Most of my day today was spent curled up with Sheila Whiteley's "Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity and Subjectivity." And when I say curled up, I of course mean seated at a table in Starbucks, drinking inappropriate amounts of coffee and using two different colors of highlighter in a copious note-taking frenzy.
I got four chapters read this afternoon, which I was really happy with, the bulkiest of which was about this gal.
From the moment I set my mind to a gender study in popular music, I knew that Janis Joplin would be a major focal point. But I don't think I understood quite how much until today. She is both my dream and my nightmare in terms of this work, because in one moment she proves every hypothesis I have about gender behaviors in rock, and in the next she contradicts herself completely and disproves them all. While her stage and musical persona are clearly in the masculine style -- even down to the rhythms and chordal progressions of her earliest records -- she was forced to be "one of the boys" because she didn't fit in to feminine gender expectations of beauty and gentility. Essentially, much of her masculinity comes from her own feminine insecurities.
The questions I'm now asking are, what does that mean? And of course, does that devalidate her apparent masculinity? I am also interested to look more at the chronology of her career, because it seems on later works, particularly the posthumously released Pearl, her music matured in what can only be seen as a feminine manner; she gained more control of her vocals and the composition of the songs, she became more in tune and aware of herself in the midst of the blues rock genre.
After taking six pages of notes on Janis today I can say with confidence that Whiteley's book will be one I will turn to again and again throughout this whole process. It's a very comprehensive discussion of women in pop, getting down to the roots of feminism, second-wave feminism, the counter culture and how all of those things affected the societal image of women and the woman's place in the music world. Next up -- chapter six, Joni Mitchell.
HRH e. cawein