The Punk Singer

December 6, 2013

Written by: Jason Ribadeneyra

The Punk Singer
a film about Kathleen Hanna
“Girl power now fuck you!”
Having that screamed at me at 11:30 PM in a Brooklyn dinner theater brought a smile to my face as I wiped the popcorn butter off my middle finger. The film up on the screen was the new documentary “The Punk Singer” about Bikini Kill/Le Tigre singer and all around Riot Grrrl champion Kathleen Hanna and it was exactly what I needed it to be. Balanced, factual, exciting, and inspiring without trying too hard. This documentary knows exactly what it is, an in your face profile on one of the most influential people in music. If yr not familiar with Ms. Hanna, she was a force of nature back in the early 90’s when she preached “Revolution Girl Style Now!” through her band Bikini Kill and helped usher in the Riot Grrrl scene. One of the loudest voices of the third wave feminist movement, it was Kathleen who spray painted “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on the wall of Cobain’s room during a drunken night and kicked aggressive dudes’ asses out of B.K. shows with a vengeance when they raged too close to the stage. Never one to be locked into a singular role, she started electro-dance troupe Le Tigre and released a brilliant solo album under the name Julie Ruin before apparently retiring from music. This film explores the ups and downs that led to her retreat and catches up with her in the present day. With interviews from Carrie Brownstein, Joan Jett, and other influential women of rock n’ roll, this film is a must see for all fans of underground music.
The NYC premiere was at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn and I settled into my seat joined by my old partner Valery who discreetly ordered two root beer floats from our waitress Jenny. If we were gonna do this we were gonna do it right, I can only assume was her reasoning. It had been a while since we had done a story together and I was trying my hardest to pay attention to the job and not to her. They arrived just as the lights dimmed and I’ve gotta say, if there is anything more perfect than punk rock and root beer floats with yr best friend on a Friday night in Brooklyn then I have yet to find it. This was a special night for a number of reasons, namely the Q&A with director Sini Anderson after the show. I laughed out loud when Sini told us that Kathleen insisted on very little throughout the making of the film but wanted to make sure that neither Ian McKye nor Thurston Moore be involved in giving any scene history. Right on! All due respect it’s almost become gospel that those two are peppered into any documentary where the word punk and rock are at the very least whispered within. Anyways, I got to ask a question that I won’t divulge here as it has to do with the plot but will say that I felt complete and at ease when I got my answer. It had been a long time coming.
See, I got into Bikini Kill around 14, the perfect age to be schooled in the ways of punk rock feminism. I’ll be forever in Kath’s debt for showing me how girls were in kick-ass bands and putting out loud copies of black and white ‘zines by themselves – without help from their boyfriends. Holy Shit! I fell in love with the Kim Gordons and Mary Timonys of the world, searching for them ever since. I learned to laugh at the macho, sexist side of punk and embrace radical feminist groups like Bratmobile and Huggy Bear. I played Pansy Division albums with pride. The first punk rock band I played in, The FK4 (named after our high school quarterback Frank Kowalzick), played a song called “It’s Okay To Wear Pink.” This was the version of punk that was the purest and most obvious for me and it really hasn’t ever changed. I have people like Kathleen Hanna to thank for that freedom.
So enough about me. Go see “The Punk Singer” because it’s about one of the most interesting and important figures to operate in punk rock’s beautiful, sordid history. And if you really need another reason to get excited about this Kathleen Hanna chick you should just know… this is the girl that got punched square in the face by Courtney Love stage side at Lollapalooza for apparently no reason at all and that should make her instantaneously relatable and loved.
Jasen Ribadenera 12.o’5.thirteen

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