August 28, 2004


The unbelievable greatness started about noon. I hit a thrift store for one last perusal - looking for cheap lady-singer albs for the evening's DJing stint at the Veteren Feminists of America conference afterparty. Spotted a Gladys Knight LP, kept digging behind it. Found someone's entire 60's soul collection, in prime condition - bunch of JB records, Stax, sweet Chicago soul and regional gospel choirs, Curtom sides. I grabbed them all. 23$ worth at 45 cents a piece. No, I am not shitting you, and I hate to floss, but it's more like UFO-spotting than flossing.

Two hours later, my mom calls me, from a yard sale in MN: "You are into seven-inches still, aren't you?" she asks. Of course. "Well, this person is selling their entire collection. They have every Prince single. Want me get them? How about The Time? You like The Time?" - and so on. My mom stays on the phone with me and reads off every title - and then goes through the LPs, asking which ones I want. Tons of disco and funk. 25 cents each. It as if the baby jesus opened up the heavens and spilt a beam down on me.

Then spent the next few hours picking up, lugging and setting up turntables and PA in a conference/ball room at UIC for the VFA thing. About 100 women, median age 60. Balloons and a buffet. I realize very quickly, I will not be needing the Patti Smith or Pretenders. I make friends with the bowtied waiters who are serving pink champagne and noodle dishes. I start off with some quiet, downtempo cuts: Julie London then some Dionne Warwick - but I am quickly accosted by a woman asking me to please bring the music down to a "conversation volume". I am six minutes in to my set. I turn it down from 6 to 4. She makes a thumbs down at me until I get it to 3.

Half an hour later, I am losing my mind with boredom, texting people, playing Judy Collins albums at don't-wake-the-baby volume, feeling resentful and all fuck this I start playing the most sexually explicit shit from my crate, building to a crescendo with Minnie Riperton's "Love Inside Me" with it's "Come inside me / Will you come inside me?" chorus because I know no one will be offended by it unless they get within a 10-inch radius of the PA speakers. I start checking the time on my phone every four minutes. Only three more hours to go.

Right then, the organizer comes over and tells me there is going to be a sing-along, so I can take a break. A lady in a three shades of purple pants suit sets up a keyboard next to the podium. A tipsy Bea Arthur-y woman gets on the mic, implores the ladies to put down their drinks and find the lyric-sheets in the packets. They start with an old 60's feminist rally tune, someone recites a musical poem invoking ironing, scrubbing toilets and castration, then purple lady took the mic. Her song was originally written in the early 70's, for Title 7 workshops, when she worked for the Equal Employment Oppurtunity Commision. It served as an instructional ditty on how to file a sexual harrassment complaint. She couldn't sing and play at the same time, so she gave up, got ballsy and went accapella. Lyrically, it covered what is the grounds for harrasment ( porn displayed in the work place, innappropriate touching etc), to the technical aspects of filing, having proof -- her rhymes bordered on hip hop clever. It was hysterical. The waiters, all young men of college age, were mortified.

The Bea Arthur-alike got back on the podium, explaining a song that this was something a Feminist cabal she was part of had written for a big protest in the seventies, to the melody of a showtune I did not know. At first it was about taking care of yourself (through a vegetarian diet), but then took a dramatic turn: "If you want to mind your health... your health... there is nothing like... nothing like... SCREWING! SCREWING! SCREWING!" - bellowing while she pointed at the nearest, yougest waiter, who almost shit his bowtie in fright. The chorus advocated "Homo, hetero, bi and auto! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! until you are bluuuuuuue! The more creative you are / the more it with liberate youuuuu!" - women were out of their chairs screaming with laughter, clapping. My mind was broken, I loved it.

These "little old ladies" - with their white hair and pleated front slacks are invisble to the world. Like Stealth Bombers. They are everything we do not expect from the recently AARP'd: radical, mouthy, wild-eyed and libidinous after 2 glasses of white wine.

More singing along and a limmerick about a female Pope. The organizer comes over and asks me "Do you have Helen Reddy "I Am Woman"? - we'd like to do that next and would like accompaniment." - Duh, dude, of course. How could I not? That'd be like not having Off The Wall at the cocaine-fashion warehouse party. I put on "I Am Woman" and every woman in the place is out of her chair, each of them singing loudly, making motions for me to Turn It Up . They all grab hands and encircle the entire ballroom, forming a vast parade of purple and tunics and Take Back The Night t-shirts, Terre Roche dopplegangers in sensible shoes and shell jewelry. I have never witnessed so many women so happy to be together at once, they were jubilant. I got tears in my eyes. For those two and a half minutes, I felt like "I Am Woman" was the greatest song written.

After this, the dance party started. Lyn Collins, Aretha, Tina, Staple Singers, Dusty, more Aretha, JB's "Liberation" - they went bazonkers , as J-Shep says. They were doing the most child-like, uncoordinated wiggling, riverdance-prancing I have ever seen; glorius, happy and free. They cheered at the start of each song, pointing at me and hooting. I felt like Paul Oakenfold playing to 20,000 Belgian ravers.

Once they got a little tired out, I gave them a breather with "Chuck E.'s in Love" into "Help Me" off Court and Spark . Some of the women sighed, one put her hands over heart in reverent thanks and smiled.
A woman in a batik yellow outfit who had been waltzing, floating, shoeless on the parquet the whole time came over and said to me "I think, when I live my life over again, I want to be a chorus girl. I always wanted to be a dancer. I think I would dance at night, then during the day take classes in anthropolgy and geography, then when I got older, I would become a travel writer, and go dancing everywhere," and then did a little pirouette and danced away.

Posted by Jessica at August 28, 2004 11:15 PM | TrackBack