It has been proven time and time again that having a powerful journalist on your side can make the difference between being a band nobody cares about and being a superstar no one would have the guts to criticize. One has to look no further than this publication to see this sad theory in action: the esteemed and self-congratulatory Everett True claims major responsibility for "breaking" the "Pacific Northwest Scene." Some call him the man who broke Nirvana, even. Granted, Nirvana was a talented band that kicked a huge dent into the decaying face of rock and roll. Its troubled frontman, Kurt Cobain, was called everything from "the voice of a generation" to just about any religious superlative one could think of. One would be hard-pressed to track down an article--other than an early show review or a maudlin essay on the cowardice of suicide--that paints the Aberdeen trio as anything other than brilliant, despite several unspoken opinions to the contrary. Why? Because no one would dare speak out against a band, or a scene, that an esteemed journalist has deemed to be the savior of rock and roll.
In 1995, at a reading at Elliott Bay Book Company of his then recently published The Dustbin of History, esteemed and well-seasoned rock critic Greil Marcus (who, along with Gina Arnold, also claims to have "broken" Nirvana) was queried as to what his new favorite bands of the moment were. "Sleater-Kinney," he answered enthusiastically, calling them the best thing to happen to rock since Nirvana. Presumably Marcus was asked the same question at every stop his publicity machine made, and boom--an until-then largely unheard of band goes off like a powder keg.
Shortly after that, in an early article for webzine Addicted To Noise, Marcus likened the Olympia trio to Chrissie Hynde, the Go-Go's, Gang of Four, Zurich punk greats Liliput/Kleenex and, of all things, actress Sheryl Lee's face, without once mentioning anything real about Sleater-Kinney's musicianship--other than the meaningless gushy phrase "fabulously engaging interlocking guitar lines that seem more found than received or made." In an article for Spin, venerated New York Times rock critic Ann Powers spoke of the band's radicalism, rage, and joy, while employing deceptive critic-speak that successfully concealed the fact that she feels the band steals musically from Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and the Clash.
Young and perky Sarah Vowell, in a fawning, protracted article for Salon that says as much about Nirvana as it does Sleater-Kinney, allows a single sentence fragment--"backed by ice-pick riffs"--to enter into a veritable zeitgeist on the band's second album, Call The Doctor. Countless articles and web discussions have people spending hours and days pissing themselves pruney about the sound of Sleater-Kinney, while speaking of nothing, really, but the voice.
This begs the question: Is Sleater-Kinney anything other than two articulate mouths making noise? To read our country's most (arguably) respected journalists, it seems the consensus would have to be a resounding "No." Yet the piercing yelps and Kelvinator warbles of one radical-thinking woman, and another whose delivery is much less powerful and mercifully less abusive to the ears, are all it takes to make a nation fall hook, line, and sinker for a band that barely adds up to a third of its parts.
Truth be told, Riot Grrrl background and dubious queer hooks aside, one would have to surmise that there is no difference between Sleater-Kinney and Hillary Clinton--all are women whose shortcomings are ignored simply because their big, seductive mouths say loud enough words that everyone forgets to take the rest of the picture into account--or, more patronizingly, ignores it. If I were Sleater-Kinney, I'd be pissed about that more than anything else.