Today, my sister, who is a girl, made the following off-hand yet thought-provoking statement:
“I appreciate Led Zeppelin, I just don’t really like Led Zeppelin.”
And I thought, well, that’s understandable: she’s a girl. Led Zeppelin is loud, and aggressive, and generally manly. Led Zeppelin is Dude Music if ever there was any.
So what makes me like Led Zeppelin so much, I asked myself? For that matter, why is my iTunes library full of so much more man-made music than woman-made? Am I insecure in my femininity? Am I self-hating to such a degree that I extend this revulsion to my entire gender??
Before this “crisis of listening” plunged me into a frenzy of self-reflection and morality-exposing search for meaning, I had never felt that my fondness for Dude Music stifled my femininity in any way. In fact, in my experience, knowledge of Dude Music can only help you in your feminine pursuits. Consider an activity called Talking to Dudes in Bars, a subcategory of which, at least for me, is Getting Dudes to Like Me By Talking About Led Zeppelin. This technique allows the (musically aware) female to infiltrate the male consciousness undetected! There you are, with your good-smelling hair and your hot pink nail polish and your cleavage, explaining to this dude why Led Zeppelin III is your favorite album (because it marked a stylistic change for the band from hard rock to more folk-based rock, especially side two, obviously), and he is not only agreeing with you (because you’re totally right), but simultaneously attracted to you because you’re girl-shaped. Now, not only does he think you’re hot, but he also feels comfortable around you on a subconscious level because you’re like one of his bros with whom he sits around talking about Led Zeppelin. You lull him into a sense of security, and then BAM!, he’s buying you a drink!
Don’t get me wrong, though—I don’t just wave around a flimsy understanding of “who Led Zeppelin was” as a calling card of calculated coolness. I love that music. Sure, I don’t know every miniscule bit of trivia about Led Zeppelin, but ultimately, I think just being able to relate tothat feeling is more important than being able to name every song on every album (in order).
To me as a female, thinking of this music as impenetrably masculine is troubling, but possibly enlightening. I could explain it with this theory: I’m attracted to “manly” music because I’m attracted to men. I’m attracted to the masculinity of it, rather than identifying with it.
Which assumes that music is inherently gendered to begin with. So my question today is this: is my reverence for the music I have always instinctually considered Dude Music completely genuine? Or, to clarify, is it as genuine as it is for an actual Dude? This is a hard query to answer, because I don’t know what it’s like to be a guy who loves Led Zeppelin. Maybe what I actually like about hard rock is that it takes me out of my girlness and lets me temporarily identify with something aggressive and boisterous. But as far as really, really feeling that music to the depths of my soul, understanding where it came from and what it means, maybe my understanding is more a performance of understanding, a performance of the opposite gender.
Yeah, I realize this whole inquiry is a little preposterous and over-sensationalized (but that is the basis of a good headline, no?). I know that girls can like Led Zeppelin. The issue I’m really considering is whether we—anyone, man or woman—identify more with music made by our own gender. Is reverence for music made by the opposite gender more of a removed appreciation? And if so, what does this say about us rock ‘n roll-lovin’ girls?
I think I was about 13, around the time I discovered Abbey Road (an album by another pretty good band), when it first dawned on me—Sheesh. Life is hard. (I’m sure “sheesh” was the strongest expletive I knew at the time.) I may not have yet experienced much pain or suffering at 13, but listening to that music, that sound that explains the worst and best of human existence, I would think, “Yeah, I know this.” And maybe I did. After all, a 13-year-old is still a human, just a young one. But now I’m 21—still young, but less so. I may be ignorant to how it feels to have decades of living experience compounded in your brain, constantly with you, but I think whatever that thing was I began to unwrap at 13, I understand better now. I have 21 years of memories. I’ve been in pain, I’ve been in rapture, I’ve seen dark days, I’ve seen really beautiful days.
And that’s why late 60s-early 70s post-blues pre-punk motherfucking rock ‘n roll is my favorite music in the world—because it seems to convey this one simple truth: that life is really hard, but also kind of beautiful. That it’s gonna hurt, but there are parts that are so good that it’s worth it, and we’ll endure all the pain just to have the joy.
That’s what I hear what I listen to Led Zeppelin. So I think my conclusion is this: yes, it’s possible that hard rock is less “powerful” for a girl than for a guy. I’ll never know. But ultimately, music’s subject is the human condition, a condition that is essentially genderless—and that universality is a more significant trait to the music-making process than any gender binary, even if gender may be somewhat inherent in music. Maybe it’s not that I would appreciate Led Zeppelin more if I were a guy, but that I’ll appreciate it more the longer I live. Because it’s human experience they’re singing about, experience that has little to do with the gender of its author. I see music as part of the joint human consciousness where we communicate all of our joys and fears and loves and apathies, and find that they’re more or less the same.
Even after a mere 21 years of living through all these things and more with rock music in my head and in my heart, I think I can say, now, with more conviction:
Ain’t life hard? Ain’t life grand?
That’s the way—ohhh, that’s the way it oughtta be.