Calling the Lilith Fair CD "A Celebration of Women in Music" is like
calling Burger King "A Celebration of Food."
The brains behind Lilith present an extremely limited view of what
"women's music" actually is, ignoring every genre except the creakiest,
most stereotypically "female" singer-songwriter.
How a collection of songs this, pardon the pre-Viagra expression, flaccid,
"celebrates" women is a mystery to me.
The overall impression here is that, despite decades of artistic
trailblazing by female musicians, from the Runaways through Salt-N-Pepa and
beyond Bikini Kill, we haven't come such a long way, after all.
In Lilith Land, women languish in perpetual PMS slumps, playing out
limp-wristed soap-operatic dramas with all the vigor of an exhausted
anorectic. Expression is limited to (for the most part) acoustic guitars,
because electric is not, after all, very ladylike.
I only wish that McLachlan had invited her favorite boy musicians along,
too, and dropped the whole fem-centric flag waving routine. Then it would
have been a nice, simple, vanity tour, with the artist presenting random
stuff that she and her fans like to hear, case closed.
But by tagging the festival and CD as "Women's Music," it only
marginalizes the artistic output of this gender as seamlessly folksy,
pretty and unthreatening.
"Hey, McLachlan. Where's all the female punk/hip-hop/metal/rap/soul/r&b/
You want to talk about inspiring?
By leaving all of this stuff out, yet insisting on hoisting the banner of
"Women's Music," the Lilith Fair takes one giant step backwards for
womankind (and misses out on some of the world's best music in the
Enough semantics for one review. What about the music?
Well, it's all just so damn nice that after the millionth sweet chord and
pretty harmony I begin to crave 2 Live Crew, the Dwarves and Nashville
Pussy like a Catholic schoolgirl jonesing for cigarettes, wine coolers and
pre-marital sex. Anything to bust up this Teva-sandaled, sports bra-
wearing, Public Radio-listening college-town atmosphere. The overly
non-judgmental Lilith vibe is best symbolized by the wild cheers greeting
pap such as Susanna Hoffs' "Eternal Flame."
Halfway into the first CD (there are two) judgment becomes violently
skewed: I'm much too thankful for Meredith Brooks' electric guitars and
Abra Moore's catchy vocals, when in real life I wouldn't leave the radio
dial on 'em for a blip.
The songs that stand out here do so because their singers are too unique,
their approaches too offbeat to get sucked into the saccharine river of
mediocrity. They do not fall into the stylistic traps (breathlessly naive,
hysterically melodramatic, flabbily romantic) so common here.
Patty Griffin's "Cain." Twangy, dirt-road winding guitar and a
breathtaking voice, with lyrics straight out of a Harry Crews book. Bare
Victoria Williams' "Periwinkle Sky." Carol Channing goes all country and
dreamy on us; a glimpse into her strange little world.
Joan Osborne's "Ladder." Curse "One Of Us" but she's got an
awesome vocal presence, belting it out with raw gusto and volume.
Yes, of course the Lilith chicks have the right to sing softly and carry a
damned acoustic. But I can't help but think that the "woman's role," to
prettify and soothe, is the true root behind so much of this music. Why do
so many of these gals have acoustic guitars, anyway?
Have they come from a bassless planet? A place without drums? Without Joan Jett?
Or is it because a young girl's parents generally shy away from the
purchase of a Les Paul copy and a Gorilla Amp for their little angel? (I'm
betting on this one.) Saddled with acoustic guitars, girls are practically
forced to sit on their beds and crib lyrics from their diaries. To make
nice. To be quiet.
It makes the existence of the Runaways, Bikini Kill, the Lunachicks, Salt-
N-Pepa, L7, Marianne Faithfull, Sleater-Kinney, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Yo Yo,
Squat, Neneh Cherry, Hole, the Red Aunts, Diamanda Galas, Slant 6, Auntie
Christ, the Donnas and Babes in Toyland seem like something of a miracle.
Maybe next year these bands will join forces to put on their own "Medea Fair."