The Colorado Springs music scene is starting to get the statewide and national attention it has been seeking for years.
Against Tomorrow's Sky regularly plays to packed shows in Denver. Laymen Terms has an album out on Soda Jerk Records and tours nationally. The Great Redneck Hope has a huge underground following in Colorado Springs. Then there's the hip-hop scene. Black Pegasus (Rob Huston) from Fusion of Syllables recently won second place at the Scribble Jam, a nationally known MC battle in Ohio. And MCA Records in Los Angeles has expressed an interest in local rap duo Accumen.
All of this recognition is undoubtedly exciting for local musicians and the fans who'd like to see our scene generate something more than endless whining and complaints, but there is one very conspicuous element all but missing from the picture: Where are the ladies?
While our neighbors to the north in Denver can boast high-profile bands like Dressy Bessy, Hemi Cuda, the Maybellines, and even a fledgling Colorado Women in Music Coalition, Colorado Springs has decidedly few women rockers. It's not like there aren't any ladies rocking; a short list includes Marni Green of Boondoggle, Carly Harmon of Blue Sun, and Jan Brennan and Kris Scheaffer of Egamufin. But recognition and respect have been harder to come by. So what is it?
Pretty good for a girl
Kellie Palmblad, lead singer and guitarist for the local female-fronted bands Eyes Caught Fire, said what many women have long-claimed about the male-dominated rock scene.
"I'm more worried about how our music is going to come across than how I will be perceived because of my gender," Palmblad said. "But I have noticed that people have certain expectations about the way we should behave or sound as a band with girls.
"They expect females to be set apart by their sexuality, or to rely on it. I have heard lots of people tell me, 'I don't usually like bands with girls, but I like you guys' or 'you're pretty good for a girl.' I believe that you can use your sexuality to your advantage, but it can hurt you in the long run."
In many ways, the problems with the gender gap in the local rock scene are just a microcosm of those facing the music industry as a whole. While Rolling Stone is not exactly an accurate guide to contemporary rock culture, even its marketing executives have been forced to reckon with the issue of gender politics in music by releasing an annual "Women Who Rock" issue. Unfortunately, the issue inevitably showcases the music industry's tendency to objectify women, rather than celebrate their talents.
Last year's cover, for example, featured pop princesses Britney Spears, Shakira, Avril Lavigne, Mary J. Blige, Alanis Morissette and Ashanti in a variety of clingy T-shirts, spiked bracelets and other "rock"-based faux-cessories. None, with the exception of Shakira, writes her own songs.
This year's issue is hardly an improvement -- rappers Missy Elliot and Eve flank a bare-bellied Alicia Keys. Though all are accomplished entertainers and performers, the message is clear: Their sex appeal is what landed them on the cover. Elliot, undoubtedly one of the most important female MCs today, probably wouldn't be on the cover had she not undergone an extreme physical makeover during the last year in order to up her sex appeal.
In the true spirit of rock 'n' roll, the "Women in Rock" tradition has caused a lot of controversy.
Source of amusement
Andi Zeisler, a graduate of Colorado College who is now the editorial/creative director at Bitch magazine (a feminist periodical out of San Francisco that frequently critiques portrayal of women in pop culture), acknowledges that the annual issue is a "perennial source of amusement and ire around the office.
"For one thing," said Zeisler, "there's the ever-loosening definition of what qualifies as 'rock' -- apparently, given this year's featured musicians, everyone from Dolly Parton to Alicia Keys to Lauryn Hill to Bobbie Gentry 'rocks,' but women who make music that would actually be filed under that category are barely present in the magazine's coverage."
In 2002, legendary rocker Joan Jett published a letter from Maya Price of the Manhattan-based band Mother Goddess on her Web site after Rolling Stone refused to publish it. The letter, which quickly spread on the Internet, accused Rolling Stone of showcasing their misguided belief that "rock is no longer a style of music but a trendy
Price went on to explain that she would have understood if the issue had been titled "Some Cute Girls with Top 10 Records Out Right Now," but "corny as it may sound, rock is something which is still meaningful and even sacred to some of us." Zeisler also pointed out the hypocrisy of calling the annual issue a "tribute."
"There's really no excuse for a magazine that considers itself a leading authority on the state of music to show such little interest in the women who are actually making that music," she said, recommending that women wanting to read noncommercial magazines about women who rock, should check out Venus, Rockrgrl or Kitty Magik, all of which cover underground, lesser-known, and accomplished-but-ignored female musicians.
Still, the recent explosion of critically touted, girl-rock outfits lends hope to the subject. Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) has been getting excellent reviews for her records and performances of her low-key, emotionally honest folk rock.
The Casio sound of feminista (formerly of Bikini Kill) Kathleen Hanna's new band Le Tigre inspires a new generation of girls to dance. Electroclashsters Peaches, I am the World Trade Center and Ladytron all proudly boast loud-mouthed ladies. Even n-metal fans can hear Evanescence's Amy Lee on any given commercial rock radio station.
Locally, however, there's still a dearth of female performers. While Eyes Caught Fire seeks to be known for their musical ability, other female-fronted groups heavily advertise that their band members are women in an effort to gain publicity. Because there are so few women in local bands, such groups are seen as an intriguing anomaly. But it can have its drawbacks.
"It can be a good marketing point if you have a female-fronted band," said Boondoggle's Green. "But I'm not sure if that's because [the promoters] think the music will be softer, or if the guys will think you're hot."
Scheaffer of Egamufin says the stereotypes for women playing music become tiresome. "People think you're cooler when they find out you're in a band. They think maybe you're a little closer to the edge because of that -- you're tough. But our audience does have a tendency to stereotype us. People compare us to the B-52s all the time, when really all we have in common is that we also have two girl singers."
Furthermore, women musicians say they frequently have to work harder in order to deserve the same kind of recognition men get. And the sexy appeal of women as rock fetishes can lead to unfair double standards.
"When I was looking for a band," Palmblad of Eyes Caught Fire said, "I tried out for a couple of bands and was turned down, probably because I am a girl. People think that girls cause drama, or that if a girl joins a band she will automatically become involved with someone in the band and that will be bad for the group. And then there are some people who simply don't want to be known as a girl band."
Further double standards are present on the business side of things. "For the most part, local promoters are really great," Green said. "But [being a woman in a band] does make it harder to be taken seriously -- to garner respect. When I come down on a bar-owner or promoter, I do get the 'you're assertive, you must be a bitch' thing."
Not sure why
The dismal prospects of starting an all-girl, or even semi-girl band locally, can be summed up by some of the postings on the "Band Member Finder" section of Leechpit.com, a local Web site devoted to rock 'n' roll. Ads such as "Starting a band -- No broads wanted" or "I look like the girl from Tatu [the Russian teen-age lesbian pop duo], can I join your band?" have been sighted.
"There are female musicians out there -- I've been asked to jam with a couple of women here in town," said Palmblad. "But most of the women in bands have been playing music for a long time.
"There aren't many young women starting bands. I'm not sure why -- I certainly wish they would. I'm so lucky to be playing with the guys in my band -- they're gender-blind. They see me for what I do and who I am, not for the fact that I'm a girl."