Get ‘Cher Rocks Off. A Writer’s Remembrance of Paid My Dues

This is not about adoption for once. It’s about music. And writing.

My friend Annette O’Connell spokesperson for New York Adoptee Rights Coalition and Bastard Nation’s treasurer, commented on FB yesterday that she had googled her name and came up with an article she’d missed about the opening of OBCs in New York that featured her work in the campaign

Get ‘cher Rocks Off

I occasionally surf my name and usually find a surprise–or at least something I’d forgotten about. One of the biggest surprises was finding that I’d been quoted in the book, Feminist Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of a Feminist Counterculture.

No, adoptee rights were not part of the feminist counterculture back then. This reference predates my adoptee rights activism by about 15 years. My citation comes from the first-ever article that I can remember being published, outside of a piece I’d co-written for a local American Red Cross newsletter on their newly-established rape crisis center. (My co-author and I nearly came to blows over the Oxford comma.) The counterculture article, Get’cher Rocks Off Baby—’Cause It’s a Man’s Man’s World,”.appeared in Paid My Dues: A Quarterly Journal of Women and Music (March 1974) under my semi-former name Betsy Greiner-Shumick. (I only became Marley after I learned my original name was Marlene–which I didn’t like–but incorporated the derivative Marley into my life.)

I was told later that I was breaking new ground. with “Get ‘cher Rocks Off.“I doubt I was the first to write about sexism in rock by a long shot, but who knows—and who knew? A reference to it even occurred in (I think) The Whole Earth Catalog or at least a related big-book publication.

My hard copies of the Paid My Dues are stuck in storage back in Columbus. Last year, I looked for the article online and couldn’t find it. I looked yesterday and found a pdf file on the queermusicheritage website.

I re-read “Get ‘Cher Rocks Off “ after many years, and I am well…impressed. Seriously! How did I gather all that information pre-internet? And living in Canton, Ohio? Canton was so provincial that a college friend of mine was blackballed as a communist by local realtors when he tried to rent space for a coffeehouse. So provincial that another friend declared that Rod Stewart was gay because he was spotted backstage after his concert at Memorial Auditorium in red bikinis. So provincial that a bunch of kids smoking weed got beat up by the cops at an Elton John concert. So provincial that the same cops threatened to raid a touring company production of Hair.

I honestly don’t remember. how I wrote “Get ‘cher Rocks Off.” I subscribed to Creem, and the Village Voice and usually read Hit Parade. I read Crawdaddy if I could find it. So maybe that’s where. Back then I fancied myself becoming the new and female Richard Goldstein or perhaps Lester Bangs. I’d once written Goldstein, and he was kind enough to respond back encouraging me to write. I should have followed through.

What I do remember is that the holder of Barry White’s music rights refused to grant me permission to quote “Never Gonna Give You Up” after I told them the topic of my article, so I had to paraphrase. I thought it was quite chintzy of them.

And, I remember that my boyfriend at the time, George, wanted to fuck or be fucked by Mick Jagger–hence the allusion.

Also, I remember meeting Holly Near, around 1978 at a concert at Kent State. She and her sister Timothy appeared in “my” PMD issue as the cover feature. Playing groupie after her performance I introduced myself and told her we appeared in the same issue of PMD and she looked at me like “So…..?

Paid My Dues

In the final issue of Paid My Dues musicologist Jeannie G Poole, wrote what I think illustrates the entire politico-artistic aesthetic of the journal:

Apart of making music of our own is seeing ourselves as the subject of history not the objects.

In other words, women’s music was political.

Paid My Dues was an important publication. It ran from 1974-1980. It offered a spectrum of women’s music and experience: features about women composers, performers, and instrumentalists; practical advice on copyright, recording; sound checks, purchasing instruments and equipment; instrument building and repair; vinyl storage; music theory and songwriting; concert management and tour planning; concert, book, and record reviews; club info; classified ads and networking; lyrics, sheet music, and songbooks; news on women’s spirituality, radical women’s conferences, and women’s music festivals (more than I remembered).

Linda Tillery. Paid My Dues; no photo credit given

The journal tended to be a little heavy on the generalized folk scene that was popular back then, but all genres were featured freely: classical, jazz, blues, funk, country, dance, choral, labor, rock.

Malvina Reynolds, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Meg Christian, Chris Williamson, Mary Watkins, the New Haven Women’s Liberation Band, Linda Tillery, The Clinch Mountain Backsteppers, Betty Carter, Hazel Dickens and Anne Romaine, Maxine Feldman, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Antonia Brico, Monette Sudler, Marion McPartland, Clara Weick Schumann, Hildegard von Bingen, all-women classical orchestras, and all-women swing bands from the forties—lived side-by-side on PMD’s pages.

Willie Tyson. Paid My Dues. Photo: Marti Scheel

PMD included interviews with the likes of Willie Tyson, Mary Watkins, Therese Edell, folk singers Cathy Winter and Betsy Rose, and Canadian folkie Vera Johnson, composer of “Do It Yourself Divorce.”The great Alex Dobkin (whom I met in Eugene in 2002 and was very kind) was interviewed and later wrote a piece in defense of Disco that must have disturbed a few. “Cosmic music” pioneer Kay Gardner was a regular contributor.

As a historian, one of my favorite PMD features was music herstory and there was lots of it. Ever hear of Marianne (Nannerl) Mozart? Ruth Crawford Seeger? (no relation to Peggy and Pete.) Me either.

One of my favorite herstory pieces is Songs from the First Wave, recounting songs from the American woman suffrage movement. The article includes the sheet music to “The Suffragette and the Socialist,” lyrics by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of the feminist classics Herland and The Yellow Wallpaper. The song reminds us that genuine feminist struggle is not about getting a piece of the corpo shit pie, but is class-based and encompasses the isms that keep patriarchy functional. Sadly the lyrics are still relevant 100 years later:

Said the Socialist to the Suffragist:
‘My cause is greater than yours!
You only work for a Special Class,
We work for the gain of the General Mass,
Which every good ensures!’

Said the Suffragist to the Socialist:
‘You underrate my Cause!
While women remain a Subject Class,
You never can move the General Mass,
With your Economic Laws!’

I suppose there is something like Paid My Dues online today, but to me there is nothing like a hardcopy-for-a cause– without apology. Cheap pamphlets and broadsheets rock! Not everyone agreed. Issue 3 of PMD contained a Letter to the Editor from “an Ivy League trained PhD and English professor” who didn’t include a return address or her full name, complaining about “lack of professionalism,” misspellings and bad punctuation in some of the articles. (‘zines no doubt, gave her the vapors). Guess it wasn’t MLA approved. The editor politely ripped her in a public response.

Mary Watkins. Paid My Dues. No photo credit.

Writing this piece today took me back to a time when activism could be fun while still serious, everybody didn’t hate everybody else,and government wasn’t considered your friend. I don’t see us going back to those days. Now everything is digitized corpo = PC = bland. As a political tool, the internet is good for research, communication, and organization, but overall it’s consumerist–a fake personalty-over- substance culture. I guess I’m old fashioned, but holding the printed word in my hands beats staring at a phone, and somehow creates a personal connection between writer and reader.

I am so grateful to have been in my small way, part of launching Paid My Dues. I was sad to see it fold. I don’t know what happened, but I suspect it was economics. And, I don’t know why I didn’t continue to write about music outside of the confidence-seering article pitch requirement that demands its own circle in hell, especially in the entertainment industry.

Perusing issues now, I am struck by how important PMD was in creating, recognizing, and archiving the Second Wave before it was co-opted by academics, therapists, Big Business, hacks, and the state. Paid My Dues created a genuine woman and queer space detached from patriarchal models and requirements for working women musicians—and just fans of women’s music. The amount of work that went into PMD is stunning, and I am pretty sure nobody got rich from it.It was a labor of love.

Paid My Dues is available online at the impressive archival website Queer Music Heritage, I was unaware of this site until a couple days ago.  I recommend it to anyone interested in queer entertainment and its history.

Kay Gardner. Paid My Dues. Photo: Marti School.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *