At a makeshift radio studio tucked somewhere in Seattle, Sleater-Kinney
singer/guitarist/songwriter Corin Tucker was talking about music with Eddie Vedder
on his band Pearl Jam's recent "Monkeywrench Radio" show.
Since the show, featuring rockers offering their input to the program, was broadcast free to radio stations around the globe, Tucker potentially faced an audience of millions -- undoubtedly the biggest crowd anyone from Sleater-Kinney has ever encountered.
The moment was, as the old riot grrrl slogan goes, pure "revolution, girl style."
Rather than reach into her bag of songs to pull out something from Sleater-Kinney's widely praised Call The Doctor, or its even finer follow-up, Dig Me Out, Tucker pulled out the Sleater-Kinney song "Big Big Lights" off the new "Free To Fight" single, prompting a discussion with Vedder not about her own band but rather about techniques for women's self-defense and empowerment. "One of the goals of 'Free To Fight' is to reach girls who are very young and don't have access to these kind of ideas when they're growing up," Tucker said by phone from her Portland, Ore., home before the show.
In the past three years, the ongoing project known as Free To Fight has
grown from an initial compilation album, featuring self-defense instruction
between songs from bands such as Team Dresch, Heavens To Betsy (Tucker's
former outfit) and Lois, into a concert tour with defense workshops and
now the recently released "Free To Fight" single, which includes tracks by
Sleater-Kinney and Cypher In The Snow plus a booklet with defense
techniques and letters from girls about the original Free To Fight
album. In addition, another compilation CD is in the works for future
"Free To Fight has gotten a lot of response from girls who are like 13 or
15, who were unaware that they could use their bodies to fight back in
situations when they felt threatened," Tucker said. "Especially for
teenage girls, feeling empowered and able to stand up for themselves in
situations is a really big part of what Free To Fight is trying to say.
It's about self-esteem."
"Big Big Lights," Sleater-Kinney's contribution to the "Free To Fight"
single, was originally recorded for the Dig Me Out album but was left
off the final track listing. The exuberant cut (chorus: "I'm the biggest
star, I'm the biggest one/ I can turn you off, I can turn you on") is
about feeling powerful, Tucker explained. "When I was younger, going to really big concerts was really exciting to me," she said. "There's this really fun and exciting aspect, but then there's also this ridiculous smoke-machine aspect that's really funny. When we wrote that song, we were on the brink of playing larger shows, and I was thinking about that: 'Sleater-Kinney? What's happening to us? This is crazy.' So I was having fun with that."
Launching the Free to Fight project's continual endeavor to mix music and self-defense was the idea of Jody Bleyle, the guitarist for Team Dresch and drummer for Hazel, as well as the owner of Candy Ass Records, which has released Free To Fight's album and single. "I had a bunch of friends who were self-defense instructors and I had all these friends who were doing rock and had this consciousness about self-defense and feminism," Bleyle said from San Francisco. "I felt like there needed to be a way to explicitly fuse these two communities."
The philosophical underpinning for Free To Fight is a broad view of
self-defense that focuses not only on physical protection but also on
respect and empowerment, Bleyle said. By creating meaningful art, the
bands involved are engaging in a form of empowerment and self-respect, and
thus a form of self-defense, the reasoning goes. Meanwhile, that art is
used to draw women to events -- such as the Free To Fight tour of California
in 1995 -- that involve them in physical self-defense and empowerment
Self-defense is not only about warding off attackers, although that is
important knowledge to have, Bleyle said. Self-defense also includes
respecting one's self and others enough to be vocal and honest about one's
"People don't even think about verbal self-defense," Bleyle said. "Things
like telling your roommate, 'Hey, I don't want you to borrow my clothes
anymore' -- low-level things that actually come up way more than fighting
does and are in a lot of ways harder. It's just as important to be able to
say what you want as it is to be able to say what you don't want." [Sat., Feb. 7, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]