Culture Club: Different for Girls: My True-life Adventures in Pop by Louise Wener

This is the first blog in what will be our Culture Club series – we’ll be looking, in a bit more depth, at the texts that Salon de la Vie host Rebecca Mordan uses as she researches and creates the Salons.

This week we’re looking at Different for Girls: My True-life Adventures in Pop by Louise Wener, which Rebecca quoted from at the end of the Salon about Janis Joplin, the closing salon of Season Three.

When you think of Britpop, what do you think of?

Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede? What about Elastica, Catatonia, Sleeper, Echobelly, Kenickie? Remember them? Of course you do. A quick google takes us to Wikipedia which lists over fifty Britpop bands, and yes the ‘girl’* bands are listed there too, So why have they been forgotten? **

Published in 2010 by Ebury, and then again in 2011 as ‘Just For One Day: Adventures in Britpop‘, the book explores life as a woman in a male dominated Britpop scene.

An ordinary girl transforms from an awkward 80s suburban pop geek to 90s jet-set pop goddess. It’s a Cinderella story full of memoir friendly, singing into hairbrush moments that also reveals, in ways that many Britpop fans might find disturbing or unsettling, that misogyny was rife in Britpop, that groupies weren’t just for rock and metal bands, and that good old fashioned sexism had it’s place. Right there, at the top.

Contemporary reviews focused on the warm and comedic way Wener described the embarrassments of growing up and experimenting with hair, fashion, make up and image. They luxuriated in the nostalgia of trying to look like Toyah and the glories of Look-In and Jackie magazine. Some (men..) found Wener’s writing ‘irritating’***

When Rebecca read from the book in our Salon, she focused on a rather different side. She read this section about the jarring clash of worlds when groupies and parents are in the same hotel bar which left us feeling for those tightless girls, wanting to give them a coat, and a cuddle.

“If this is to be our last tour then we had better make sure it’s a good one. There are more drugs and more drinking and everyone is as ruined as they’ve ever been, but more so. It’s grubby and filthy and oddly glamorous still but just as often it’s the land of the stupid, corroded and difficult to love.

The groupie situation steps up another level. Our support bands are all boys, pretty ones, some of whom take a lot of cocaine. One night we are holed up in a hotel bar halfway through the tour, and the pretty boys are holed up in the toilets. The groupies are here, hunting in slack-jawed, mini skirted packs; traipsing back and fort, through the bar to the toilets and back again. I lose count of how many girls there are and how often they traipse back and forth. Jon’s mum is in the bar with us, she has been to see us play.

‘Did you enjoy the gig?’

‘Oh… yes, I loved it’

Her partner nudges her on the shoulder. He seems distracted.

‘Where are those lot going, then?’ he says, suspiciously

‘Um… who?’

‘All those young lasses. Back and forth to the toilets all  the time!’

‘They’ve got no tights on either’, adds Jon’s mum. ‘It’s January, it’s freezing outside. Why have none of them got any tights on!’

What can I say? They are both lovely people. I’ve had Sunday dinner at their house. I can’t tell them they’ve gone to snort the support band’s coke off the cistern and give them repeated rounds of sex and blow jobs.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” I say, unconvincingly. ‘They’ve probably all got cystitis.”

Rebecca also read a section as shown in the the picture above.

‘…Elastica have surrendered to their heroin stupor, and that coterie of frank, gutsy women fronting guitar bands has been watered down with giggling ‘girl power’.

What happened to that battle? That slice of rock and roll sexual equality that we came for? It started with an attempt to level the playing field, but ended up in something altogether tamer and more dilute.

You wake up one morning in the midst of the beer-swilling, coke-fuelled, self-important parody that is Britpo’s death rattle and say, haven’t we been here before?

Justine [of Elastica] aping Christine Keeler on the cover of Select, Sonya Echobelly falling out of her shirt in i-D, Carys Catatonia pouting half naked on the cover of a lads mad, and how the hell did I end up being photographed in a wet-look PVC catsuit carrying a gun? I look ridiculous. Like sexy liquorice.

This wasn’t part of the plan. This isn”t the girl from L7 pulling her pants down on The Word to reveal her big hairy bush. This is neutered and neat. Conformist and traditional. Same a it ever was. Indie Playboy.”

There’s something about these two pieces that speak of autonomy, or the lack of it. Of owning ones own sexuality and sexual power. Did those groupies own theirs? In the words of Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Be Famous’ Johanna Morrigan, we’d say that they ‘had some sex done to them’ and we’d question the reality of their ‘choice’ to allow it to have happened. Did those boys in the band care for them, about their pleasure? Did they even know their names…? Whereas Donita Spark – whether revealing that ‘big hairy bush’ or throwing a tampon into a Reading crowd was owning her womanhood, claiming the right to her own body, not neutered, or neat – earthy, real. Woman.

Louise is right. It is – was, and still is, different for girls.

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*Are Blur a ‘boy’ band? So why are Sleeper a ‘girl’ band…?

** Ten points if you said patriarchy!

*** We’ve not heard that before, have we sisters?!

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