I’m currently using Spotify to compile a playlist of female bands I used to listen to all the time in high school and college (playing right now, “Sad Dress” by Belly). What brought on this wave of nostalgia, you ask? A reading/concert I attended on Tuesday night at the new location of Newtonville Books, confusingly now located in Newton Centre rather than Newtonville, but whatever. The reading part was nothing out of the ordinary: Rick Moody‘s collection of essays on music, entitled On Celestial Music – And Other Adventures in Listening, just came out, and he was reading selections from it. However, the special guest of the evening was Tanya Donelly, of Belly, The Breeders, and Throwing Muses fame. She was going to sing with him after the reading, for free, mere minutes from my house! I decided it would be a travesty not to go.
I really didn’t know much about Rick Moody’s work other than The Ice Storm, and okay, fine, I watched that movie and never read the book. (But I liked the movie!) Tanya Donelly, though? I adored Belly in high school, I liked The Breeders, and although I came to them late, I’m a huge fan of Throwing Muses, too. Plus, the idea of a reading combined with a concert intrigued me. I’d never heard of one before, and I figured that it was rife with possibilities for wonderfulness and also horrible awkwardness, perhaps even surpassing that of some of the Q&As I’ve seen at past readings. (Note: Newtonville Books didn’t have a Q&A after the reading/concert, completely missing the chance for someone to, say, ask Rick or Tanya whether they work out.)
Anyway. Rick Moody wore a little black porkpie hat and read from several essays, discussing such disparate things as Otis Redding and the prevalence of drum machines in European music. He talked about performing with his band, which meant there would be no awkwardness there because he was good on guitar and could sing, too. Then he and Tanya played some songs that they wrote together, some of her songs (including Belly’s “Untogether”, which I loved hearing live), and some of his. She looked pretty much as I remembered her from the “Feed the Tree” video, except that she was dressed more conservatively and for some of the songs, she wore black-framed reading glasses, which Rick acknowledged by saying, “I love the fact that we’re the kind of band that wears reading glasses.” Their songs were about love, about meteors, about tornadoes, and little vignettes about life itself: basically, short stories set to lovely, spare music. It was a pleasure to hear, and it started me down this current path of tracking down the bands I used to love but haven’t listened to in a while, for whatever reason. (Now playing: “Start” by Throwing Muses.)
I’m hardly equipped to write a true examination of this music after just a couple of days’ reflection. But in skipping around within these songs, looking at album covers and remembering what this music meant to me when I first heard them and then played them on repeat, hearing the lyrics I wrote down separately like poems because they meant that much to me that I wanted to see them as well as sing them, it feels like stringing together these disparate moments of my life into a chain that leads to who I am today. These bands, all female or at least female-fronted, sounded like the women I would want to be if I were in rock. Sometimes, as I was learning how to be angry, how it was okay to be angry, I wanted the vitriol of Babes in Toyland, the righteous yowl of “Violet” by Hole (playing now, still one of my favorite songs ever). But if I’m going to be honest, more often than not, that wasn’t me. Instead what I wanted was a rocking song with interesting lyrics that held some depths to be explored, that suggested a girl’s life that felt true and complicated instead of sugar-coated, all sweetness and light. I wanted to see real women in the music I listened to, and with these bands, that is what I got. Getting to hear Tanya perform just a handful of songs two nights ago reminded me of how important this was and still is to me and, I’d guess, to other women as well.
Plus, now I can add to my list of Boston-based celebrity sightings the fact that I got to talk to Tanya Donelly about my pregnancy! (My other favorite: almost walking into John Malkovich – literally – as he wandered through Harvard Square on his cell phone one gray afternoon.)
In closing, I would like to propose that more bookstores explore the option of the joint reading and concert. Perhaps, for example, we could get Axl Rose and Denis Johnson together? Or maybe They Might Be Giants could write some kids’/adult songs to go with Tom Perrotta’s books? Who would you like to see together? I’d love for this to become a thing!