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Franklin Bruno

Franklin Bruno’s most recent recording is The Human Hearts’ Viable (Sump Pump). Past and present musical projects include Nothing Painted Blue, solo work, and collaborations with John Darnielle, Jenny Toomey, Laura Cantrell, and Bree Benton. He is the author of Armed Forces, in Continuum/Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series, and The Accordion Repertoire (poetry, Edge Books); his scholarly and critical writing has appeared in Popular Music and Society, Oxford American, The Nation, and two installments of Da Capo’s Best Music Writing. Inside the Tune: The Bridge in Pop from “St. Louis Blues” to “Single Ladies” is forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press. He has taught philosophy at UCLA, Northwestern University, Bard College, and SUNY Purchase, and lives in Jackson Heights, Queens.

"Salem 66 Didn’t Suck, and Neither Did Tsunami: A Counter-Memoir"
‘80s-‘90s indie-rock is now remembered for its whiteness, the efficiency with which its oppositional pretenses were neutralized by market forces, and as a stalking-horse for the overcorrections of poptimism. Whatever its excesses, it also provided a platform for women as frontpersons, songwriters, and band members—more so than in most previous rock styles. Riot grrrl’s translation of punk aggression into feminist confrontation is well known, but many participants took other musical and affective approaches. Some have seen this as one of the music’s disadvantages. Certain female, even feminist bands (notably Sleater-Kinney) have been widely admired by indie-bros, then and now. Still, club membership is often reserved for those who do not threaten to feminize the music through their rejection or complication of the “hard” and the “heavy.” As with Bono, male artists deemed “girly” were and are accorded similar treatment.
Bitch Magnet guitarist Jon Fine’s memoir Your Band Sucks (2015) exhumes this worldview through descriptions of on-stage episodes of phallic power, vacuous invocations of the “visceral,” and more specific pronouncements. Among the artists Fine dismisses are Boston’s (initially) all-woman Salem 66, whom he pigeonholes as “unthrilling guitar pop” and knocks for depicting a dinner party on the cover of 1985’s A Ripping Spin; and Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thompson of D.C./Arlington’s mixed-gender Tsunami, with 1992’s “Punk Means Cuddle” being a predictable sore spot. Fine’s standing prejudices and lyric misquotations rehearse those of reviewers and zine writers at the time, and reinforce the erasure of these and similar bands’ challenge to subcultural and stylistic norms.
Even as a straight white male indie-rocker of Fine’s generation, class cohort, and college radio background, my perspective is different. Salem 66 were the first touring band I saw in a small venue (Hollywood’s Anti-Club); their records and shows inspired me to start my own. My ‘90s band Nothing Painted Blue toured with Tsunami, their label Simple Machines (also disparaged by Fine and others) released my first solo LP, and I have played and recorded with Toomey up to the present. While this presentation’s testimonial side risks performing feminism, doing so is preferable to performing misogyny.