DRINK THE NEW WINE | Exquisite Dialogue

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Mark Tribe
& Susanne Oberbeck

MT: Lieber Susanne. I just played some of your music for my daughter Isabel, who is almost four years old, over breakfast this morning. She said it sounds like duckling music, and would like to invite you to her birthday party next Saturday at the carousel in Central Park. Any chance you’ll be in town? You know, the name of your band, No Bra, reminds me of the version of liberal feminism that I grew up with in Cambridge, MA in the 70s: a post-sexual revolution politics focused mostly on reproductive rights and equal opportunity. What were you thinking about when you named your act? Would you call yourself a feminist? What does that term mean today? Why do you think the art world has taken such an interest in you?

Also I found a story on you in DIVA, a London magazine that appears to be for and about lesbians. Is your own work as a performer and media-maker for and about lesbians? I guess I’m wondering how you feel about categories like “feminist” and “lesbian”....

SO: Hi Mark! Could you please tell your daughter that I’m very flattered but I won’t be in town? I often get this association you’re talking about regarding 70s feminism—when I named the band I had never heard of any of those references! I had looked into feminism when I was a teenager but I mostly exposed myself to literature. Nobody ever told me about people burning bras. I think if I had come across it I would have thought it was hilarious. For me it was always a matter of course not to wear a bra, simply because I didn’t think of myself as female, so it would have felt ridiculous!

The name of the band was inspired by a magazine I sometimes pick up called The Daily Sport. It’s a British T&A magazine, and there was a headline on the cover saying “Rachel Stevens with No Bra.” I liked the bad grammar and the thought that someone might actually buy the magazine on the basis of this exciting promise. I kept saying “No bra!” in kind of a rapists’ voice around the house, and everyone thought it was really funny. Eventually my friend Fanny (the original other member of No Bra) and I decided to call our band that. I thought the words looked sleek and they reminded me of “No Wave.”

I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, even though someone could argue that I am. But I’m sorry!...I find these categories retarded. They just give more power to the people in power and in control of language. I would call myself a misogynist actually. I like tits, and I quite like joining in on male bonding, especially when men don’t get that I am a so-called female. If I look like half-man, half-stripper on stage, some ordinary straight man probably won’t see anything wrong with it, and is actually going to listen to the music. Also if I wear a moustache they know I must be right. The point is to be funny, and to leave an impact outside of categories people are able to judge immediately. Consumerism only works because people are made to believe in the reality of being male or female, so they can buy things that make them feel like they are or they’re not.

I don’t really care what the term means today, I find all that very uninspiring and dull. The fact that there’s even any kind of oppression of women in this day and age is so outrageous that I can’t really use diplomacy or even protest to comment on it. It’s obvious that money weighs more than meaning, and therefore the sincere use of this kind of language is only giving in to existing power structures.

The world hates women because they remind men of the woman in themselves, and I don’t know that feminism can change that. I’m a musician, I’m only putting out songs and ideas to inspire or move people. I’m not saying that one or the other thing is right or wrong.

I think nowadays with magazines like DIVA, it’s mostly about keeping up a brand. I don’t really understand why someone would want to make music “for lesbians.” No Bra’s audience is very broad, a lot of teenagers of all persuasions for example, and it’s not written for any particular group. I don’t even have lyrics pertaining to lesbian issues, whatever those may be. Some of the songs talk about tits, but the point of view keeps changing, so you don’t know who’s saying it. I think it’s more about exposing false morality and hypocrisy. I’m trying to write songs that are romantic but don’t depend on these established ideas of desire.

I can’t really call myself a lesbian. I think if I wanted to, a magazine like DIVA would most likely put me off the idea. I prefer magazines like LTTR and GLU, or S.T.H. for that matter. A lesbian magazine should be about sex and challenge people’s expectations, not about what TV shows to watch.

Regarding your question about the art world, No Bra is obviously pop music, and it’s just unfortunate that right now in music “normal” is often associated with “commercial.” I think maybe the reason the art world is interested is because No Bra appears to challenge clichés. Or maybe they just like the show.

About your Port Huron Project, were you mainly interested in motivating people to make better use of their so-called democratic rights today, or were you also interested in maybe challenging the definition of history?

MT: Initially I hoped to inspire people by conveying a sense of what it might feel like to believe one was part of a movement that could change the system, but as I developed the project it shifted into an exploration of the similarities between the Vietnam era and contemporary America—war, police state, poverty, the peculiar institutions of racism—and the striking differences between how resistance was practiced then and how it is imagined and practiced today. Coretta Scott King, Paul Potter, Howard Zinn, César Chávez, and Stokely Carmichael are heroes to me, but that was then and this is now. The problems may be largely the same, but the system that produces them has metastasized and globalized; we need new strategies and new ideas. The so-called counter-globalization movements and tactical media are a start.

Susanne Oberbeck was recently involved with Creative Time's program Hey Hey Glossolalia
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