I’ve seen, on many occasions, female singers backed up by male musicians; almost never do I see a male singer, who plays no instrument, backed up by a female instrumentalist. Being a Card-Carrying Humorless Feminist™, I have tried to find an explanation for this, which doesn’t involve icky Girls Can’t Really Play stereotypes. The best I can do is this: a man can play his stupid guitar for eight hours a day every single day and no one will leave him over it. Girls get the idea, from a very young age, that we must be endlessly interruptable, which makes it hard to master an instrument other than our very portable, interruptable, no-special-equipment needed voices. Or even to want to, knowing what it will cost us socially.
Let’s be real. Sure, I’d love it if my music was pleasurable or useful to other people. Heck, I’d love it if I could help or inspire other people to make their own music when they thought it wouldn’t be possible. But really, I’m doing it to save my own life. If you’ve never been a 50-year-old woman, maybe you don’t quite understand the urgency of this to me. I see well-known musicians younger than me, and not much older than me, dropping dead of natural causes left and right. By the time they were my age, they already had a body of work to leave behind. Yeah, I had feelings of being a failure and too-late-already by my early 20s, but those weren’t real. This is real. I’m not wrong to feel like I’d better get this done while I still can, and that’s why I’ve poured more energy into doing my art in the last year than I did in the previous 50 years combined.
I am terribly unfeminine. If you are a woman, and you want to do any sort of art, you are expected to put it in the queue behind helping everyone else. If you don’t put your relationships and family life first, and get to the art when you’re done with all that (which might be never), you are a selfish, cold, unfeeling bee-yotch, or at the very least, a weirdo who nobody really wants to spend much time with. Women expect this of each other because we have been fed a steady diet of this message since we were babies. When I was a kid, the sexism I encountered was much more blatant; if you were a girl, and you said you wanted to be, for example, a doctor when you grew up, you could expect your elder relatives to say something like, “A doctor? What’s the matter, don’t you like men? Don’t you want a husband?”
Now, of course, we’d hear that and say, “What does one thing have to do with the other? Maybe I want to get married and maybe I don’t, but I still want to be [thing I want to be].” Which makes it all the more painful when I see women holding me at arm’s length because they just don’t get how I could care so frigging much about, say, the sound of brass tambourine jingles versus steel ones, or the endless fascination I have with piano roll editors. Piano roll editors are awesome stim toys! Sliding around notes and beats, up and down…any minute now I expect the Cookie Bear from the old Andy Williams Show (which I adored as a 6-year-old) to stick his head in and yell, “Andee, you’re WEIRD!”
Sometimes women don’t even realize they expect other women to shape their lives around the needs of others, and sometimes will even hotly deny it, because it would be terribly politically incorrect in 2015 to say, “You want to be a musician? What’s the matter, don’t you like men? Or women? Or anybody? How dare you have a polyrhythm going on in your head while I’m talking to you!” Now, I know there’s nuance here. What they might be saying, if they care about you, is, “I miss you, I wish we could spend more time together.” And there’s nothing wrong with being of service! Or spending lots of time with your kids or your friends! Or not missing the bus because you got so carried away singing you lost track of time! (Yes, I have done that last thing. More than once. Fortunately it was only for an errand and not someone waiting for me.) You could even argue that male musicians and other artists could stand to be more involved in their relationships and less obsessed with, let’s say, their guitar tones at the expense of everything else. Yes, yes, yes, I get it.
I do. I get it. I do plenty of service. I help other people plenty. I am considerate and sensitive to my partner’s needs and do my best to be the same with everyone else. But I also have half a century’s worth of noise bottled up in me. Do you know what that’s like? So yes, when I had a chance to live somewhere it would be easier for me to make music, even if it made it logistically harder for people to hang out with me, I jumped at the chance. If I had a friend who discovered a talent late in life and wanted to make the most of it, I would ask what I could do to help support that talent. There are ways that don’t involve a three-hour bus ride with four transfers in the cold pissing rain. But maybe that’s because I know what it’s like to suddenly take yourself seriously as an artist at an age when most artists are winding it down. Younger people look at me and probably think this is some silly midlife crisis crap, but there was no crisis, as such. One day I had no voice, and the next day I did. It was glorious.
And that’s the day I officially became selfish. Because in order to do art at the highest possible level for you, that’s what it takes. While other people are chatting and tweeting and ‘booking and going to meetings where you’re supposed to smile and say, “I’m good, how are you?”, over and over again, even if they feel like molted dog doo, and getting endlessly enmeshed in interpersonal drama, I am taking a powder. Not because I think it’s beneath me, but because I just can’t.