I keep talking about music, in life and in this blog, because it’s what’s on my mind. I podcast about music, listen to as much music as I can (for the podcast and because I feel like I have 20 years’ worth to catch up on) and I love the fact that I’m practicing my bass at least every second day to stay sane not just because I “should”. So, with that in mind I wasn’t expecting thoughts about representation relating to Doctor Who and the new, upcoming female Doctor to necessarily enter into the equation because of music. I thought I had made up my mind and come to a fair point of neutrality even if I couldn’t quite understand why the gender of the Doctor was that important to these people. Wasn’t the most important concern whether she was the best actress for the job? (Spoiler: yes, and…)
The word representation was brought to me time and time again in response to this question. I thought I had a good idea of what representation meant. I thought I was savvy on this kinda thing. I actively try to listen to bands and surround myself in people that promote positive messages, whether that’s fighting sexism, racism, homophobia, fascism and/or just making sure their fans know that treating others badly isn’t cool. It’s punk to call people out on that nonsense. I may have understood the definition of representation, but I didn’t understand the meaning.
So, I wasn’t expecting the frustration I would encounter when I was trying to find representation. I just wanted a band to watch & listen to that had a member that was like me. Could I not become a bassist as part of a band? Logically I knew that my gender shouldn’t stop me, I can do anything. Still, there is a kind of magic of imagining yourself on a big stage playing perfectly while you struggle through the same song for the umpteenth time. I wanted to read about someone else’s struggles, give myself inspiration to keep practicing and eventually find a group. I knew picking up the instrument that bassists need bands; it’s not a solo instrument, so where were they?
I started to question what I already thought I knew. I didn’t think that gender mattered, but it seemed like it did. I mean, I have tons of male idols in bands. It’s partly because of Mike Dirnt (Green Day) and Mark Hoppus (Blink 182) that I went with a bass guitar instead of a regular electric, but I don’t play like them. Could I ever play like them? I’m going to learn Longview even if kills me but, they’re built differently than I am.
They’re taller with long arms and big hands. Could someone built like me play anything more than solo in my living room? I’ve never had aspirations of playing stadiums, but I wouldn’t mind jamming with some other people that like the same music as I do. Surely other women wanted that too, right? Maybe even wanted more than that?
More importantly, and this is the real deal breaker, my two idols don’t have to deal with the utter frustration that is a guitar strap and a large chest, or any chest at all for that matter. Can it sit somewhere comfortably? It’s either attempting to flatten me back to an A-cup or shove them out for the world to see. Don’t even get me started on trying to play bass sitting down! UGH.
So where were the women? I asked myself again and again. I was learning a fun fact of the music world: female rhythm sections are like unicorns. The only thing rarer than a female bassist is a female drummer. Thinking I was missing a trick, I started asking around about female bassists and while I got a great starting point they didn’t exactly inspire me. A bassist that stands on the side and doesn’t move might as well not be on the stage in my opinion and too often that’s what I was seeing. Or I’d get a female bassist that doesn’t really play bass all that much anymore as she’s been moved to lead singer. And let’s be honest, I love punk music and I want to play punk, not jazz.
Feel free to call me out and tell me someone I’m missing, please, you would be doing me a favour.
Mary Jo Kopechne from the Modernettes was only one of two I could find in the beginning and she isn’t really performing anymore and the footage of her playing is few and far between (thanks 1970s and 80s) There’s Kathi Wilcox from Bikini Kill which was closer, but they’re broken up. Was I asking for too much? Was I allowed to ask for an active punky female bassist in a band still even remotely active or at least, recent? I had thought punk would be the best genre to find this kind of thing. Looking back on first wave Canadian punk and later the riot grrl movement, there had been a few all female punk bands that had sprang up wanting to show the world. What about the other waves?
All this frustration and then my mind went to Doctor Who and I guess my own frustration helped me to sort of understand this whole needing a female Doctor thing. All those years of Doctor Who and no female Doctors? Not one? Not even a couple to choose from and dismiss for whatever criteria you see in yourself that you want to see in your hero?
Suddenly I was happier for everyone that needed to see a female Doctor. This revelation came in a time when I had pretty much given up hope on ever finding my musical representation. That’s when I found two people from two different bands both of which almost fit all the criteria. In essence, careful of the metaphor here, I found two Jodie Whittakers.
It’s thanks partly to Tumblr. Green Day and Blink 182 fans, of which I am in both camps, cross with lots of other bands including the band My Chemical Romance. Fans of My Chemical Romance are often fans of Mindless Self Indulgence, a VERY different kettle of musical fish, but it features MCR’s lead singer’s wife as the bassist. So, I stumbled upon Lindsey Way (Lynz) entirely by accident, thanks to a tumblr blog I follow posting some pictures of her performing with MSI. I’ve never been so excited to see a bassist.
Here she was playing high energy electronica/punk that is anything but stationary (her back bends are legendary and her aggression is on par with Mike Dirnt) and she learned to play in like a month?! The drummer was female, too! The band is on hiatus as of 2014, but there’s footage of her playing! I could see where someone with a chest wears her guitar strap! (Oh, the little things.)
Then a few nights ago, I went to an Against Me! concert and one of the opening acts was a band called Bleached from Los Angeles. They’re a four piece that is all female except for the drummer (who gave up his drums in the last song for the lead singer to play!) Did my eyes deceive me; was that a female bassist, in person? Not just that, she was talented and moved on stage! At one point she actually leaned off the stage to lay back into the crowd while playing. The woman next to me and I were helping to hold her up!
After the show I mustered all my punky courage and went over to their merch booth. I was so nervous! I said hi to her (dark hair in the video) and introduced myself and explained I played bass too and how nice it was to see a female bassist on stage opening for a big act. Micayla (I found out her name which was nice since I had mentally been calling her lady bassist since her set) was super nice, super patient, and let me babble for what seemed like forever; giving me some words of encouragement (get a band! Practice every day! Learn your favourite songs backwards and forwards!) And she gave me the name of her bass inspiration, Paz Lenchantin, the bass player for the Pixies. I’m super grateful that she took the time to talk to me. I may do interviews all the time, but this little conversation was something else. I walked away from the encounter with a feeling that my practicing was a little more important and that wanting to be in a band wasn’t a completely foolish idea.
So, in a long winded way of saying, I understand Jodie Whittaker is your female bass player (just go with the metaphor, please) and I hope now that you’ve found her, her time on screen will be worth the wait and in the shows own way she gives you some inspiration. I hope she helps you see yourself onscreen. Maybe you too are as curious as I am about the kind of pockets they’re going to throw at her since sometimes it’s the little things that are important.