As a teen girl growing up in the mid-’90s, Marisa Meltzer admits she participated in “the treasured cliches of the decade…complete with the standard-issue indie-rock tale of being rescued from life as an apathetic suburban teenager by riot grrrl, the feminist punk movement. I cut my hair short, wore YOUR BODY IS A BATTLEGROUND buttons on my backpack, and engaged in all girl singalongs to ‘My Red Self,’ the early riot grrrl band Heavens to Betsy ode to menstruation.”
But Meltzer went a few steps further than most her peers in integrating her favorite bands into her life. She enrolled at Evergreen State University in Olympia, Washington, incubator for many of the overtly feminist, hyper political all-grrrl bands that defined the era, including Sleater-Kinney, Hole and Bikini Kill (whose lead singer, Kathleen Hanna, was her upstairs neighbor). There are any number of ways an homage to an era that happens to coincide with one’s fan-girl youth can go horribly wrong, but Meltzer’s new book on women rockers of the ’90s is nearly perfect in its pitch and far from a one-note love letter. She openly — and often comically — skewers her younger self, and refuses to flatter herself by feigning indie-cred that some might say she deserves.
Instead, she reports: She gets original riot grrrls to talk (all the more impressive, given that many of them stopped talking to reporters after the media black-out of 1992); visits the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (and its more inclusive transgendered cousin up the road); and looks at how the politics of the underground informed more commercial acts, including Alanis Morrissette, the Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne. As she writes: “While girl power might be empowerment-lite, it’s not going away. When a movement transitions, it doesn’t lose all it’s potency. Instead, it leaves us with a pop infused with politics.”