Farewell Sleater-Kinney

These days, as commercial rock n’ roll speeds head-on into the dumpster, it’s hard to imagine getting upset about some rock band splitting up. Certainly there are plenty of moments when I think more wannabe Joey Ramones should unplug their guitars and call it quits — vowing never to play a strident out of tune chord again. That’s why I’m shocked to say that when Portland, Oregon based trio Sleater-Kinney announced last week that they were taking an “indefinite hiatus”, I was crushed.

I remember daydreaming in the back of a friend’s truck after taking a few pulls off a stale joint when I first heard the sweet angst and guitars of Sleater-Kinney. It was 1996 and their second album Call the Doctor had just been released. My friend, who was in college out in Seattle, had picked it up right before heading back to Montana for summer break. I ended up stealing the CD later that night with no intention of returning it. I was hooked and have been ever since.

Rock critics are quick to remind us that the members of Sleater-Kinney are all female. Which, for the sake of argument, couldn’t be less important. Their music should stand alone. Secondly, most reviewers won’t even touch bands like S-K. They are too edgy, too indy, too influential. And that is pretty much why rock critics suck.

Over the years, since my first Sleater-Kinney indulgence, I have grown to love their politics as much as their music. Sure, I could pine on about Carrie’s searing SG, Janet’s pulsating drum kit and Corin’s shattering vocals. Or how they outgrew their Grrl Rock roots to evolve into one of the great bands of my generation — but I’d rather talk about what S-K stood for and more notably, what they stood against.

In a November, 2002 interview, shortly after the band had released their sixth album One Beat, lead vocalist Corin Tucker summed it up for me. “Rock musicians can provide social and political critique that can stimulate people,” she said. “A big inspiration for us was the Clash’s album, Combat Rock, which was written in the ultraconservative Thatcher era I don’t know why there aren’t more artists writing about the pending war or the government,” said Tucker. “I guess protest songs are sort of uncool these days.”

Fortunately, One Beat was loaded with dissent. During the build up to Bush’s war and in the wake of 9-11, most rockers were on the sidelines, either waving flags or waiting for the dust to settle. But not Sleater-Kinney. They screamed and rocked against the invasion of Iraq and the incursions on our civil liberties. They performed at numerous rallies and let the anger and uncertainty of our political climate reverberate throughout their lyrics and scolding riffs.

On a song titled “Combat Rock” off of One Beat, Carrie Brownstein sang, “We’ll come with our fists raised, the good old boys are back on top again, and if we let them lead us blindly, the past becomes the future once again.”

With One Beat, Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss proved that together they were one of the most important and inspired rock bands in the United States.

It is not just US imperialism Sleater-Kinney had a problem with, but the way the corporate music industry trampled creativity while simultaneously elevating megastars like Britney Spears and Bono.

In an interview published in Magnet Magazine, shortly after the release of their seventh and most powerful album The Woods, the band announced why they would never allow any of their songs to be used in an iPod commercial. As drummer Janet Weiss put it, “I think commercials ruin songs [I]t’s hard for me to imagine putting one of my songs that I put my heart and soul into a TV ad To me, it’s not even about the product. It’s about the song: what it does to your song, what context it puts your song into and what imagery it attaches to your song. The imagery of buying something.”

There is little doubt that music drives revolution. And S-K took rock to its teetering edge, not only in tune but also in spirit. And that’s why I hope their “indefinite hiatus” is not “infinite”. Our world (and ears) needs bands like Sleater-Kinney.

(Sleater-Kinney plays their last show in Portland, Oregon on August 11)

JOSHUA FRANK is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush and edits http://www.BrickBurner.org



More articles by:

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It