Monday, August 4, 2014

American Woman

In this post I want to discuss “American Woman” by The Guess Who. Yes, let’s start there.

Released by Canadian band The Guess Who, “American Woman” was the title track of the 1970 release, American Woman. It is a song that every U.S. citizen has probably heard at least 20,000 times.  Lenny Kravitz covered it, pouting for the camera in his cutesy rendition for the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack. Many people probably view the song as a fun, rocking out song. Let’s delve in a little closer to what the lyrics are trying to tell you.

The song starts out with a slow bluesy intro, then ’s a scream by Burton Cummings accompanying a crunchy rock and roll guitar riff.
Cummings throws out a strong, rock and roll howl. You intuit the intentions, the singer’s passion about what he’s singing. But what is he saying?

Most of the critiques about this song (and, wholly considered, it’s an old song now), gravitate around the fact that this song was understood—or misunderstood—to be a statement against the American imperialistic attitutde toward the Vietnam War. People critique that.

But what I find curious is the glossing over that the lyrics are very sexist.
The lyrics, for a woman or anyone who loves a woman, are offensive.
Here’s the first verse:
American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don't come a-hangin' around my door
I don't wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin' old with you
Now woman, I said stay away
American woman, listen what I say

When I hear these lyrics, I cringe.
I hear the singer making a statement using the symbol of a “dirty” woman, someone disposable, someone forgettable.

Jim Kale, The Guess Who’s bassist, denied its sexist role.  According to, Kale said:
“The popular misconception was that it was a chauvinistic tune, which was anything but the case. The fact was, we came from a very strait-laced, conservative, laid-back country, and all of a sudden, there we were in Chicago, Detroit, New York – all these horrendously large places with their big city problems. After that one particularly grinding tour, it was just a real treat to go home and see the girls we had grown up with. Also, the war was going on, and that was terribly unpopular. We didn't have a draft system in Canada, and we were grateful for that. A lot of people called it anti-American, but it wasn't really. We weren't anti-anything. John Lennon once said that the meanings of all songs come after they are recorded. Someone else has to interpret them.”

American social commentary and his childhood roots aside, Kale might need to look up the definition of ‘chauvinism’; American Woman’s lyrics push the symbolism of a tattered, manipulative, disposable woman, one the singer keeps trying to push away.

And Lenny Kravitz’s contribution? It boggles my mind. Here, watch the video.
It’s pretty much what you’d expect it to be, Lenny primping and posing, trying to sell ‘cool’. But the audience is full of scantily clad women rockin’ out to the song, as if collectively, whatever 200 plus people it took to complete the video, like they all had completely failed to listen to whatever the song was saying. It’s not speed metal, the song’s lyrics aren’t delieved that fast. 

So my big question is: how on earth, could they all have normalized the lyrics, the message?

Find the lyrics below. Take a look.Let me know your thoughts.

"American Woman"
American woman gonna mess your mind
American woman, she gonna mess your mind
American woman gonna mess your mind
American woman gonna mess your mind
Say A, Say M, Say E, Say R, Say I, C, Say A

American woman gonna mess your mind
American woman gonna mess your mind
American woman gonna mess your mind

American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don't come a-hangin' around my door
I don't wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin' old with you
Now woman, I said stay away
American woman, listen what I say

American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don't come a-knockin' around my door
Don't wanna see your shadow no more
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes
Now woman, I said get away
American woman, listen what I say, hey

American woman, said get away
American woman, listen what I say
Don't come a-hangin' around my door
Don't wanna see your face no more
I don't need your war machines
I don't need your ghetto scenes
Coloured lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes
Now woman, get away from me
American woman, mama, let me be

Go, gotta get away, gotta get away
Now go go go
I'm gonna leave you, woman
Gonna leave you, woman
Bye-bye (x4)

You're no good for me
I'm no good for you
Gonna look you right in the eye
Tell you what I'm gonna do
You know I'm gonna leave
You know I'm gonna go
You know I'm gonna leave
You know I'm gonna go, woman
I'm gonna leave ya, woman
Goodbye, American woman...

 And a special message for interweb trolls…abusive speech will be deleted, ignored and blocked.
Please get yourself some help:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

portable internets that can easily fall into a toilet or lake

Our drummer recently bought an phone that can very easily get onto the internet, and my husband has been very affected by it ever since. Robert now wants one as well and brings it up more and more often. Not one to be swayed by technology, his sudden amorous feelings towards the gadget makes me think deeper about getting one. I don't know much about it, but I know it gets you on the internet, you can get a good view of your emails to keep track of bookings and quick responses. You can also impress your friends with mundane facts about pop culture very quickly and settle even the slightest fueled bar argument.

Davis (who drums with us when he's not touring the country with his other band, The Ghosts Project) uses it to book shows. It was this fact that got Robert's wheels spinning as to how much he wants one. Once Davis said it out loud, it seemed like an immediately good idea. Ever since then it's been internet-phone this and internet-phone that.

I can't deny the effectiveness of it, either. Since the baby wants to stay up with us late, late into the night, it's really easy to get discouraged. By the time she's asleep, we're both ready to crawl into the crib and start snoring. So, to keep momentum, these internet phone-thingys might be the answer for Robert and I. I mean, here it is: a way to infuse your band career with the day-to-day errands. As parents, we are the ones who must adapt to the change we have chosen for our lives. The more we deny that, the more frustrating and discouraging it may become.
So goes the saying: insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.

So, how do you tie in to all of this? How do you keep moving forward when life keeps stepping in front of you? ADAPT.
I use my example because it's an obvious one, but there are many time constraints to consider for we unstable musicians. With time always ahead of you, an occasional inventory considering the effectiveness of your routine might be a good suggestion. One example, if you find yourself more and more strapped for time, is to consider adapting with a internet phone jobber.

Also, know thyself and thy routine. Know what time of day is the most effective for you and exploit it like nobody's business. If you're a morning person, get up even earlier to do what needs to get done. Night owl? Utilize your flow to the utmost.

Lastly, as you build the prestige of your band, go easy on yourself. Timelines are not always relevant in this industry. Do the best you can, but understand that anything and nothing is always possible.

It is too easy to criticize ourselves and the work we failed to do because we fell asleep or just wanted to sit on the couch and watch tv after a long, hard day. Go easy on yourself. It's only fair.
Listen: the drive, the creativity, the music will always be there. But, for now, exhale. And, when you are able to: adapt.

Kristen Strezo

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How far the umbilical cord stretches: a discussion on playing out while parenting.

This week's entry considers the life choices we make and how it intertwines with being a musician. I ask: can you perform out of town as a parent?

Remember that for the serious performing musician, being on the road is an obligation. Out of town shows are a necessity if your band has intentions to grow. While being an active musician may be your life, above all you must remember all of those who are along for the ride. I'm speaking about your child/children and life partner/spouse.

I swear: every rock biography movie I've ever watched on cable about famous musicians has predictable patterns. You know what I'm talking about. There's the hospital scene letting the audience know that the musician had children or something, and then a later scene with the children running in the front yard with Daddy. Most rock or music movies are centered around male musicians galavanting around as their ladies wait calmly at home, going through the daily routine with the children. Rarely has a director considered the female musician or how friggen hard it is to be female on the road with babies at home. Well, I'm here to give a female perspective.

On our last out of town show (last weekend), I had the pleasure of chatting with Clark from the New York Disco Villans. He sensed my new parent anxiety of being hundreds of miles from baby. He was quick to console me and my preoccupations with an anedote of being the only parent home when the flu hits town. If you are lucky enough, like Clark, to have a 2 parent household or outside help, it makes touring much easier. If, however, you are both touring (as is our case), every decision you make for childcare is crucial. I'm here to offer some suggestions and thoughts about your future touring goals, out of town shows and how family factors into it all.

First and foremost: DO NOT MAKE ANY HASTY DECISIONS WITH CHILDCARE, NO MATTER HOW DESPERATE YOU ARE. Choose your caretakers very, very VERY carefully.

Even if it is a big show and you do not want to cancel your appearance. I tell you wholeheartedly to cancel your show before ever leaving your child in any uncomfortable circumstance. If you are not 100% certain in your caregiver choice, do not move forward with them.

If you witness any sign of inappropriate or irresponsible behavior in your prospective caregiver, heed it very cautiously. Watch for your prospective caregiver's attitude about sex. Ask yourself: have they ever talked about a sexual topic in front of you, perhaps out of place, in a conversation? If you feel - in any way - that this person could have it somewhere in them to act inappropriately in front of a child, then do not doubt your instincts, even if you perceive this person to be nice. DO NOT SECOND GUESS YOURSELF AND ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS! This person will be changing diapers or bathroom accidents. You cannot have any reservations about the person you entrust to watch your child.

If the person you are considering to watch your child has any form of temper or short fuse, I say: ABSOLUTELY NOT. No questions asked.

Even if you perceive this person to be "nice" always trust your inner voice. I mentioned this a few sentences ago, but I believe in it so strongly that I'm willing to risk being redundant.

Remember that, as a parent, it is your goal to create a responsible adult with as little baggage as possible. You can do your best by considering every step of the way, the security of your child. These are the sacrifices others spoke about as you were waiting for that baby to be born.

Who's watching the children will be a decision that you make again and again and again. If you wish to follow your goals and dreams as a musician, you will continuously run into this choice, whether local or out of town shows.

Kristen Strezo

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Your dreams vs. the lives of others

Your musical career will go a lot smoother if you get something ingrained in your head right now. You ready for this? Your goals and dreams are not the dreams of anyone else. Not your bandmates, not your girlfriend's, no one. What I mean to say is that as you assemble a band, perform with them and write songs with them, there's no guarantee of permanence. In fact, it's all pretty fluid.
A band is a microcosm whose chemistry is quite delicate. Its members must gel and have the capacity to respect each others' work and lifestyle. If this concept is impossible, I hate to be so blunt, but your band may be destined to fail. Or, the contrary might occur and you may be tormented with a cross-country tour with members you despise.
One night many years ago, Robert and I sat across from a theater group couple who, due to insanity, have been dropped from our lives since then. This couple had recently decided to turn themselves into a not-for-profit, we'll call them...Purple Raincloud Theater Group. In doing so, Purple Raincloud set out to obtain permanent members of their newly established organization. The woman of the couple stated her disappointment in the fact that her actors weren't interested in doing more for their organization. Her actors weren't willing to go out on a limb for Purple Raincloud or spend free time working on behalf of the organization.
I knew what she was saying. Back in the day when I was a perky, arrogant, ambitious 21 year old, I expected the same thing. Well, I'm still ambitious, I'm just more mellow now. I pointed out to this couple that their theater group was just that: their theater group. In other words, it is near impossible to expect other people to work for your visions if they are not being paid or are not reaping some immediate benefit.
People have their own lives to live. Every single person has their own dreams. And every single person's dreams vary. Maybe it was the potent margaritas, but I didn't really feel like what I told Purple Raincloud sunk in. Two years later they commended me for that comment so long ago. It was after another actor left a rehearsal, never to return, that they finally realized that no one is bound to their project in blood.
When I became pregnant in 2007 and announced it to our lineup, I experienced an unexpected surprise. Robert and I had to completely revise our lineup, because we were left with only half of the band's members. Perhaps they were upset about the possibility of losing momentum. Regardless, these things happen and you must prepare for them, mentally and also professionally. This may mean that you have to cancel shows or know other musicians who can sub for missing band members.
Life happens: job loss, the threat to behave like an adult and get into grad school, substance abuse problems can take over. Perhaps you may be confronted by a bandmate who wishes to move to another state. These are just a few examples of possible outcomes. All things are possible. What I’m trying to say is that bands are not really pragmatic. They are an organism whose members may oftentimes be temporary.
Blaming band members for their wishes to grow and/or change (if those plans don't include your band), I believe, is foolish. In a Buddhist sort of way, it only causes suffering for you. Think about it like this: while you're lamenting the absence of a bandmate, you may not be out searching for a replacement. Believe me, I've done my fair share of mourning the loss of bandmates. But, in most instances, a loss turned out to be hidden blessing. Sometimes I found even more dedicated, more talented and more professional replacements. Oh, and bandmates with better personalities and less baggage.
If your band members bail, there is no need for harassment or temper tantrums. Unless of course, they won't give back your gear. Sure, you are absolutely entitled to be frustrated and disappointed when band members move on. It happens. But I implore you to come back to the concept that your priorities are not the priorities of anyone else. Your musical experience will go a lot smoother when you realize that you alone hold the passion for your dreams. Likewise, I urge you to be grateful for the performers that have graced your path for the time that they have. You must realize that finding people to play your music or your ideas, even if for a small stretch of time, is a gift in itself.

Kristen Strezo

hecklers and haters.

First, let me say that you should be thankful that you're not a stand-up comedian. I thank myself at least once a month that I've never felt the urge to get up on stage and make people laugh. See, comedians understand that you have to take you knocks. You will get verbally beaten up on stage by hecklers. Often. Think about it: the comedy club environment encourages hecklers. Walking onto a stage in an attempt to make people laugh has to totally suck if you don't have your own Comedy Central special.
Unlike we musicians, comedians who tour the country have to adapt their acts to their ever changing demographics. The routine that worked in Boston may totally flop in Salt Lake City. And, there's only one way to test if a routine works or not...
Those who can grow thick skin (or are at least quick-witted enough to ward off rebuttals) eventually earn their place on stage amongst the weathered professionals.

All that being said, if you stick with performing you will eventually run into hecklers. Lucky for me in all the years that we've performed, I've only run into two. One time back in 2000 when we played an arts complex a guy yelled for me to show my boobs. The other time happened in 2006 at a rough rock club here in ATL. Just days after Thanksgiving, we picked up the show last minute. We didn't have our regular 4 piece, it was just Robert and I and a Roland recorder.
I heard it was a tough place to play. I'll be the first to admit that we were out of place there. We're more artsy-provocative. I mean, we had backing tracks and an acoustic guitar. This venue wanted rockabilly and domestic beer the regulars could afford. I heard the animals in there throw beer cans at you sometimes. Ladies and Gentlemen: this is where the grown-up neglected children of Georgia go to drink.
It started probably in the third song. One of the regulars started in on me and my outfit while I was on stage (at least they weren't slamming our music). They continued being disruptive through the whole set. It was one of the few times I didn't feel comfortable on stage.
Alright, fine. We cut the set short, got the fuck out of there and let the yokels have their drinking hole.

I wish I could tell you methods to debunk heclkers. But, there really aren't any. Every experience is different. You will see for yourself what I mean. My advice to you is to take it as it goes. Don't get discouraged. Or, if you do, you're slimming the herd for the rest of us.

Am I bitter about my heckling experiences? Yeah, probably a little bit. But, it would never stop me from continuing. I'd rather be on the stage having the time of my life rather than cowering in the dark trying to impress my friends. We all take our knocks. If you get on a stage and perform professionally, prepare. For one day you will be heckled. An old Improv friend once told me, "you can be on the stage or in the audience. Make your choice." And, I did.
At least I'm not doing improv.

Kristen Strezo

Friday, January 30, 2009

Important rules on sound guys.

As performers, we all need them. The sound guy (or gal) is an underpaid, skilled technician who would either be hanging out drinking or onstage himself if he wasn't babysitting your band. I think we should take a moment to validate the hard work that they have to do and the shit that they have to put up with. Below are a few suggestions on how to do your part (he has his part to not suck) before, during and after your performance.
Now, since I haven't worked with too many female sound people (though I know you exist somewhere), I'm using the gender as male in the following instances. You sound ladies know who you are. Come find me and I'll give you a sincere pat on the back or hug...

Rule #1: Don't piss them off.
The are a wide variety of ways in which you can go about not pissing off sound guys. Try to practice most of them.

Rule #2: Bite your tongue no matter how much of a dick he's being.
This one's the toughest to obey, but most valuable. Although surly sound guys are a dime a dozen, kiss his ass anyway. Remember: your goal for the night is to make it through your set sonically unscathed.

Rule #3: Get out of his way.
Don't be messing around onstage when he's trying to put his mics up. Step off the stage area and wait for his beckon call.

Rule #4: Do a good sound check.
Robert, my partner, advises: "Don't mumble into the mic. Don't yell into the mic. Sing your loudest song at the volume you plan on singing it onstage" I add: "no matter how much of a weenie you feel." Oh, and keep singing till he tells you to stop.
See, Rule #4 should be written for me. I don't do good sound checks. I feel like a dork sitting there singing a cappela. SO, I sing silly songs.
Ugh. And PLEASE don't do the "Yeah. Check. Hey. 1-2-3-4."
PLEASE don't do that. Engineers do that to check for sibilance in arena settings. We all know that this is the call of the arena rock roadie. Are you or were you once an arena rock roadie? No? Then, please don't do the call. Your sound check will not be permeating an acre's worth of land, so please don't do it. If you decide to do it anyway, know that somewhere out there I am snickering at you.

Rule #5: Introduce yourself.
Acknowledge him immediately. Don't act like you're too cool for Joe Schlub's Bar. He's responsible for making you sound good.

Rule #6: Watch your thumb while soundchecking.
Thumbs up doesn't mean "ok", it means "make this louder in the monitors". The little bunny rabbit symbol with the circle means "ok".

Rule #7 Don't act like a butthole.
Use the manners your parents gave you. If you weren't taught proper manners, well, I pity you and your band. Also, don't go around acting like numbskulls with your buddies. Mr. Sound Guy's seen it all before, probably last night, so you're not as witty as you think you are.

Rule #8: Don't be late.
You can put your makeup on in the car or in the can after you've done the sound check. Don't go around wasting everybody's time. Seriously.

Optional Rule #9: Show him some appreciation from stage.
Nothing boosts someone's confidence like feeling they're appreciated. If he's a sucky sound guy, don't sound sarcastic if you choose to do it. I've seen bands get the lights turned out on them while they were still playing. Of course that was in NYC at the Knitting Factory.

Rule #10: Burn no bridges.
You never know when you'll end up playing that venue again.
If Rule #2 applies, don't get in the last word before you load out, no matter how good it would feel. You never know if you'll end up at the same venue with the same jerk sound guy

Well, I think that's a good start. Abiding by at least a few of the rules should help your magical night run a lot smoother.

Feel free to email any questions you may have to

Kristen Strezo