Car accidents hurt. I was thinking about this yesterday in the shower, as I focused the hot water on my neck, a spot that has been sore for the 20 years and 4 days since I was hit by a drunk driver. He hit me t-bone style, plunged the metal door of the car into my side, trapping my legs under the driver’s seat until I was pried out with the jaws of life. Ouch.
More recently, people have been telling me I was sideswiped. I wasn’t so sure about that, so I looked up the definition: “to strike something or someone with or as if with a glancing blow.” A sufficient description I guess, but it felt more like a head-on collision.
Watch as a standard interview with an author about her new release turns into several minutes of footage of a dude who has nothing to do with the book:
You can see the moment where I am struck, just after the interviewer says, “You write a lot about him in this book,” and my face is like, “erm... no I don’t... what is he talking about... be polite...” and then I stop smiling because it’s really hard to smile and dodge around an irrelevant question, and ow, is this going to hurt for 20 years too?
I have nothing against Corb Lund in any way, and it’s true I had to write to him before the book was published and fact-check two things: Can I reprint these lyrics, and DO YOU LIVE IN CALGARY, to which he replied, “Lethbridge. I have a crash pad in Calgary, but it isn’t home.”
So then all these people who saw the segment were contacting me, going, “nice Corb Lund promo piece,” and “where did your face go,” and “what does he have to do with your book” – to be fair he does get 7 mentions, but Ralph Klein gets 5, and Tim Leacock gets 16, and Tom Phillips gets 60. I have zero interest on being on TV or gaining any sort of notoriety, but I am fed up to here with being pre-empted by a man. Especially in this case, with a rather unrelated man.
I recently read a couple books that in their own ways illuminated the endless nature of the fight women face, particularly women in the music industry. Anything for a Hit by Dorothy Carvello documents her time as an A&R rep for several major labels through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. And Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski is a modern self-help book designed to help women pinned under centuries of patriarchy unearth their flattened selves. While on the surface these books have nothing to do with each other, they both ultimately place the onus on the victim (aka women) to pull themselves out of their own mental dysfunction brought about by systemic misogyny.
I can’t blame these women for couching their advice and narratives as such. How else can you deal with seemingly endless forces working against you; all we can hope for is a little control over our immediate worlds. Advice, then, from the Nagoskis such as Breathe, Dance it Out, Wear a Bikini Even if You Are Fat, feel like temporary salves for insurmountable, chronic injuries.
In Carvello’s case, having her arm broken by an angry label president when things didn’t go his way served to exacerbate her already complicated feelings of guilt, frustration, and powerlessness in an industry that did everything it could to reject her. It took that, plus many more unwanted gropings up her skirt, dirty jokes, ill-treatment, and underhanded manipulation for her to leave a job she loved. She had to save herself before she went under. To compound the problem, she was signing pop metal acts like Skid Row at a time when female participation in these genres was typically limited to blowing the lead singer post-show in multiple tour locations. (Note that Skid Row lead singer Sebastian Bach went on to feature in that most feminist of shows, Gilmore Girls.)
These women present themselves as victims of their scenarios and the patriarchal ideologies that govern them, but they also refuse the victim narrative in order to reclaim some agency. The ultimate victim on the victim spectrum is Taylor Swift, a musician who’s predicated her success on other girls identifying with her victimhood. For the most part, it worked. Boy dumps girl, girl cries, girl complains, girl revives self and gets on with life, as recovered – and often superior – victim. It adheres nicely to the overcoming obstacles drivel we’re fed by all pop culture, as though somehow one is only worthy of accolades or happiness if they did their suffering time first.
Yet this narrative took a turn for the worse last week as we discovered Swift lost out on the opportunity to gain control of her back catalogue thanks to Justin Bieber handler and all-time industry creep Scooter Braun, who in cahoots with Scott Borchetta transferred ownership of said catalogue to Braun’s hands. Swift found out about this the same time the general public did, after a protracted negotiation in which she was promised a tit-for-tat sort of deal at the end of her last contract to regain control of her past work: produce one album, we’ll give you one back.
While she had said no to that proposal and moved to another label, she should not have been left out of the proceedings leading to Braun’s acquisition. This is standard industry behaviour, and if we were at all wondering, confirms that the few rich dudes at the top make their cash on the backs of labourers underneath them, aka capitalism, so no artist is generally powerful enough to change that model. If anyone is powerful enough, though, it’s Swift, a) because she still sells a lot of albums, and b) because she’s white. Perhaps no surprise, then, that everyone scoffed at her announcement last week, saying, “she’ll bounce back.”
Maybe she will. I’m no Swift fan myself, because that music, and the overall victim narrative she peddles doesn’t appeal to me, but I do follow her career moves with a certain degree of interest. And I wonder, how many times do these women have to “bounce back,” whether in the form of repairing bones or in writing an entirely new catalogue of songs because your previous ones were swiped from you? How many times do they have to smile politely and pretend they’re not too mad, because if they don’t, they upset the established order? How many women must go home and Breathe, and Dance it Out in an XXL bikini to “Look What You Made Me Do” before things will finally change?
I think people with a degree of racial, economic, educational, or popularity capital can afford to take some risks, because if we don’t, everything will remain in this contentious stasis with only token, superficial fixes. Taylor should scream and fight and turn into a total raging bitch, producing music that rivals 21st-century Riot Grrrl, because she’ll be able to. Nobody wants to see her slobbering on diamonds as the demonstration of her superiority, they want angry, universally applicable lyrics demanding men shut up and get off screen and listen. Women shouldn’t have to surreptitiously skulk about in oversized bikinis or refuse a couple waxings before heading to the beach, they should bloody well OWN the beach and determine which men are not dressed or groomed accordingly! Or at the very least show up as they wish, unapologetically.
What should I have done? I don’t at all feel like a victim, but I do feel, well, sideswiped. I should have interrupted the anchor, said no, you’ve got it all wrong, and went on to discuss the actual artists in my book, while the network stupidly played clips of Corb in the background, illustrating corporate media’s inability to see the nuance in anything, or to make the effort to write me and say “what clips should we play” as all other community and public broadcasters did during my book promotion. Networks like this assume they can afford to be lazy, to not ask the hard questions, to focus on the questions like “why country music and not hip hop?” (?!) Maybe it’s time to say no to laziness, to entitlement, to manipulation, to greed. Like, really this time.