Alison Lang is a Toronto-based writer and editor. Her first introduction to the world of zines was during high school English at an arts school in the burbs of Unionville, ON. She had an assignment to “make your own magazine,” and while the other students used their arts and design skills to make professional-looking magazines with nice covers, cutlines and actual columns, she “sort of misinterpreted the assignment and made my own magazine using cut-and-paste and cartoons and collages from women’s magazines about being a teenager struggling with the skin condition psoriasis.”
“Much later on, I was lucky enough to spend four years in the editorial dept of Broken Pencil magazine, where I was exposed to tons of brilliant zines and zinemakers like Shotgun Seamstress, Doris, Clementine Morrigan and Kerri Radley, Cometbus, Ghost Pine and tons more. Also I feel very lucky to live in Toronto, a city where zine culture is very healthy and thriving with so many different types of zine fairs, artists, writers and printers helping to tie these communities together.”
She’s recently put together a new zine, Music Men Ruined For Me, which is set to launch at an angry Karaoke party (with a killer song list) on Saturday, December 1 at Tranzac (292 Brunswick Ave). We chatted with Alison about the zine, the launch, and which songs men have ruined for her.
SDTC: Where did the idea for the Music Men Ruined For Me zine come from?
AL: Basically I was chatting with a (male) pal about various bands. We got on the subject of Guided by Voices and started yakking about the band’s history. I realized I could talk about the band’s backstory and sound and biographic details without having ever heard a note of their music! You see, I’ve had so many people (mostly dudes) explain the importance of this particular band to me (without letting me get a word in edgewise!) that I kind of lost the desire to actually listen to them and they basically became—for lack of a better word—archival in my mind. Call it “mansplain fatigue” or what you will.
It was hilarious and a bit sad, and it also made me wonder if I knew other people who had similar experiences where the life had been sucked out of a particular band because men had explained it so often. So I wrote up the call and posted it on various internet sites, and here we are.
What will the zine include?
I was amazed and overwhelmed by the variety of submissions that came in. There are pieces ruminating on crappy past relationships with self-important, bloviating men. There are pieces about sexual assault and rape, which were really difficult to read. There are pieces about growing up as a teenager in a small town and feeling like you’ll never be accepted by the men in your scene, and then just finding yourself on your own terms.
There are a couple pieces dealing with dads and music that are really complex and beautiful. There are pieces about working in music as engineers, and there’s a great piece by a woman who got so fed up with toxic men in her scene that she started an all-woman punk band. There’s a manifesto by a woman writing to her seventeen-year-old self. And then there are a bunch of rants that are just incredible, sometimes hilarious and always super raw. People talk about Radiohead, U2, Tool, Rush, Zappa (the usual suspects of mansplaining) and there are some really thoughtful pieces about rap and jazz. Someone even wrote about how some guy ruined Depeche Mode for her, and to this awful man I say how DARE you.
Contributors ranged widely, including all over Canada and the U.S., the UK, Mexico and Australia! Some Toronto writers who submitted to the zine include Alexandra West, Kristel Jax, Lisa Whittington-Hill, Kate Miller, Mariam Bastani, Michelle Kay and Carolyn Mauricette. We also have the artist and musician Paterson Hodgson, who contributed some illustrations that roast a few notable male idols and depict disgusted women in a way I really loved.
What song in particular has been ruined for you by men?
It’s funny, I was really inspired by some of the contributors who wrote that although they have sour associations with certain songs and men, no man has ever truly “ruined” music for them. While I definitely think artists/songs can be exhausted and perhaps “ruined” by men, life is a rich and forever-evolving thing, and it is always possible to return to it and remember why you loved it in the first place.
That being said, in the zine I wrote about going to see Beck (my first concert) with my buddy Lisa at age fourteen and a drunk bro threw his arm around us and yelled at us to stop dancing because we were blocking his view. This was a surprisingly painful memory to revisit, even decades later, and it definitely affected the way I listened to Beck songs. But now I dislike Beck, because his music got boring and because he’s a Scientologist. Sometimes artists just do a great job ruining themselves.
The karaoke song selection for your launch event looks INCREDIBLE. How influenced were you by the riot grrl movement growing up? What is your fave song EVER from this era?
Thank you! I am making some of these karaoke videos from scratch (not a lot of Babes in Toyland karaoke out there, what a shocker!), so I hope they actually work or we may have to just yell the songs without the lyric videos, which is also fine.
I grew up in a weird nerd bubble where I only listened to my little brother’s Wu Tang and Rage Against the Machine albums in my formative years, so I only learned about riot grrl a bit later in life. I always loved Hole. Later on, I became obsessed with Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney and particularly L7, and I even made a pilgrimage to NYC a few years ago to check out Kathleen Hanna’s zine collection at the Fales Library.
Getting into the movement later in life also allowed me to engage more critically with the music and understand its flaws and limitations, because so much of it was led by white cis-gendered and able-bodied women. I have really valued the zine scene for providing some valuable counterpoints to the riot grrl narrative so often propagated by mainstream media, particularly the zines, art and writing by Anna Vo, Mimi Thy Nguyen and Osa Atoe.
My favourite song from this era…I always return to “Fast and Frightening” by L7, a band who knows how to be hilarious and cutting in their takedowns of jerks, assholes and patriarchal masculinity, as well as being total shredders! This song is an amazing homage to tough women and I listen to it whenever I’m feeling depleted, which in 2018 was fairly often.
Why do we need zines at this juncture in history?
I think we always need zines. They are the best tool for people to share feelings, ideas and information without being encumbered by the limitations of other types of media. You don’t need to be a flashy writer or designer or artist to make a zine, and quite often, the best zines are the ones that lack this flash, because I feel you get a little closer to a person’s authentic experience.
We’re living in a scary time right now, and we are losing media outlets, especially ones that tell the stories of people who are vulnerable and/or marginalized. Zines are a way for people (particularly people who are underrepresented) to be critical and engage with each other in a way that involves getting off the internet and using their hands, and thinking, and making something tangible that screams loudly. I feel Music Men Ruined for Me couldn’t have existed in any other form and I’m so grateful to the contributors for being so honest and rad.
Anything else to add?
We are donating 50% of the proceeds to Sistering, a multi-service agency for at-risk, socially isolated women in Toronto who are homeless or precariously housed, based in Bloorcourt. They work incredibly hard and the winter season, as we all know, is super challenging for the Toronto shelter system, so please come out and donate!