I Like Danger: Getting Scared and Getting Over it at the Kathleen Hanna Tribute Show

This is Kathleen performing in her new band, The Julie Ruin. Kathi Wilcox is in the band too.

There are a few intimate details my good friends know about me. I hate roller coasters, I still sleep with a binky, and my favorite band of all time is Bikini Kill. It’s just a thing. It’s “one of Lesley’s things.” My whole life I have claimed ownership of these facts, but especially the Bikini Kill fact because even though I’m older and mature and normal and all that, a small part of me still needs you to know that while you may have liked Bikini Kill, I still like them more.

This is a suburban feeling. An upper middle class subconscious feeling idea that I own Bikini Kill “stock,” and the more people who own shares, the less my stock is worth. This is the most bullshit road I have ever traveled down, and yet I’m embarrassed to say that a small part of me is still very familiar with it.

Kathleen Hanna with Bikini Kill – 17 January, 1996
Denis Gray

On Saturday night I attended “The Kathleen Hanna Project aka Who Told You Christmas Wasn’t Cool” tribute show to Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of Bikini Kill and life-changer. It was a showcase of a bunch of different artists/musicians all covering Kathleen Hanna songs, which included not only Bikini Kill songs but also Le Tigre, Julie Ruin, Suture, The Fakes, and spoken word. It was all filmed for a movie about Kathleen called The Kathleen Hanna Project aka Who Told You Christmas Wasn’t Cool. I’m not sure when the movie comes out, but you can be friends with it on Facebook.

Truth: I was scared to go. Maybe it was because all my friends bailed or couldn’t get tickets. Actually, I didn’t even have a ticket. Amy Kellner (friend and one of my favorite writers) got sick at the last minute and let me use her ticket. I even texted her: Should I go? I kind of want to go home and read Freedom

I was scared to go because that ancient feeling of being intimidated by Riot Grrl crept up on me. I have an inner 15-year-old Lesley who is still standing in line waiting to get into the Bikini Kill show at Brownies. The girl in front of her says, “Oh my God! Juliana is here!” And Lesley says to her, “Really? Juliana Hatfield?” And the girl rolls her eyes and says, “No! Juliana Lueking.” And then Lesley shame spirals because she has no idea who the fuck Juliana Lueking is. (The older Lesley would eventually Wikipedia Juliana Lueking for the younger Lesley and kindly let her know that she’s a filmmaker/artist/musician).

On Saturday night I told the 15-year-old me to fall back and I went to the Knitting Factory to see the Kathleen Hanna tribute anyway, not to be nostalgic, but to have fucking fun. The first people I saw when I walked in are my two funniest fag friends Jonny and Roswell. We immediately started drooling over Toshi Reagon’s cover of “Keep On Living.” The energy of the room was less like a punk show and more like a family affair with a hundred or so cool cousins you’ve never met. I wasn’t worried that my jacket would get stolen. I didn’t care that I was wearing Ugg boots and not combat boots. My personal share of Kathleen Hanna stock went up a billion points and out the window.

Everyone in the room was there to celebrate Kathleen. No one loved her more than anyone else. It wasn’t a contest. It never was. Because if I love Kathleen Hanna the most in the room, then what? What do I win? Do I get to claim ownership on the un-ownable? No. Kathleen Hanna changed my life, but she’s not more than a person. She does not have super human powers.  It was just a night out in Brooklyn. There is action and there is reaction, but music is music. The only thing I felt sad about was that I didn’t get to perform a number. Never mind that I don’t have a band or anything. I’ve practiced my Kathleen Hanna routine so many times alone in front of my mirror, I’ve been itching to do it in front of other people for years.

I shit you negative when I say that each performance was better than the last. Bridget Everett, Tami Hart, Care Bears On Fire, and Kim Gordon reading “Riot Grrl Manifesto” all stand out in my brain, but my favorite of the night was Dan Fishback and his choir. He read this spoken word thing that Kathleen had done for this old Mike Watt compilation. It was funny and beautiful and my arms were covered with rainbow colored goosebumps.

It used to be hard for me to write about Kathleen or talk about her or Bikini Kill or any of it, but it’s not anymore. I wanted to write this not so much to review the show, but rather eulogize the part of me that thinks that by giving something away, I have less of it.  The opposite is true. Kathleen Hanna changed my life. You should listen to her catalog and have it change yours too. Actually, I’m ordering you to! DO IT! I’m sprinkling it over your head like confetti.

(P.S. I would have performed “Jet Ski” or “No Success” or “Demirep.”) Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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