Katrina Cunningham looks like a 1920s Marilyn Monroe… and she kind of sounds like it, too. I had the pleasure of stumbling upon a short set of hers at Duane Park-alias-Bowery Poetry Club last night, backed by a wizard with spacey Hendrix-esque hair–sorry, guitar. But also hair. Cunningham had a lot to say about her influences, which included everything from spoken word poetry to old blues to Lana Del Rey, all of which you can hear in her long, improvised refrains, fable-driven lyrics, and Edith Piaf vibrato. In my opinion, anyone who can rock on the same lyric for five minutes without boring me deserves an accolade.
She also had something interesting to say about songwriting–spoiler alert–as a queer artist, making the point that she wanted people to be able to appreciate a love song written by a woman for another woman in the same way that they would appreciate a love song written by a man for a woman. In addition to being a lovely sentiment, this brought a couple of questions to my mind: why, for example, did she compare her songs to ones about women by men, and not about men by women? Is a love song or a sexual song different if written by a man or a woman? While listening, I noticed that Katrina’s use of gendered pronouns is very minimal–she could be writing about either or both. But the tone was dominant, blisteringly sexual. I tried to compare it to songs I could think of by women for men, and I found very few. Whether in jazz, pop, or rock, men are usually the ones writing “come on” songs, where the object of the song is to entreat the audience, to bring them closer. From songs written by women, we usually expect a more passive approach, songs about breaking up (it happened) or falling in love (it’s happening). Not so much about the making it happen. Just think–for every “Call Me” we have ten “Moondances.” (Side note, gotta love those 80s music videos.) But why is this? Why is an active song still the birthright of a man?
I’ll leave you to ponder, and congratulate Katrina on breaking the barriers with songs like “Sweet Thing” and “Eve.”
You’ve had my two cents, I’ll shut up and put on the music now.