In which Lenny writers recommend a cultural phenomenon they hold dear.
Once, I was the lead singer in a rock band. There were three guys and me. We weren't very good and literally only played in the guitarist's basement. The basement walls were covered in paneling, and because of squealing feedback from the mic's proximity to the amp, I had to stand in an adjacent room with the door halfway open, staring at a large portrait of President John F. Kennedy. I should have seen it as foreshadowing that my only audience was a dead president, but I kept on going, because it was 1992 and I was 21 and it seemed that every woman was in a rock band except me. So I churned breakup poems into songs because I had real shit to say and flung my head and body around behind that door. We practiced for about two weeks until my bandmates told me that I was no Eddie Vedder. "No one wants to see a girl thrashing onstage," my guitarist said.
I wasn't trying to be Eddie, I explained. I was Janis Joplin in "Cry Baby." I was Patti Smith doing "Gloria." I was Pat Benatar in "Promises in the Dark." I was Wendy O. Williams without the chainsaw. I was Kim Gordon. If I had known about Kathleen Hanna in 1992, I would have wanted to be her too. They were women with agency. My band members wanted me to whisper into the mic like a light, airy flower. My guitarist even suggested I fake an English accent. I was young. I was intimidated. I didn't know how to say that rock, and the sexuality of rock, isn't owned by men. So I left.
But recently I came across a video of Juliette Lewis performing with her band the Licks. It was a performance at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles in 2015. She's in a tight white suit with fuchsia eye makeup running down her cheeks; her torso contorts, and during a guitar solo, she springs up and down on her knees like a pogo stick. In another song, the jacket has come off, and, covered in sweat, she swipes her hair forward and back, twisting and gyrating and kicking until it's time to sing again. The woman does not stop. Though I'm 45 years old now (and Juliette herself is 43), the 21-year-old inside of me wishes that I could have performed with that kind kinetic energy all those years ago. She's the kind of rock star I would have wanted to be.
I've never seen Juliette and the Licks live, but, watching videos on YouTube and following her on Instagram, I feel inspired by her madness. At the Reeperbahn Festival, she bounced around the stage with sexual ferocity, wearing jeans and a bikini top, egging on the ladies to shake their hips, or if they were too shy, their chests, or if they were too shy, their tongues. In Cologne, she propelled her body through a wild performance of "Proud Mary," jumping up and down like a kid on a trampoline.
There are no backup singers — it's all Lewis. Her lungs, her voice. She drags you, kicking and screaming, into another musical dimension that's part Spinal Tap, part daredevil, part marathon. In an interview, Lewis said she "approaches music like an athlete," which is no surprise. Song after song, her performances are an exhausting feat, her head, hair, and body contorting with (dare I say it?) the stamina of Beyoncé in concert.