November 5th, 2007 | by Paige Richmond Music | Posted In: Columns, Columns, Columns, Columns

Dear You: That's Not What Portland Heard

     
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nmecover Beth Ditto, I'm disappointed in you. I'm not saying I know much about the politics behind this decision, but I do know the Gossip—the punk-meets-soul band you front—decided to pull out of last weekend's Siren Nation festival with less than a month's notice. The festival's website has only this to say about it:

On October 10, 2007 The Gossip sent Siren Nation an email via their manager stating their intent to cancel their contracted performance at Siren Nation in order to perform in Europe.


There was one benefit to your decision, Beth: Queercore icons Team Dresch stepped in to take the Gossip's place, giving Portland a rare chance to see the recently-reunited hometown band. But the costs of your decision were greater than the benefits. For one, the Siren Nation fliers were printed and hung before you pulled out, meaning that the Gossip was incorrectly listed as the headlining band in storefront windows and on telephone poles all across town. This also means Team Dresch did not get all the publicity they deserved as the headlining band.

But what's most upsetting, Beth, is the message you sent to your fans. By pulling out of Siren Nation, you made it seem like playing a hometown show at a women-centered festival just wasn't that important to you.

You might wonder, Beth, why I'm focusing my disappointment on you, and not on your bandmates, guitarist-bassist Brace Paine and drummer Hannah Billie. There are two reasons: First, Siren Nation celebrates female-fronted bands, meaning that without your presence at the festival, the Gossip would not be permitted to perform. Second—and most importantly—you're the mouthpiece for the Gossip, in more ways than one. Not only do your trademark throaty vocals make your band stand out in a sea of three-piece punk bands, but you're constantly touting your feminist beliefs and expressing pride in being a strong, lesbian woman. According to CNN, you've even described yourself as a “fat, feminist lesbian.”

Beth, whenever you're interviewed you make it clear that your political stance is as important to you as your music. You showed Pop Matters the power of female-fronted bands when you rhetorically asked, “How many indie rock bands aren't straight white boys? And what do they have to be pissed about in this country? Nothing. And that's the truth.” People who have followed your career recognize your impact, too. Deputy Editor of NME Krissi Murison told the Guardian: "The refreshing thing about Beth is that she actually stands for something...She's one of the first really talented lesbian musicians that we've seen for some time.”

What kind of message do you think it sends, Beth, when you pull out a festival that claims its mission “is to inspire and empower women and girls through art and education”—especially when that festival is held in the city you now call home? It's confusing to your fans that you won't play in-store concerts at British clothing chain Topshop because they don't make clothes in your size, but you'll tour Europe instead of playing a feminist event in Portland. It not only contradicts your message, but it makes it seem like your hometown fans come second.

And yes, Beth, I understand you're new to Portland, so maybe you don't feel connected to this place yet. You rarely mention Portland in interviews, instead focusing on your experiences growing up in Arkansas and living in Olympia, Wash. (I am glad to see that the Gossip's MySpace and Wikipedia pages name Portland as your place of residence.) But Siren Nation didn't only feature Portland bands—it focused on female-fronted from the Pacific Northwest. While the Gossip formed in Arkansas, you've repped Olympia on number occasions. You told Pop Matters: “Gossip is becoming the band that people look up to like I looked up to Sleater-Kinney when I moved to Olympia. Not that they're so old, but they're so prestigious…You can't be from Olympia and not be into Sleater-Kinney.”

While I was upset you would shirk your female PacNW fans to tour Europe, the icing on the hypocritical cake for me was reading this sentence on your MySpace page: “We have played festivals infront of thousands and basement shows for five people (the latter being our personal favorite).” If this is really how you feel, Beth—if this is really what the Gossip is all about—then why bail on a smaller show in Portland at the Wonder Ballroom to play several shows in Europe, where your band is more well-known and potentially draws a larger crowd?

I can't answer that question for you, Beth. I can't figure out why you'd forfeit headlining a festival that advocates the political messages--like female empowerment and transgender equality--that you've so strongly announced your support for.

But I can tell you this: Actions speak louder than words.

Links:
The Gossip at MySpace
The Gossip's official website (which is based in the UK)
PopMatters interview with Beth from last year
PopMatters interview with Beth from this year
Guardian article about Beth

 
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