“Oh, music is supposed to be escapist and it wasn’t. It was grounding it, it was making, like music, a voice for people that hadn’t been heard before.”, is what Carrie Brownstein said about ground breaking “Riot Grrrl” singer and leader of Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna, regarding the just released documentary The Punk Singer. This is a film where women, no, where everyone needs to be exposed to what the Riot Grrrls punched through for the 3rd wave of feminism during Punk/Grunge explosion of the 90’s. Punk Rock’s foundation has always been anti-escapist and always confrontational. Bikini Kill steps it up for women with the DIY concepts that swelled throughout the country in alternative circles during the nineties when Punk/Grunge broke into the mainstream with Bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth.
The Punk Singer is a fascinating tale chronicling the emergence of the Riot Grrrl movement and Kathleen Hanna’s experiences with Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin, as well as, exploring her romance with Beastie Boy’s Ad-Rock/Adam Horowitz. It was surprising see so much original footage of Bikini Kill’s performances; although, some clips were pretty noisy and gritty. The interviews were production perfect, insightful and filled with tons of music heavy weights like: Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Adam Horovitz. Part of the early story revolved around Kathleen’s association with Kurt Cobain when they were a part of the Olympia Washington music scene. One of the movie’s most compelling quotes came from Ann Powers, a music Critic, who said, “Kurt has a history with Bikini Kill. He’s very connected to Kathleen in what she was doing. Any good biography on Kurt Cobain now acknowledges that he didn’t come out “Hesher Rock” in the Pacific North West. He came out of feminist Art Punk, you know. He said it himself at the time.” Later Kim Gordon shared a revealing moment for the start of Sonic Youth’s opening performance where Bikini Kill shared the bill for “Lollapalooza” when Courtney Love slugged Kathleen backstage. This incident earned Courtney 4th degree assault charges. Courtney has become well known for her dramatic first assaults on women she feels competitive with in music circles. Kim’s on screen remarks regarding the incident were, “We did lalapalooza. Kathleen was there. She was standing on the stage watching us. Courtney Love, basically just punched her in the face. That was the beginning if our tour.” At the time it was perceived in the music press that there was some kind of rivalry between the two women but that wasn’t the case. Courtney and Kathleen didn’t know one another as Kim Gordon pointed out in the documentary. In a later quote Adam Horovitz chimed in on witnessing Bikini Kill’s performance and Kathleen’s stage presence by saying, “Kathleen was like a force: Like a full on force. It was like a car accident, you can’t look away. But you know what I mean, like a good car accident. You’re just like, what the fuck!”
Punk Singer, has a lot of heart and life in it. It continues to reveal Kathleen experience with creating Julie Ruin, Le Tigre and finally, her current efforts with The Julie Ruin. Punk Singer carries on with Kathleen’s continued exploration in music, her continuing refining of her feminist views, her romance and marriage to Adam Horowitz. Punk Singer takes us through the pain of her experience with Lime’s disease that stopped her touring with Le Tigre in 2005. Kathleen has the strength to show, on screen, the effects of Lime’s disease and the process of Adam medicating her. It’s all very human and reveals the humanity of “Rock Stars”, sans the glitter of fame. For Punkers and Alternative music lovers this is a must see and for all others it’s revealing eye opener of the behind the scenes world of the music business on a relatable scale. Punk Singer is as engaging as it is informative with a story anyone can connect to: that’s grounded in the bedrock of 90’s Punk Rock and 3rd Wave of feminism. You can catch Punk Singer starting tonight, Nov. 29th, and it runs through Dec. 5th at Cinefamily. There will be special appearances in person Q&A by Allison Wolfe of “Bratmobile” and Anna Joy Springer of “Blatz” on Saturday the 30th.