When I was a teen, I remember my idol at the time, Bette Midler, describing “All Girl Productions,” her production company that was named in a tongue-in-cheek style to own the word “girl.” As if the term “girl,” was somehow derogatory and demeaning. I never felt that way, but I was a teen at the time, and figured that since youth reigns in our society, being a girl was less of a curse than being a woman. All Girl Productions served as a long-distance dream for me; a model for the success I could someday achieve. So today, I found myself walking through the halls of Kaufman Astoria studios, past the office of a well-known female executive producer. It reminded me of that hidden gem of a dream.
My hair was partially wet and my boots and jeans were saturated from the monsoon rains that accompanied my commute from Manhattan. Strangely, I can’t remember ever taking a trip to Kaufman on a dry day. I was pointed to a conference room to wait for an interview with the director of a new project and found myself surrounded by auditioning goons, Russian mobsters, models, and redheads. I was up for the model role. Unpleasant thoughts began to enter my mind, thinking back on similar situations where a male director, occasionally escorted by his team of sycophantic assistants, gives a quick assessment on a superficial level and oftentimes asks a series of flirtatious or ridiculous round of questions to bring out the sexy sass. I was not feeling sexy or sassy. I was feeling sticky and uncomfortable. So imagine my relief when in entered a female director entered the room and began to interview us individually. It was a pleasant surprise, made even more so when I was selected and did not have to relive a story about my first makeout experience or to mention my bra size.
Lately, including my time spent waiting to be auditioned today, I have been obsessively pouring over female rock memoirs and biographies. From “Girls Like Us”, which chronicles to lives of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon, to “A Natural Woman”, Carole King’s memoir, Cyndi Lauper’s memoir (a girl who just wanted to have fun) to Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll by Ann and Nancy Wilson. As a songwriter in today’s world, where I’ve done nothing but romanticize the lives of my female songwriting inspirations, I truly had no idea how much sexism, chauvinism, and assholism that these girls faced during their most successful and powerful years as artists. I had envisioned them as warriors and leaders, who plowed through the past few decades as the valued talents that they are. I was completely naive, as I considered myself to be in this rare loop of sexual discrimination and objectification that would suddenly disappear the moment I had made a name for myself. But it’s not as if I hadn’t heard firsthand about the challenges they each faced.
A few years ago I was in the Hamptons on a rather impromptu Memorial Day weekend trip inspired by a posting on Craigslist. My friend and I found ourselves at a BBQ at a beautiful house in East Hampton, hosted by an eccentric retired millionaire. Over dinner one night I confessed, while slightly inebriated, that I would love to sleep with Stevie Nicks. In present time. At whatever glorious age she was at the time (in her early fifties). Of course, the lesbian aspect of this (particularly since I’ve spent most of my life as a heterosexual), and the age-factor, and my insistence that this crush went well beyond some superficial sex appeal, made me a punchline of a few jokes and awed faces. But this comment also led to me being invited to meet Stevie Nicks a few weeks later by a series of fortuitous events at Jones Beach, the iconic amphitheater of my performance dreams, in her dressing room. Though barely a few words were uttered between us, as Stevie was still in curlers and rushing to get ready, and I was accompanied by an old friend of hers with many things to say, I politely smiled and returned backstage with a few select people. Interestingly enough, Mick Fleetwood, entered the backstage area with his manager at the time, someone I had also randomly met one summer who had been trying to lure me with the promise of meeting Stevie if I were to hook up with him (as if he could be a surrogate for my Stevie crush). It felt like a vindication to be there, in the company of Billy Joel and some of my rock musician idols, without the help of said manager.
While waiting backstage, I was approached by a short, older fellow, with a rather friendly and shy misdemeanor. He asked about me and I spoke of my music and he asked who my influences were. I mentioned Carole King and he replied, “Carole? I know her very well. I worked with her on many of her albums.”
“Which ones?” I asked.
“Oh, ‘Tapestry’ for one,” he answered. My jaw nearly hit the concrete floor. Clearly he wasn’t just humoring me. He asked for my number and when he wrote it on a piece of waxy paper, it quickly disappeared. He ended up lately inscribing it on some tattered thing, so cutely inquiring for it a second time. As we later spoke he told me of how much even Stevie had dealt with negativity from men all the time. How at one point, when “Dreams” was at the top of the charts, she was involved with a guy who constantly told her she was an inadequate songwriter but was merely jealous that his own tunes weren’t reaching such success. As I’ve been reading in some of these books, their accounts portray this guitarist as a true supporter of female artists and I consider myself lucky for having crossed paths with him.
It’s almost alarming to find myself with these thoughts, but I’m almost relieved reading about the gender issues, the sexism, and the constant battles that all of my idols have faced. Maybe there has been progress, but so much of what I’ve been up against as an artist has led me to feel like we’ve gone backwards. My idealized version of the days of bra-burning and feminism at its height doesn’t necessarily mean that the women at the forefront of these movements experienced a better proceeding experience as a woman because of it. And perhaps it is better in other industries, but I can’t say it feels that much different when I’m lined up against a row of gorgeous women and our fuck-ability factor is being assessed by a room full of men (and sometimes women). Of all the memoirs, Cyndi Lauper was truly the angriest and most outrageous in her protests of the battles she faced as a woman (followed quickly behind Ann and Nancy Wilson), and it was not purely male bashing because they faced just as much trauma in the hands of women. At one point Cyndi Lauper confessed she was raped by her band members with a dildo, but it was the girlfriend of the band member who helped it happen and rationalized doing it to make her boyfriend happy.
I love being a girl. I embrace being a woman. And as much as I romanticize leaving the entertainment industry, and possibly one day leaving New York, I know that for now I am part of this system. And I only wish that as a girl, and as a woman, I can conduct myself in a way that changes the tide a little. That preserves and promotes more than female sexuality. I found myself in near tears recently when I watched an interview with Adele on “60 Minutes.” She revealed how she never wanted her music to be about anything but her words and her talent, and not about showing her tits and ass. And I wonder if some well-off pop singer-songwriters of today could’ve played the talent card but let their insecurities push the sex button. There’s a lot to be learned from those who came before us though, and I truly recommend all the books mentioned above should you have any interest in rock, music, artistry, and some of the great female voices.