Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the United States, 1975-1983
By Jen B. Larson
A necessary and invaluable compendium of American punk bands fronted and formed by women who are no longer overlooked.
Hit Girls are the American punk rock encyclopedia every female music fan could ever wish for. It has almost 100 bands with women on guitar and bass, drums, vocals and more. Larson reveals how women were crucial to the underground success of the bands cited in the book, even though they have so far been excluded from wider punk histories. The women profiled in Hit Girls defined themselves as musicians and artists despite, and often while openly opposing, pervasive cultural misogyny and sexism in the music industry.
The book is organized by geographic region of the United States: Midwest, South, Northwest, West Coast South (Los Angeles and surrounding area), West Coast North (mainly the Bay Area), and East Coast. Within each section, Larson provides profiles of anywhere from 10 to 20 tapes, most accompanied by reproduced images of record sleeves and photographs. Each episode also contains interview transcripts with different women from the bands profiled. Occasionally, other ephemera are also reproduced, such as handbills and concert posters or venue calendars. Hit Girls has a foreword by Ann Magnuson, a multi-talented performer who also happens to be a member of the New York City-based band Pulsallama. Through Hit Girls, essays or flash pieces by female musicians also appear, such as “¡Feminista!” by Alice Bag and “Neo Boys Liner Notes” by Suzi Creamcheese.
The collage of descriptive text, lyric analysis and interview material with image renderings makes Hit Girls feel a bit like a collection of zines. It is as if it was designed to be gloriously distributed to everyone you know — anyone interested in punk, in women in music, or in unearthing stories of feminism and marginalized voices should have a copy of Hit Girls. Larson cites Punk Girl Diaries’ blogzines, and Hit Girls strikes me as a tribute in ways to the indispensable work of Vim Renault and Lene Cortina. I love how the book echoes this do-it-yourself feel and emphasizes that the key information contained within should be accessible to any reader.
I’m curious how some of the bands and venues related to each other and how the musicians’ stories may (or may not) have overlapped. In other words, how did the profiled musicians work together (or perhaps not) to build a sense of community in their respective geographic spaces? And were they feminist spaces that existed outside of the punk mainstream, or did they help change what that “mainstream” looked like? I’m thinking in particular of bands that consistently book shows on the same stages, such as F-Systems, Foams and The Delinquents from Austin, Texas. They must have played gigs on similar nights at places like Raul’s and the Continental Club, or Antones, and I’d love to know how their collective presence shaped the scene. It would be fascinating to map the types of community connections implied through geographies and venues.
While Hit Girls has an (anarchic) encyclopedic sensibility to it, it’s also deeply personal. Larson’s introduction to the book discusses her own reasons for writing, the cathartic nature of putting the text together, and the ways in which books like these are necessarily subjective. In fact, as Larson points out, she found material “worthy of three hundred more books” while researching. And not only is Larson’s subjectivity embedded in Hit Girl’s language, but it also appears in the images collected here. The visual material in the book is largely reproduced from Larson’s own archive and from the collection of Jen Lemasters (co-owner of Bric-A-Brac Records in Chicago), making Hit Girls something of an archival finding aid. I immediately realized that Larson and I have a shared affinity for vinyl and ephemera collecting – a writer after my own heart.
So the book is at once an intimate record of the author’s experiential knowledge and passion for material musical objects. But at the same time, the introduction emphasizes that Hit Girls goes far beyond a personal odyssey alone:
“(T)hese still-hidden stories are not the stories we often hear in the popular punk narrative. And despite its importance, instead of being celebrated, works by women in punk (and any genre and movement for that matter) have often been ignored or criticized – even by other women. Popular media and music history books haven’t quite figured out how to remember and appreciate the women at the core of punk and its sister genres. But it has to be done.”
In doing this critical work, Larson highlights some really good bands. I was thrilled to see ESG, 45 Grave, Screaming Sneakers, Y-Pants, Bush Tetras and The Bags among those with entries in the book. Can we have a box set of all the cited records please?
Hit Girls is an invitation to listen, research and do your own historical excavation to unearth stories of women in music that have yet to be told.
Words by Audrey Golden. You can follow Audrey further Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing.
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