Home Alive: Don't-Fuck-With-Me Rock

Home Alive is a Seattle-based collective dedicated to combatting violence against women through various forms of self-defense and consciousness raising. Home Alive: The Art of Self-Defense (Epic) is a two-CD, 47-track compendium of largely Seattle-based rock and spoken-word talent doing variations on the theme "Don't fuck with me." Featuring a wide range of viewpoints and abilities, it comes across as a Baedeker of modern female anger, with empathetic footnotes by various enlightened males. It's huge enough to resist summary and, given that its impetus is the July '93 rape and murder of Seattle rocker Mia Zapata of the Gits, urgent enough to make any aesthetic critique appear unseemly. If so, then one can only say, in the spirit of the occasion, which is the celebration of fearless assertion, too fucking bad. Home Alive is studded with big names, bait for radio programmers and the lumpen alternative consumer. These are, by and large, the least interesting cuts. A live Nirvana track, "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" (recorded February '94), has Kurt Cobain sounding spookily like Eddie Vedder; it contains the repeated refrain "What is wrong with me" -- simplicity itself, given resonance by history. Still, it's a completist tidbit. So are offerings by Soundgarden, in their obscurantist mode; Ann and Nancy Wilson, reviving the AOR sound; Joan Jett (good song, generic delivery); and up-and-comers the Presidents of the United States of America. Most notable is Pearl Jam's revival of a vintage Holland/Dozier/Holland song, "Leaving Here." Giving their homage minimal irony, they sound as charmingly inauthentic as the early Beatles doing Chuck Berry. Of the lesser lights -- the lights that still shine local -- the most brazenly original are the Viva Project, who take up the old '20s torch song "My Man" and give it an enthusiastic avant-cabaret reading. True, the song was always meant to be pathetic, but in a sentimentally pleasing way. The VP's strip it down to its basic grotesqueness. Also standing out in a crowd are ÁTCHKUNG!, who sound like industrial-strength Pogues, and whose song "Solidarity," coming as it does after two hours of pain and pretense, is a welcome if old-fashioned call to practical action. Much of the rest of the music is okay, though it's sad to hear on the Gits' track what a promising musical scrapper the cut-down Zapata was. But that barely matters, since it serves mainly as a respite from the spoken-word stuff. Here's the crux, the real outpouring, the messages that won't make it to the radio. There's a wide selection of horrors and horridness, not all of which work in the manner intended. Getting the anger out can be tricky -- let it flow too freely and you're talking to yourself. A good example is Lydia Lunch's "Why We Murder." Lunch, an old hand at rage, has a rhetorical style that most people don't achieve till after four or five stiff drinks. She sounds like someone giving her side of the story on Cops. Natalie Jacobson, who offers "Got What Was Coming," also favors the bully bellow, though her tale's ambiguous conclusion is more knowing than Lunch's gullible punch-line praise of the Menendez brothers (they don't call it blind fury for nothing). Another dicy one is Bobby Miller's "Keep Your Mouth Off My Sisters." Miller affects, or perhaps simply possesses, a high-camp delivery, and when he gets to the part about wanting to butt-fuck the misogyny out of the sexist yobs who verbally harass women, it's funny and outrageous. One is heartened to find that outrageousness -- not merely the idea of it but the actual thing -- is still achievable; one can also be annoyed by a self-indulgence that smacks of opportunism. With Lunch, Miller, and to a lesser extent Jacobson, the need to act out takes precedence over the message. The topic could just as well be toxic waste. It all boils down to taste. For me, the real spoken-word chiller here is Martha Linehan's "Mary's Poem." Clear-eyed and relatively low-keyed, Linehan describes a rape from the point of view of a persona positioned inside the victim's stomach and peering out of her belly button -- a queasy evocation of the locus of detached panic. As the grim deed continues, a cat leaps onto the windowsill and begins to meow -- a small but oddly sad touch. An accompanying electric guitar punctuates the tale, reminding me of a record I had as a child that glossed a reading of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" with a similar device; it's artful without seeming to be. But then, this is a personal thing. Some people need to be shouted at; others merely need to be told.

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