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Women of the Underground: Music

Women of the Underground: Music—Cultural Innovators Speak for Themselves is a series of 20 interviews with influential female musicians from a variety of genres ranging from rock, punk, goth, industrial, ska, performance art and more.

Zora Burden - Women of the UndergroundConducted by writer/poet Zora von Burden, the interviews offer a compelling glimpse into counter-cultural icons whose lives and careers were groundbreaking, incendiary and extremely influential.

In Burden’s own words:

“These are women who celebrate pushing the boundaries of not only their own abilities but those of the world around them. There was solace and strength in what they presented as their art.

They are outsiders who have successfully drawn strength from the challenges of living on the edge of cultural norms and safe zones, champions of individual thought and expression . . . who have never compromised their integrity, and in doing so were consigned to creating their works in a realm classified as the “underground”—never sacrificing the quality for quantity, or catering to the propensities of the masses.”1

Among the artists featured are Wanda Jackson, Lydia Lunch, Nina Hagen, Maureen “Moe” Tucker, Kembra Pfahler and many more.

The book leans heavily toward the “white rocker chick” end of the spectrum (Hip Hop is conspicuously absent), but even so it offers up a wide palette of personalities for the reader to sink his/her teeth into.

“I refuse to diminish myself, or my gifts, in order to be accepted and fit in. To me, my work is highly logical and makes perfect sense. I do what the culture calls for. I kick culture in the teeth, I spit on it, I urinate on it, and I hug it to death and wait for it to tell me it loves me. Being in the underground means you don’t take the easy way, you take the true way. It is a political choice, it is the politics of perfect freedom.”
–Phoebe Legere, from Women of the Underground: Music

Burden clearly did her research before each interview and asks intelligent questions that prompt the artists to reflect in depth about their careers, inspiration, creative evolution, and relationship to society and culture at large.

A recurring theme of the book is that of female artists refusing to compromise their true identities in a male-driven, chauvinistic entertainment industry. Occasionally it seems that Burden has an axe to grind—her introduction accounts being rejected by “several male publishers” before finding “the woman who could recognize the importance of this book,” and she does consistently ask the artists to frame their careers in a gender context, which many of them seem to shrug off or actively resist. For the most part however she does a great job of letting the artists steer the conversation and her questions foster some really interesting stories and insights.

Given the cultural significance of the artists featured and the depth and range of the interviews, it’s difficult to imagine any publisher turning this book down. I highly recommend it, and it should be required reading to the up-and-coming generation of indie rockers just hitting their stride, many of whom have no idea of the cultural and creative debt they owe to the talented, irrepressible individuals in its pages.

Women of the Underground: Music—Cultural Innovators Speak for Themselves is published by Manic D Press and is available via their website.

1From the introduction to Women of the Underground: Music—Cultural Innovators Speak for Themselves

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