In his first year as music editor of the Dallas Observer, Jeff Gage, a transplant from the Minneapolis City Pages, has made one thing clear: female musicians perplex him into reductive paralysis. His most recent transgression comes in his description of guitarist St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark), who Gage tells us has been "traumatizing viewers" of late, not with her music—but with her clothes.
Writing for an internet publication can be taxing, especially when writing about music. How many times can you describe a certain keyboard sound as "shimmery," or a singer's voice as a "delicate warble"? It gets boring. We know. But in his recap of St. Vincent's performance on Jimmy Fallon last night, Gage adds another entry to his book on What Women Musicians Wore, a growing compendium of music-irrelevant analyses that he apparently reserves almost exclusively for female performers:
When St. Vincent appeared on Saturday Night Live last summer, it was a bit of a traumatizing experience for some viewers. Who was this freak with the crazy hair and the weird choreographed moves?
[Annie] Clark was performing "Teenage Talk," a non-album track featured on the TV show Girls, on Monday night. Being the increasingly confident chameleon that she is, the Dallas-reared singer appeared with yet another new look, this one looking like something out of a Tim Burton fever dream, her platinum-blonde hair now black to match her black dress and black makeup.
Bonus points on this one for the fact that the "Teenage Talk" lyrics shout out the state of Texas. It's a relatively straightforward (for St. Vincent) song about high school kids getting busted for a party at their parents' house. Raise your hands if you have a tattoo of the Lone Star State, or if you ever threw up in your mom's azaleas.
This kind of confused dismissal is strange, not only because Gage could greatly cut down his stories if he got rid of the unnecessary fashion crit, but because he rarely attributes the same disdainful categorizations to male musicians. In a review of punk band Trash Talk's February show at Club Dada, Gage gave an actual scene report of the show (albeit a boring one):
So maybe a more toned-down visit was going to be inevitable this time around. Spielman, though, also admitted to being banged up: towards the end of the show, he mentioned having "fucked up his knee" the other night, which might explain his relative lack of acrobatics.
But he still did his part to be the ringleader of the throng of flailing bodies that filled the floor throughout the band's scorching 30-minute set on Tuesday night. Spielman's between-song banter often boiled down to a game of, "How Many Ways Can I Tell You to Kick Each Other's Asses?" which was great fun to witness. And with song titles like "Lepers to the Feed the Lepers," "Walking Disease" and "Destroy," it didn't take too much instruction.
The most pit kept going almost constantly throughout the show, but at points it picked up to a furious pace. Fans would fly at absurd angles off the stage, crashing into other people and/or out of view, while a half-full beer can would periodically go sailing overhead and spray everything in its path.
The theme of not trusting or valuing women performers runs through Gage's writing, and even sparked a small controversy last year when he categorized Perfect Pussy frontwoman Meredith Graves as not punk enough—for wearing shorts. His review from June 2014:
The apparent disconnect is that Graves is, well, normal-looking. She has short, bleached blonde hair and last night was dressed in a not-at-all-punk-looking shorts and striped shirt that was tied off at the bottom. To some there may be no outward reason for her to be an angry person, a dissonance she no doubt plays off of. But that fact may also add to lingering questions around the band's authenticity, as though the salacious name and pent-up posturing are mere ploys.
In an interview with Stylelikeu, Graves mentioned Gage's bizarre contempt, ending a video interview with "Fuck you, Jeff. From my very un-punk shorts." Graves rightly pointed out that Gage often uses women's clothing and appearance as indications of their alleged inauthenticity as artists, when the men he covers seem to get a pass no matter what they wear.
Gage has been doing this for a long time, unedited (though he's not the only one). In a Carly Rae Jepsen review from 2013, when Gage was still at City Pages, he spent half his time praising boy band The Wanted, and then shaking his head in disbelief that Carly Rae Jepsen was asked to close the show:
In all fairness, comparing the energy of the two groups isn't exactly fair to Jepsen: The Wanted had five members to carry the load, plus a backing band of hardcore punk vets — for example, guitarist Brian Deneeve used to play with From Autumn to Ashes — that even a grizzled concertgoer would have to admit sounded tight. (Plus the libidinal preteen fervor of the audience to help keep the momentum going — never something to be underestimated.) Jepsen had it all to do for herself, not to mention that her backing band left a lot to the imagination.
Gage wasn't impressed with Jepsen's vocal performance, but luckily, she had an appropriate outfit to distract from that:
Dressed in a silver jacket and neon-green Chucks, she danced and spun and even ran in place, a spunky, modern-day reincarnation of Cyndi Lauper. Her long bangs, meanwhile, always provided a means of retreat when a song called for being bashful.
The problem isn't that Gage doesn't seem to like the music that any of these female musicians make. I don't particularly like Carly Rae Jepsen's music myself, and doubt I'd ever end up at a Jepsen show. The problem in Gage's writing about women is that if he didn't like them, he almost certainly wouldn't have to write about them, and yet he does, wasting precious words bringing them down on the grounds of their fashion and their hairstyles. If the music was his problem, he should be writing about the music.
Gage's writing is detrimental and smarmy. It only furthers the boys' club mentality of the (still!) male-dominated music scene: What is this petty girl in jean shorts doing singing my punk music? As more and more women are gaining visibility among the throngs of men using their guitars as second phalluses, undermining the talent of women artists by refusing to see past their T-shirts only encourages readers and listeners to do the same. Only idiots could be so superficial.