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Wednesday, September 9, 11:30am - Noon (Panel)

Rebel Girls & Grown Women

  • The Chicks’ll Cream: Solidarity, subversion, and self-discovery through the music of retro teen girl films, Evie Nagy (writer)
  • Delta Dusk: Tanya Tucker, Aging and the Cult of Youth, Steacy Easton (writer)
  • Aging Children Come: Childhood Myths and Realities and the Ground of Creative Genius Among 1970s Pop Auteurs, Ann Powers (NPR)

Presentation Descriptions

The Chicks’ll Cream: Solidarity, subversion, and self-discovery through the music of retro teen girl films, Evie Nagy (writer)

It’s an enduring paradox that the interests and preoccupations of teenage girls are generally looked down upon as shallow and artless, while those same teen girl interests and preoccupations drive the pop culture market in everything from music to literature to film. Films that center teen girls’ stories and perspectives are particularly powerful and interesting because they can simultaneously be so mainstream and so marginalized. These stories can be as problematic and regressive as they can be empowering and faithful to real experience, but navigating those complications can be inherent to how women understand the context of their lives through art.

While the stereotype of a “film buff” who thinks deeply and critically about the art of cinema is usually male, no one loves, embraces, and celebrates their movies as hard as girls and young women. And that celebration is collective; a cooing sleepover gathered around Sixteen Candles is part of the DNA of female friendship that the pensive young man watching Apocalypse Now in his basement will never understand. When romance, angst, and joy on the screen bring girls together, music in the form of a bulletproof soundtrack is very often a critical ingredient of that glue; why just laugh and cry together when you can sing at the top of your lungs.

For this paper, I will focus on how the music in a particularly influential category of teen-girl movie, the ensemble period film, has contributed to the self-discovery and sexual awakening of multiple generations of women. Starting with the mother of all suggestive singalong monoliths, Grease, and extending through cultural phenomenons like Dirty Dancing and underappreciated gems like Shag, I’ll discuss how modern stories of female rebellion, told through musical nostalgia, have given girls a deceptively wholesome context—like a Trojan Horse of retro respectability—to explore ideas of self-expression and sexual agency.


Delta Dusk: Tanya Tucker, Aging and the Cult of Youth, Steacy Easton (writer)

Tanya Tucker released Delta Dawn at 13. She released Will You Lay With Me In A Field of Stone at 15. Those were two of the biggest singles of her career, and would throw shade over the the rest of her life. She was singing them on the comeback circuit, for last year’s introspective album While I’m Livin’. Thinking about these two songs--too adult material for a young girl, marked by a kind of sentimentalized, eroticised mourning, is a way of thinking about death, youth, the 1970s, Outlaws, and the continued failure of taking Tanya Tucker seriously. I am curious about what it means, to sing such serious songs, at such a young age; what it means to work through mourning such publically, and how it fits into a larger social culture.

Comparing Tucker’s personae to such film work as Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon, or Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver; I am curious how making work that is precious, affects the ongoing lives of performers--how, even as an adult, we cannot think of Tucker outside of her youth. Her moving between genres, then, is not considered an example of skill, but dismissed as youthful rebellion. That these questions began in the 1970s, centers our current conversations about consent, appropriateness, and desire, into that specific, micro-social culture--one that includes David Allan Coe, the hardened, time-serving, outlaw musician, who wrote “Will You Lay With Me”, and David Rogers, the saccharine countrypolitan crooner, who recorded it the same year; or Waylon Jennings, who recorded Delta Dawn about the same time as Tucker.

That we remember Tucker before Coe, or Jennings, speaks of Tucker’s broad influence. Her skills for melodrama, can be seen in the Band Perry’s self consciously literary If I Die Young--a track that is not thought of as a response to Tucker, but cannot be constructed without her.

Aging Children Come: Childhood Myths and Realities and the Ground of Creative Genius Among 1970s Pop Auteurs, Ann Powers (NPR)

When Joni Mitchell was a girl she would stride across the prairies of her native Saskatchewan, throwing out the bird calls her mother had taught her. “I wasn’t lonely,” she reflected many years later, “but I was a lone person.” Nine hundred miles away and a few years earlier, Bob Dylan pursued a similar path of poetic alienation, ignoring his brother in favor of long afternoons watch the trains rush past the Minnesota iron ore pits. Another nine hundred miles east Neil Young stayed up past dark in the fields near Omemee, Ontario; southward, James Taylor dodged snakes es as he waded in the North Carolina creeks. This map marked by wandering children is overlaid with another defining the ground of adult-oriented popular music in the early 1970. That one connects Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin dazzling the elders in Detroit’s Baptist churches to Curtis Mayfield hanging out in the yard at Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing developments and Roberta Flack entering Howard University on a piano scholarship at age thirteen. For white singer-songwriters devising ways to distinguish themselves as the communal dream of the counterculture dissolved, being able to claim a solitary childhood secured a certain authority when it came to the qualities that the new “Me Decade” valued: introspection, individuality, intimacy. But for their peers of color also revolutionizing pop in the aftermath of 1960s rock and soul, the childhood hustle, enacted within buzzing communities, was the key precursor to adult creative genius. This multimedia presentation traces how a new cultural fascination with the “inner child” -- and anxiety about childhood's effects on a life -- led singer-songwriters across the spectrum of pop formats and genres to present themselves as “aging children” in their music and through personae, as part of the process of claiming the central elements of artistry as defined by this era in popular music: introspection, individuality, and intimacy.