Saturday, March 24, 2007

Guitar Heroines

Is rock male-dominated? Are there only guitar heroes and no heroines? Is the guitar phallic?

A recent article, "Guitar Heroes, Make That Heroines, In Indie Rock" by Will Hermes in the New York Times (March 11) makes some interesting observations regarding these points, by way of a discussion of female guitarists Marnie Stern and Kaki King. Here are the most compelling bits:

That [Marnie Stern's] now a woman who ''shreds'' -- the verb for super-fast, heavy metal-esque guitar playing -- doesn't strike her as unusual, even though many still see rock guitar playing as an expression of male sexuality, and the guitar itself as phallic prop (as illustrated recently by the brouhaha over Prince's Super Bowl halftime performance, which involved a guitar solo performed in silhouette behind a sheet some thought suggested the act of masturbation -- more so than usual, anyway). ''I'm conscious that I'm a woman playing the electric guitar relatively well, and that it's not that common,'' Ms. Stern said. ''But -- and this maybe sounds really cheesy -- there's the personal relationship I have with the guitar which doesn't have to do with gender or anything like that. It's the thing that produces a creative side in me. I just see it in a totally separate way.''

Kaki King, 27 -- the sole woman featured in last month's Rolling Stone cover story on the ''New Guitar Gods'' -- sees the question somewhat differently. ''I've always thought of the curves of a guitar as so feminine,'' she said in a telephone interview from her apartment in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. ''Yeah, it's always been a phallic symbol. But if you look at any classic-shaped guitar -- a Les Paul, a Spanish classical guitar -- they all have these womanly curves. So maybe the guitar is more androgynous than we think.''

My favorite guitar heroines are PJ Harvey and Carrie Brownstein & Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney.

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