once the pro­duc­ers began mar­ket­ing the film as a mid­night movie, repeat cus­tomers start­ed com­ing up with the snarky call­backs that have become a de rigueur part of the expe­ri­ence.

“All the char­ac­ters appear to be sophis­ti­cat­ed, knowl­edge­able peo­ple but they’re real­ly not,” O’Brien observed:

That allows peo­ple of a sim­i­lar ado­les­cent nature to feel they could be part of the whole thing. And now, in fact, they are.

Shad­ow casts posi­tioned them­selves in front of the screen, mim­ic­k­ing the action in cob­bled togeth­er ver­sions of design­er Sue Blane’s cos­tumes.

Audi­ences also afford­ed them­selves the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dress out­side the norm, cre­at­ing a safe space where atten­dees could mess around with their gen­der expres­sions. The film may not end hap­pi­ly but that final scene is a great excuse for any­one who wants to take a lap in a corset and fish­nets.

Rocky Horror’s flam­boy­ance, humor, and defi­ance of the main­stream made it a nat­ur­al fit with the queer com­mu­ni­ty, with folks cos­tumed as Frank-N-Furter, Riff Raff, Magen­ta and Colum­bia reg­u­lar­ly turn­ing up at fundrais­ers and pride events.

The film also deserves some activist street cred for sav­ing a num­ber of small indie movie the­aters by fat­ten­ing mid­night box office receipts, a trend that con­tin­ues near­ly 50 years after the orig­i­nal release.

Admit­ted­ly, cer­tain aspects of the script haven’t aged well.

Vir­gins” attend­ing their first live screen­ing may be more shocked at the dearth of con­sent than the spec­ta­cle of Frank-n-Furter mur­der­ing Columbia’s rock­er boyfriend Eddy with a pick­axe, then serv­ing his remains for din­ner.

Will they also recoil from Frank as an embod­i­ment of tox­ic mas­culi­ty in the queer space?

Quoth Colum­bia:

My God! I can’t stand any more of this! First you spurn me for Eddie, and then you throw him like an old over­coat for Rocky! You chew peo­ple up and then you spit them out again… I loved you… do you hear me? I loved you! And what did it get me? Yeah, I’ll tell you: a big noth­ing. You’re like a sponge. You take, take, take, and drain oth­ers of their love and emo­tion.

We’re hop­ing Frank, prob­lem­at­ic though he may now seem, won’t ulti­mate­ly be con­signed to the dust bin of his­to­ry.

For con­text, O’Brien recent­ly told The Hol­ly­wood Reporter that the char­ac­ter was informed by his own expe­ri­ences of cross-dress­ing as he tried to get a grip on his gen­der iden­ti­ty in the ear­ly 70s:

I used to beat myself up about the hand I was dealt. I don’t know how it works. I have no idea. I’ve read many tomes about the sub­ject of the trans­ves­tic nature. It’s the cards you’re dealt. In a bina­ry world it’s a bit of curse, real­ly. Espe­cial­ly in those days when homo­sex­u­al­i­ty was a crime. It’s just one of those things that west­ern soci­ety wasn’t very keen on.

Real Con­tent

1978 News Report on the Rocky Hor­ror Craze Cap­tures a Teenage Michael Stipe in Drag

Rare Inter­view: Tim Cur­ry Dis­cuss­es The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show, Dur­ing the Week of Its Release (1975)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Dorothea Tanning: The Artist Who Pushed the Boundaries of Surrealism

As Great Art Explained’s James Payne notes in the above pro­file of Sur­re­al­ist Dorothea Tan­ning, the emo­tion­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal com­plex­i­ty of her work invites inter­pre­ta­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to one of best known paint­ings, 1943’s Eine Kleine Nacht­musik.

Its doors, young girls (femme-enfants, if you pre­fer) and sun­flower were recur­rent themes for her.

What’s it mean?

Tan­ning main­tained the paint­ing is about “con­fronta­tion:”

Every­one believes he/she is his/her dra­ma. While they don’t always have giant sun­flow­ers (most aggres­sive of flow­ers) to con­tend with, there are always stair­ways, hall­ways, even very pri­vate the­aters where the suf­fo­ca­tions and the final­i­ties are being played out, the blood red car­pet or cru­el yel­lows, the attack­er, the delight­ed vic­tim….

Art his­to­ri­an Whit­ney Chad­wick, author of Women Artists and the Sur­re­al­ist Move­ment, dared to com­pare Eine Kleine Nacht­musik to Pierre Roy’s 1927 work Dan­ger on the Stairs, which Tan­ning may have encoun­tered dur­ing her life chang­ing vis­it to the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art’s ground break­ing 1936 exhib­it Fan­tas­tic Art, Dada, Sur­re­al­ism.

Both paint­ings unfold on nar­row, win­dow­less land­ings. Roy’s fea­tures a snake, that har­bin­ger of “Freudi­an sym­bol­ic con­tent”, slith­er­ing down a stair­case; Tanning’s two long-haired girls in Vic­to­ri­an desha­bille and a “torn and writhing sun­flower, an image strong­ly iden­ti­fied with Tanning’s Mid­west­ern ori­gins, close to nature and capa­ble of con­vey­ing impres­sions of both fecun­di­ty and men­ace.”

Tan­ning bri­dled at the temer­i­ty of Chadwick’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion:

To com­pare my vision with the per­fect­ly pro­por­tioned and very pho­to­graph­ic depic­tion of a snake (ana­con­da) on a stair, neat­ly paint­ed, some­what in the man­ner of Magritte, is sim­ple-mind­ed. The scene, though infre­quent, is pos­si­ble in the nat­ur­al out­side world. Mine is not.

Could it be that the sun­flower is a trap set for experts unable to resist the pull of pub­licly inter­pret­ing a Sur­re­al­ist scene?

Tan­ning died in 2012 at the age of 101, but Eine Kleine Nacht­musik’s sun­flower con­tin­ues to exert its siren pull.

Art his­to­ri­an, Catri­ona McAra, author of A Sur­re­al­ist Stratig­ra­phy of Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm sees it as a sym­bol of “deflo­ration, men­stru­a­tion and erot­ic noc­tur­nal knowl­edge”, while art his­to­ri­an Selin Genc pegs it as “the unknown the child sens­es with­in her­self: a source of con­cern and fas­ci­na­tion.”

Far be it from us to haz­ard a guess in the pub­lic forum, though we’d be keen to get an ado­les­cent girl’s unof­fi­cial take on it, par­tic­u­lar­ly if she shares Tanning’s fas­ci­na­tion for Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land and is as yet unac­quaint­ed with the Sur­re­al­ists, female or oth­er­wise.

Giv­en that many young teens under­stand gen­der to be a non-bina­ry propo­si­tion, our hypo­thet­i­cal inter­vie­wee might appre­ci­ate Tanning’s staunch rejec­tion of the label ‘woman artist’, insist­ing that “there is no such thing or per­son” and it is “just as much a con­tra­dic­tion in terms as ‘man artist’ or ‘ele­phant artist’.”

21st-cen­tu­ry artists of all ages, gen­ders and gen­res could ben­e­fit from her advice to “keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars.”

That, friends, is how you make Eine Kleine Nacht­musik.

In a 2001 arti­cle in ART­news titled The Old­est Liv­ing Sur­re­al­ist Tells (Almost) All, Tan­ning, then 91 and “still alive in every way” spelled it out:

(Art) should make us feel good about life, or at least make us think about the big ques­tions, the things that peo­ple don’t want to ask them­selves any­more.”

Here’s some more of Dorothea Tanning’s work to get you start­ed on those ques­tions.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Fan­tas­tic Women Of Sur­re­al­ism: An Intro­duc­tion

An Intro­duc­tion to Sur­re­al­ism: The Big Aes­thet­ic Ideas Pre­sent­ed in Three Videos

Dis­cov­er Leono­ra Car­ring­ton, Britain’s Lost Sur­re­al­ist Painter

What Makes Sal­vador Dalí’s Icon­ic Sur­re­al­ist Paint­ing “The Per­sis­tence of Mem­o­ry” a Great Work of Art

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The Fantastic Women Of Surrealism: An Introduction

When André Bre­ton, a leader of the Sur­re­al­ist move­ment and author of its first man­i­festo, wrote that “the prob­lem of woman is the most mar­velous and dis­turb­ing prob­lem in all the world,” he was not allud­ing to the unfair lack of recog­ni­tion expe­ri­enced by his female peers.

Mar­quee name Sur­re­al­ists like Bre­ton, Sal­vador DalíMan RayRené Magritte, and Max Ernst posi­tioned the women in their cir­cle as mus­es and sym­bols of erot­ic fem­i­nin­i­ty, rather than artists in their own right.

As Méret Oppen­heim, sub­ject of a recent ret­ro­spec­tive at the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art, is seen remark­ing at the out­set of Behind the Mas­ter­piece’s intro­duc­tion to “the fan­tas­tic women of Sur­re­al­ism”, above, it was up to female Sur­re­al­ists to free them­selves of the nar­row­ly defined role soci­ety — and their male coun­ter­parts — sought to impose on them:

A woman isn’t enti­tled to think, to express aggres­sive ideas.

The first artist Behind the Mas­ter­piece pro­files needs no intro­duc­tion. Fri­da Kahlo is sure­ly one of the best known female artists in the world, a woman who played by her own rules, turn­ing to poet­ic, often bru­tal imagery as she delved into her own phys­i­cal and men­tal suf­fer­ing:

I paint self-por­traits, because I paint my own real­i­ty. I paint what I need to. Paint­ing com­plet­ed my life. I lost three chil­dren and paint­ing sub­sti­tut­ed for all of this… I am not sick, I am bro­ken. But I am hap­py to be alive as long as I can paint.

The Nation­al Muse­um of Women in the Arts notes that Reme­dios Varo —  the sub­ject of a cur­rent exhi­bi­tion at the Art Insti­tute of Chica­go- and Leono­ra Car­ring­ton “were seen as the ‘femmes-enfants’ to the famous and much old­er male artists in their lives.”

Their friend­ship was ulti­mate­ly more sat­is­fy­ing and far longer last­ing then their roman­tic attach­ments to Sur­re­al­ist lumi­nar­ies Ernst and poet Ben­jamin Péret. Car­ring­ton paid trib­ute to it in her nov­el, The Hear­ing Trum­pet.

The pair’s work reveals a shared inter­est in alche­my, astrol­o­gy and the occult, approach­ing them from char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent angles, as per Ste­fan van Raay, author of Sur­re­al Friends: Leono­ra Car­ring­ton, Reme­dios Varo, and Kati Hor­na:

Carrington’s work is about tone and col­or and Varo’s is about line and form.

The name of Dorothea Tan­ning, like that of Leono­ra Car­ring­ton, is often linked to Max Ernst, though she made no bones about her desire to keep her artis­tic iden­ti­ty sep­a­rate from that of her hus­band of 30 years.

Her work evolved sev­er­al times over the course of a career span­ning sev­en decades, but her first major muse­um sur­vey was a posthu­mous one.

Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge art his­to­ry pro­fes­sor, Alyce Mahon, co-cura­tor of that Tate Mod­ern exhib­it, touch­es on the nature of Tanning’s decep­tive­ly fem­i­nine soft sculp­tures:

If I asked for two words that you asso­ciate with pin cush­ions, you would say sewing and craft, and you would asso­ciate those with the female in the house. Tan­ning played with the idea of wife­ly skills and took a very hum­ble object and turned it into a fetish. She craft­ed her first one out of vel­vet in 1965 and ran­dom­ly placed pins in it and aligned it with a voodoo doll. She says it ‘bris­tles’ with images. So she takes some­thing fab­u­lous­ly famil­iar and makes it uncan­ny and strange to encour­age us to think dif­fer­ent­ly.

Tan­ning reject­ed the label of ‘woman artist’, view­ing it as “just as much a con­tra­dic­tion in terms as ‘man artist’ or ‘ele­phant artist’.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Sig­mund Freud!

The famed psychoanalyst’s con­cept of the sub­con­scious mind was cen­tral to Sur­re­al­ism, but he also wrote that “women oppose change, receive pas­sive­ly, and add noth­ing of their own.”

One won­ders what he would have made of Object, the fur lined teacup, saucer and spoon that is Oppenheim’s best known work, for bet­ter or worse.

In an essay for Khan Academy’s AP/College Art His­to­ry course Josh Rose describes how Muse­um of Mod­ern Art patrons declared it the “quin­tes­sen­tial” Sur­re­al­ist object when it was fea­tured in the influ­en­tial 1936–37 exhi­bi­tion “Fan­tas­tic Art, Dada, and Sur­re­al­ism:”

But for Oppen­heim, the pres­tige and focus on this one object proved too much, and she spent more than a decade out of the artis­tic lime­light, destroy­ing much of the work she pro­duced dur­ing that peri­od. It was only lat­er when she re-emerged, and began pub­licly show­ing new paint­ings and objects with renewed vig­or and con­fi­dence, that she began reclaim­ing some of the intent of her work. When she was giv­en an award for her work by the City of Basel, she touched upon this in her accep­tance speech, (say­ing,) “I think it is the duty of a woman to lead a life that express­es her dis­be­lief in the valid­i­ty of the taboos that have been imposed upon her kind for thou­sands of years. Nobody will give you free­dom; you have to take it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent

Dis­cov­er Leono­ra Car­ring­ton, Britain’s Lost Sur­re­al­ist Painter

A Brief Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life and Work of Fri­da Kahlo

The For­got­ten Women of Sur­re­al­ism: A Mag­i­cal, Short Ani­mat­ed Film

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

1000+ Barbie Commercials Provides Context for This Summer’s Pinkest Blockbuster (1959–2023)

The Bar­bie movie has cap­tured the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion in a big way.

The New York Times can’t get enough of the recent­ly opened sum­mer block­buster. Between reviews, fash­ion round ups, inter­views, box office reports and op eds, it has pub­lished over two dozen pieces tied to this mas­sive cul­tur­al moment.

Even those who don’t feel a burn­ing need to catch Bar­bie at the mul­ti­plex are like­ly aware of the Bar­ben­heimer phe­nom.

But what about those who grew up in fem­i­nist homes, or sis­ter­less cis-males of a cer­tain age?

Will a lack of hands-on expe­ri­ence dimin­ish the cin­e­mat­ic plea­sures of Bar­bie?

Not if you immerse your­self in Bar­bi­eCol­lec­tors’ chrono­log­i­cal playlist of Bar­bie com­mer­cials before tick­et­ing up. That’s over a thou­sand ads, span­ning more than six decades.

The 1959 ad, above, that intro­duced the glam­orous “teen age fash­ion doll” to the pub­lic clears up the mis­per­cep­tion that pink has always been Barbie’s de fac­to col­or. It’s black-and-white, but so is the diag­o­nal striped swim­suit the film’s star, Mar­got Rob­bie mod­els in the film’s open­er, a tongue in cheek homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

(Astute observers may note the sim­i­lar­i­ties between some of the sophis­ti­cat­ed ensem­bles orig­i­nal fla­vor Bar­bie sports here and the out­fits Rob­bie donned for the pink car­pet pri­or to the Screen Actors Guild strike.)

In the bat­tle between pink and his­tor­i­cal record, pink is des­tined to come out on top in the Bar­bie movie. Direc­tor Gre­ta Ger­wig and her design team punch up Barbie’s ear­ly 80’s West­ern look with a wide pink brush, low­er­ing the neck­line but keep­ing the wink.

The doll came with a work­ing auto­graph stamp Rob­bie may con­sid­er adopt­ing, should Bar­bie mania con­tin­ue on into fall.

One of the most thrilling design ele­ments of the movie is the human scale Dream­hous­es occu­pied by Bar­bie and her friends, the major­i­ty of whom are also named Bar­bie.

The Dream­house has tak­en many archi­tec­tur­al forms over the years — town­house, cot­tage, man­sion — but it always comes with­out a fourth wall.

Anoth­er cin­e­mat­ic treat is the roll call of vehi­cles Bar­bie com­man­deers on her jour­ney to the real world with her hap­less boyfriend, Ken.

Some of the film’s deep­er cuts are jokes at the expense of mis­guid­ed releas­es, Bar­bie side­kicks so ill-con­ceived that they were quick­ly dis­con­tin­ued, although 1993’s Ear­ring Mag­ic Ken became a best­seller, thanks to his pop­u­lar­i­ty in the gay com­mu­ni­ty.

Look for Barbie’s preg­nant pal, Midge, her yel­low Labrador retriev­er, Tan­ner (whose scoopable excre­ment was quick­ly deemed a chok­ing haz­ard) and Grow­ing up Skip­per, the lit­tle sis­ter who goes through puber­ty with a twist of the arm … “which is some­thing you can’t do,” the commercial’s nar­ra­tor taunts in a rare rever­sal of the “girls can be any­thing” ethos Mat­tel insists is part of the brand.

Of course, one can only cram so many know­ing­ly-placed prod­ucts into one fea­ture-length film.

Are those of you who grew up with Bar­bie hurt­ing from any glar­ing omis­sions? (Ask­ing as a child of the Mal­ibu Bar­bie era…)

Those who didn’t grow up with Bar­bie can play along too by sam­pling from Bar­bi­eCol­lec­tors’ mas­sive chrono­log­i­cal com­mer­cial playlist, then nom­i­nat­ing your favorites in the com­ments.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Mattel’s Bar­bie Turns Women of Med­i­cine, Includ­ing COVID Vac­cine Devel­op­er, Into Dolls

The New David Bowie Bar­bie Doll Released to Com­mem­o­rate the 50th Anniver­sary of “Space Odd­i­ty”

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

How Carole King Revolutionized ’70s Music

In 1960, The Shirelles became the first Black female group to have a #1 US  hit with “Will You Love Me Tomor­row?”.

The song also rep­re­sent­ed a big break for its com­pos­er, 17-year-old Car­ole King, and her then-hus­band, lyri­cist Ger­ry Gof­fin.

The two set up shop in New York City’s Brill Build­ing, a pre-British Inva­sion hotbed of song­writ­ing teams, crank­ing out pop tunes for oth­ers to record.

King and Goffin’s col­lab­o­ra­tion was a fruit­ful one for both them­selves and the artists they sent climb­ing the charts:

Bob­by Vee with “Take Good Care of My Baby”.

The Chif­fons with “One Fine Day”.

The Mon­kees with “Pleas­ant Val­ley Sun­day”.

“Lit­tle Eva” Boyd (the couple’s babysit­ter) with “The Loco-Motion”.

Aretha Franklin with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Nat­ur­al Woman”.

The late 60s ush­ered in both a musi­cal and social rev­o­lu­tion.

As King writes in her mem­oir, A Nat­ur­al Woman, “Had I been forty-two and Ger­ry forty-five, I might have under­stood his yearn­ing for the Bohemi­an lifestyle he’d nev­er had:”

But I was a twen­ty-two year old wife and moth­er los­ing my twen­ty-five year old hus­band to avant-garde ideas. I want­ed my life back. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, yes­ter­day had a no return pol­i­cy, and today wasn’t where I want­ed to be. I could only hope tomor­row would be bet­ter.

The cou­ple split in 1968, and King left New York for LA, set­tling in Lau­rel Canyon, anoth­er hive of musi­cal activ­i­ty. Here, how­ev­er, singers like Joni Mitchell, James Tay­lor, and Neil Young wrote their own songs, shar­ing inti­mate details of their lives and rela­tion­ships in the name of cre­ative expres­sion.

King began to explore these avenues, too, though as Poly­phon­ic’s Noah Lefevre observes in the above video essay on her sem­i­nal sec­ond album, 1971’s Tapes­try, the Brill Building’s high bar for sol­id song craft and catchy hooks had become part of her DNA.

Her first solo record­ing was lit­tle her­ald­ed, but Tapes­try was a smash from the get go, nab­bing King Gram­mys for both record and song of the year, the first female solo act to be so rec­og­nized:

Tapes­try changed my life. In an imme­di­ate way, it gave me finan­cial inde­pen­dence, which was real­ly won­der­ful. Less imme­di­ate and in an ongo­ing way, it opened doors.

Released as sec­ond wave fem­i­nism was crest­ing, Tapes­try’s lyrics res­onat­ed with many women who, raised on dreams of mar­riage and moth­er­hood, found them­selves seek­ing ful­fill­ment else­where, whether by choice or cir­cum­stance.

Com­pared to Joni Mitchell’s con­fes­sion­al Blue, Polyphonic’s Lefevre sees Tapes­try as a work of “qui­et resilience.”

It mod­eled the soft rock sound that became a 70s sta­ple, and its cov­er art eschewed the idea of artist as glam­orous being, in favor of an approach­able human-scale indi­vid­ual.

It also afford­ed King the oppor­tu­ni­ty for time­ly rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of “Will You Still Love Me Tomor­row” and “A Nat­ur­al Woman,” this time as a singer-song­writer.

Lis­ten to Car­ole King’s Tapes­try here.

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Older Women Come Together & Play Punk Rock: Discover The Unglamorous Music Project

Punk is not only not dead, it’s get­ting a fresh burst of ener­gy, thanks to The Unglam­orous Music Pro­ject, a female col­lec­tive in Leices­ter.

In accor­dance with punk tra­di­tion, musi­cal abil­i­ty is not a pri­ma­ry con­cern.

Shock­ing­ly, life expe­ri­ence is.

With five, six, and sev­en decades worth, Unglam­orous Music Project par­tic­i­pants have no illu­sions about how women their age — with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of Pat­ti Smith — are per­ceived.

Rather than con­tent them­selves with crumbs and con­form to soci­etal expec­ta­tions, they are going hard in new­ly formed bands like The Wonky Por­traits, Dada Women, BOILERS, Vel­vet Cri­sis and The Veri­nos, above.

“This is def­i­nite­ly not ‘cutesy grannies have a go at punk’ band,” BOILERS’ Alli­son “Fish” Dunne empha­sized to The Guardian:

I’ve got no fucks to give any more about what any­one thinks of me…We write our own music and we’ve got a lot to say about every­thing we’re angry about. I’ve been enraged for years.

The Veri­nos’ 61-year-old Ruth Miller, founder of The Unglam­orous Music Project, told RNZ  how she tapped into an unex­pect­ed­ly rich reser­voir of pre­vi­ous­ly unact­ed upon mature female musi­cal impulse, when she men­tioned her plan to form a band to the friend with whom she drank cof­fee and talked pol­i­tics.

The friend con­fessed that she’d long want­ed to take up the drums, and on the strength of that com­ment was draft­ed as drum­mer for the Veri­nos, after watch­ing one instruc­tion­al YouTube video.

A “real­ly cool look­ing old­er woman” with “stick­ing up hair” whom Miller approached in a restau­rant, ask­ing, “Excuse me, are you in a band?” earned her place by answer­ing “No, but I’ve always want­ed to learn bass.”

I think as a woman, you hit a par­tic­u­lar age and you think, “Well, I don’t care what any­one thinks. It’s my life, and I real­ly want to do music again, and it doesn’t mat­ter whether peo­ple like it or not. They don’t have to lis­ten…”

But they do like it! It’s incred­i­bly appeal­ing, that idea of see­ing a group of old­er women who are just them­selves.

Miller believes that rather than pay­ing for pri­vate lessons and con­cen­trat­ing on the “prop­er” way to play music, begin­ners should let go of their inhi­bi­tions and have a go at play­ing com­mu­nal­ly.

The prin­ci­ples of the Unglam­orous Music Project spell it out even more explic­it­ly:

  • Choose an instru­ment that appeals and fits in with oth­ers
  • Find help­ful peo­ple to lend you stuff and sup­port uncon­di­tion­al­ly
  • Form a duo or band with oth­er begin­ners straight­away
  • Explore very sim­ple rhythms and sounds
  • Write your own words about your life
  • Sing great tunes and back­ing vocals
  • Play your song in a con­fi­dent, cool, chal­leng­ing way
  • Get encour­age­ment and applause from friends
  • Start per­form­ing to audi­ences as soon as pos­si­ble

Per­haps an unspo­ken prin­ci­ple, giv­en the Pro­jec­t’s empha­sis on fun, is assum­ing Ramones-style stage names, a la Vim, Vi, Vol­cano, Vix­en and VeeDee Veri­no.

If you’re inspired to join the move­ment, mark your cal­en­dar for March, 8, Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day and join Miller’s Face­book group, 66 Days to your Debut.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

33 Songs That Doc­u­ment the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curat­ed by Pitch­fork

How the Riot Grrrl Move­ment Cre­at­ed a Rev­o­lu­tion in Rock & Punk

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Medieval Mixed-Gender Fight Club: Behold Images from a 15th-Century Fighting Manual

Wel­come to Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club.

The first rule of Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club is: you do not talk about Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club.

The sec­ond rule of Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club!


The Pub­lic Domain Review’s man­ag­ing edi­tor, Hunter Dukes, wise­ly argues that it’s because we have so lit­tle to go on, beyond these star­tling images of “judi­cial duels” between men and women in Ger­man fenc­ing mas­ter Hans Tal­hof­fer’s illus­trat­ed 15th-cen­tu­ry “fight books.”

The male com­bat­ant, armed with a wood­en mace, starts out in a waist-deep hole.

The female, armed with a rock wrapped in a length of cloth, stands above, feet plant­ed to the ground.

Their match­ing uni­sex gar­ments wouldn’t look out of place at the Met Gala, and pro­vide for max­i­mum move­ment as evi­denced by the acro­bat­ic, and seri­ous­ly painful-look­ing paces Tal­hof­fer puts them through.

Dukes is not alone in won­der­ing what’s going on here, and he doesn’t mince words when call­ing bull­shit on those respon­si­ble for “hasti­ly researched arti­cles” eager­ly pro­nounc­ing them to be action shots of divorce-by-com­bat.

Such bru­tal meth­ods of for­mal uncou­pling had been ren­dered obso­lete cen­turies before Tal­hof­fer began work on his instruc­tion­al man­u­als. 

In a 1985 arti­cle in Source: Notes in the His­to­ry of Art, Alli­son Coud­ert,  a pro­fes­sor of Reli­gious Stud­ies at UC Davis, posits that Tal­hof­fer might have been draw­ing on the past in these pages:

I would sug­gest that no records of judi­cial duels between hus­bands and wives exists after 1200 because of both changes in the real­i­ty and the ide­al of what a woman could be and do. Before 1200, women may well have bat­tled their hus­bands. Women under­stood and defend­ed the impor­tance of their eco­nom­ic and admin­is­tra­tive roles in the house­hold. After the twelfth cen­tu­ry, how­ev­er, law, cus­tom and reli­gion made mar­i­tal duels all but unthink­able.

Why would Tal­hof­fer both­er includ­ing archa­ic mate­r­i­al if the focus of his Fecht­buchs was giv­ing less expe­ri­enced fight­ers con­crete infor­ma­tion for their bet­ter­ment?

We like the notion that he might have been seek­ing to inject his man­u­scripts with a bit of an erot­ic charge, but con­cede that schol­ars like Coud­ert, who have PhDs, research chops, and actu­al exper­tise in the sub­ject, are prob­a­bly warmer when reck­on­ing that he was just cov­er­ing his his­tor­i­cal bases.

For now, let us enjoy these images as art, and pos­si­ble sources of inspi­ra­tion for avant-garde cir­cus acts, Hal­loween cou­ples cos­tumes, and Valen­tines.


Explore more images from the 15th-cen­tu­ry Fecht­buchs of Hans Tal­hof­fer here and here.

via the Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What It’s Like to Actu­al­ly Fight in Medieval Armor

How to Get Dressed & Fight in 14th Cen­tu­ry Armor: A Reen­act­ment

Watch Accu­rate Recre­ations of Medieval Ital­ian Longsword Fight­ing Tech­niques, All Based on a Man­u­script from 1404

The Medieval Mas­ter­piece, the Book of Kells, Is Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Cher Play All the Major Parts in a 12-Minute Remake of West Side Story (1978)

Cher, the monony­mous God­dess of Pop, gift­ed the small screens of the 70s with a lot of over-the-top glam­our.

Her work eth­ic, comedic flair and unapolo­getic embrace of camp helped her stand out from the crowd, con­fer­ring the fame she had longed for since child­hood, when she com­man­deered her 5th grade class­mates for an unof­fi­cial, and, from the sounds of it, all-female pro­duc­tion of Okla­homa, cov­er­ing the male roles her­self when the boys declined to par­tic­i­pate.

Some twen­ty years lat­er, she was a house­hold name — one that was no longer append­ed to that of ex-hus­band Son­ny Bono, co-host of the pop­u­lar epony­mous vari­ety hour in which they sang, hammed their way through goofy skits, and bust­ed each other’s chops to the delight of the live stu­dio audi­ence.

The 1978 tele­vi­sion event Cher…special found her bring­ing many of those same tal­ents to bear, along with coun­try star Dol­ly Par­ton, rock­er Rod Stew­art, out­ré glam band, The Tubes, and the crowd-pleas­ing array of span­gled, skin-bar­ing Bob Mack­ie designs that defined her look.

More shock­ing than any of Mackie’s cre­ations or the Musi­cal Bat­tle to Save Cher’s Soul, a set piece where­in Par­ton and a gospel choir endeav­or to coax the diva from a kinky dis­co hellscape, is the star’s 12-and-a-half minute solo ver­sion of West Side Sto­ry, above.

This is no mere med­ley. Cher puts the big pot in the lit­tle, don­ning mul­ti­ple wigs, a fac­sim­i­le of the chaste white par­ty dress Natal­ie Wood wore to the dance at the gym, and flats (!) to embody Tony, Maria, Ani­ta, Bernar­do and var­i­ous Jets, sans irony.

Some of Stephen Sond­heim’s award-win­ning songs have been trans­posed to a dif­fer­ent key to accom­mo­date Cher’s con­tral­to, and when they haven’t, her famous voice is stretched a bit thin.

Vocal­ly, she makes a more con­vinc­ing Jet than she does the ingenue, Maria.

(Speak­ing of which, let’s not for­get that that’s ghost singer Marni Nixon, not Wood, as Maria on the 1961 film’s sound­track…)

Why West Side Sto­ry?

Why not God­spell or Jesus Christ Super­star? Wouldn’t those fit bet­ter the­mat­i­cal­ly with the por­tion of the spe­cial that has Dol­ly and a white-robed cho­rus bat­tling the denizens of Satan’s sexy playpen?

Two words:

1. Vari­ety. That’s what Cher was ped­dling in the 70s.

2. Nos­tal­gia. As Cher recalls in On the Dance Floor: Spin­ning Out on Screen:

I remem­ber danc­ing around my liv­ing room to West Side Sto­ry (1961). I would sing all the parts and dance every sin­gle dance, when there was no one else around.

That admis­sion helps us reframe the cringe fac­tor. Before ye cast the first stone, think: hast thou nev­er stood before a mir­ror singing into a hair­brush?

And if, by some chance, you’re unfa­mil­iar with West Side Sto­ry’s drama­tis per­son­ae and plot, don’t look to Cher for clar­i­fi­ca­tion.

Instead, we refer you to Romeo and Juli­et, and for some mod­ern con­text touch­ing on green screens, gen­der­flu­id­i­ty, and the col­or-con­scious cast­ing of the 2021 remake, the below episode of Chris Frank’s snarky Bad Music Video The­ater.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

David Bowie and Cher Sing Duet of “Young Amer­i­cans” and Oth­er Songs on 1975 Vari­ety Show

Leonard Bern­stein Awk­ward­ly Turns the Screws on Tenor Jose Car­reras While Record­ing West Side Sto­ry (1984)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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