Music

This Is My Thing: An Interview With Kathleen Hanna

On music, politics, working under an alias, and why cabaret is the most punk-rock thing out there right now.

Having made a body of work that—a lot of it—was really personal, do you feel like you’re ever going to want to go back and, like, write your life story? Or do you feel like that’s already out there?

I’d love to write my life story. I just feel like it would be weird to do that before I’m like 60, you know what I mean? I’m still making work. Part of the point of The Riot Grrrl Collection and donating my papers to NYU’s Fales Library was making it all available for the next generation, who will do better than we did. I’m completely confident of that. Every 20 years, the people involved with a particular feminist movement have changed enough and grown enough as people that they’ve been able to be honest about the damage that happened near the end [of that movement]. I’m at that place now. Having this work available, I think, will make younger women excited again, the same way I got to learn from books like Daring to Be Bad, which was about the late-’60s and -’70s feminist movements.

Sarah Marcus wrote Girls to the Front, and more Riot Grrrl people hopefully will start writing their books. I’m not one of them. I’ve been able to put that stuff in the past, to a certain extent, because I wrapped it up in a bow as a present and I gave it to Fales—actually, I gave it to them in totally messy, sloppy boxes and a filing cabinet—because having that shit in my basement felt like I was like carrying 20 tons of bricks in my backpack, and I took the backpack off and gave it to someone else and walked away from it. I’m able to move on now and make new work. Then, hopefully, after I make a bunch of new work and have to get away from that, I can—you know, when I’m 60—have my one-woman show and my autobiography.

There’s definitely stuff I think people would find interesting about my life that hasn’t been in the The Punk Singer. That’s when I realized that I do need to write a book, because there is so much stuff that was like, Oh, that would have been so good in there! But you can’t really tell anyone’s life story in an hour.

You’ve talked about bands and zines you like, but are there authors or filmmakers or artists you’re into right now that you feel aren’t getting a lot of attention?

Well, I loooove Bridget Everett, who is a cabaret performer. She tells funny-slash-horrifying stories of her dysfunctional childhood in Manhattan, Kansas—which is totally real—and now she lives in Manhattan, New York. She’ll be in the middle of a monologue that’s completely awful and funny at the same time, then she’ll start singing—she has such a beautiful voice—and then she’ll go back into some other monologue. She has her own band, Bridget Everett and the Tender Moments. My husband is actually her bass player. And he and I just wrote a television show for her, a comedy show, called Bridget Drives the Bus. Right now we’re waiting to hear back about who’s going to buy it so we can make the pilot episode.

I feel like the thing that Bridget does that’s so successful and that attracts me to her is that, one, she’s a big girl—and she would say that herself—and she is constantly naked or in a bathing suit or showing her ass. And, two, she is just like a total sexual predator. I don’t mean that like she should be in the registry of sex offenders—but, like, as a performer, she goes out into the audience and finds men and pulls them onstage and puts her hoo-ha in their face. If the tables were turned, it would be a completely different thing. I’d be so grossed out by it. But they’re not. It’s different to be a woman in society—the way we’re looked at, and the way we’re put upon sexually. It is uncomfortable to see a woman be like that, and it does raise these really interesting questions about “Well, isn’t it still just as gross when a woman does it?” There have been times when I’ve been like, I don’t know if this is OK. She’s violating men’s space like a million ways to Sunday, but it’s punk rock—it’s not supposed to be safe. It’s supposed to leave you with questions.

There’s something punk-rock happening in the cabaret scene that I wasn’t feeling in the music scene. There’s a lot of music right now that I might like listening to while I’m doing the dishes or hanging out in my house, but I don’t feel like “Oh my god—somebody might die onstage,” or “Someone might get ripped offstage by their ankles,” or “This is like really scary.” And I miss that. I miss that feeling of This room could turn into anything right now. I felt that in Bikini Kill—we walked into these spaces that were so male, and where the promoters treated us like garbage and a lot of the audience treated us like garbage, but the girls took over, and all of a sudden this really horrible male space became a place where women were welcome. To watch a room change like that, and to still have the fear that those front two rows of girls were going to get the shit kicked out of them, or that we were going to get the shit kicked out of us, but then seeing the solidarity of the girls in the front row singing the lyrics—I do miss that excitement and fear, that feeling that anything could happen.

Do you think you would ever do cabaret? Or have you done it before?

Well, my friends used to do a cabaret show called “Our Hit Parade.” For the ’90s edition, I did “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” where I told the story of where that title came from. I never thought I’d do that because it’s a very personal kind of story—of me writing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Kurt’s wall and then that song being written and being like, Whoa, that’s a huge hit. This is a really big deal. This is really weird. I was always like, I don’t want to tell this story, I don’t want to tell this story, I don’t want to tell this story, but then I got up and told the story in my own way and I got to sing during it, and it was really cathartic. I felt like, Now I’m done, I don’t ever have to tell it again—except for in my book when I’m 60 years old! But it got me into the idea that when I’m older I want to do a one-woman show where I tell stories à la Henry Rollins—but way better because I would sing, too. And maybe do some exercises—Pilates onstage. [Laughs] Do a painting and sell it for $200 at the end of the show, I don’t know.

That would be a show I’d watch.

Yeah, it’d be awesome for about the first five minutes. And then it would be like, “Okaaaay! Enough already!” [Laughs] OK, are we good?

Yeah, I think we’re good! Thank you, Kathleen!

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16 Comments

  • kimberleighrc September 16th, 2013 3:23 PM

    Amazing! She’s as great as ever.

  • emlyb September 16th, 2013 3:33 PM

    OMG OMG OMFG OM FG G

  • Chloe22 September 16th, 2013 3:45 PM

    Kathleen is one of my favorite singers, but I can’t say I agreed with her whole thing about sexual harrassment not counting in a show? I mean, she’s always spoken about the terribly sexist and scary environment of punk shows, and how it shouldn’t be that way, and then she basically back tracks and says it should be scary, or ”make you ask questions”. If a guy going into the show KNOWS they do that stuff, and it’s well known, and he goes up on stage, fine. But when it isn’t disclosed, or consented to, it’s harassment. That goes for any girl at a punk show, too. No one deserves harrassment, ever, in any way.
    http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

  • blueolivia September 16th, 2013 4:39 PM

    http://transactivist.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/trans-grrrl-riot-part-1-was-riot-grrrl-transphobic/

    i’m not really sure where ms. hanna stands on this now, but she has played for the michigan womyn’s festival, which has their “womyn born womyn” policy which essentially rejects trans women as being women at all. i’ve also heard a lot about her transphobic essays, which i haven’t ever seen and haven’t been able to find at all. anyway, its just something to think about! i still really love what she did with bikini kill & outside of the band, and i think she stands for the right things. i just don’t think its right to exclude people the way this movement tended to do in the 90′s, particularly. just adding this for consideration! she hasn’t issued any statements lately about what she believes now.

    xoxo olivia

    • Anaheed September 17th, 2013 7:37 AM

      She never wrote “transphobic essays,” because she’s not a transphobe. When people refer to her as transphobic they are always (as far as I’ve ever seen, at least, and I’ve seen a lot) referring to Le Tigre’s decision to play the Womyn’s Festival in 2001 and 2005. That was disappointing to me, but I am certain that the band (which includes a genderqueer member) thought long & hard about the festival’s trans-exclusionist policy before making their decision to play it, and that they had their own reasons for doing so, none of which were based on bigotry. The only actual words I’ve ever read from Kathleen about trans* issues were: ““I’ll cut to the chase: I do believe transwomen are real women, I don’t prescribe to outdated essentialist notions of gender–that just isn’t what I am about.”

  • intergalactic fork September 16th, 2013 4:49 PM

    Kathleen’s like a fixture here lol. she should become an official rookie writer

  • ohmyannie September 16th, 2013 6:11 PM

    this is beautiful<3

  • billie September 16th, 2013 6:41 PM

    OMG Kathleen! <3

  • Sophie ❤ September 16th, 2013 7:06 PM

    I love the art and the interview! Super cool.

    http://theneonpapaya.com

  • dreamygirl September 16th, 2013 7:46 PM

    I really admire and respect Kathleen. I’ve always felt kind of hesitant about identifying as riot grrrrl, an I am so glad to have her say that I can create a feminism that’s even better; that I don’t have to settle. Because that’s what I really want! I agree, Rookie is definitely a step in the right direction and it raises a great conversation about feminism, but I kind of think that Rookie could do a bit better, be more diverse in its photos and (this is something I’ve thought a lot about lately) how feminism isn’t vagina-based; we have to give room for our transgender* ladies with genitals and not disclose them by saying that feminism is the vagina.

    • dreamygirl September 16th, 2013 7:47 PM

      Oops, autocorrect is really not my friend, apparently.

    • Anaheed September 16th, 2013 8:16 PM

      Couldn’t agree more.

      • Anaheed September 17th, 2013 9:26 PM

        (I meant about your first comment. Not the autocorrect one!)

  • dreamygirl September 16th, 2013 8:01 PM

    Yet another thing, which is that Lena did a really great job on this.

  • veoh112 September 16th, 2013 9:29 PM

    I completely agree with Kathleen when they were talking about how people say that sexism doesn’t exist even though it does, especially in a culture full of rape. And I do think that we should have more riot girl bands and music, and me being a feminist, I encourage my (girl) friends to speak up more. And im also glad I joined the whole rookie community because its making me kinda safe in a community, and doesn’t put me down, it lifts me up, and that’s how I think girls should be with other girls. Anyways I am a huge Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill enthusiasts ( I have her picture on my English journal cover). And I think shes doing an awesome job as a woman.
    unicornskill.blogspot.com

  • dessertstealer September 24th, 2013 6:29 PM

    This interview is amazing!
    rafwillyolivier.blogspot.com