This week is your last chance to see The Punk Singer on the big screen, and you should definitely, definitely catch this cool doc about Kathleen Hanna – one of the most visible and outspoken figures of the Riot Grrl movement – before it leaves IFC Center and Nitehawk on Thursday.
The film’s archival footage of Hanna’s band Bikini Kill – not to mention its interviews with Kim Gordon, Hanna’s bandmates in Le Tigre and her husband Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys – filled us with so much nostalgia for the ‘90s (when Courtney Love was so, so much nuttier than she is now) that we were inspired to check out the Riot Grrrl Collection at NYU’s Fales Library.
After hours of digging through Hanna’s awkward high school photos, show flyers, hand-written letters, some hilarious (well, in hindsight) Courtney Love-related transcripts and depositions, we came upon one of Hanna’s zines, My Life With Evan Dando, Popstar, which we’ve reproduced for you below. It’s just one of 900 zines in the collection. Another standout – Bamboo Girl, by NYC-based activist-turned-acupuncturist Margarita Alcantara – is also excerpted here.
Started in 1995 when Alcantara was stuck at a dull corporate job in New York , Bamboo Girl offered her a much needed outlet. “I pretty much just started it because I had a lot of anger issues at the time,” she told us. “I didn’t really have any vehicle with which to get them out.”
Alcantara first met up with Riot Grrrl activists including Kathleen Hanna in Washington D.C.. The punk scene of the early ’80s and ’90s was thriving in D.C.: Bad Brains, Fugazi and Minor Threat all hailed from the capitol. But hardcore punk especially was a male affair. Many women didn’t feel as though they fit into the testosterone-fueled, often violent punk scene, though they identified with the music and core ethos of punk.
Later on, when Riot Grrrl was in full swing, at Bikini Kill shows Kathleen Hanna would famously demand “girls to the front,” sparking a revolutionary inclusion of women in punk shows and furthermore solidifying the notion that women, and everyone else, deserve to be safe from violence.
As Riot Grrrl sprouted, similarly minded women began using the same cultural products as punk – music, and zines in particular — to connect to one another, share ideas, and define themselves and their place within the punk movement, politically and culturally.
“One of my friends who was already doing a zine said, why don’t you just do a zine?” said Alcantara, who was unfamiliar with the medium when she first started. In her spare time at the office, Alcantara would write and sketch drawings for Bamboo Girl, the subject matter of which would contribute in adding another dimension to the fight against exclusion.
“When I started it off it was at first for totally selfish reasons. It was for me to vent and get things off my chest, but then what I soon discovered is that other women, and other folks in general — even people who I wasn’t addressing or I didn’t identify like myself — were also feeling like they totally understood what I was talking about on some level,” Alcantara said.
Bamboo Girl was dedicated to examining the complicated intersection between ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. As a Filipino-American, Alcantara experienced the triple bind of being a person of color, queer, and a woman in punk scene dominated by white males. “It totally ended up becoming a dialoguing tool to network with other women,” explained Alcantara, “and mostly with women of color, and mixed raced women.”
Given the extensive network of interested consumers, the self-published, printed zines were a powerful tool in the ’90s, when they were at the height of their popularity. They offered a unique outlet to having your voice heard — even if you were broke, a minority, female, whatever.
“It was just such a juicy nugget of time back in the day, where it was all these really new voices coming out and they were only coming out through zines,” Alcantara said.
She spoke to the excitement she experienced at a Riot Grrrl convention in D.C. “It was just like a bunch of women doing whatever, you know? We were all in this discovery phase, and even Kathleen Hanna was there. And that’s where I first met her. It was wonderful because afterward there was this exchange, and she discovered my zine, and she would do trades with me.”
Though Alcantara wasn’t directly involved in the Riot Grrrl scene in NYC, Bamboo Girl was still circulating and making waves in the community.
Though the ’90s are now a distant memory for Alcantara, Bamboo Girl still pops up in women’s studies curricula, pop-culture books, and museum exhibits. “Which I thought was really funny,” Alcantara said, “because if anyone had their way in my family my zine would not have seen the light of day, just because, you know, it was not considered prim and proper or whatever. And I suppose that’s what I was rebelling against back in the day,”
Though Bamboo Girl’s ongoing proliferation is somewhat surprising to Alcantara, she maintains it had a serious impact on her personally. “My zine probably kept me out of jail,” she admits. “Because I had that much anger, and if I didn’t have Bamboo Girl as an outlet, I probably would have taken it out on other people.”
Almost 20 years later, Alcantara has learned to channel that anger, as a licensed acupuncturist and Reiki Master (she says a lot of former activists are now teachers and healers). But she hasn’t shed the voice of Bamboo Girl. “I think that one thing people have a misconception about is that when you’re doing healing work or whatever you don’t get angry or anything, which is a bunch of crap. You know people that are healers are still human, they still get pissed off, they still get hurt, they still do stupid things, but you know I definitely fall in that category.”
Check out Kathleen Hanna’s zine below, and click one each image for a closer look. My Life With Evan Dando Popstar is a complex, acerbic critique of media and advertising’s treatment of women. It takes aim at the pretty-boy front man of the Lemonheads — the ’90s band that never really did anything remarkable except cover good songs written by other people and have a lead singer with great hair. Hanna picks Dando out as the blow-up-boy conduit for all that’s gross about commodification and singing into an expensive microphone “to a bunch of rich people I hate.” But don’t worry, Hanna’s soft on Dando, after all– “He earns money the good old-fashioned way. He takes it from sexually repressed little kids.” Ouch…
Above images My Life With Evan Dando, Popstar, Kathleen Hanna, 1993.
All images courtesy of courtesy of the artists and the Fales Library & Special Collections, NYU.