Keep On Living! (a blood test followed by a rock show)
I had been looking forward to seeing The Julie Ruin for four months at least. I was in the throws of Kathleen Hannah fever, having seen the documentary about her life so far; The Punk Singer, twice. I had been listening to her back catalogue repeatedly. That is all the music from all her projects including Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and her solo album, created in her bedroom and simply titled Julie Ruin (1997), and her newly released debute album; Run Fast with band members; Le Tigre bassist Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman on key boards. Kenny is from caberet act Kiki And Herb. Carmine Covelli and Sara Landeau play guitars. It is safe to say I am a fan. I consider her my spirit animal. This is not only due to her amazing musical ability her story telling and being a feministic visionary. It is also because of her experiencing the horrors of an illness that for a while, she did not think she would escape while still alive. It is so inspiring to learn that I am not the only one who has feared for thier future and felt so completely outside of thier own control and grasp of situations.
It seemed fitting to me that the afternoon before seeing her live with her new band The Julie Ruin, I was to see my kidney doctor and have to piss omn my hands for the hundreth time, in attempting to give a mid stream urine sample, and also get a blood test. It was 43 degrees outside and the walk from my house to the tram was entirely bathed in the unforgiving and smothering heat of the sun. I thought I was going to pass out from the pain of the heat focasing on my scalp and back of the neck. Sweat caterpillers dripped down my spine.
To my relief and pleasure the tram I boarded was air conditioned. I had made the unfortunate mistake of being forgetful. When my last appointment had been moved back to this day, I had thought I had plenty of time to get the tests done. But, christmas and new years had passed and it had slipped my mind. On making my way to pathology I found that it was completely empty, nobody was sitting on the blue couches waiting to be blooded. Five pathologists and receptionists were just chatting amongst themselves.
I was led into one of the small rooms behind a light blue curtain, that held a high and cushy chair with plump but flat arm rests that inclined slightly.
‘Which arm.’ The woman asked. Her dark hair pulled out of her face into a pony tail. She wore black framed glasses and a friendly expression.
‘Left.’ I answered. ‘ I have such great veins so it really does not matter but I am really feeling a leftish sort of vibe today.’ She tied a torniquet above my elbow and tightened it. ‘Make a fist for me.’ I obliged and started to feem my hand get clammy and sticky with panic sweat. I took a deep breath and bowed my head and closed my eyes, concentrating on staying still so it could be over quickly. Something was blossoming within me that did not feel pleasent. All the things that had been concerning me formed within my head and started dancing around all at once, as if challenging me to retaliate. It was then that it happened. The needle that had gone into my vein uneventfully, moved while still in my vein. The pain shot straight through my arm and shot out my fingers.
I screamed out in agony and the tears burst out of my eyes in pain and panic and shock. The needle stayed in and I had to sit there as the woman finished taking the amount of blood she needed. Another woman came in and handed me a styrofoam cup of cold water, she waved a stack of papers to blow some breeze into my face. My hands were shaking and i gulped the water down in earnest as if it would save my life. I stay seated until I am more sure that I can stand without falling over. The woman who had fucked up my blood test pressed a cotton ball to the wound and taped it nice and tight so as not to budge. I emerged from the blood test room and waled out to where my friend was sitting on a blue couch, watching me walk towards him. I was red faced and still teary, my right hand clasping my left arm, my hands gripping around the area wherethe cotton ball is taped to my arm.
There is a brief interlude during which I shower and drink a couple of chilled beers, before having a brief nap on my friend’s couch. The blinds are shut to the scorching sunlight. The air conditioner is on and the constant thrum coupled with the murmer of the cricket on the television lulls me to sleep. I lay there in my green Le Tigre t shirt, slightly torn fishnets, tight black short shorts that used to be jeggings. My faded purple converse are on the floor. What seems like seconds later, I feel a familiar hand gently touching my shoulder and whispering, ‘Time to go, Jess.’
The car was parked under the bridge near The Corner. I stumbled out in excitement. My peeps and I had organized to get there at 6 so as to have time for drinks and some food. Who should we see while at the roof top bar but The girl herself Kathleen Hannah with her band mates taking drinks with them down stairs. I watched her go with my heart in my mouth. What would I say to her if I could have her undivided attention for a few moments? I considered this as I drank my beer.
The support band were New War and the only reason I bothered seeing them was in order to secure a place near the front of the stage. I stood politely and watched them play confidently and well but with not much in the way of spark. Once they finished the red curtain was drawn and excited anticipation spread throughout the venue. It was hot if you were not in the way of an air con vent. I was not but I was up the front standing next to an incredibley tall broad woman wearing a FUCK ABBOT t shirt. Further along there was a shirt girl in a polka dot dress. She was leaning against the edge of the stage, breast to breast with a girl who was slightly taller. They were smiling and kissing and smiling some more. Behind me stood a quiet man with short grey hair and a seriouse expression. He was letting all the girls stand infront of him as he drank from a pint glass and stared at the stage expectently. He looked old enough to have seen bikini kill play here in 1998. I unfortunately had been 16 and stuck in a small town living in a granny flat with my grandmother so I could go to a school that had art and drama, with no My space or Facebook (thank god). Riot Girrrl past me by at a time where I really needed it. Even with its now obvious flaws such as ultimately lacking intersectionality and focusing on middle class white women.
A woman not much taller than me. Short heair held back from her face by a bandanna, introduced herself as Erika with a Italian accent. ‘Have you heard her solo album entitled Julie Ruin?’ She asked me smiling.
‘Yes!’ I exclaimed.
‘Did you know that album was one of the reasons her husband fell in love with her?’
‘No, but I am glad I know now.’ I let the vision wash through my heat addled brain, of a young Adam Horawitze with ear phones on, listening enraptured to the lo fi masterpiece created by an amazing young woman. Someone so far removed from his own project. Something created by one girl alone in her bedroom. Something for girls everywhere to sit in their bedrooms and hear and get inspired to create their own thing in their own bedroom.
Erika introduced me to her girlfriend Skye. ‘We met at the only seven night a week club for gay people. Well, gay people and their friends as sexuality is fluid.’
My friend emerged from the back of the crowd and handed me a pot of beer that was refreshingly cool to my sweaty palm.
‘You have your own body gaurd.’ Erika smiled and I intoduced her.
‘You have excellent stubble.’ Erika told him. ‘I want stubble like that but I will have to wait til i hit menapaus.’
We laughed and I drank from my cup. The curtainwas drawn and the crowd was clapping and cheering. I placed my glass on the edge of the stage in order to join in.
What followed was an hour of full throttle fun. The band was as hook driven live as they were on the album. It was obvious that they loved a chorus and verse made up of stuff you can sing along too. In a previous interview Kathleen had stated that following the song formula in that way was a comfort to her and made her feel almost free. She filled the stage and the entire venue like a beacon of light. She wore a leotard with a loos shirt thrown over it, beige slip ons and no pants. Kathi Wilcox stood to the right of stage tall, blonde and striking as she confidently played the bass lines that were a brilliant undercurrent to most of the songs. Kenny stood practically directly in front of me wearing a white t shirt with black lined drawings of famous musicians all over it.
‘I was inspired by Melbourne’s trend of not wearing pants.’ She said into the microphone with a cheeky smile. ‘This is my buisness leotard. I wear it to interviews. I never hear back though.’ She was not just a singer song writer she is a funny funny person. She slipped from banter to front woman brilliance. She sang and she danced and it was impossible to believe that she may have been unwell, were it not for the fact the show seemed to burn bright but briefly.
‘I have been writing a lot of songs about how solidarity is bullshit.’ She says as she kneels down to rifle through the two a4 pages at the foot of her microphone stand. She stand again and looks out at us all. We look right back at her. She has us all in the palm of her ass kicking hands. ”The problem with riot girrrl bavk in the day,’ She told us. ‘Was that it seemed less like actual debate and more like a laundry list of who was more discriminated against or who had experienced the worst stuff.’
‘It still is like that!’ Someone yelled from the crowd.
‘Well, it shoudnt be.’ Kathleen Hannah said. ‘We are all different and we all come from different back rounds. It is that that makes us wonderful and able to argue. There is no one way to be feminist.’ At this point she launched in to her anti solidarity anthem, Ha Ha Ha. It includes the line If anti you means anti us, I think we just bit the dust.Also, ‘You’re more histrionic than historical.
I danced and I smiled and I danced some more. It did not matter that my t shirt was starting to stick to my back and my fringe was damp with perspiration. I kept on dancing.
‘This is a love song.’ She says simply as the sexy bass and kick drum kicked in around her. Just My Kind is one of my favourits off of Run Fast. It is probabley due to the story I imagin surrounding it. A girl singing the praises of someone who has been with them through hell and back. It brings to mind imagaes of her husband supporting her through her sickness and making sure she takes all her tablets by lining them up for her, because he know she hates doing that.
So many summers have gone, all that we been through.
Don’t you know that I’m just getting started with you.
I stopped dancing a moment to search for someone in the crowd. I saw him near the front with his camera at his face, taking photos because he knows how much I wanted to have some photos to remember this gig. He lives a lot of life through a lens so I can loose myself to the moment.
And then relive it through his excellent photographs.
You’re the best of the crowd
and I’m proud to be your girl.
Then something magical happened. But, I missed it as the stage lights were in my eyes. ‘Some of you may remember a tour we did in 2004.’ Kathleen Hannah said. ‘With a band called Le Tigre.’ People cheered and screamed in excitement and anticipation for what would transpire next. ‘Here is a song from that time.’ The opening of Eau de bedroom dancing kicked in and as the song wound down, Erika grabbed my arm and said. ‘Did you see she sang that for you. She pointed at you because you are wearing a Le Tigre t shirt.’
‘Oh wow I totally missed that, thank you for telling me.’ I hugged her excitedly. I was totally wrapped that such a thing had happened. Even if I had missed it, it was enough to know that it happened.
I knew that Kenny had provided his key boarding skills and backing vocal skills. It was not til I and the crowd was informed, that it became public knowledge that Kenny not only sang the track South Coast Plaza, he also wrote it. ‘This is a song about euthanasia.’ Kenny says before leaning down to sip from a bottle of water at his feet. The crowd sang along,
And I thought we would grow old together
laughing and squinting into the sun.
We were GONE GONE GONE.
The gig ended. ‘Did I do that set in double time?’ Kathleen said as the sweaty and jubalent crowd clapped and shouted. There was an encore and I was surprised that Kathleen took her set list with her as she exited the stage. A fan threw a balled up t shirt onto the stage for Kathleen. She stopped spread it out against her front and showed that it would fit, grinning with pleasure. It was a Girls Fest t shirt. A day festival of girl bands that had taken place in Brunswick a week ago.
I stayed long enough to get my photo taken with Kathi Wilcox. ‘I love all your work.’ I said, looking up into her amazingly angular face with the short blonde hair and red lipstick she smiled gratiously. I was too tired and shy to wait for Kathleen Hannah. I was still unsure what I could possibley say to her.
Outside the darkness had caused some cooling down but the air was muggy and breezeless. When we arrived at the car, my friend discovered he had inexplicabley left his head lights on and drained the battery. I sat in the front passanger seat arm spread out the open window and watched people walk past on the footpath just above my head. There was little air and I peeled off my sweaty fishnets and removed my cons to sit bare legged and slightly more comfortabley. My friends Dad came eventually and gave us a jump start. While they were talking near his Dad’s car, a few guys started walking past me. The type of guys with arms so big they seem a hassel to walk with. The kind of guys in singlets and board shorts. The type of guys who are tall and handsome and feel entitled to everything around them. They all turn and look down into the open car window, where I sit minding my own buisness and replaying the lovely evening in my head. I am happy.
‘What is that?’ I hear one say.
‘A fucking midget.’ Another replies. They leave laughter in their wake. They say it so easily, like because I do not fit their fairly narrow veiw of female attractiveness. I have no need for respect. I will say this now. It is not girls who spit stuff like that at me with no second thought. It is always guys like that. If I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times. It is always the same thing said in that same tone of voice that I cannot stand. A tone that says you are nothing. You do not belong. As I sit there hating these guys. It suddenly dawns on me what I would like to say to Kathleen Hannah.
Thank you for giving me something that I carry with me now wherever I go. The ability to laugh at the stupidity of others and to treasure all the things about me that make me a weirdo. I would not be any other way. You got sick and made it punk rock as. You fought the thing I am fighting. The fear that my illness may be my defining feature. I will not let it be that way.
The boys keep walking and I sit in the front passenger seat with a smile of defiance on my face.