At the end of the movie 10 Things I Hate About You (which is a rather adorable modernized version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew), the two main characters reconcile when Patrick (played by Heath Ledger, rest in peace) gifts Kat (Julia Stiles) a Fender Strat.
“Why should I live up to other people’s expectations instead of my own?” asks Kat.
She accepts the gift with aplomb but tells him, “You can’t just buy me a guitar every time you screw up, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” he says. “But then there’s always drums and bass and even maybe one day a tambourine.”
Well, at least the scriptwriters were intelligent enough to be realistic with their audience. The man will fuck up. Again. It’s a fact of life. Acknowledging it – with a dose of indulgent humor from the “shrew” – makes the character of the “shrew tamer” much more lickable.
Err… Likable, I mean.
I was remembering that scene while scrolling through some of my favorite saved musical selections on YouTube, because the female-fronted band Letters To Cleo featured heavily in the movie, and it’s their cover of Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me that accompanies the reconciliation kiss in the final scene. With the opening scene of 10 Things featuring another female rocker – Joan Jett’s unmistakable vocals on Bad Reputation – I got to thinking about how rare it is to find such a feminine-centric soundtrack. Besides Kay Hanley (lead singer of Letters to Cleo) and Joan Jett, the movie also highlights female talents such as the bands Save Ferris and The Cardigans and soloists Jessica Riddle and Joan Armatrading. The official soundtrack, however, is Jett-less. Which I find vastly annoying. Because without female artists like Joan Jett (and Ann and Nancy Wilson and Pat Benetar, to name a few) to pave the rocky road (pun intended) in decades past, the female artists whose work is represented on the soundtrack may well have never have had the chance for their voice to be heard.
The music industry (all genres) has always been male dominated, and Women Who Rock are few and far between.
Where art thou, femme rockers?
Oh, sure, there are female vocalists. These days, they are pretty little studio-glammed, auto-tuned Miss Muffets who are considered “old” at age 30 and “fat” if their dress size is any higher than a 4. (You don’t always have to be who they want you to be, you know says Kat in 10 Things. I wish more women – regardless of their occupations – would recognize that simple fact.) But what ever happened to girls with guitars?
My husband and I have differing opinions on why rock & rollers are a dying breed (he is admittedly qualified to argue the point), and even moreso on why there are so few females who sell music as opposed to selling sex (or rather, selling a sexualized version of their physical self). It is a debate that would take eons to resolve, but one thing we agree on is this: Success is born of opportunity, grit, talent, and drive. You must have plenty of each and be willing to take the right risk(s) at the right time(s) if you are going to Make It. Running from rejection does not a star make.
“Don’t let anyone,” says Heath Ledger in 10 Things, “ever make you feel like you don’t deserve what you want.”
Joan Jett made a career out of that stance, not allowing gender expectations or anyone else’s idea of What She Should Do get in the way of her dreams. She talks about her first and only guitar lesson in an interview:
I walked in and said, “Teach me how to play rock ‘n’ roll.” And the guy brought out sheet music and tried to teach me On Top of Old Smoky. That was the last lesson I ever took. Being told that girls can’t play rock ‘n’ roll – I mean, even as a kid, it was so illogical to me – it’s like, what do you mean? That girls can’t master the instruments? I’m in school with girls playing cello and violin and Beethoven and Bach. You don’t mean they can’t master the instrument. What you mean is they’re not allowed, socially – it’s a societal thing. You’re not allowed to play rock ‘n’ roll because rock ‘n’ roll means you’re covering Sticky Fingers. Rock ‘n’ roll means Whole Lotta Love. You go listen to these songs and albums again and realize how dirty they sound, how much sex is dripping from them. And that kind of stuff is very threatening.
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The Runaways lineup in late ’75 included Jackie Fox. Other bass guitarists over the years included Micki Steele, Peggy Foster, Vicki Blue, and Laurie McAllister.
Jett – who was (finally!) inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year – got her start in music as a guitarist and vocalist for the band The Runaways, which she established together with drummer Sandy West. The all-girl rock band was active from 1975-1980 and featured the talents of Lita Ford, Micki Steele (who later went on to walk like an Egyptian; the bass guitar position seemed impossible to fill for any length of time), and Cherie Currie, who were all teenagers when they started. Things were not all sunshine and roses for the band (um, hellooo – teenagers, I tell you!), and eventually they parted ways.
After the dissolution of The Runaways and subsequently being turned down by 23 record labels for a solo album, Jett established Blackheart Records with songwriter Kenny Laguna. It was a move without precedent. (Blackheart Records is, to date, the oldest indie label in the United States.) Joan Jett and The Blackhearts went on to succeed with a string of top 40 hits, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Because she went after her dreams.
Was it easy? No.
Nothing worth having is ever easy.
“You’ve got to fight for what you believe in,” Jett told Rolling Stone magazine. “If you don’t try, you’ll always wonder and that’s a horrible way to live.”
I, for one, am glad she tried. And she never stopped trying.
Because I love rock and roll.
Well, let’s just say that girls with guitars strike a chord with me.
You can expect to hear more on this topic in the future.
Do you love rock & roll?
Which women rock you?