Hot Topic… and the search for Ariel Schrag

We begin with a list. “Break on through to the other side” by The Doors, “blister in the sun” by Violent Femmes, “elevator operator” by Courtney Barnett, “planet Claire” by The B-52’s, “Spanish Main” by The Coral, “son of a gun” by The La’s, “gris gris gumbo ya ya” by Dr John, The Night Tripper,”safe from harm” by Massive Attack, “Janie Jones” by The Clash and “Gloria” by Patti Smith. Especially “Gloria”. Not just great songs. Not even (as I hope you spotted, children) great track 1, side 1s. But the greatest debut album openers. That perfect moment that distills years of bedroom apprenticeship and announces “We’re here. You’ve probably been waiting for us. Ready? It might get a bit bumpy”.

It’s time to get busy. Time to get the guitar out again. 18hobrm8w1h9fjpgPossibly time to buy new strings. Mind you, the present ones have lasted fine for the past 15 years so maybe unwise to get ahead of myself. Time to choose my track 1 side 1, the song that more than any other will articulate the Kid Slender philosophy and draw you, my monstrous regiment, in my wake. Time to turn to that behemoth of radical, yet danceable, feminism, Kathleen Hanna.

Reviewing Le Tigre’s second album “feminist sweepstakes” in 2001, an enterprising Mojo journalist tapped directly into the Slender zeitgeist by describing the band as a sort of politically aware B-52’s. Prior to this their first eponymous album and indeed the whole of Ms Hanna’s not inconsiderable career in Bikini Kill had largely passed me by. Sure, they showed up occaisionally on my radar, but like a musical Faroe Islands I would have been hard pressed to point to them on an atlas of riot grrrl.

Now I was presented with some of the finest one-fingered guitar solos ever and a whole albums worth of unforgetable sloganeering. Phrases like “feminists we’re calling you – please report to the front desk” and “I won’t be coming to your benefit but tell your friends I’m still a feminist” live with you longer than the morning after traces of an allover splash of Brut33 or even the gaseous consequence of a night on the biryani. Here was my unarticulated attitude to music – fuck art, let’s dance performed with a straight and righteously angry face. Serious fun, if you will.

It was some years later however that admiration turned to inspiration (which is a useful trick for scrabble enthusiasts) when my inclination to write a blogg (and reticence to begin to do so) coincided with the release of the Kathleen Hanna bio-documentary “The Punk Singer“. punk-singerIn an interview to promote said film Kathleen admitted that she initially fell into an anti-feminist I’m not worthy booby trap believing her career to be unimpressive and uninteresting, before reflecting that “I HAVE released 11 albums. I HAVE published three fanzines. I AM awesome”. In a similar vein I can now admit that I myself CAN chisel a perfect dovetail joint. I CAN mix a passable gin and tonic. I HAVE spent decades considering what it is that makes The Mo-dettes, Girls At Our Best, The Long Ryders, John Lee Hooker, Dusty Springfield, That Petrol Emotion, Scott Walker, The Family Cat, Stereolab, Gallon Drunk, The Dandy Warhols, Tom Waits, White Stripes, Soundtrack Of Our Lives, The Seeds, The Dum-Dum Girls and Ryley Walker so listenable, so important and so vital to my (and your) wellbeing. Dammit, why WOULDN’T you want to hear what I have to say.

What Le Tigre wanted to say, and there was quite a lot of it all told, was most concisely summed up in the song “hot topic” from the first album.

Motor City danceable with three part harmonies, claves (I believe I’ve already made my position clear on minor percussion instruments Your Honour) and one of the aforementioned guitar solos, it served simply as a paean to their inspirations and a call to continue manning the barricades. Building building building over three minutes without a single chord change, they eventually abandon the idea of verses and choruses altogether and opt merely for shouting out the names of feminist icons, somewhat in the style of members of the womens’ institute suggesting ideas for the summer fete – “Treasure hunt! Tombola! Billie Jean King!” – you get the idea. letigreontour2What caught my attention was a voice, closer to the microphone than the others, which suddenly pronounced, in a tone which suggests the owner has just solved a particularly tricky clue in the Times crossword, the immortal words “Ariel Schrag”.

Who, or indeed what, could Ariel Schrag possibly be? For years I gleefully imagined it to be something that troubled boffins during WW2 – “What’s that you’re tinkering with Bingo?”. “Glad you asked me that old man. This little johnnie can significantly reduce the effect of Ariel Schrag”. And so on. Shamefully it was years, yes, years, before it occured to me – hang on, we’ve got the internet. I can look it up. ats0213_editAriel Schrag it seems is a cartoonist and writer best known for the “Awkward” series of graphic novels and later to find employment as a scriptwriter on “The L-word”. But that, as they often said in “Airplane“, isn’t important right now. The point as I realised is that I can rattle on about anything I like. With extreme prejudice. And without the need to justify or explain myself. Never heard of Ryley Walker or Girls At Our Best? You can look it up. Bonza! Mind you, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. As an underqualified gravedigger working amongst trained horticulturists I tire of my gardening enquiries being met with “I don’t know. Let’s google it shall we?” No! Let’s you tell me the answer or we read about it in a in a book! So. Still don’t know who Girls At Our Best or Ryley Walker are? Go ahead and ask! As Dorothy Parker put it “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think”.

So thank you Ariel Schrag. Thank you Kathleen Hanna. Without you we would not all be here today. I humbly dedicate this blogg to thee. But what about this list of icons and inspirations? Admiring as I am of Le Tigre, their cultural map isn’t mine. The people that created Mss Hanna, Fateman and Samson were not those who formed the infant Slender from the primeval clay. So as we began, so shall we end with a list. The people that have shaped me and bent me any way they wanted me. Maybe not always as worthy as Le Tigre’s but no less heartfelt and sincere. Go on, look them up.

John Peel Arthur Ashe Patti Smith Frank Worthington Roger Livesey Hector Guimard Diana Rigg John O’Neill Damian O’Neill Martin O’Neill Tony Hancock Tony Benn Bo Diddley Ellen Gilchrist Orange Juice Pia Sundhage Orson Welles Lalo Schiffrin Raymond Chandler Gerry and Sylvia Anderson Clement Attlee Zoo records Alberto Juantorena The Shangri-Las PG Wodehouse Corradino d’Ascanio Cecil Day-Lewis Edward Ardizzone Kathleen Hanna, don’t stop!