• Prince: death by ignorance and fear

    There it was on my Facebook feed this week: Trending: Prince. Why was Prince a trending topic when he'd been found dead a month ago? Then I learned his official cause of death had just been released: "Accidental Fentanyl toxicity." In other words, he unintentionally overdosed on a drug he was taking to treat chronic pain. After reading the comments on the various new Prince articles, it hit me: though Prince's body died of opioid overdose, the autopsy report may as well have said "death by ignorance and fear," both his own, and the public's.

    If "death by ignorance and fear" sounds inflammatory and sensational, stop and think about it. Why on earth would anyone wait to get medical help for something that could kill them? Would you furtively seek treatment if you realized you had something potentially fatal? Would you wait until things were so bad that your life was literally falling apart and you were afraid you might die? No. You'd rightly engage in proactive self-care and get professional medical treatment, with no fear that anyone would proclaim you as weak-willed and morally bankrupt. You would do it with no fear that it might permanently damage your reputation, your career, or negatively affect your family. But that's not the case with addiction and mental health.

    Because of his fear of what had become his "secret" getting out to the public, Prince passed off an emergency plane landing due to overdose as "the flu." The public's eyes were on him, and treatment that would have saved his life was delayed. Why? It is primarily the ignorance and fear of an addiction-shaming and tabloid culture that drives public figures to make such insane decisions. The press and public surely would have turned the very normal act of Prince seeking medical treatment for his condition into scandalous fodder, something the very private Prince–or anyone–would likely choose to avoid.

    Most of the reactions to the cause of death news were disheartening to read, partly because I used to work for Prince, who was as straight an arrow as they come. I was 22 years old and got a gig as the production secretary for his second film, "Graffiti Bridge," shot at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, Minnesota. I wasn't on set much, mostly working in the production office, which was on the main floor, right across from the elevator that led upstairs and to Prince's private quarters. That was usually where I saw him, stepping out of the elevator door in the morning. So when I heard that his body was found in the elevator, it was a jarring visual contrast to the spry cannon of energy that bounced out of that door every day in four inch heels.

    I liked working at Paisley Park, it was a very professional environment, but also had a community feel to it, and I felt like I was a part of something. When George Clinton would do his scenes, he would ask me to watch his grandson for him and we got chatty over time. I was even able to get my brother a job on the film, doing security patrol. It seemed to me that Prince took the good will that Warner Bros. showed in building Paisley Park, very seriously, and passed it on to others. It was a not a glorified man-cave or over-priced party house. Prince ran the place like what it was–a world class production facility with a massive soundstage, recording studio, and performance space. From my observations, the partying took place offsite and did not involve Prince. (It was apparently in George Clinton's wheelhouse, however.)

    I remember processing Prince's W-9 form for payroll and seeing that his legal first name really was Prince. "Prince Rogers Nelson," it read, and then his social security number. Prince was human–a person working hard for his paycheck just like everybody else. I remember him taking some actors into the hallway to teach them complicated dance moves for an upcoming scene–again, in 4-inch heels. Prince was a petite guy, but he wore those heels well, and could move nimbly in them, and he seemed to be moving all the time. I can't help but fast forward now to the ensuing decades of performance and the toll it obviously took on his body, leading to his double hip replacement surgery in 2010. The surgery failed to relieve his pain, and so his long-term chronic pain treatment began.

    That job was my first experience in major studio film production, and I learned a ton. I was grateful for the opportunity and the stories I had from it. The last time I saw Prince was when he threw the film's wrap party at Paisley Park. Everyone was invited and could bring guests, from production assistants on up, and were treated by our host as equals.

    At that time, I had only just begun teaching myself how to play bass, so I would never have believed that in years to come we'd both have stars on the wall outside of the Minneapolis rock club he made famous, First Avenue. His, of course, for being Prince, and mine for my years as the bassist in Minneapolis band Babes in Toyland. I've played numerous gigs at that club, and we shot a music video there, but it was an indescribable honor for our band to be on the same wall as him.

    Though Prince and I may have both been musicians who shared a city, I am sure as hell not drawing parallels in our careers. I have not gone on to sell 100 million records like he did. And I didn't blow people's minds playing the Superbowl. I can't dance in 4-inch heels. I can't write hit songs as easily as jotting down a shopping list. Nor was it my time working for him that feeds my empathy about his death and the public's reaction to it. What I have in common with Prince are my personal experiences with chronic pain and addiction. I'm a recovering addict 12 years sober, but an addict nonetheless, and I deal with pain daily. Glancing at comments like "He did it to himself," "Surprise, another rock star drug addict," and other victim-blaming attitudes, angers and upsets me.

    I know what it's like to live in chronic pain. I've survived four car accidents, none of which I caused, surprisingly. Each one incrementally worsened my neck pain to the point that after the third one in 2011, I agreed to have cervical spine surgery to relieve it. Surgery was risky, and not a quick fix, but I couldn't imagine living in pain like that any longer. It also involved an extremely long recovery–and being on painkillers most of that time. I struggled with them, but it was an unavoidable part of my treatment.

    My doctor knew I was an addict, but it was the only option for treating the inevitable and severe pain–and severe it was. Sure, it killed the pain as I recovered, but it also gave me a wonderful feeling–peaceful and anxiety-free–an instant vending machine happiness, which, for someone with Depression, is delightful. That is what I struggled not to cling to. That, I knew, was addiction. I was weaned off of them, and thankfully I lived pain-free for four years. Last year, another accident brought it back. Though it is chronic, the pain is not as severe as before, so I am able to avoid opioids. It is nothing like the pain Prince was enduring. I can't imagine living with severe pain for the rest of my life, like he was facing.

    In the case of prescription opioids, these people are not addicts looking for a high, but for relief from their pain. Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and can be 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Even when taken in small amounts, it can be fatal. Neuroscientists know that addiction is a brain disease, but most people don't. There is a huge gap in the public's understanding of it as a medical condition, not a choice or moral failing, but a progressive, fatal disease.

    Though my original addiction was to another substance, it almost killed me, as it does so many. Prince wasn't as lucky as me. My incident happened two blocks away from a hospital. I was saved, the ER doctor later told me, by how quickly I got to the hospital. Five minutes later and it would have been curtains, as she put it. It was shortly afterwards that I got sober.

    Prince may not have been happy about the need for addiction treatment, but he knew it was time, and he had a close enough call on the plane to ponder the thought that his addiction could end his life. Clearly, he wanted to live. But he didn't want anyone to know. Sadly, addiction is particularly lethal in the case of performing artists with egos and identities whose destruction could mean the end of their careers. Hide it, hide it, hide it. Hide it from you. Hide it from us.

    From my perspective, lumping Prince into the bin of rock stars done in by overdose, dismissing the tragedy as another example of excess and bad choices, is not only inaccurate, it perpetuates dangerous attitudes and ignorance about chronic pain and addiction. Every medical treatment has inherent risks. So why the shame?

    We didn't disavow David Bowie for treating his cancer with chemotherapy, though the side effects made him sick in many ways. Bowie was a patient seeking relief, and that's what Prince was doing, too. In his case, it was chronic pain. The most common treatment for that calls for a dependency on prescription painkillers. It's not like he became addicted by surprise or chance. It is a known side effect of treating pain with painkillers. The management of that pain is tricky business, as pain is measured by self-report and not observation. Where I believe mistakes were made is in secrecy and shame, which our culture demands in exchange for perceived indulgence in narcotics, prescribed or not.

    The tragedy that treatment had been delayed and sought through back channels to avoid detection–that is what the focus should be on. Shaming for the treatment of addiction and mental illness is everywhere, and its impact is very real. In my own first year of sobriety, I met a young woman in AA who, like me, also suffered from clinical Depression and was on prescribed anti-depressants. Unfortunately, her sponsor was one of those people who believe that ANY drug is bad and that you should be clean of all drugs no matter what. This is not an attitude that AA as an organization shares, in fact, it explicitly encourages members to seek outside professional medical and psychiatric help if needed, including taking prescribed medication. Unfortunately, I think a pretty broad swath of the public believes the same thing–that being dependent on a prescription for your well-being is somehow weak and wrong. But tell that to a diabetic who takes insulin, or the chronic pain sufferer who takes opioids, then tell it to this girl, who listened to this ignorant woman, went off her meds, and killed herself about a month later.

    I've experienced the shaming and ignorance many times, and was once let go from a music project partly because someone said I was "not really sober" because I took prescribed psychiatric medication for Major Depressive Disorder. It is the dangerous attitudes of people like that, and people like the misguided woman at the AA meeting that contribute to the deadliness of addiction.

    Both the broader medical community and public turn a blind eye to the plight of those in chronic pain, and the majority deny that their inevitable opioid addictions are a progressive, potentially fatal disease worthy of compassion, treatment, and medical resources. Resources like treatment with the drug Suboxone (aka Buprenorphine), which is a narcotic used to treat opiate addiction for not only heroin addicts, but the chronic pain sufferer, whose treatment relies on opioids to live their lives. They aren't asking for addiction. It's a side effect of their treatment and it can be lethal. The man who found Prince in the elevator wrote about the limited access to Suboxone both in Minnesota and the nation in treatment for opioid addiction.

    Prince's pain management treatment, like so many others, had led to long-term physical dependence on prescription painkillers, which in turn evolved into an addiction, which he was actively seeking help for. What's the difference between dependence and addiction?

    According to the National Institutes of Health:

    Physical dependence can happen with the chronic use of many drugs—including many prescription drugs, even if taken as instructed. Physical dependence in and of itself does not constitute addiction, but it often accompanies addiction. This distinction can be difficult to discern, particularly with prescribed pain medications, for which the need for increasing dosages can represent tolerance or a worsening underlying problem, as opposed to the beginning of abuse or addiction.

    Addiction—or compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences—is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal.

    It's not like some people get addicted to these drugs and others don't. Anyone taking them for longer than a few days becomes physically dependent on these drugs. That, right now, is the best the medical community has to offer for chronic pain management.

    To me, addiction-shaming is akin to rape victim-shaming. Both inhibit disclosure, reporting, and ultimately, getting help. In one case, it allows the perpetrators to accrue more victims, and in the case of addiction, accrue more casualties. Ignorance has a price, and too often, it is someone's life. Every derogatory comment made about Prince for his chronic pain and addiction is like another nail in his coffin, or the next friend, or the next brother, or sister, or son, or daughter.

    According to the National Institutes of Health, the cost of substance abuse costs the US more than $700 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity, and health care. It's not going away. Prescription drug use has the second fastest-growing use rate among 8th through 12th graders. (Marijuana is number one, and I'd be curious if that had more to do with access and legalization rather than a growing trend.)

    So more kids are doing it, more people are dying, it's costing us more money, yet so many intelligent people I know roll their eyes at calling addiction and alcoholism a disease, or dismiss 12-step recovery groups as cults, or leave negative comments about a dead rock star who asked for help on his last day on earth.

    I'm sorry Prince is gone because he was a musical genius and masterful performer. But I am more haunted by the prospect of what a world with a sober Prince in recovery might have been like. Maybe he'd be an advocate for the need for alternatives in chronic pain management, or the need for access to addiction treatment. Maybe he wouldn't talk about it, maybe he'd stay "anonymous," but maybe people would see that recovery is possible. Maybe they'd start to have compassion for people suffering with the afflictions instead of calling for their incarceration and damnation. Maybe they'd speak up when someone was ranting cluelessly about someone else's addiction.

    I don't know. But I'm still here somehow, and I don't stay quiet, or anonymous, because I'm happy to be sober and wish more people got to experience it. That's just me, and though I am sometimes criticized for it, I know that my life was transformed when I stopped living in shame and silence about my medical disorders. I hope that if there's anything to learn from Prince's unnecessary death, it's that we could all use a more open mind and some compassion when discussing someone else's problems. As Prince said, "It's a hurtful place, the world, in and of itself. We don't need to add to it. And we're in a place now where we all need one another, and it's going to get rougher." I agree.

    Maureen Herman, author and musician, is currently writing her first book, It's a Memoir, Motherfucker on Macmillan's Flatiron Books imprint, due out 2017. She was the bassist of Babes in Toyland from 1992 until 1996 and from 2014 to mid-2015. She lives in Los Angeles with her amazing daughter. She's also known to be activist-y.

  • Babes in Toyland's Maureen Herman's most memorable Christmases

    [My friend Maureen Herman, former bassist of Babes in Toyland is currently writing her first book, It's a Memoir, Motherfucker, due out 2017. Maureen posted this to Facebook, and she kindly gave me permission to run it on Boing Boing. – Mark]

    We got our Christmas decorations out tonight. To me, Christmas is an annual milestone that makes me look around at where I am in my life. It makes me want to do better. Next year, I want to soar. I want to dissolve every hurt and injury in a flurry of words and wit and hard-won wisdom, then hand it into my publisher in triumph. I want to skip around and say, "I did it! I did it!" I want to thank everyone who said I could do it, and I want to thank the ones who said I never would, because that was inspiring, too.

    Merry Christmas, my sweet motherfuckers! I hope yours is truly merry and bright — and if it's not, I hope you know that every Christmas will be different, and in our memories, the hard ones end up serving as a contrast to appreciate the easier ones to come. That is how it's been for me from the very beginning.

    My very first memory is from one Christmas Eve in 1970, where I was at a big family party where everyone was laughing and happy. It was amidst the reverie that an older relative sexually assaulted me. Shocked and embarrassed, I said nothing. I didn't have the words for it. I was four.

    One Christmas, we drove to my grandparent's house in Wisconsin and had delicious Sauerbraten and spaezel. My grandma Anna had been a pastry chef's apprentice when she lived in Germany. We literally had the best Christmas cookies in existence every year. They were almost too beautiful to eat. I said almost. I was ten.

    One Christmas, I had a caroling party. My friends came over and we had hot chocolate and cookies and we'd go out in the neighborhood and ring people's doorbells and sing a Christmas carol to them whether they liked it or not. My retroactive apologies to the Jewish families we accosted. I was twelve.

    One Christmas, each of the six kids in my family got 10 speed bikes–they were all in the living room around the tree. It looked fucking insane. I was thirteen.

    One Christmas, we all got new ski outfits, skis, boots, and poles. I lost my green leather ski mitten a few days later when it got caught in the bumper of the car I was skitching on. I stood helplessly as the car drove on, with a mitten stuck to the back. My mother demanded to know how the hell I couldn't find my bright green mitten in the white snow. I came clean. Convicted of skitching. I was fourteen.

    One Christmas, I went to my parent's house in San Diego and my brothers were all talking about Nirvana. I knew then that punk as I knew it was dead. I was in the band then. I was 28.

    One Christmas, I lived in New York City. It was beautiful everywhere you turned, but my life was a disaster. Dispossessed from my family, I spent Christmas Eve with three friends in equally disastrous straits. The Insane Orphan Posse. We all got really drunk and argued. I was approaching the tipping point with my untreated alcoholism. After New Year's, I entered my first rehab. I was 34.

    One Christmas, I was six months pregnant, a crack addict, and living in a motel room in Nashville, Tennessee. I had become the cliche of an addict incarnated and couldn't shake the costume, like it was glued to my skin. Almost everyone had given up on me. But my mother sent me a big box of food from Meijer that arrived on Christmas Eve. It was all I had in the world. I was 36.

    One Christmas, I was living in Aurora, IL at my mother's house, now sober, raising my three-year old daughter, Anna. I bought a tree that was 8 feet tall and decorated the motherfucker with the skill and taste of a Macy's window dresser. I got to use all the ornaments I grew up with and give Anna the best Christmas I could. My boyfriend spent his whole paycheck on gifts for her and stayed up late wrapping them perfectly like a department store clerk, even though they would be ripped apart in hours by a dazzled and manic toddler. I was 39.

    One Christmas, my first year on my own in Los Angeles with Anna, I had a small, but real, tree, and my very own apartment. I had a full-time job. I'd launched a new nonprofit and produced videos. My daughter was in a great school. I had a decent car. I was able to buy my own ornament sets. I finally had the Christmas tree I always wanted, with silver and blue decorations, and the loose tinsel in sparse clusters sitting on the branches like the trees looked back home after a snowfall. It was my very favorite Christmas tree ever. It was one of my favorite years ever. I got to live my life again. I was 44.

    Last Christmas Eve, someone I loved said, "I love you" for the very first time–it felt like the best Christmas present ever. I wrapped the moment up in my memory for safekeeping. I was 48.

    This Christmas Eve, it will be me and Anna, and our little fiber-optic tree from Walgreens. Though I'm kind of in a motel again, in our weird apartment-in-a-motor-lodge-complex, I survived an extraordinary year–one of the toughest ever in some ways, and one of the best in others. Late on Christmas Day, we will be with our friends up the hill again, who have been there for us through thick and thin in every way imaginable for the past six years. Thank you Mark, Carla, Jane & Sarina for letting us share your Christmas. You make us feel at home in every way, every time we are with you. I am 49.

    The traditions I kept and still practice are borne of fond memories. Baking cookies (Maux Bars!), decorating the tree, playing Christmas carols. The memories I had to survive and recover from are what make celebrating Christmas truly mean something to me. They soak our rituals with authenticity and joy.

    One Christmas, my grandma Blanche broke out into a hearty Irish jig in the kitchen. Like that wonderful moment, our family traditions are the stage where I can freely express my spontaneous appreciation for the sudden, precious sparks I now feel after twelve years without drugs or alcohol–the actual true joy of living. The rituals become an annual dance that hollers, "You didn't break me, motherfuckers–not this year!" And every year, Anna and I add some of our own moves.

    I treasure every adversity, every violation, and every bit of scorn, betrayal, and rejection I had this year. It got me here, to the precipice, and the view is nothing short of miraculous and beautiful. I didn't know I was so close. The journey was so steep at times that I couldn't see the top. I almost gave up. But no–not this year. Not this year. Thanks to the love, support, and generosity of my family, friends, and the countless strangers-turned-allies in this wonderful Facebook community, I made it through a very dark time, and I'm OK. A bit bruised and bloodied, but cleaning up nicely.

    I believe next year can be off the charts–literally–if I just face the terrifying maelstrom of emotions that overwhelms me at times, instead of trying to numb them. They will pass as surely as the years. I need to let myself feel the pain and despair just as passionately as I'll bask in the joy and peace on the other side of it. Every year is different. I hope yours is nothing short of revolutionary.


  • The Jackie Fox rape disclosure shows we still have a lot to learn

    When this article first ran on Boing Boing in 2015, it made some noise, and it made people uncomfortable. Author Neil Gaiman tweeted it to his 2 million Twitter followers. Hundreds of women flooded my inbox with disclosures and gratitude. My criticism of Joan Jett led to me being fired from my band. I became friends with Jackie Fox of The Runaways.

    Now with #MeToo trending internationally, it seems a good time to revisit it. It took a lot of courage for Jackie Fox to speak up, and her voice from 2015 is prescient, wise, and compassionate. When she was maligned by Joan Jett, being a rape survivor myself, I simply couldn't take it, and this article is the result. I hope it gives pause, healing, perspective–and finally silences the voices that tried to silence Jackie and me.

    — Maureen Herman, October 21, 2017

    This article contains no "trigger warning," because it is about rape, which happens every 107 seconds in America. That's like everyone in the entire city of Pittsburgh getting raped once a year. A crime that common ought to be discussed openly, especially since 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. In fact, most rapes go unreported. Why? I believe most people, myself included, did not grow up with a full understanding of what rape actually is. As a result, victims are continually subjected to mocking, doubt, and blame.

    Here's the FBI's legal definition of rape, updated in 2013, so we can all be on the same page:

    "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

    Rape victim-blaming is a time-worn American tradition – every country in the world has their own version – and ours was played out like a script this week after The Huffington Post ran a meticulously researched article by reporter Jason Cherkis, disclosing the drugging and rape of Jackie Fox, member of the beloved '70s band, The Runaways, at the hands of her manager Kim Fowley.

    Then this morning, on the heels of the release of a 2005 deposition where Bill Cosby admits to buying Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he "wanted to have sex with," the New York Post reported that Cosby's wife, Camille, just re-affirmed her belief that her husband is not a serial rapist. Instead, Camille is allegedly calling the serial rapes of more than fifty women who have come forward "cheating." She said she believes her husband's accusers consented to both drugs and sex. Consented. To being drugged? To being raped unknowingly while unconscious? The very fact that she uses the word "sex" belies the ignorance about what rape is. It's a violent crime that uses sex acts as a weapon. It is, in fact, a felony.

    I was shocked that there was any question about Jackie Fox's story. Her rape happened in front a roomful of people, including two of her bandmates, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. In the course of the article's investigation and Fox's disclosure, many bystanders have come forward, affirming what they saw and who was present that night in 1975.

    The majority of the response to Fox's story was positive and supportive. Go-Go's guitarist Kathy Valentine, who had professional contact with Fowley, posted a poignant statement on Facebook that said in part:

    "Jackie is incredibly brave for finally speaking out about this. I told her, and I will say it here too: she has done FAR more for women by speaking out than the Runaways ever did."

    Fox's support also originally included lead singer Currie, who called Fox "courageous." Currie wrote an account of the rape in her 2011 memoir, without naming Jackie, who at that time was not yet ready to come forward publicly. However, guitarist and newly inducted Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett was noticeably quiet and non-committal, sticking to a vague statement to The Huffington Post that essentially denied Jackie's account:

    Through a representative, Jett "denied witnessing the event as it has been described here." Her representative referred all further questions to Jackie "as it's a matter involving her and she can speak for herself."

    All that anyone was really expecting from Jett was some kind of normal acknowledgement of Jackie's experience. So her denial stood out, and cast doubt in the public's mind on Fox. Cue the suspicion and derision, and the public discourse changed. Here we go again. As one commenter put it, "If they needed to deny being there, then deny it, but tell the world you believe that Jackie was raped exactly the way she says she was raped." That is how the focus was turned to Fox's bandmates. No one is dismissing the fact that the villain here is Kim Fowley, the rapist. But when you step up to deny a rape victim, and you are a powerful celebrity, you take on a new role, and a new set of challenges.

    As the Jackie Fox story broke, I read multiple copies that began with trigger warnings. Of course I understand that rape news might be a trigger for some, especially a victim who has never reported their rape. As a fellow rape survivor who had publicly disclosed my assaults, these warnings stood out as odd and needless. It seemed to me that the secrecy of rape was the problem, not their disclosure.

    My initial response after reading Jett's statement was anger. The only thing the article triggered in me was a curiosity as to why Jett had not yet come forward in support of Fox. Impulsively, I posted something on my personal Facebook page – as did many others –encouraging Jett to come forward more assertively in support of her bandmate. Crickets from the most famous and visible member of The Runaways. The lack of compassion struck me as strange, given the feminist clout and inherent responsibility that she carries. Then two days later, on Facebook, Jett released a second statement:

    "Anyone who truly knows me understands that if I was aware of a friend or bandmate being violated, I would not stand by while it happened. For a group of young teenagers thrust into 70s rock stardom there were relationships that were bizarre, but I was not aware of this incident. Obviously Jackie's story is extremely upsetting and although we haven't spoken in decades, I wish her peace and healing."

    Now I was deeply triggered by her insinuation that what happened between Kim Fowley and Jackie Fox was part of a "relationship." What triggered me specifically, was the victim blaming. Angrily, I posted to my Facebook page:

    The only "bizarre relationship" is the one that Joan Jett has with the truth. ‪#‎stopblaming‬ ‪#‎trustwomen‬ ‪#‎jackiefox‬


    I even made a meme. I hesitated to post it, noticing my racing heartbeat and riled feeling in the pit of my stomach. Who am I? What am I doing? Why the hell am I publicly challenging Joan Jett about this? It felt personal. It felt familiar. Then I realized, I was triggered right back to how it felt as a rape victim, to share a horrible and personally humiliating story, where drugs and drinking were involved, something that shattered the whole course of your life, and not be believed.

    As a result of my multiple sexual assaults, including a gang rape that resulted in pregnancy, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It does not trigger me when other victims come forward. It makes me feel proud, happy, and relieved. I find it incredibly healing. For me, an article about a woman bass player coming forward after forty years of silence to name her rapist? That was good news to me. No, the trigger was the victim-blaming and lack of support.

    If people wonder why victims avoid reporting their own rapes, they need only look to this week's headlines to understand the trauma and revictimization that comes with rape disclosure in America. There's a great satirical video illustrating how ludicrous our approach to rape reporting is. Additionally, in the case of celebrity perpetrators, victims find themselves publicly challenged by people who support the powerful men to whom they owe their status or careers. People, it seemed to me, like Camille Cosby and Joan Jett.

    I wanted to understand how people become aligned with rapists. I spoke with Sexual Health Educator Laura Jones, who said, "Perpetrators rely on those closest to them to turn a blind eye, deny, and/or blame the people they victimize. They're very skilled at choosing their supporters and grooming them for their positions, which are essentially security and damage control."

    It's been a rape-infested year in entertainment news: the Quaalude-soaked Cosby rapes, the TLC reality show featuring the Duggar family's unexpected history of incest. Thankfully, TLC canceled the show before it could become "19 Victims and Counting." Now, it was Kim Fowley's turn, and stories, inspired by Fox's disclosure, started peppering the internet, one after another.

    "I was 15-16 and living in Westlake when Kim was trolling my high school. That's how close to home this is. I feel for Jackie and wish her peace." – Kristin Williams

    Right after I posted Fox's story on my own Facebook page, my friend, Chicago music scene staple Steve Silver, posted an incident where he rescued a friend from Kim Fowley when he found him assaulting her in a closet at a party:

    "It's Chicago in 1983 or so. My friend has a band. She's 17, she's cute, she's trying hard. Kim Fowley wants to sign her. I knew who he was, not much else. It seemed like a big break. The band is playing on Friday night. I take my friend to Mick Levine's place, Radio, in the Metro building. Fowley is hanging about. In what seems like a wild coincidence, she buys some cool gear for the show. While Fowley is still kind of hanging about, just as we are leaving, Mick taps me, looks me in the eye and says, "Hey, keep an eye out on this guy, there's something wrong with him."

    He was right, of course. Jump ahead to the after party. I open a door and my friend is in there with Fowley. I start to back out, thinking I'm interrupting. She screams, "Steve, help me! Get him off me!" She's crying. I'm pulling him through the loft, he's screaming about mistakes. You know I beat his ass, toss him out on the street. This is back when that part of Sheridan Road was fucking nasty. My friend is in tears, I am walking her out to the car, Fowley is standing in the street, by a bus stop, starts screaming, "Fuck you, you cunt! I will make sure you never get a record deal!

    I slowly walk up to him, he's kind of nasty-looking from the previous ass-beating. He will not stop screaming at my friend. So I took his head and pounded it into the bus stop kiosk metal edge until he threw up, and then kinda passed out. I told that story to Mick over cans of cheap beer the next day, and of course, he did the "I told you so" bit. But, up until today, I have always felt bad about that second round of kicking his ass. Like really, really bad. After reading that story titled 'Lost Girls' that Maureen Herman posted earlier, now I wish I had killed him."

    All of these incidents happened decades ago, meaning the perpetrators were able to continue to rape, brazen by the camouflage of celebrity, and protected by the stigma of rape reporting in our culture. Bill Cosby, Josh Duggar, and Kim Fowley's list of victims increased in proportion to their audacity as they continued to rape and molest unchallenged, unchecked. People, like Jerry Sandusky's wife, literally looked away, stood by and did nothing, made excuses, or were fearful of criticizing a powerful public figure. Also, ignorance about rape can tragically mute any instinct to protect or tell. I know firsthand the devastating and eviscerating impact it has on a victim, and the damage it does to the public's understanding and acceptance of rape and disclosure.

    According to a Facebook post written by The Runaways' replacement bassist Victory Tischler-Blue:

    "All of us in the Runaways have always been aware of this ugly event. I don't see this as a "witch hunt", or a "criminal accusation" or a "blame game" – this is one rape victim's personal story of how she is beginning to come to terms with what happened to her so many years ago, while also trying to let the others, who were innocent bystanders, know that she has never held them responsible in any way. I encourage my former band mates to exercise compassion and understanding here and to not shift the paradigm and spin this any other way."

    Fox's courageous revelation was accompanied by an extraordinarily generous and proactive forgiveness of the many bystanders at her rape scene. Mostly teenagers, like her bandmates, many shocked and traumatized at what they were witnessing, Fox cited their unwitting part in "The Bystander Effect," a phenomena where the more witnesses there are, the less likely it is that one of them will act, termed the "diffusion of responsibility." The article elaborates, "Add in prevalent myths about rape, and the situation becomes even more complicated. A 2014 study found that witnesses were less likely to intervene in cases of sexual assault than iPod theft."

    When Fox posted the article on her Facebook page, she wrote, "One of the things I've tried to do with every bystander is let them know it's not their fault," She continued, "Thank you to all the bystanders who had the courage to come out and talk about how they were affected – including Helena Alicia Roessler, Kari Krome (the unsung hero of the Runaways), and Cherie Currie. Every rape has many victims. I was just one."

    That's a pretty generous statement. Fox may have been just one of the many people ultimately affected by a crime Fowley committed in public, but she was the only one actually getting raped, so it showed magnanimous humility, and gave a lot of room for anyone involved to show empathy and affirmation. Even Fox's account of her rape didn't trigger me:

    "I remember opening my eyes, Kim Fowley was raping me, and there were people watching me." Fox looked out from the bed and noticed Currie and Jett staring at her. She says this was her last memory of the night.

    Was the rape itself horrific? Yes. All rapes are horrific by their very definition. Writing the previous line led me to google the definition of rape. I was startled to discover that, by legal definition, my first memory — always an unpleasant one — was, in fact, a rape. I had never called it that before. Here I was, with my daughter conceived in rape, myself a reproductive rights activist, and a writer known for frank articles about rape. Yet, here I am at age 48, and I just discovered I'd been raped at five years old.

    I noticed that before 2013, the FBI's legal definition was "the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will." That's the guy jumping out of the bushes and the woman fighting back with her purse scenario. This vague wording often gave a free pass to rapes involving oral or anal penetration, penetration with objects, rapes of males, and victims in drug-induced states of defenselessness. That's how most agencies interpreted and applied it, and consequently, that's how the public saw it.

    It made me question how we as a culture respond to and understand rape. I have come to the conclusion that we as a country don't understand what rape actually is, and until yesterday, that included myself. We may not recognize when it is happening to us or right in front of us. Add youth, ignorance, and fear, and you get bystanders who do not act. On Monday, Go-Go's guitarist Kathy Valentine posted a response to the assertion that Fox was raped, as described in "The Lost Girls," in Huffington Post.

    "This started out as a response to a person who posted on my page that the Lost Girls story didn't prove Kim Fowley raped Jackie Fox. Then I decided it was a post worthy of it's own place and discussion.

    …you do bring up the history and context which is absolutely relevant. In the 70's, the post sexual revolution was in full force. The debauchery that followed on the heels of the "free love" era of the 60's took all kinds of forms. A lot of women gave in to unwanted sex because they didn't want to be seen as uptight prudes. Porn became more prevalent and began sending the message that women "wanted it," and wanted it bad. back then, it wasn't uncommon for lines of guys to wait their turn to gang bang passed out girls – I was at several parties where this happened when I was a young teen. I know why I didn't do anything – because it's really fucking scary. Suppose they decide to turn on me? I was often the youngest person at parties, desperate to fit in and belong and these guys were popular and cool. I didn't know the girl it was happening to, maybe she didn't care for all I knew. The emotions and thought process of a young girl knowing something like that is going on are very complicated. Put on top of it being stoned and a little drunk and you have the recipe for a teenage bystander."

    I think it's important for us as a country to plainly define rape, because reports are immediately and constantly questioned by the public and authorities. Maybe that's why drugging victims is so common, because the intended effect is to render the victim pliable or unconscious, giving the illusion of consent, and crippling their memory retention. A spotty memory is gold to a rapist.

    Fowley, unchallenged for his flaunting, public, and humiliating assault of Fox in 1975, was able to continue to boldly assault other girls. It is known that a young, probably fearful Jett had made steps to hide the event in the past, by calling witness Brent Williams and telling him to deny he was at the scene in case Fox's parents brought legal action. Also, in the article, The Runaways replacement bassist, Victory Tischler-Blue reported that Fox and her rape were mocked "nonstop" by Jett and others in the group after Fox left the band. It was understandable that Jett might want to just bury this all in the past, given the mistakes of her youth.

    But here was Jackie Fox giving wide berth for anyone to come forward blamelessly, citing the term "bystander effect" to proactively forgive all the witnesses of her rape for not intervening or reporting it. Jett is now famous, iconic, and a full-grown adult. Are we not yet at the point culturally at which silence is more of a public relations liability?

    The rapist's crime thrives on other people's silence — both victims and witnesses. A rape survivor's well-founded fear of being blamed for his or her own rape, which is unfortunately still the approach our society takes in this crime, gives the perpetrator great freedom. The Catholic Church is just one example of this institutionalized victim-blaming. That is why I believe it's so crucial that people strongly support the victims who speak up and share their story: rape investigations and public disclosure can prevent rapists from assaulting more victims and destroying more lives. Otherwise, as Kari Krome, another documented victim of Fowley's noted, who's next?

    As a rape and incest survivor myself, it matters to me how victims are perceived and treated in the press and public. In cases where they come unapologetically forward, as Fox is doing, they win my deep admiration. Telling people you were raped is humiliating business, and it sucks. I know that from experience. But it is also transformative. For survivors, it is an essential part of our healing. Because it is so hard to speak up, yet so important in prevention, I ardently defend anyone with the courage to do it.

    In Fox's case, staying quiet felt like her only option and she found no support around her at the time. When she came to band practice a few days after the rape, her bandmates ran through the songs as though nothing had happened. In her disclosure this week, Fox shared her reasons for not reporting the rape until now.

    "I didn't know if anybody would have backed me," she says. "I knew I would be treated horribly by the police – that I was going to be the one that ended up on trial more than Kim. I carried this sense of shame and of thinking it was somehow my fault for decades." That was the day, Jackie says, "the elephant joined the band."

    I understand the hesitation in telling. I had my own rape-pourri of stories involving family members and strangers infecting my life. I never reported them to police, in one case because I was an active addict at the time, and, following the script of fear I had learned growing up female in America, I partly blamed myself for the turn of events.

    Though I chose ultimately to raise the child that came from one rape, I have never for an instant thought another woman should be forced to do what I did. Frankly, I doubt most people could handle it. I was just lucky, because I had extraordinary support. Without it, I'm positive I wouldn't be here. Power and choice over what is going on with your body is a really key part of recovering from a rape – especially one that results in pregnancy.

    The only place I could accept having no choice, was in whether or not to finally tell my story – I had to. It is how we survive. It is that same urgency in telling my story, that I feel in writing this, to come forward in support of Jackie Fox's disclosure. And it is the same urgency she says she felt when the Cosby victims started coming forward. She felt empathy and a sense of protective sisterhood.

    The HuffPost article continues:

    Jackie saw herself in those young women and knew all the hurt and shame that awaited them. "They have to be making the same value judgments about themselves as I made about me," she explained. "I know from personal experience how all those things can eat away at you. They can take vibrant young people and turn them into something else."

    Also, because of the way the other Runaways had treated her, she carried this nagging feeling that maybe the rape was her fault. How could they have not supported her otherwise?

    I still struggle with how to tell my own story, in a way that authentic, but not harmful to other rape victims. When I first told my story in 2012, I made a very tough decision to let go of the shame and self-blame I had about my personal history. I had a unique and hard-won perspective, and I felt compelled to say something. But still, I always partly blamed myself. After I posted the initial support of Jackie on Facebook, I was shocked to get a message from her, thanking me. I asked her if she had anything she'd like to add.

    She sent a quote and said to feel free to use it if I'd like:

    "Poor judgment is not an excuse for rape or for blaming the victim. The shame of rape falls squarely on the shoulders of the rapist. Period."

    What was she, psychic? Oh, how I needed to hear that. It cemented my commitment to tell my story without any apology in a book I am writing. Watching a fellow female bassist come out with her own rape story was, to say the least, empowering. In fact, it is life-changing.

    Still, I questioned my own right to "call out" Joan Jett or anyone else for their lack of support for something that happened forty years ago. So I hesitated to post anything, out of fear. That hesitation is the same pause that Jett may have taken the night of Fox's rape. Silence for fear of upsetting someone powerful. Someone powerful like her band manager. Or powerful like Dr. Bill Cosby. Powerful like Joan Jett. Fear and power. Those are the tools a rapist can depend on in our society to get away with their crimes. Not once, but over and over again.

    But I thought again, it's Joan Jett. I kept thinking about how she was one of the first real female rock stars. How I had grown up listening to her songs. How I had met her a few times and she had come to a couple of our shows and hung out backstage. This wasn't just some celebrity I didn't know. She is an icon that so many bands and girls and women and everybody looked up to. Who am I to question fucking Joan Jett?

    But then I remembered, "I'm a fucking rape victim. This is important to me." This has zero to do with me being in a band. That's coincidental – distracting and inconvenient even.

    In this case, Jett is a powerful role model who could really make a huge difference in the public's understanding of the crime of rape, at such a pertinent point in time. We need to put to rest the absurd and relentless question of whether the rape even happened to Jackie. We need to counter the still-popular opinion that a victim somehow is to blame for a crime committed against her and her body against her will. We need to understand that a person who's impaired by drugs or alcohol cannot give consent. We need to speak up when we feel pressured into silence. We need to give rape victims the support they need to come forward.

    Jett at least acknowledged the scope of horror Fox experienced that night. But my disappointment remained, because her last statement casts a skant look upon Fox on a large, public scale. It throws doubt upon the victim, tears at the foundation of Fox's credibility and effectively rape shames her. Again.

    As if to prove the effect of Joan's statement on Fox's credibility, shortly after her statement was released, Cherie Currie posted her own, strange second statement, complete with 21 uses of the word "I," a mention of her new album, and only one reference to Fox. She effectively recanted her previous affirmation of the rape:

    "I have been accused of a crime. Of looking into the dead yet pleading eyes of a girl, unable to move while she was brutally raped and doing nothing. I have never been one to deny my mistakes in life and I wouldn't start now. If I were guilty, I would admit it. There are so many excuses I could make being only one month into my sixteenth year at the time that people would understand but I am innocent. When I return from Sweden I will seek a qualified polygraph examiner to put to rest any and all allegations. I will make public the questions, answers and results of that test. I am a proud person but for this, I may need to open a Fund Me account since I do not know how much this will cost. I am not a rich person but a carver. I wouldn't ask for funding for my new album because I am proud. I will prove I am telling the truth. I will not allow anyone to throw me under the bus and accuse me of such a foul act. I will fight for myself. It is the only thing I can do."

    She later edited it, redacting the parts about needing funding.

    With one nudge of denial from an iconic Joan Jett, we witness the beginnings of the public collapse of Fox's credibility. Currie's own confidence has suffered, too. In her strangely worded Facebook post Currie puts herself in the position of the accused, fearful that she is on trial for speaking out about Fox's rape after Jett publicly dismissed it.

    In my personal opinion and experience, the paternalistic tradition of shielding victims from articles with "trigger warnings" about disclosures helps no one. Consider this for perspective: there are more house fires in the U.S. every year than rapes. Fires are traumatic, sometimes fatal events, too. However, we do not see trigger warnings attached to articles about fires. It made me question how we as a culture respond to and understand rape. I think trigger warnings discourage a reader that they are about to read something "unpleasant," and that further drives the stories into hushed tones, avoiding the light. At the moment, the courage of Fox to speak openly of her rape, the bravery we as a society, as decent humans should be applauding, is being buried minute by minute under the statements, retractions and emotions of others.

    Telling somebody, telling everybody is a moral directive, an imperative that if followed by the victims or any possible bystander, will prevent those who prey upon the vulnerable from chalking multiple deliberate tallies. The open disclosure of victims of their experiences is our only hope as a society to give shape to the shadowy monster that is rape. We must have a clear picture of the enemy if we are to eradicate it. As one fan put it, "If Joan Jett speaks out, in support of victims, I'm sure it will be met with a lot of warm, positive reactions by many."

    Jackie Fox told someone, and now she's told everyone. I'll let her have the last word, edited from an eloquent statement (see full statement here) she posted Sunday night on her Facebook page, (and posted on Huffington Post Monday). She said, in part:

    "I have been so incredibly moved over the last few days by the outpouring of love and support that has followed the story of my rape on New Year's Eve 1975.

    I thought I had prepared myself for the haters — I was wrong. I was shocked by some of the vitriol; more so by the fact that nearly all of it came from other women. *But their voices were drowned by a chorus of support from women I respect and admire – women like Kathy Valentine, Maureen Herman and Jane Wiedlin. And then there are the private messages. The sheer number of people who have written to tell me their own stories of rape and abuse has been heartbreaking. Many have said they've never told anyone about their rape or abuse, or that the people they told didn't believe them.

    If I am disappointed in one thing, it is that the story has become about who knew what when and who did or didn't do what. That isn't the story at all. It would be nice if everyone who was there the night I was raped could talk about how it has affected them over the years. But if they don't want to talk it about, I respect that. It's taken me years to talk about it without shame. I can only imagine what it must have been like to have watched it happen.

    I only wish that if my bandmates can't remember what happened that night – or if they just remember it differently –they would stick simply to saying that. By asserting that if they'd witnessed my rape, they'd have done something about it, they perpetuate the very myth I was trying to dispel when I decided to tell my story. Being a passive bystander is not a "crime." All of us have been passive bystanders at some point in our lives.

    If we have any hope at all of putting an end to incidents like these, we need to stop doubting the accusers and start holding rapists, abusers and bullies accountable. What we don't need to do is point fingers at those who weren't to blame for their actions."

    Thanks: #tellsomebodytelleverybody was made possible with the research and editing help of Megan McGlynn, Patricia Fetters, Laura Jones, and Steve Silver, who literally kicks ass.



    1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2008-2012
    2. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Arrest Data: 2006-2010
    3. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Offenses Cleared Data: 2006-2010
    4. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: 2009
    5. Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: 2009

    Maureen Herman is a writer and the former bassist for Babes in Toyland. Her first book, "It's a Memoir, Motherfucker," is due out on Flatiron Press and Audible audiobooks in 2018. She lives in Los Angeles with her amazing daughter.


  • We are all just two or three crises away from the street

    I live in an apartment which is part of a motel. Some residents live permanently in the regular guest rooms. There are about five of us "regulars." We all get along — a screenwriter, a family, two bachelor brothers, the nice single lady, and me with my daughter. They recently raised everyone's rent by the highest percentage possible.

    So today I was walking by Manhattan Bagel, and there's the nice single lady — she dresses well and always shopped at Trader Joe's. But she's on the street now. Homeless. She couldn't afford the price jump and can't find anywhere safe that is as cheap. She cried at seeing me, embarrassed. I gave her $20 and said she could come over and use my shower any time until she gets things figured out.

    I've had some troubles on my mind this week. Severe, complex troubles in all areas of my life. But I am so grateful that at least I have a place to live today. The money scene is challenging now with losing the band job so suddenly [Maureen was the bassist in Babes in Toyland — Mark]. It is an adjustment, but I'll get through.

    I've been homeless in New York. I know how quickly it can happen, and seeing my neighbor reminded me that we are all just two or three crises away from the street. This is how it happens. One last bad break, and the neat and organized woman in #125 now lives in the alley behind the bagel shop.

    We need a comprehensive way to prevent this when people are in crisis. I wish I could do more on this issue, hopefully in my book. For now, I'm so glad there are places like PATH who can help and I will try to refer my neighbor there. She does have mental health issues, but seems stable and able.

  • Trailer for new documentary directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

    Yesterday, President Obama defined rape in a news conference. Last week the Cosby rapes and disclosure by The Runaways' Jackie Fox were in the news. As if on cue, a surprisingly entertaining and critically-acclaimed documentary dealing with the childhood rapes of comedian and political satirist Barry Crimmins will be released in theaters across the country early next month. Call Me Lucky is directed by Bobcat Goldthwait and initially funded by the late Robin Williams, it received three standing ovations at its premiere at Sundance. It is a gripping, complex, enlightening, poignant and witty film. Watch the trailer to see what I mean, and then buy your tickets in the town near you.

    RELATED: Barry Crimmins interviewed on Boing Boing about Call Me Lucky.

    Rape disclosure and the need to talk about it openly is finally reaching critical mass — and Barry Crimmins, who says, "tell somebody, tell everybody" in the film, is a hero. Wait til you discover what he did to stop child predators on a national scale. #tellsomebodytelleverybody

    AUG 07 New York NY – IFC Center

    AUG 07 Washington DC – Angelika Pop-Up Union Market

    AUG 07 Beverly Hills CA – Laemmle Music Hall

    AUG 07 Santa Ana CA – The Frida Cinema

    AUG 07 Austin TX – Alamo Drafthouse Cinema South Lamar

    AUG 14 San Francisco CA – Landmark Opera Plaza

    AUG 15 Las Vegas NV – Las Vegas Film Festival

    AUG 21 Cleveland OH – Capitol Theater

    AUG 28 Seattle WA – SIFF Cinema

    SEP 04 Columbus OH – Gateway Film Center

    SEP 16 Winchester VA – Alamo Drafthouse Winchester

    SEP 25 Auburn NY – Auburn Public Theater

    SEP 26 Auburn NY – Auburn Public Theater

  • The Jesus Lizard Book – The story of the '90s influential and iconic indie-rock band

    You don't need to be a fan of The Jesus Lizard or even the indie-rock genre to appreciate what this iconic band accomplished. They recorded seven albums in eight years, created dynamic and inimitable music, and played 1000+ legendary live shows. Their superhuman touring schedule is captured perfectly on the first page in a photo of the band's tour van odometer, turning over from 99,999 to 00000. The story of this influential '90s band transcends rock memorabilia or memoir, and unfolds an instructive tale of artistic triumph in the delicate balance between commerce and art.

    It's the victory of the underdog, it's David vs. the Goliath of the major label record industry. It's an inside look at the creative and business choices artists in any field must face as they work toward that elusive stage that defines success.

    Steve Albini, famous for his work recording Nirvana's last album, In Utero, said this of the band: "When I think of The Jesus Lizard, I think of them as the greatest band I've ever seen, as the best musicians I've ever worked with, and as the purest melding of the sublime and the profane."

    The Jesus Lizard Book was designed by vocalist and artist David Yow, with most of the content painstakingly recorded by the band's exacting bassist, David Wm. Sims. All four band members contribute their perspective and experiences, in a loose structure starting with the band members' backgrounds, how the band formed, each studio recording, and their astounding performance chronology. This template is peppered colorfully and playfully throughout with concert posters by the iconic Frank Kozik, recipes by singer David Yow (his Chocolate Bourbon Bread Pudding sounds delicious!) and photographs ranging from backstage polaroids to professionally shot panoramas.

    The epic shot from the band's perspective onstage at Reading Festival – one of the largest rock festivals in the world – speaks volumes of what this band built up with sheer tenacity, inventive musicianship – and a sense of humor which draws the reader playfully into their world.

    Anchoring the book throughout are well-written, vivid and poignant anecdotes and tributes from those whose lives they touched, and who touched theirs. Characters like Steve Albini, Mike Watt, JG Thirlwell, Hank Williams III, Frank Kozik, and Gang of Four's Andy Gill all provide a full spectrum take on the band's history.

    The range of different perspectives from all four band members on the same record is telling of the creative process and compromises that abound in collaborative art. For example, bassist David Wm. Sims strongly touts Shot as the best album he's ever played on, but the Steve Albini-engineered Goat is ubiquitously considered their masterpiece. But as a reader, you don't need to hear the songs to appreciate the story – and Book delivers the band right to your coffee table loud and clear.

    Take a look at other beautiful paper books at Wink. And sign up for the Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

    The Jesus Lizard Book

    by The Jesus Lizard

    Akashic Books

    2014, 176 pages, 13.4 x 8.4 x 1.2 inches

  • Funny parody of famous Dragnet "Blue Boy" episode

    [Video Link] Frank Conniff of Mystery Science Theater, and former Mr. Show, and Chris Rock Show writer Mike Upchurch produced a surreal "lost" Dragnet episode. They have digitally inserted popular alt-comedians into the 1967 cop show Dragnet, and turned it into a story about bad cops trying to eradicate a powerful strain of medical marijuana. It's technically stunning, exceeding Forest Gump and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid in both ambition and outcome, while being produced in a living room for only $200. Quite a feat for something with this much technical complexity and extended post-production.

    Perhaps due to the producers' possibly active membership in the 420 community, the video was uploaded and barely released last year, (7pm on 4/20, 2013 the unofficial version was uploaded.). In keeping with the procrastination theme, little fanfare was made in 2014. But we at Boing Boing understand, and we are sharing their overlooked gem with you.

    (NSFW due to language.) With: Chris Fairbanks, Tom Kenny, Josh Fadem, Johnny Pemberton, Pat Healy, Lizzy Cooperman, Emily Maya Mills, and Susan Burke.

  • Who Cares What Steve Albini Thinks? You Probably Do.

    (Steve Albini's band, Shellac. Photo by Goro Memo)

    Last fall, Steve Albini suddenly got a lot of attention for something he wrote twenty years ago. His now-viral "Letter to Nirvana" was included in the band's 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition box set reissue of their last album, 1993's In Utero, which Albini remastered alongside surviving band members Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl, and Pat Smear. Its inclusion was a profound nod to the controversy around Albini's role in the original recording as well as an exquisite example of his witty writing and his fiercely independent approach to recording music.

    While Albini's philosophy and methods are contrary at virtually every stage to how everyone else in the world records music, his way yields a consistent result: great, often landmark, records. Yet, he is avoided like Kryptonite by major labels, whose business model Albini artfully and notoriously railed against in another piece he wrote twenty years ago, "The Problem with Music." (This piece was printed in a fanzine made out of actual paper and "went viral" when that term was primarily used to discuss contagious diseases. This was pre-Google, pre-Netscape, even pre-Alta Vista.) It earned him a reputation as an enemy to the corporate music industry.

    Though he would dismiss the label, Albini is an excellent writer, despite his demure protestations. Even his food blog, "Mario Batali Voice," which documented what he made his wife Heather for dinner that night, quickly attracted a large following.

    To limit a description of Steve Albini to "recording engineer" is like calling Da Vinci a "sketch artist" or Mark Twain a "sloganeer," but that is the title and credit he insists on. Albini not only rejects the title "producer," but also the money that typically accompanies it. In fact, he refuses to participate in the "points system" (in which labels pay producers based on record sales) his peers strive for. For Albini, it's not just a matter of semantics, but the devotion to craftsmanship in a trade where he sees himself as a flat-fee documenter, and the band as the sole artistic creators and deserving financial beneficiaries of their own success. But the absolutely unheard-of distinction in his mindset and how it plays out sonically, is the reason Kurt Cobain, a fan of Albini's work (especially on albums by The Jesus Lizard), tapped him to "engineer" what would be their multi-platinum selling In Utero. It is also why he was sought after by The Pixies, Bush, Page & Plant, PJ Harvey and, he notes, "a thousand bands you've never heard of." (more…)

  • Steve Albini reunites with Li'l Bub

    In case you missed Steve Albini's appearance on Li'l Bub's show (above video), watch them meet again–this time at The Second City That Never Sleeps 2013: 24 Hour Improv & Music benefit. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, goes on at 2:00pm CST today. The improv cast has been at it since 6pm yesterday and will go until 6pm tonight. In between, watch the comedic gems performed by the Second City cast inspired by sleep deprivation. Watch it streaming live free here. Donations for needy families can be made here.

  • Free Live Streaming: "Letters to Santa: The Second City That Never Sleeps" 24-Hour Improv and Music Benefit

    If you’ve always wanted to go to a real Second City improv show in Chicago, this is as close as you’ll get — and then some. The world-famous theater that spawned (and continues to spawn) all of our Saturday Night Live favorites is hosting its 11th annual “Letters to Santa: The Second City That Never Sleeps,” a 24-Hour Improv and Music Benefit. The improv performers stay up — and perform — for 24 straight hours to do this, peppered with musical and other guests. From what I’ve witnessed in past years, let’s just say that sleep deprivation can be an excellent muse — and you get to watch it for free.

    This year, Jeff Tweedy from Wilco is auctioning off a private show "for you and 29 of your closest friends,” Kim Deal from The Pixies is performing, guest improv performers include SNL’s Fred Armisen and Jason Sudeikis, and notorious recording engineer and food blogger Steve Albini will be interviewing Nate Silver. The live streaming is free, but the event is held annually to raise money for needy families in Chicago. To pitch in, you can donate to the worthy cause here.

    Called “The Second City That Never Sleeps”, the event was started as a personal Christmas tradition by Albini’s wife, longtime Second City theater manager Heather Whinna. About 12 years ago she started giving gifts to needy families she picked from the Chicago post office “Letters to Santa” program. She would pick a few letters and just show up at their houses on Christmas and shower them with gifts and cash — anonymously, never giving her name. In some cases, she would change their lives, like giving enough for a down payment on a car to a mother with a son who had a serious heart condition who had been taking the bus to the frequent hospital and medical appointments needed for his care. When she came back to visit with gifts two Christmases later, Whinna found a grateful, but grieving mother, who told her that without her help, her son would not have had the quality of life he was able to have in those precious last years. Moments like this, and the more light-hearted but just as life-changing moments like showing up to a house with few presents under the tree and giving every kid in it a laptop and the single mother $5000 in cash, were stories I would hear firsthand from Whinna in those early years and they would just shatter your heart.


  • 2016 Transvaginal crazy train express: don't let it happen

    The 2012 elections are over, all the rape-y guys lost, and a record number of women were voted into office. So we’re done, right? I can stop watching MSNBC constantly? The Republican Party realizes how off-base they were about reproductive rights issues, don’t they? Awareness campaigns like “Draw the Line” and Project Noise’s "A Is For" can take a break and come back in 2016 if we still need them, right? Well, no. No, no and no. We can’t for a minute sit back and think that the Transvaginal Crazy Train Express of 2012 is behind us. That’s the kind of thinking that got us into this rape-y mess in the first place.

    One thing I’ve learned after working on this issue for the past year is that lack of awareness is the anti-choice lawmakers’ greatest tool of success and is dependent on your distraction and false sense of security. Trying to monitor the introduction of the hundreds of draconian, illogical, and molest-y bills introduced each year that put restrictions on and barriers to the legal medical procedure of abortion is like playing Checkers with a four year-old. You’re pretty confident you’re going to win. But you’re getting bored and distracted defeating all their desperate moves. You look down to check your smartphone, maybe even pre-emptively claim Checkers victory on your Facebook page. Next thing you know, you look up and the four year-old has two kings and they’re jumping your ass all over the place.

    Right now, it would be easy to feel comfy after performing our civic duty by voting. We can go back to not paying attention until the next insane law is passed and we freak out about it on Facebook. Akin and Mourdock weren’t fringe crazies, they were just vocal and honest about what other lawmakers — many who still hold their seats in the House — already believed and were legislating. The burgeoning women’s movement that grew up around the election, and made possible by awareness projects like A Is For, still needs a vigilant eye, and a loud, relentless fucking voice. Safe-guarding choice and physical autonomy by supporting A Is For’s new Indiegogo “Acceleration” campaign is a concrete way to keep up that hard-won momentum and build a permanent presence.


  • A Is For About Us: Martha Plimpton

    [Video Link] I just finished producing a short video for A Is For featuring Martha Plimpton. It's essentially a quick overview of A Is For and a public invitation to be part of our new awareness-raising campaign. We're asking people to submit a video telling what their A means to them. It will be an ongoing video campaign featuring people's video submissions intercut with some prominent A Is For supporters (so far we have Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, and Tom Morello). The goal is to provide a unifying symbol for the movement and a loud platform for their voices.

  • A is For: Awareness

    NewImage For A is For founder and actress Martha Plimpton, the shock of the rhetoric surrounding the Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke controversy, as well as the success of the ensuing advertiser boycott, inspired her to gather a group of friends to brainstorm a strategy more formal than clicking “like” on Facebook. The group was united in their outrage and their growing awareness that the status of women’s rights was by no means a done deal. In fact, things that we had all taken for granted, like, um, access to birth control pills, were very much at risk of being gone in our own lifetimes. Our own children, planned or unplanned, may not have the same choices we had when wanting to start, or wait to start, their own families. What could be done to have a real impact?

    Plimpton promptly founded A is For, an organization that unifies the diverse voices and issues in the new women’s movement under the reclaimed symbol of the red letter A –that instantly recognizable symbol of excoriation and shame that heroine Hester Prynne was forced to wear in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter. Used by Prynne’s Puritan Boston community to brand and shun both her and the baby girl she had out of wedlock, the A stood for Adultery — and the double standard to which women were held. The group A is For takes back the A by re-appropriating its meaning to one of dignity, defiance, and autonomy, and encourages others to reclaim the A to define what it means to them. A is For Awareness, A is For Affordable Health Care. A is For Ass-kicking. You get the idea.

    Immediately, Plimpton proposed starting an “A” ribbon campaign in direct response to the shaming of Sandra Fluke in the attempts to silence her. The group agreed that the new movement needed an ongoing unifying symbol, the red letter A, to serve as a bold historical reminder that women will not be shamed into silence. One major goal would be to distribute the A to every person and organization fighting for women’s human rights in this country and around the world to wear proudly in solidarity. As for immediate change on the ground, within a month of starting the organization, A is For partnered with The Center for Reproductive Rights to be their direct action partner. Money raised via donations for the ribbons would go to CRR to fulfill their mission of “advancing reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.” Now A is For had found a way to have a real impact (besides the Facebook “like” button). CRR is currently winning one major battle in their fight at the front lines to keep the one abortion clinic left in the state of Mississippi open.