When it comes to music, the term "Year of the Woman" seems forever bound to
bouts of amnesia.
Two or three times a decade, stories come out proclaiming that women have claimed a new place in rock, although few of those accounts seem to take notice of the last time the phrase was bandied about. Earlier in the '90s, we happened into one of those years as bands such as L7, Babes In Toyland and Bikini Kill gained notice.
In 1997, the "Year of the Woman" was more freshly dubbed the "Year of Lilith," as sultry songstress Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair took the country by storm last summer with a live slate of top women performers including McLachlan, Jewel, Joan Osborne and others.
With Paula Cole the sole artist to rake in nominations in all four of the
general categories for this year's Grammy Awards -- Record of the Year (for
performing "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone"), Song of the Year (for
writing "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone"), Album of the Year (This
Fire) and Best New Artist -- some may be tempted to dub this year's
awards ceremony the latest "YOTW."
While female artists certainly deserve the spotlight at the Feb. 25 ceremony at Radio City Music Hall in New York, what is most interesting about this year's list of contenders, however, is not Cole's omnipresence but rather the variety of talent represented in Best Female Rock Vocal Performance category.
The Grammy Awards have long been knocked for their stuffiness and refusal
to move beyond Baby Boomer performers. Witness even this year's list of
nominees for Best Male Rock Vocal: Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, David Bowie,
Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp.
While some of the male nominees are no doubt deserving of the honor, their list reeks of conservatism; not so for the women. Check out the female slate: Fiona Apple, Meredith Brooks, Ani DiFranco, Abra Moore and Patti Smith.
As singer and songwriter Mary Lou Lord, herself once touted as a "YOTW"
member, recently said, "Patti Smith and Ani DiFranco -- that's something
new, isn't it? Sounds good to me."
As one might expect, the Lilith festival is represented -- but not by McLachlan. Instead, upstart twentysomething Fiona Apple, who in belting out her youthful, angst-ridden lyrics from the safety of her piano offered what some say were Lilith's most fiery performances, leads the way with her walloping hit single "Criminal."
While the female nominees are not as old hat as the men, that's not to say
that the classic-rock-minded set goes unrecognized here. Abra Moore, also
a Lilith alum, represents the more traditional side of rock with "Four Leaf
Clover," along with Meredith Brooks, who is recognized for her anthem of
But the most interesting nominations in the category bookend the age scale.
On the elder end is punk-poet Patti Smith, nominated for her joint salute to Tibet
and the Beats, "1959." As one of the first New York punks, Smith charted a
course for independent artistry that has been inspiring to both sexes.
Moreover, with her latest work (last year's Peace and Noise, which
includes "1959," and 1996's Gone Again), Smith has proven herself
discontent to rest on laurels while forging what is arguably some of the boldest music of her career.
On the other end of the scale is Ani DiFranco (for "Shy"), a true Smith
inheritor when it comes to independence. That DiFranco -- who has released
all her albums on her own Righteous Babe label -- was nominated is a hearty
sign that the Grammys may be taking a turn toward contemporary relevance.
But perhaps the most heartening element of this stable of nominees is the
breadth of rock that they encompass. While some surely have influenced
others on the list, these women are by no means all cut from the same
And that recognition -- that women span such a wide range of music
that terms such as "Year of the Woman" and "Women in Rock" are exposed for
their true meaninglessness -- is perhaps the most important aspect of all. [Mon., Feb. 16, 1998, 12:30 p.m. PST]