LIVE REVIEW: Kathleen Hanna Book Tour in Boston, MA (05.28.24)

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LIVE REVIEW: Kathleen Hanna Book Tour in Boston, MA (05.28.24)

Kathleen Hanna can add New York Times Bestselling author to her already impressive resume. Her memoir, Rebel Girl, is out now. The 55 year-old covers the range from her tumultuous childhood to her formative years in college and early 20s being in several bands. She details her days in the Olympia, Washington music scene as a founding member of the seminal feminist punk band, Bikini Kill as well as later band Le Tigre and solo project Julie Ruin. (I still haven’t seen Bikini Kill (!) but saw Julie Ruin at the Sinclair in 2016 and Le Tigre last July at Royale.)

Hanna recalls her friendship with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. She reminisces about first meeting Joan Jett, being friends with Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and the “dispute” between her and Courtney Love (there wasn’t one from Hanna’s POV).

There’s no love for the media. She wrote: “It was 1992, and the mainstream media had written a lot about Bikini Kill by then. Spin wrote that I bared my breasts at every show (not true), and most articles claimed we hated men because we were not like normal girls and had suffered an extreme amount of abuse. Journalists, even women, would write about our bodies and our clothes but never our songs.”

On writing the song “Rebel Girl,” Hanna wrote: “… I saw a blurry image of my sister skidding around the neighborhood on her Big Wheel. I remembered the freedom and abandon she seemed to have. I stepped to the mic and the lyrics just sort of fell out my mouth. When I stepped back to work on verses in my notebook, I thought about how Joan Jett said she liked our band. I thought about the girls in the teenage sexual assault support group helping each other.”

Hanna wrote poetry and became involved in spoken word performances. She started an independent feminist art gallery, Reko Muse, with two other women. She worked as a stripper to pay college tuition. She volunteered as a domestic violence counselor. She writes about the genesis of the Riot Grrrl movement and its enduring impact. She writes about her activism and how she got started. She talks touring, playing Lollapalooza and meeting her husband, Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys. Hanna writes about toxic relationships with men, male violence, harassment and sexual assault. And there’s a LOT of it (TW). Rebel Girl is moving, visceral, detailed, powerful and inspiring. Just as one would expect from a feminist icon.

On Tuesday, May 28, Kathleen Hanna appeared at a Brookline Booksmith book event at the Wilbur Theatre. She was interviewed by author/professor Imani Perry (Breathe: A Letter to My Sons). Here are some highlights:

On the challenges of writing about all her trauma:

Kathleen Hanna (KH): “The trauma stuff was not that hard (to write). I had to extract the joy from under the trauma. I left out an ass rape and a kidnapping. I chose the scenes that got us to the next place in the narrative and that I learned things from. Good things can come from bad stuff. It shouldn’t take suffering to make great art. We can use it, but that’s not all we need.”

On coping with childhood trauma/grief:

Hanna hid in the basement and listened to records or sat in the attic and played with barbies. She noted: “Anyone who thinks I’m cool, I played with Barbies until I was 15. I used to play dorm room with my barbies and pretend that Shaun Cassidy would call. When I look back on it, that’s when I started making art.”

On being a feminist icon for GenX and about feminism through friendship:

KH: “I wanted to be in a band so I hung out with bands.” She met Toby Vail and saw her fanzine where she wrote in a subjective manner about feminism. She asked her if she wanted to be in a band with her. She said that in three days she’d be in Barcelona with Bikini Kill. She later noted, “My female friendships are always as important as my love relationships.”

On harassment:

KH: “I felt like I was dirty when I got harassed. I’m a really sensitive person and I’m a lot. I know that and I like it about me.” “If they can’t have a positive reaction with you, they’ll have a negative one.”

On sexism:

Hanna said it’s not over if we still need domestic violence shelters and counselors.

Touring in her 50s vs. in her 20s:

Back then she says she was a (sometimes performative)”Feminist Barney” and trying to be a “feminist superhero.” In her memoir she wrote: “I thought about how press always took anything complicated I said in interviews and turned it into a one-liber about female empowerment. And how the bouncers and the promoters at so many clubs treated us like shit, but I still went onstage in my goofy fucking costume with my stupid happy face and told the kids, ‘Hey, everybody, feminism is still alive in this room, yuk, yuk, yuk!'”

Now she’s touring around the world and doing something she loves. In the 90s it was very DIY. There was a lot of sexism. Now they have a crew to buffer the band from harassment and she’s able to appreciate it more.

Advice for young women in music:

Hanna said there are three things: 1. Hire a tour manager. 2. Join Musician’s Union– they’re trying to get artists money for streaming on spotify and for venues not to take 20% of your merch money they don’t give you 20% of the bar. She said not to play the venues that take 20%. 3. Sell music to film, TV, commercials. That’s where the money is.

KH: “If your passion is music, keep going.”

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