Vivien Goldman, writer, Revenge of the She-Punks
I've been brought up with the ideology of finding a way to function, even if you have to hack out some new path ...
“No one’s more punk than Vivien Goldman”: the authors of this proclamation may have aged, but the sentiment certainly hasn’t. Now strutting through her 60s, the London-born, New York-based writer, educator, broadcaster and musician – aka ‘the punk professor’ – is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down or donning beige. Having just released her new book, Revenge of the She-Punks: A Feminist Music History from Poly Styrene to Pussy Riot, Vivien is about to embark on an Australian tour including a keynote speech at BIGSOUND where she’ll discuss her trailblazing career and the representation of women in music. This feminist hero to many has penned words for publications including NME and Pitchfork, worked as Bob Marley’s publicist and lent her vocals as a backing singer, among many other roles, all while hacking out bold new paths for women in music. Ahead of her BIGSOUND appearance on Thursday September 5, we caught up with Vivien Goldman to talk punk, feminism and the importance of the sisterhood.
Let’s start at the top – can you remember your first introduction to the world of punk music?
At the very start as I was already a working rock scribe for a few months prior to punk. It felt very different and exciting as artists and managers would come and hang out in the newspaper office, there was no fourth wall, VIP-type nonsense. The sense of a new creative community emerging was very vibrant.
What was it about the art form that resonated with you primarily?
Its liberating aspect for female artists. It was volcanic for me. For the first time I had a community in what had been a very Boyzone laddist milieu. People like The Slits, Raincoats, Delta 5, the girls of Lover’s Rock reggae, plus the anti-fascist movement against the National Front and Rock Against Racism. Those are the reasons we’re speaking now.
How has the ethos of punk music affected how you approach feminism?
I can’t isolate feminism from punk’s impact on me. I take for granted the DIY ethos and have been brought up with the ideology of finding a way to function, even if you have to hack out some new path.
The music industry (and particularly heavy music) has long been a notoriously male-dominated space – what major changes do you think need to be implemented to change this?
The leveller of the internet has helped. There is still that “Oh, we’ve got a chick” tendency, say, among some concert and festival bookers. That is where, rather like diasporic Africans were advised by Bob Marley’s mentor, the pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, women can try to create and spend money amongst ourselves – and no doubt the men who dig us will also buy tickets and t-shirts!
Do you think quotas for non-male presenting artists at festivals and shows are more of a help or a hindrance to the quest for equal representation in the music scene?
Oh, how funny! See above response! I don’t know much about this. Tell me more. I think we always have to take a Mandela-esque attitude and strive for equality while the balance is being redressed. Personally, I am not a separatist, but I see how it can be a useful tool at times.
Your career has segued from journalism to production and publicity to music creation to academia – is there a common inspirational thread that weaves through your work in each field?
I still feel like I was trained by Bob Marley and Fela Kuti on certain levels, and while I still do, say, marketing writing and so on (humble scribe for hire!), in general I like to put my efforts into making things more known that I find to be positive, or I think need discussing. In terms of connecting the making of work in the different media or spheres, the connective tissue is rhythm, for communication, hitting those beats.
In your book Revenge of the She-Punks, you give us an intersectional view into punk music from different corners of the globe. With such a wide array of voices represented, what was the most valuable insight that you gleaned during the research and interviewing process?
The importance of sisterhood, DNA or other.
You’ll soon be in the country to speak at the BIGSOUND music conference. What advice would you give to girls attending BIGSOUND trying to participate in the music scene – whether it’s through bands or industry involvement?
Try and form a creative and practical community (if not collective) of women (and like-minded men if the chemistry is correct) with complementary skill sets and find a way to structure and hopefully monetise your mutual endeavours. If you can combine to make a noise somewhere – even locally – and make that known online, you have more chance than ever of getting some recognition, ideally translating into your continued ability to do the creative work you want. It is good if someone on the scene is really sensible and business-minded (and obviously, trustworthy).
You are a very inspirational figure to many – who do you look up to yourself?
Speaking of women – She-Punks, in fact – for my own artistic and journalistic development, the poet/harmolodic performer/publisher/activist Jayne Cortez. Also, the multimedia artist Moki Cherry – still maybe best known as mother of Neneh and Eagle-Eye Cherry and wife of free-jazz horn man, Don. Her work is now being acquired by museums. Definitely the women in my family, too, including my own sisters. And I am thrilled to see another generation of artiste/scribe arise in the genetic tribe – my niece Rachel Creeger, who happens to be the only Orthodox Jewish comedienne in the UK and a hoot!
If you are heading along to the BIGSOUND music conference, you can catch Vivien Goldman’s keynote talk on Thursday September 5. Tickets to the conference and live-music showcase are still available! You can nab them here.