Photo by: Solvej Schou
“Tell you my name/ F U and CK/ 50 foot queenie/ Force ten hurricane!!”
I first heard Polly Jean Harvey belt those words–from her fuzz-soaked mantra “50 Ft Queenie” off her second album “Rid of Me”– live in 1993, at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. I was 14 then, a combat boots wearing Hollywood teen with anger over the death of my mom, who died when I was a kid, just brimming on the surface, ready to explode.
PJ Harvey embodied that anger. She harnessed it. She made it acceptable, accepted, real and true. Words steeped in sexuality, revenge, art and the blues surged through her. She was wiry, stylish and beautifully British. She was the main headlining act, the star, only a year after her 1992 debut “Dry” hit all of us with an onslaught of grinding, raw Telecaster rock ‘n’ roll and songs referencing the bible, desire and rejection, and filled with gut-clenching moans. Distinctly female moans. Radiohead opened for HER, not the other way around.
By all accounts, I was a late bloomer. Someone whose idea of sensuality was shaped in layered ways by strong female musicians – Chrissie Hynde, Etta James, Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey, Patti Smith – from my childhood through adolescence, but not fully expressed in my own life until college.
Those were also the people I looked to when I performed, twisting my hips, growling and singing at clubs around Los Angeles starting in high school, and later, post college, as a sweaty, black eyeliner and neon polyester dress wearing dancer in the revival 1960s Mod scene in L.A. and New York.
Venue as bedroom. Audience as lover. Climax = song. Those singers still fill my spirit when I play now with my band, performing a mix of rock, Americana, blues and soul.
Prince – whose death just a week ago at age 57 continues to feel unreal – is the only man who similarly inspired me when it came to the expression of pure, musical, sexual freedom, a freedom both nuanced, open hearted and, yes, layered. The day he died, and days later, the floodgates of memory tore open for everyone I knew. Driving around L.A., I blared his music in my car, one of many doing the same.
“Don’t forget it! Use your voice!!!!”
So shouted 69-year-old Patti Smith, arms flailing, long grey hair flying, at the Wiltern in Los Angeles during Saturday’s sold-out last night of her tour performing her iconic 1975 album Horses for its 40th anniversary. She spit on the stage, danced barefoot and thrust her voice to the heavens, with the crowd roaring back. An older female artist thrumming with life, rage, rock and joy; aging, ageless, human.