(Flyer via Talkhouse)

(Flyer via Talkhouse)

If you’ve seen the 2013 documentary The Punk Singer, you know Kathleen Hanna was stuck out at sea for a long time when she was creatively paralyzed and overwhelmed by the day-to-day challenges of Lyme disease. One of the harshest consequences of her illness was profound fatigue, something that severely limited her capacity to write or perform music. At times, she found it difficult to even speak.

Lucky for us– oh, and for Hanna too– she’s doing much better these days, so much so that even though her band The Julie Ruin, like, just released their new album, Hanna is making an appearance this week at a speaker store in Soho, of all places, called Sonos.

It’s all happening Friday September 30 (11 am at 101 Greene Street), as part of a live podcast organized by the good people at The Talkhouse, which encourages artists, musicians, and all kinds of successful creatives to write about the recent work of another artist. The writer– in this case, Meredith Graves of the Brooklyn punk band Perfect Pussy– and subject (Hanna) are then brought together for a back-and-forth conversation. When the recording happens live, there’s also a portion devoted to moderated discussion with audience participation. (If you can’t make it to Sonos, but don’t wanna miss a beat, don’t fret– the podcast taping will be streamed on Facebook Live, y’all.)

So what does Meredith Graves know about Kathleen Hanna and Riot Grrrl anyway? Well, the former hasn’t beat off any Lyme-diseased ticks that we know of, and she hasn’t started any feminist activism/music movements, yet. (Although some people have predicted that Graves is bound to lead something of a sort soon enough.) But Graves definitely shares an ideological tendency or twenty with Hanna, particularly in her belief that using her music, writings, and other work as a vehicle for conveying politically potent ideas is an essential part of the art-making process–without it, the artwork lacks meaning.

In a 2014 interview with NME, Graves ranted about how lame it is to see artists, particularly those with access to a larger audience, squander the opportunity to say something meaningful. “That to me is like a singularly offensive act, to have space and you do nothing with it,” she said. “That complacency is the reason that I’m never, ever, ever going to shut up.”

One of the freakiest things about Lyme is its tendency to ebb and flow. So even if it seems that Hanna has beat out the disease, there’s still a looming threat. Artists (cool ones at least) are pretty good at transfiguring negative energy into creative productivity, so it could very well be that Hanna’s appreciation for getting a second chance at a Lyme-free life and a lingering fear of its return has turned out to be a wellspring for artistic energy.

The shittiest, stinkiest life-shits have a certain way of making even the everyday dog-sweat smell sweet– you know?

As Hanna recalled in a recent interview. “I was like, ‘It’s like I’m dead already.’ Then I started archiving my work. I was sick and I thought I was dying and started planning for my own death.”

By 2010, even her archive was already in place–at the age of 32, which might otherwise be considered morbidly premature, Hanna’s zines, old photos, handwritten letters and slapdash diary entries were already organized, catalogued, and filed away in the Riot Grrrl Archives (part of the Fales Library at NYU).

Eventually, Hanna found a way to work through the pain– as she told Pitchfork last year, she started out by experimenting with screenwriting and comedy– anything to take the edge off– and eventually fought her way back to music: “One of the reasons I went back to music even though I was extremely ill was because I started to forget who I was aside from being sick. And when I’m performing, or even lecturing, it’s like I’m myself again”

This connectivity to her creative self by way of performance probably stems from Hanna’s Riot Grrrl days when she unabashedly subjected herself to very public (or at least in view of her fellow Riot Grrrls) probes by way of zines and Bikini Kill shows. Time and again, she demonstrated a real commitment to acknowledging and grappling with her own hangups and shortcomings. (Truly, she was a proto-master of the pre-internet overshare.)

Maybe the most important byproduct of her realness was that Hanna became a role model– a woman who was revolutionary, punk, and definitely super cool, but she wasn’t some removed, manufactured rock star by any means. By fearlessly embodying contradictions and loudly proclaiming herself as the proud owner of messy realness, Hanna demonstrated that anyone could create meaningful art and music and that you only had to care in order to make a difference. The spirit of DIY spread like wildfire.

Riot Grrrl, but Kathleen Hanna and her band Bikini Kill especially, spawned and have since inspired countless artists since the movement’s inception in the early ’90s– including stylistically similar punk bands, equally sassy acts like Penis, and, of course, Meredith Graves’ band Perfect Pussy. The cultural practices of Riot Grrrl live on as well– for starters, there are events like the NYC Feminist Zine Fest, and the whole Brooklyn DIY community to think about.

Over the last few years, however, Hanna has gradually made her comeback, at her own pace and on her own term. Her return to the stage was pretty much official by summer 2015, when she started regularly touring, performing, and recording again with The Julie Ruin.

The interviews have picked up too. Now, Hanna makes regular appearances in the current cultural conversation as a living, breathing artist instead of being referred to solely as a historical icon. With events like the Talkhouse podcast, Hanna is helping to connect the dots between the Riot Grrrl movement of the ’90s and the activism being carried out by a new generation of feminist artists– they’re women, trans, queer, people of color, and all of the above. There are some major breaks with older ways of feminist thinking but it’s important to know more about the roots of that evolution which grew at least partially out of Riot Grrrl.

It’s also essential to record, track, and understand the trajectory of countercultural movements led by women and other marginalized groups, because often their stories become skewed by sensationalist retellings and misunderstandings. And maybe through a consistent, shared telling and retelling of women’s histories there can be greater solidarity– and in a world where Gloria Steinem dismisses young feminists as blind, boy crazy Bernie followers, there’s a lot we can learn by hearing it straight from Kathleen Hanna.