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Sean Nelson

Sean Nelson is a writer, musician, and actor who lives in Seattle, where he works as Editor-at-Large for The Stranger. He wrote the 33&1/3 book about Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, and recently sang backing vocals for Linda Lewis and Neil Innes on the same night.

"Suffer Your Interpretation: Odes and Scolds from the Male Feminist Songbook"
Men have been writing odes to virtuous women at least since the book of Proverbs came out in hardback, but the form grew into new and more (and less) complex dimensions in the second half of the 20th century and the first 17 years of the 21st.

The convention of male rock and hiphop writers and performers using their platforms to extol, empathize with, and otherwise emphasize the female experience has a deep catalogue with many sub-genres—Declarations of Affinity and Allegiance, Dramatizations of Heroic Forbearance and Wisdom, Outright Impersonations, Outraged Warnings to Traitorous Men, Earnest Profession of Good Faith Efforts to Do Better, Double Reverse Backflip Burlesques of Sexist Tropes Designed to Communicate That You’re Not Like the Others, and others.

Predictably, these works have a way of revealing more about the men doing the singing, and what they would like you to think about them, than they do about the actual experiences of their subjects. One need only glance at a stranger’s Facebook feed on a bus to understand the endurance of that tradition.

But then, during the years when pop songs were understood to be straightforward assertions of lust, loss, and longing, it’s not out of the question that the effort to step out of one’s own gender prerogatives and create music that addressed or at least considered—not to say wishfully ventriloquized—someone else’s reality might have had meaningful consequences. They also generated “Female,” so…

As we slouch furtively into the era of men possibly shutting up and listening for five seconds, it may be worth considering the legacy of their early attempts to do just that, only without the shutting up and listening part.