I last saw Kathleen Hanna intoxicate a Chicago crowd in 2005. That was with her electro-pop band Le Tigre. During the intervening 9 years, Kathleen was kept out of action by a debilitating battle with Lyme Disease. At its worse, she decided to give away all her old Riot Grrl writings to NYU, wrapping up her life because she didn’t think she’d be around much longer. Thankfully, she received treatment for the disease and is now fully recovered and able to resume her career as pop music’s Feminist Laureate.
But there was no mistaking the fact that this wasn’t the Kathleen Hanna of yore. This was an older and wiser punk singer. As one would expect, her close brush with death has resulted in lyrics that reflect on her past. In “Run Fast,” she sang about the struggles and triumphs of her Riot Grrl days: “Years later we’d be told that we weren’t real punks by boys in bands who acted like our dads when they were drunk / And they can all brag now ‘bout how they were there when we took over the stage and we took our fair share / But whatever the truth in the end we made tiny islands where we didn’t always have to be afraid /And an X will forever mark the spot where we decided we had just about enough.”
Another rock camp story introduced the song “Goodnight Goodbye”. Kathleen explained that she had written the chorus but didn’t have verses for the song, so she took it to a lyric-writing class at rock camp and asked the girls to think of what the verses should be about. One girl said, “It’s about a boy wanting to go all the way and you’re like, ‘Goodnight, Goodbye!’” The verses that Hanna chose to write are among her sharpest ever – looking back on Bikini Kill from the perspective of a middle-aged woman: “It happens when you’re not 20 but 41 / And you have to sink it to the you you’ve now become / Will the teenage sneer you so cultivated / Sneer back at you and make you feel so hated?”
If the show was any indication, the answer to that is a resounding NO! The teenagers (and kids too!) in the audience revere Hanna and she loves them just as much in return. As “Run Fast,” a song about her own teenage years, wound down the show she looked at the girls from rock camp and smiled with such admiration at them that it was hard not to get a bit choked-up. Rarely do you see pioneers so eager to pass the torch to the next generation. But thankfully Hanna still has a lot left to give.