PleaseKillMe.com contributor Laurie Lindeen ventures into casino country for Exene Cervenka, Shirley Manson, and Debbie Harry.
Three legendary front women backed by extraordinary bands. In the age of Trump’s war on women, I’ll not comment on age or appearance because that has nothing to do with their successes. It’s all about their voices and their songs. That said, all three are natty dressers.
Part 1 – X:
I’ve never been to a show at a casino, but as a former musician formerly married to a musician, I know that casino gigs pay well, and musicians deserve to be paid well. Did you know that you can smoke inside a casino? Even if you are utilizing an oxygen tank?
These observations put me in a strange mindset while looking for my seat inside the Showroom at the Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minnesota. John Doe and Exene Cervenka are about to kick off the evening. Assigned seating and X are contradictory.
John Doe’s voice is like molten velvet, and the sound system in the casino is great. John and Exene look American Gothic clad in black and white, accessorized with suspenders and sensible shoes. In spite of the fact that the stage is quite large, under a single spot light, they own it. In spite of the odd venue and early hour, and the fact that most of the audience is in the lobby drinking, I am transformed. I admire Exene’s cool detachment onstage, her lyrics, and her insistent voice moving in tandem with John Doe’s. I subconsciously or overtly copied her a lot back when I was making music. I can’t remember which.
Part 2 – Garbage:
The bathroom lines are overflowing and casino employees guide us to another bathroom and we are instructed to be quiet in the loo because there is a bingo game being played in the next room. I restrain myself from hollering “B-6!” from the stall.
Garbage is a band with whom I have a past; the three men in the band are friends from my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin and they gave me music at the age of nineteen. Butch Vig and Duke Erikson were in Spooner, and Steve Marker worked at a club called Merlyn’s, and I went out with Butch’s little brother for about a year. In that year I received my musical education, and it altered my life’s direction that would translate into a ten-year music career in the band Zuzu’s Petals.
Shirley Manson stalks the stage wearing a sequined gown and combat boots; her voice is strong and clear and vulnerable, her demeanor is friendly and unassuming, yet menacing in a thrilling way, and the lyrics to their catchy songs are filled with intertextual references to other rock songs. There is an actual bat dive-bombing in front of the stage being back lit by the key lights, and this distracts the audience.
Part 3 – Blondie:
Going backstage amid a throng labeled “Friends and family of Garbage” takes a lot of effort and corralling, and Shirley greets us with a warm, “There you are! We’ve been looking all over for you!” Wow, I think to myself, this woman has the right stuff for this career. I find meet and greets excruciating. In our holding pen a young man gets on one knee and proposes to his girlfriend in front of Butch and Shirley and I abruptly hit the hallway in search of Steve. I love that man; he gave me my first guitar. He gives me a beer, and I hear the opening notes of Blondie’s “Call Me” and I somewhat hesitantly head back to the Showroom though I’m already musically and emotionally sated.
There they are! Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke! Harry leaves much of the singing to the crowd who is more than happy to oblige. I, like her perhaps, have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that we’re consuming groundbreaking rock & roll that was born at CBGB’s, in a casino. After watching their uncomfortable Rock & Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech, I am somewhat wary, but with that voice, those songs, that band, and incomparable sense of cool; she has always inspired me. “Atomic” is a perfect song. I wish they hadn’t played “The Tide is High” for their encore because its faux reggae vibe has always set my teeth on edge.
The fact that three of the luckiest – lucky because of the caliber of musicians with whom they collaborate – and coolest women in rock and roll are all together on the same bill is enough for me to part with $100. In spite of all of my bitching, I consider myself lucky that I went. I’m assuming the men who accompanied them are fully aware of their good fortune as well.
Laurie Lindeen is an essayist, the author of the memoir Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story, professor, mom, and founding member of Zuzu’s Petals. She lives in Minnesota.