The new exhibit at the EMP showcases women and their contributions to music through, songwriting, singing and instrumentation….and, largely, fashion. “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power” opens today, Friday, June 14, 2013 with an opening night concert at EMP featuring a line-up of powerful women musicians. The exhibit continues through September. Mr. Strangeways and Music writer Lainy Bagwell checked out the new exhibit this week and Ms Lainy has plenty to report:
Upon entering the exhibit the first thing you see front and center is Lady Gaga’s first piano,where framed photos of her as a child cover the top. It’s a nice piece and seemingly sets the tone for what’s to come as you continue on inside.
From there, you continue on in a chronological procession of exhibits that touch on the contribution of female artists beginning in the 1920’s and 30’s with Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson whose showcase has a great original display ad for Pomade , a hair styling product.
We then move into a 1950’s songwriters section with Lavern Baker most famous for writitng “Tweedlee Dee”, Cynthia Weil, who wrote many songs for various artists including Dolly Parton and The Monkees. Then there’s Carole King, who wrote almost every amazing song ever made! A small section follows of girl groups from the 50’s with The Ronettes, The Shangri-La’s, The Supremes and Goldie & The Gingerbreads, the first all female band to be signed to a major label all showcased.
Then we turn to the iconic 1960’s with Odetta, Lesley Gore, The Shirelles, Mavis Staples, Mama Cass & Michelle Phillips, and Tina Turner all highlighted.
And lastly, we move to a combined area of the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s which spans a big list of female artists from all genres of music including Loretta Lynn, Bonnie Raitt, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Heart, Donna Summer, Yoko Ono, Tina Weymouth, Cindy Wilson & Kate Pierson from the B-52’s, Siouxsie Sioux, Kim Deal, Chrissie Hynde and Kim Gordon among others. The final room of the exhibit decides that a lot of currently fashionable pop stars are worthy of inclusion, including Rihanna, Britney and Xtina.
The very first display you see though, is that of Mother Maybelle Carter. It’s a perfect showcase of a female musician with one of Maybelle’s guitars, a dress she wore on stage, a song book full of Carter Family tunes and a poster from one of her performances. This display, and the others showcasing the “Mothers” of rock who influenced what was to come, is sadly a tease as the remainder of the exhibits fall off from here and begin focusing too much on the external…cute outfits, rather than the actual contributions of the artists.
The showcases become a “Who wore what dress?” and beyond that, there really isn’t much memorabilia for us to see. You will find the occasional notebook with lyrics scrawled in pen and some original vinyl pressings, but those are few and far between. This show originated at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and it seems to me there was a serious lack of any kind of search for items beyond clothing that are good representations of these artists. It would have been great to see show posters, set lists, notes, records, memorabilia of any sort, and most of all, actual instruments. I felt especially disheartened when I got to Sheila E’s display of only a dress. Seriously, just a dress…the woman put out a few records! Someone couldn’t pick up a vinyl copy somewhere? She is mainly known as a drummer (she worked very closely with Prince), and female drummers are rare…I would have liked to have seen at least a pair of sticks in there.
Each display had full size photos of the woman performing in the back of each display next to the inevitable dress and they used rare photographs, which is great, however the photos all had a PINK backdrop to them. When I have been to other music museums, they don’t give the men blue backdrops!
Well, so since we have some much attire on display, I might as well mention the highlights of the outfits. Billie Holiday’s Fox Fur Stole (head still attached on the fox), Cyndi Lauper’s shoes with the painting from the back of the album “She’s So Unsual” painted on the bottom; two of Madonna’s teeny outfits including the infamous Gaultier top; Debbie Harry’s awesome “how the fuck did they make that” blue sequined style dress with the leggings that extended completely over her high heels; Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” jacket, and Cher’s Native American “Half-Breed” outfit complete with full “chief” headdress. This outfit is pretty amazing to see in person…I’m not sure how she got around in that thing without flashing her business more. And the hidden gem in the bunch, although not really a gem, was a handmade dress that Mama Cass wore with felt cut out flowers on it. You also get to see Lady Gaga’s meat dress which is pretty freakin gross and awesome at the same time. There are a few items that are not dresses including Patti Smith’s duck taped shoes, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth’s silver lame shorts and “Eat Me” shirt, and Kim Deal from The Breeder’s green pin striped suit. One thing I learned from all the attire was that these woman, or, at least many of them, are really petite, thinner than they appear in pictures.
Then there was the section of the new crew that I could have done without. Space was wasted on Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Shakira, and Rhianna. These ladies are not without talent, but none of them play instruments, and while not all of the other women do either, but the women that came before them set a precedent for song writing, musicianship, and even some style. But the focus of these new girls seems to be more about whom they are dating, or what little they are wearing, not about them being innovative and trying to break through more barriers.
It’s hard to cover everybody but I was also surprised to see Kitty Wells, Minnie Riperton, The Go-Go’s, Amy Winehouse and many others left out. Besides Heart and Bikini Kill (who are really from Olympia) there was a very serious lack of female bands and singers from Seattle such as Danger Gens, The Gits, Hammerbox and 7 Year Bitch. (Editor’s Note: Sleater-Kinney was missing, too. And, some Beth Ditto would have been nice, too. Also, don’t remember seeing anything for Courtney Love….) I get that this is a traveling display, but it sure would be nice if every city this went to made even a small section for the local artists.
Overall, I felt that the whole showcase needed to be larger (literally bigger, this is very small compared to what it should be) and cover more ground, and have more listening stations to introduce people to artists they may never have heard.
On the plus side they have some great footage to watch of live performances and a few monitors that have the history, interviews and stories of these artists. I also recommend taking the time to read the plaques in front of each display as they provide some good history and trivia tidbits.
“The Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power” exhibit opens to the public on Saturday, June 15, 2013 at the EMP Museum located at The Seattle Center.
And on Friday night June 14th there is a Blow Our:Women Who Rock Opening Concert. Doors at 7pm, Show at 8pm at the Sky Church. The group is called The Bad EMPressions, an all-star band that will perform five decades of songs by legendary female artists. The band features a slew of amazing artists, Annabella Lwin from Bow Wow Wow, Kathy Valentine from The Go-Go’s, Patty Schemel from Hole, Donita Sparks from L7, Kim Shattuck from The Muffs, and local artists Star Anna, Shelby Earl, and Choklate.
Mr. Strangeways’ Note: I went with Lainy to the preview and while it is interesting, it does seem a bit shallow and overly focused on cute outfits and not much on the actual contributions by these female artists. They also feature artists who don’t really have much business being there (uh, Taylor Swift?) and give short shift to major icons like Pat Benatar and sort of ignore actual women who were ROCKERS in favor of too much pop. (Where the hell was Wendy O. Williams!?!?!?) This exhibit wasn’t curated by EMP; it’s a touring show from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum which is a bit surprising…you would expect them to actually have a bit more substance. Still, I’ll totally admit it’s cool to see some very iconic fashion up there, including Cher’s “Half-Breed” costume and the scary as fuck Gaga “meat dress” which now looks like a prop from “The Silence of the Lambs”.
And, to include Rihanna and NOT Adele is criminal…