Just in time to shamelessly exploit the 1994 nostalgia currently upending the nation’s capital, Riot Grrl movement historian and Gaithersburg native Sara Marcus is in town to hang out with her nephew and read from her new book Girls to the Front: The True Story Of The Riot Grrl Revolution at St. Stephen’s Church at 16th and Newton in Columbia Heights. Please come, you’ve still got an hour and fifteen minutes to freshen up your manicure and flat-iron your hair…
Your book begins with a charming moment you experienced at age 14 inside a Montgomery County Ross Dress For Less in which a male retail employee, who has been inexplicably assigned the ladies’ dressing room duty, propositions you from outside the door after taking your discarded plaid shirts away and you stand there scared shitless until being mercifully saved by your (oblivious) mom. Have you ever returned to the scene of this incident with a romantic accomplice to, like, hump in one of the dressing rooms and declare final victory on the place? Just asking.
That is a great idea, and I think I’ll be making it a goal, for the next time I go drinking anywhere nearby a Ross Dress for Less.
Do you have any thoughts on Christine O’Donnell?
Well, I’ve been on tour and only in touch with what’s happening on the internet in the absolute vaguest sense. I had one night where I tried to catch up on all of this, so I read the piece on the one-night stand, about how it was bad that she had pubic hair. And then she lost, because who wants a senator with pubic hair? Seriously though, if she hadn’t had this total anti-sex stance it obviously wouldn’t have been a story. The woman who doesn’t want you jacking off gets naked with a 25-year-old boy. And she’s so young she’s young enough to have embarrassing photos on Facebook.
Was it depressing at all to devote six years of your life into a book about the early nineties before the internet ruined everything, since it required you to immerse yourself in a subculture that just could not be created today?
Actually, I got really fired up when I started thinking about how incredibly important it was to start telling stories about this mystical age when there was more than one and a half ways to be a woman, and you saw that reflected in mass culture and you saw it reflected in a much, much richer, more experimental variety of ways in underground culture.
And the internet has really narrowed everything. It was supposed to be this place where anyone can find anything but it’s just sort of bred an oppressive monoculture that insinuates itself into everything, everywhere you look. It scratches the itch just long enough that you don’t ever have to go out and build something. Nothing is as hard-won or precious, and that extends to people’s friendships. I searched for a year in high school between hearing that something called riot grrl existed, and actually finding it. These days I would have found it within a week and it would have taken the edge off. But would you be able to convince kids like me to spend an hour and a half each way taking the subway from Gaithersburg to Arlington to attend the meetings?
Let’s talk about Lady Gaga! I think she’s the first pop star I know to have truly harnessed all the sort of assaulting, exhausting overwhelm of “right now” and turn it into something new, and much better and more interesting than awful pop music “has” to be, and I think part of this is the fact that, unlike all her peers, she’s been working on it for a long time.
Whenever anyone interviews me and a mainstream pop star comes up in the conversation, the insidious mass celebrity machine will always make sure that the peg is gonna be, turns out she totally likes Taylor Swift! And while the “You Belong with me” video made me cry, she is not actually a misfit pop star, but because people still need that, the culture machine will attempt to manufacture some of that, and so you get Lady Gaga. She steals and she’s unoriginal and makes bad songs, but what I love is that she along among the top 10 pop stars says she’s making art for the creeps and the weirdos and freaks and I think that does actually count for something, but as I was saying before it’s a real empty kind of olive branch.
My friend Don always used to joke about wanting to stab someone, and fuck the wounds. It wasn’t until your book that I realized he was referencing a Bratmobile lyric, I just thought he was a kind of sick. In any case, you’ve done readings with creative talents ranging from Mirah to Paul Westerberg’s wife Laurie Lindeen to Tao Lin; any good tour stories?
Well, I read in San Francisco with Tao Lin. It was kind of comforting to have him there, someone else from Brooklyn in this very earnest California queer feminist scene in which I’ve always felt a bit alien. When I got to the reading he reeked of what I thought was whiskey, but it turned out to be kombucha.
Photo by Lyndsay Bloom