December 18, 2014

Amazons of Rock

Last year I was fortunate enough to guest post on Raised on the Radio. Here, now, is my Amazons of Rock mix tape.

I grew up on Rock. My parents had hundreds of records, and their own individual, rock n' roll passions. My mom's side of the collection had show tunes and novelty records, but also Black Sabbath. My father's collection encompassed the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and of course the Beatles. I breathed eight bar blues and the discordant tearing of wailing- not singing- vocal cords behind a microphone.

When I turned twelve, I had a lot of guy friends. And we all loved rock music. But the music we listened to was male dominated. Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica...

And so my friends, mostly guys, told me girls can't rock. That rock is the domain of meaty, muscly, long haired men in plaid shirts or no shirts, headbanging or wailing and whining on the front of the stage. And girls... well... there was always Lilith Fair.

So I had to find a way to shut up those stupid friends of mine. I sat down and made them a mix tape. Because girls? They fucking rock.

I had to start with Janis Joplin. Because you always start with Janis Joplin. If you're going to make the argument that women can rock, there will be a token example. And the token example will always be Janis. Get it out of the way. Don't fight it. She rocked harder than anyone in the history of the earth. Listen to her wail, and tell me I'm wrong. This is the legacy of women in rock. We begin here, and then we can move on to the latter years of alternative.

The nineties were the heyday of alternative music. Our adolescent years were a series of albums where every single song could have been described as our personal anthems for a solid month. "Jagged Little Pill" was one of those CDs. Every song. From the first, to the hidden track she performed a capella at the MTV Video awards. If there was one woman current on the radio, current in pop culture, current in music who indisputably rocked... it was Alanis.

The years was 1996. And every teenage girl in America had the impulse to wallpaper her walls with these lyrics. Because we all had a feeling that it was going to be us. Not just a pretended adulthood and inevitable failure, but anger. Anger that we weren't allowed to express as girls. Anger that we didn't know how to put voice to in the image of Kurt Cobain. Girl rage.

Every corner of rock had women hiding in it. From the political to the insipid, women were everywhere. And even if it felt like you couldn't see them, they made up for it in haunting, vivid music. They were masters of imagery. Skunk Anansie never got too successful this side of the pond, but that just gave their fans more cred. We were the feminist rock underground.

Of course, "feminism" was almost a dirty word. It meant manufactured "girl power" and middle aged folk singers who didn't shave their armpits. It was hard to listen to the Shawn Colvins and Loreena McKennits and claim that they rocked. And that was where Ani came in, like a rock and roll fusion dreamscape. There was no question. Ani? Rocked.

This is where the boys would tell me that it's all well and good that those women can rock, and sure, they could. But they have no general appeal. No real commercial appeal. I mean, who listens to Euro-prog-rock and Ani Difranco? Where will you hear that but college radio? So I say, BAM- No Doubt. Am I making myself clear?

Oh- and what was that you were saying about Lilith Fair not being rock music? Because you would be wrong. Dead. fucking. wrong.

No matter how much fun the fans of rock made of the Lilith Fair women, no matter how often they got lumped into entirely separate genres of music, isolated from the general sphere of "pop rock," or "rock," or even "alternative," there could be no doubt. They wailed. They shredded. They rocked.

The fact is that the alternative music scene was full of women. Kick ass, take no prisoners women of rock and roll. The folk revolution might have been alive and well. Jewel might have been singing story songs about mentally disabled teenagers, Sarah McLachlan might have had love songs in every RomCom soundtrack for three summers running. The Spice Girls might have been bouncing around in their ultra-produced pop bubble. But women were tearing it up on the rock scene.

And for all of those naysayers who reluctantly agreed, "Okay, there are some women who rock now. And there was Janis, of course. But this is a new thing. There haven't been a lot of women in rock. It's a male genre. It's guys and testosterone and they do it because chicks love it." To that I said, "Yeah, chicks DO love it. And that's why they've been making spectacular rock since the beginning."

And a bonus track- because there should always be a bonus track...

There have been women in Rock n' Roll since before the Beatles, brother. And they've been killing it since your granddaddy's sock hops. Suck it up, little man, and make way for the queens.

December 17, 2014

A SuperMommy Guide to Channukah

Last night marked the beginning of Channukah, the festival of lights.

Like pretty much all Jewish holidays, the gist of Channukah is, "They tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat."

A lot of people are under the mistaken impression that Channukah is a sort of Jewish Christmas- it's not! It's actually a relatively minor holiday, but because of all the excitement of Christmas, American Jews have pumped up Channukah quite a bit. So Jewish kids don't feel so left out, so Jewish adults can capitalize on the free time and shopping related perks of the season, and because, really, the Jewish people are always up for a party.

Our family's gingerbread menorah
Here is the story of Channukah:

Back in 165 BCE, Jews lived in Jerusalem, despite the land being essentially run by the Greek empire. Greeks and Jews lived side by side, peacefully for the most part, until a new king, Antiochus the Fourth, took the throne. Antiochus was not a very nice guy. He decreed that the people of Jerusalem were no longer allowed to worship their own gods, and decreed that their most holy temple (that's the temple that now stands as the Western Wall), should be turned into a temple for Dionysus- the Greek god of wine.

The Jews were not happy. Mattathias Maccabee was particular unhappy. When Greek soldiers stormed into the city, forcing Jews to bow before idols, Mattathias snapped. He killed not only a handful of soldiers forcing Jews to pray to Greek gods, but also a Jewish man who knelt to the idol. Then, he took to the hills.

His son, Judah Maccabee, became the leader of a small gang of rebels, determined to drive the Greek army away from the temple and from Jerusalem. In a very early lesson on guerrilla warfare, the Maccabees managed to defeat the Greeks, who outnumbered them by orders of magnitude. The Jews communicated to each other in code, passing off dreidles as harmless toys when really the lettering on the side contained details of assaults and ambushes.

Despite the phenomenal odds, the Maccabees beat the Greeks. The Greco-Syrian army retreated, and the Jews returned to their temple, which had been housing Dionysian rites.

From the Arch of Titus- the Greeks ransacking the temple after losing the war
For those unaware, Dionysian rites often included the slaughter of animals, including pigs, and orgies. In short, the most offensive things deeply religious Jews could imagine.

The Jews rededicated the temple- which meant washing it inside and out, making it holy again. Part of this was keeping the eternal flame lit- a flame meant to represent the eternal presence of God. But the Dionysian priests had ransacked the place on the way out, taking the expensive oil with them.

The legend is that there was only enough oil to burn for one day. The Maccabees sent their fastest runner to fetch more sanctified oil, but it was a journey of many days. Yet, the oil burned until he returned. For eight days and nights.

To celebrate Channukah, the Jewish people eat foods fried in oil- latkes and sufganyot (jelly doughnuts), although in my family we'll take any excuse to have falafel as well. We light candles for eight nights, and play with the dreidle, a top with four letters inscribed on the sides- a code.

The letters on the dreidle are Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Shin. They stand for the words, Nes gadol hayah sham, which means, "A great miracle happened there."
In Israel, the shin is replaced by a pey, to represent the word, "Po." Nes gadol hayah po means, "A great miracle happened here."

The word "Channukah," means "rededication." It refers to how the Jews reclaimed their temple after beating the Greek army.

Technically, a menorah is any Jewish candelabra, and the Channukah menorah is a Channukiah. What makes it special is that it holds nine candles. One for each day of Channukah, and one for lighting the other candles- the shamash, or helper candle.

A kosher Channukiah has the eight candles for the eight days of Channukah at the same height- because no day is more important than any other.

Jewish families play with dreidles, for peanuts, pennies, or Channukah gelt. The rules of dreidle are that at the beginning of each round, each player antes up. If your dreidle lands on a shin, you add one to the pot. If it lands on a nun, you neither add nor take away. If it lands on a hay, you win half the pot, and if it lands on a gimmel, you win the whole pot.

My family playing dreidle on Grandmommy's kitchen floor
We give gifts to each other because gifts are nice. But gifts have nothing to do with Channukah, really. We light our menorahs in the window so that other Jewish people will know we are here, and that they are welcome to celebrate with us.

My personal favorite part of Channukah is singing songs with my family. Poppa and I rarely get to sing together, and it's always a joy. In particular, I love singing rounds with him, and it's a tradition I look forward to passing on to my kids as they get old enough to keep tempo all on their own. So I will leave you with a few of my favorite Channnukah songs.

Chag samayach! 
(Happy Holidays!)


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