I recently watched “The Punk Singer,” a documentary about riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna. (It’s on Netflix. Go watch.) And it reminded me about how much I loved Julie Ruin when I discovered it. Here was this album that had a punk rock spirit, presented in a poppy way. It turned my teenage “music can be X or Y, but not both” world upside down. And nothing stood out to me on that album quite like “I Wanna Know What Love is.”
“I Wanna Know What Love Is” has always reminded me of a spoken word performance, backed by a low-fi synth-pop melody. Which is exactly why it works so well. In “The Punk Singer” Hanna says she wanted the Julie Ruin album to sound like something anyone could create in their bedroom. Which is exactly what it sounds like. The backing track sounds like it was created on a cheap keyboard picked up at a garage sale. There’s a certain beauty in creating something that seems like it could be created by anyone, but of course cannot. It’s empowering, particularly so when I got the album at around 15. It makes anything seem achievable.
Thirteen years later though, this song makes me a little sad. It’s angry and intelligent and brave, at a time I mostly feel tired and scared. Because fighting has gotten tiring. And writing is starting to feel unsafe. This should be a post about how the whole #GamerGate thing is making games less fun (for me at least). About how attacking Zoe Quinn about things her ex-boyfriend said is not OK. How even if you don’t agree with Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video games, that the videos should make you think. They should be a jumping off point. I actually have that post written. I’m just afraid to publish it. I don’t want to be next.
The last verse of “I Wanna Know What Love Is” goes:
“So I’ll stay awake almost every night
A pen in my hand and in the other a knife
Because I’d rather be scared and fight back
Them be some dick’s maid, babe, or wife”
When I was 15 that verse was incredibly inspirational. But now, it just reminds me of being 15 and thinking that art could change the world. And maybe it can. But you have to hit publish.
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