hand that rocks
By Rachael "Yellow" Huang
in front of my incredibly messy desk, looking at the tornado-swept
abyss of my living room, ticking off the things that need to get
done -- get rid of oriental carpet, wash dog, set up bed in kid's
room, fix amplifier. And it dawns on me, why the heck am I doing
this? Not making a to-do list. I'm a mom; moms always have to-do
lists. Why does mine include fixing an amplifier? Why do I make
rock music, it seems such an uphill battle, such an incongruous
thing. Why do I rock out?
I'm the lead singer and rhythm guitar player for Placenta, an all-mom
hard rock/punk/glam band. I started the band a few years ago, as
a newly singled- mom, when I connected with other single moms, heard
and read their stories, and realized that our reality is far removed
from the image in the mainstream press of single mothers as evil
personified. I needed to get our message out, us single moms, us
moms in general, heck, women as a group, in a way that people would
absorb and remember. I wanted to turn the tide against the oppression
of mothers. We can't play the media's game -- we'll lose every time.
We have to write our own stories. Music, little songs that get stuck
in your head, those are very effective teaching tools. How did you
learn the Alphabet? And if you're from my generation, how do you
know that "a noun is a person, place or thing"? It just
so happens that I am a 1) music teacher and 2) old punk rocker,
so I decided to write my story with an electric guitar and some
pink hair dye.
Over the course of the past few years, Placenta (aka The Lactators
and JunkBox) has gone from a crazy idea to a pretty tame pop punk
band to a non-gender-specific hard rock band, back to a mom punk
band, and on to some kind of fantastic punk/funk/art/metal/synth
mom band. Really, right at the moment we decided to try to re-embrace
the idea of an all-mom band, the world turned upside down. We got
interviewed for a story in the Wall Street Journal (a punk-rocker's
delight), were put on the cover of USA Today, had Reality
Show ideas pitched at us, all because someone realized that mothers
were making rock music, and they thought the idea would make for
good copy. Human interest, or perhaps News of the Weird -- but not
the music columns. The mainstream press has a very narrow of view
of motherhood, and an equally narrow view of what it means to be
a rock musician. Of course, mom rockers may seem odd, if you see
all mothers as June Cleaver and all rockers as Tommy Lee!
In order for the world to continue on it's present path of illness,
mothers need to remain ever-reliable, ever the door-mat, ever nurturing.
Even though no real mother now is like that, and none of our mothers
were ever like that, nor none of our grandmothers and beyond, it's
still an expectation. Walk out of June Cleaver land, and people
look at you like you're on crack.
Rock stars, on the other hand, are expected to live the life of
never-ending adolescence, drinking and doing drugs and trashing
hotel rooms. Not true for, say, classical musicians. But that rock-n-roll
lifestyle of excess is as much a convenience of the system as is
the lifestyle of bland soccer moms. Rock stars are glorified laborers
for the entertainment industry -- unless they get out of line, in
which case they are has-beens.
I've never wanted to be a rock star. I am a rock musician. I practice
my guitar, my singing, and my stage show. I write songs that I want
to perform, and I hope that other people like them, too. I write
songs to break the silence about things that are bugging me, or
things that I just happen to notice. About being a single mom, being
treated like a pariah, while my ex pays no child support, and nobody
does anything about it. About having sexual feelings for the janitor
at my kids' school, or a transgendered friend of mine. About being
dumped by one guy after another. About feeling that, deep down inside,
I'm ugly. About the depression associated with mounds of laundry,
or having to shop at the canned food store. About the exhaustion
and endless tasks of motherhood, compared to the stress and strain
I imagine a rock star has. About feeling that, after all, I'm really
too much woman for anybody, so there!
Placenta practices once or twice a week and performs once or twice
a month. There are other bands in the San Francisco Bay Area who
practice more often and play out more often than we do. We don't
compare ourselves to other bands. We are unique. We are gunning
for the system that keeps mothers down and musicians either poor
or stuck like hamsters on a wheel, keeping an industry going.
Since Placenta doesn't fit into a convenient marketing niche, we
get put on the bill with all kinds of other bands, which makes life
interesting. We recently played a "punk night" with two
all-guy bands who tried to make us play last (the booking agent
was a single dad who could relate to our childcare cost woes, so
that didn't work), threatened to leave if we went on before them,
told their friends to turn their backs on us, then talked about
their genitalia onstage. We've also been put on the bill with a
campy 50s drag review (since we're queer-friendly? I guess that
was the reason), and a series of singer/songwriters (because we're
women? All women sound like the Indigo Girls?).
All press pigeon-holing and bad matches for line-ups aside, what
keeps me rockin' is the act of making music. Every single moment
of it. Planning our next set of crazy costumes; sewing a giant vagina
for a special guest to wear onstage; working the beginning, or bridge
or ending of a song over and over, till we get it right. Screwing
up lyrics; playing a set with only 5 strings, as one broke halfway
through the first song; not being able to hear each other; having
people walk out because they want us to be more "girlie".
Watching as people sing along to "La-la-la, I'm ugly!"
or "Single mom, what the fuck went wrong?" or "I
own my own pussy!" Seeing our picture in the paper, realizing
how proud my kids are to have the pink-haired mom.
So, I'm standing on the stage. All the equipment is set up and
we've done a sound check, with our tamest song. I'm wearing my Marilyn
Monroe outfit and wig. My kids are at a neighbor's house. I know
my house is still a wreck, the dog still stinky, there are dishes
in the sink. I don't care. The audience doesn't know what they're
in for. They can see that we're not exactly stereotypical suburban
moms, but I love knowing that the minute I open my mouth and scream
"Whaaaaaaaaaaaooooooowwww" to start "SuperGenderBender,"
all bets are off.
the house. Are you ready to rock?
: december 2005