Women of the Underground: Music
Cultural Innovators Speak for Themselves
Interviews by Zora von Burden (Manic D Press)
Women of the Underground: Music is a series of interviews with twenty of the musical underground’s most influential artists. Conducted by poet and journalist Zora von Burden, these frank conversations are both fascinating and educational. If you’ve ever wanted a crash course in the early days of rockabilly, punk and goth, Women of the Underground: Music is essential reading.
Each interview is prefaced by a concise, one-page biography of the woman being interviewed, a critical inclusion because some of these women (for all of their genius and influence) are not well known. That’s what makes this book so important; without the work of the women in the underground music scene, music as we know it today would not exist. The role of women in music would be radically different had these women not dared to shake their fists in the face of convention. What becomes evident as the interviews unfold, is how much of our cultural landscape has been shaped by these artists, many of whom remain obscure to mainstream audiences.
Wanda Jackson, the first interviewee in the book, was a contemporary of Elvis. Jackson’s career as the Queen of Rockabilly and the First Lady of Rock and Roll spans over fifty years. A European revival of her music in the ’80s brought in new listeners and directly influenced modern rockabilly music. While Elvis is a household name, Jackson, winner of two Grammy Awards and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is not.
This theme, while not overt, is central to Women of the Underground: Music. Everyone knows Lou Reed, not everyone knows Maureen Tucker, percussionist for the Velvet Underground and successful solo artist. Would Rob Zombie have as much creative freedom today without the success of White Zombie? Sean Yseult, former White Zombie bassist, wrote much of their music while frontman Rob Zombie wrote lyrics and performed. Would Nirvana have existed without the influence of bands like The Raincoats and Frightwig?
Concentrating her questions on the musical careers and not overly prying into the personal lives of her subjects, von Burden allows each artist to tell her story in her own words—and many of them take congruous paths. Many of the artists started their careers in their early teens; almost all of them experienced extreme poverty. Some of the musicians interviewed moved fluidly between music and sex work; some out of necessity, others out of personal and artistic exploration.
Women of the Underground: Music is very obviously a labor of love. Well-researched and thoughtful questions provoke insightful responses. A common thread of fearlessness and ferocity emerges from the stories of twenty very different women.
Adele Bertei, member of The Contortions, offered this: “Take the risks, fight the good fight, never be afraid to be a loner, for that is precisely where you will find community. Risk is the fountain of youth and the fire of transformation. It’s all about alchemy–learning how to transform the basest shit into the purest of gold, and these days, we are sorely in need of master magicians.”