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The Goddess Speaks

By Nadine Kam

Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Gaining speed on
the boys in the band

I couldn't believe it when the DJ said "A Simple Kind of Life" was from No Doubt. I should have recognized Gwen Stefani's voice, but the stripped down arrangement, the emotion behind the song were more sincere, more arty than anything the band had previously done.

More surprising, Stefani had not only written the lyrics, as she usually does, but the music as well. I didn't think the old girl had it in her. I mean, I like her and the band -- another of the group's songs, "Spiderwebs," is a regular part of my karaoke repertoire -- but I was ashamed for thinking Stefani was less of a musician than her male bandmates. I should know better.

I work with tough, capable women every day. We are every bit equal to the men in this profession. In this era, women shouldn't have to come second to men intellectually or physically, as the Olympics will show. And yet, there is the music thing that represents the last bastion of chauvinism for me, because it was so entrenched when I was growing up.

The pantheon of rock guitar legends bears the names Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Dave Navarro. Does Nancy Wilson's name ever come up? Chrissie Hynde? Never. What's more, these guitar-wielding women choose men to back them up.

As a kid I learned that girls should be sweet and demure if they are to be liked. Being liked is a duty. When it came time in elementary school to choose band instruments, I longed to play the drums but I didn't dare say so. Little girls could play flutes, clarinets and violins, but guitars and banging on drums were for little boys.

Then there was my friend Arlene, a firecracker of an individual, who just went for it. I envied the sight of her walking around with her drumsticks. She was not part of the boys' club, but she was happy to be doing what she wanted to do while I was part of the clarinet contingent. Even when I was in the first chair, it was not a victory.

Later, I sang in cover bands playing pop, rock, metal and alt music, but breaking into one of the "serious" bands was tough. Calling for auditions, I'd hear, "We aren't looking for a girl."

Not that I let that stop me, getting out of performing only after the music died with Kurt Cobain on April 5, 1994.

SOME would say that things have changed since then. There are more women on the charts than before. I don't see women or female DJs; all I see are blonde dollies groomed to attract the big-spending, adoring teen girl audience, whose fantasies -- surprise! -- match those of middle-aged male marketers. Let's not forget Lil' Kim in her pasties and Destiny's Child strapped into corsets.

Madonna did the same things, but she had the stature and intelligence to mock the establishment. Her message is lost on new nymphets. As Stefani sang on "Just a Girl," "I'm just a girl, what's my destiny? What I've succumbed to is making me numb."

One could refuse to play the game. Perhaps Bjork, Lucinda Williams and Toni Halliday (Curve) could sell more records if they got blonder and blander.

My boyfriend's surprised that I don't miss the stage, but certain songs still trigger that itch.

Last month I bought a drum kit. When I practice, the girl in me is careful to be considerate, neither playing too loud nor too long, to avoid disturbing the neighbors. But when I'm in the mood, I turn up the CD player to 10 on the Foo Fighters' "There is Nothing Left to Lose," and I try to catch up to the guys.

Nadine Kam is features editor.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
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