The Bridge: Lilith’s Winding Road

S1: Hey, everybody, this is Chris Mowlam, host of Heparin Slate’s podcast of pop chart history. Welcome to The Bridge. That’s me. A song by Paula Cole from her 1996 album, This Fire in the Lyrics. Cole sings about crossing a bridge into self acceptance and self-love. Cole performed me as a mainstage act at Lilith Fair in 1997 and 98, the all woman touring festival helped raise her profile as a hitmaker, issued as the third radio single from Cole’s album, ME reached the Top 40 on Billboard’s radio songs chart in the spring of nineteen ninety eight. And these mini episodes, bridge, are full length monthly episodes.

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S2: Give us a chance to catch up with listeners and enjoy some hit parade trivia this month. I am delighted to have two very special guests, an esteemed writer and an old friend of the show. Let’s talk to our writer guest first. Jessica Hopper is an acclaimed critic whose work has spanned more than two decades and a range of publications, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, The Guardian, Elle and Book Form. She was a longtime contributor to The Chicago Reader and a columnist for The Village Voice, Chicago Tribune and Punke Planet, as well as the music consultant for This American Life for eight years. Her books include The Girl’s Guide to Rocking the First Collection of criticism by a living female rock critic. And Knight moves her deeply researched September 20 19 piece for Vanity Fair Building a Mystery, An Oral History of Lilith Fair, informed and helped inspire my latest episode of Hit Parade. Jessica Hopper, welcome to The Bridge.

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S3: Thank you for having me, Chris. I’m happy to be with here.

S4: And thank you again for having me participate in your very comprehensive Vanity Fair piece on this subject last fall. I think we talked last summer at this time, and it was it was a lot of fun reminiscing about Lilith Fair. And the crux of your piece was that Lilith was a big deal in its day. It was the top grossing touring festival in its first year. You even called it visionary. So what do you think made Lilith exceptional and what made it work for its time?

S3: I think there were a few things that really contributed to its success. You know, first and foremost, they really put together a bill that, you know, the kind of the kind of money ball that, you know, if you’re familiar with that, where, you know, they got together and did actually quite a bit of research. But you know, who in this what artist in this city this market could draw, you know, 7000 people who could do, 20000 people who could do five. And when you look at these bills, they’re they’re really quite stark. It wasn’t that that these artists were going to be drawing, you know, that Aimee Mann and Sean Colvin and Lisa Loeb. And so we’re all going to be drawing into the exact same audience that there really was this idea that if they could get all these different artists that had the fan bases that maybe overlapped but weren’t exactly the same, and they made the bill really strong that they could get folks. And they did. You know, I think another reason that it was successful was that these audiences were really, in some ways fairly desperate to connect with the community around around these artists. And some of these artists had only been able to kind of tour and play venues up to a certain point. But even though they were, you know, their sales and and their audience would have justified bigger venues because they got to a certain point and they really faced there was there was definitely a ceiling around what sort of a venue a larger women artists could get into, you know, namely show crowd who is at the headquarters never knows one. And then I think I think there was kind of maybe under this that they only really discovered once Lilith’s came to be a great success.

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S5: And I know this from interviewing quite a few people who were were audience members as part of the oral history research. It was that people wanted to go to the festival. And I say people I mean, primarily women and young women. They wanted to go to a festival. They wanted to go to a concert. And those spaces fundamentally didn’t feel very safe to them. And they thought they would be safe, that Lilith. And they were. And so because of that and the feeling of Lilith, I think for that, for some people who when it did feel like a safe space, it really, really made them want to go back. And I think that really set up years to create.

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S4: By year two, there was, as you talked about in your oral history, and as I discovered in some of my own research for the episode, some criticism including by some women who didn’t want to participate in Lilith. And, you know, there’s the old saw of women getting tired of being asked about their gender when it comes to, you know, women and rock. Did Lilith transcend that stereotype? And how did it.

S3: I mean, every day, the sort of of of women being pigeonholed by gender, I think, you know, as is as old as recorded music itself in many ways, obviously, it wasn’t wasn’t particular to this time. But I think because of the music media being what it was, which is primarily white male, you know, canonical rock dominated at every level still at that time, and that the 90s and in the early to mid 90s being, you know, a huge time for women in music, whether you’re talking about within hip hop, you know, whether it was Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott to you know, you’ve had a lantern’s hall, no doubt, cranberries, you know, then Nelly Furtado, Dido, you know, this whole host of people who really had some success, obviously, at the time of Lilith, you know, Jewel was the big breakout, too. So, you know, you have all of these things and it’s happening all the way down to two alternative rock breeders who write from things like.

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S5: So you have this this huge wave and then you have a media that is largely framing it as, you know, this insurgent, this insurgent thing, something’s happened.

S3: You know, that sort of made all this coalesce and this happen right at the same time, which is pretty ridiculous and frankly, pretty ridiculous. I think that’s kind of it’s it’s kind of its own thing. And but it all gets crushed together, especially when you look at the lineups of year two and three. They were diverse in ways that no other festival was in terms of just even the age ranges of the people that were on the stage, as you know, because it was everyone from Tegan and Sara, you know, teenage. And in Sarah. Yes.

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S6: Give you everything I you gave it.

S3: And then you had, you know, people who were on the main stage, like Bonnie Raitt, who had been in the game since the late 60s, early 70s.

S7: And so there’s just so much so much broader and so much more inclusive than even the festivals that we think of as being a real, you know, Milosh of styles and sounds.

S3: And so I think they did manage to transcend some of thought. You know, granted, it was primarily cis women and it was a lot of still a lot of white women. But thought, particularly as it progressed, it it did get significantly more diverse. But by that point, some of those some of those issues from your one really did hold on. But, you know, the idea that it’s like, did it transcend gender or did it transcend all of these other things? I think it it did really make a statement in a few different ways, less trans women in music, including in music journalism and the same thing, and can speak to myself. You know, you look up at 35 and you realize you’re the oldest woman in the room. The way that Littlefair sort of continued to incorporate women who even I think in other rooms maybe see a little past their prime or even, you know, having Indigo Girls has mainstage AC five, six years after they’d had a gold record. You know, that it that is sort of valued the presence, the longevity, the what women had historically contributed and really holding that up. And I think that is one of the primary ways that it transcended so much of the I was you know, I do want to say confessional logic, essentially NetLogic, too, but it’s the conventions of of mainstream music and particularly of the concert and promoting world.

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S4: Speaking of conventional parts of the industry, one of the about something. How about that for Segre? I chronicled, you know, because my show is about how the charts work and how they function and reify certain artists. We talked about not only the road but the radio and how rock stations largely abandoned many of these artists while Lilith was on the road. Do you think Lilith played a part in categorizing or turning the industry away from female fronted rock? Did it codify something that rock stations felt they had to move away from?

S3: I don’t think so. I think these women’s and these artists relationship with the radio is really its own thing as as a genre, as sort of blew up and became big business, particularly if if they were blowing up off the successful women. You know, look at look at what L.A. was doing because.

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S7: Incomparable, you know, her. Who aren’t her peers with an alternative rock? Sales wise at that time? I mean, she was just out of the box.

S3: And as soon as you sort of see these women really rise to really rise and become a market force, they are sort of bifurcates. And from these children, rose, and they were kind of pushed in to, you know, kind of what what is the term sort of modern Broch or kind of triple A play helpable that some of those, you know, and even all the way to like adult contemporary stations. And that you kind of see this this siloing of them a little bit. But then they became some of them became kind of the staple artists of those formats. But then as a result, you know, there was like it was like Sarah McGlocklin kind of wasn’t cool enough for the alt rock station. And, you know, you know, you might you might still hear, you know, Alanis or maybe maybe a little like Tori Amos. But but, you know, her and Aimee Mann and a lot of these other folks, I did have some real big radio moments in the mid to late 90s are kind of pushed into this other realm that definitely says you’re for older people, you’re not cool. And then and then they’re sort of like, you know, that worked in a really interesting way, because by the time then you get to write when Lilith is at its, you know, peak, you know, year three, there’s no place on them for them on alternative radio because it’s the realm of Green Day and pedal of mad. And all these pop formats, as we know, are, ah, you know, in sync are Britany are all of these these. It’s basically two worlds that have no space for a woman who has something to say that writes her own songs, that has a guitar. Maybe there’s just a lot of these women are sort of really siloed in two niche spaces, despite the fact that they had really significant audiences still and had further built and developed them through the monstrous success of the Lilith tour.

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S4: So in the oral history, you also talked about when they tried to reboot it in 2010, which did not go as well. They managed to get a couple of dozen dates out of it, but it was a tough road. And, you know, there has been talk for the last two decades about the idea of potentially rebooting Lilith. Several have tried, including Sarah McLachlan herself. Is the idea outmoded? Do you think it could be revived? Should it?

S3: I don’t think it’s outmoded. You know, look at look what we know about women’s experience in music. Marginalized folks. Experience in music that is really come to light and and then more openly discussed. I mean, granted, it’s been reported on for quite some time. I’ve been writing about these topics for 20 years and I’m not alone at all. But but that the need for. Spaces that operate on a different set of values that resist, you know, the sort of traditional hierarchies and patriarchal hierarchies of festivals and concerts and. And can be a safe and welcoming and inclusive and accountable space. I think we desperately need that. And I think if it if Lilith can come back within the festival space in a way that is a meaningful evolution on what it was, I think that would be very, very welcome.

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S4: Yeah. You know, when you talk about an evolution in what a future Lilith artist would be, what it would mean. Where do you see that evolution happening? Either genre wise, specific artists, styles, approaches? What should a Lilith for the 20 20s be about?

S3: I think that Lillith for, you know, sort of contemporary updated idea of Lillith, I think would have to be gender expansive. I think it would really, you know, move beyond this. You know, kind of what they were working with then is a fairly binary idea of who belonged on this stage. And granted, there were, I think in the third year, a handful of I think there was a two Tranz artist maybe ever in the history of Lilith. And obviously, that’s something that would have to be significantly rectified. And I think it would also, you know, there was there was kind of a primacy, particularly in the first two years of Lilith on people with guitars. And like, you know, as long as there was a woman frontwoman, it was considered a band with women. And I think really expanding that vision broadly into people who were instrumentalists, who bands that were much more mixed. And I think being really expansive in terms of genre, in terms of the sort of messages that that we understand are, you know, what we understand sort of being like a political air, quotes, feminist, air quotes, artist and really welcoming in a really broad ensemble of women. I think it would just have to be expansive in every in every possible way. Were you at Lilith any of the three years at the time of when a love affair was happening? It’s probably out like. Do you know Lugazi with the June 4th we’re playing, you know, like some 200 capacity club in St. Louis. And also, you know, one of one of the things about that time, too, is that we kind of touched on this a little bit. And the pieces that there was definitely there was an idea still very prevalent at that time within music culture that anything that aboveground was patently uncool. Right. And I remember paying a good bit of attention to the press that Lilith got because it was some of it was just just abysmally sexist. And. And there were artists that I liked on it. But it wasn’t I mean, I was hardly a festival going person at that time. So that was kind of not my scene. And as a result, you know, there’s so many incredible stories that I found out about Lella just post facto. Of course, now I wish I had gone. I wish I had gone. Even though Paula Cole was not Michette, then Paul violin’s extremely Michette.

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S4: I was particularly touched you talked to Brandi Carlile, who’s, you know, part of a current generation of, you know, women leading the charge.

S5: Yes, she was. She was 16 and she was at, you know, a lot of people shared really particularly, you know, memorable experiences about seeing Earth at the gorge, you know, including and flowers and some other notable critics that people that people were there for.

S3: That was the first American day. And, you know, a 16 year old, Brandi Kahlo, was literally camped out, you know. And as soon as they opened the door, it was like running, running in to get to the barrier because of the artist that she wanted to see.

S4: Yeah, I was really touched picturing a young Brandi Carlile coming to that show, speaking as a cis straight man who attended the first two years of life and had been to Lollapalooza. It was amazing to me how different the energy felt at that show. So it was it was like there was this audience that had been waiting for this and they were just so excited. The audience was rapt to the performers. It was like a festival concert where you had sideshows. Yeah. You had tents. Yeah, you had booths. And that was all well attended. But folks were really wrapped up in the music in a way you don’t always see at a festival show such that I had a good time the first year and I went back the second year. I was also psyched the second year that they got those Liz Phair to play because concert appearances by Liz Phair were pretty rare to that point.

S8: I was just there and I was like the guy, Missy Elliott, because I was into her at the time.

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S9: But yeah, it was just I’d never been to a concert that felt that way stage. Well, Jessica, thank you so much for joining us for the bridge.

S4: And I know you’re always keeping busy. How are you keeping busy in these challenging times and working folks find your stuff?

S3: Well, the season toothlessness that I produced and hosted is available on, you know, wherever you find podcasts. I’m working on some other stuff. And I also earlier today turned in my revised, expanded second edition of the first collection of criticism by reviewing female rock critic, my 2015 book, which will be republished next year in very, very different version.

S9: That sounds excellent. We’ll definitely look out for both lost notes and the new edition of your book. And Jessica, thank you for appearing on the bridge. Thank you. Anytime. Anytime.

S4: And now for that other special guest and a very familiar voice, T.J., Rafaelle is a podcast producer, reporter and correspondent, currently working with three uncanny for a podcasting joint venture with Sony Music. There she helped launch the acclaimed podcast Broken. Jeffrey Epstein, of course, T.J. is also an alumna of Slate, where among her many accomplishments, she launched and formally produced this very program hit Parade The Bridge. T.J.. Welcome back to the bridge.

S10: Hey, Chris, I’m so excited to be back on the bridge. Thank you so much for having me.

S11: Couldn’t be more excited to have you back. This is a thrill for us. So the Lillith episode. Oh, my God. Longtime listeners will remember to recap for everybody on your final show is the producer of this show. Last summer, you said, can I make a request? And for the outgoing producer, I said, sure, of course. Fire away. And you proposed a Lillith episode and kind of a 90s women and rock episode. And so I guess I’ll just ask the open ended question. What do you think?

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S10: I thought you did an excellent job. I was bopping to the sound of all of those songs while I was listening. I listened to the episode twice, you know, to prepare for this grueling, forthcoming trivia round. But it was great and it was so enjoyable each time. And I was super, super delighted to see it in my Slate Plus podcast feed. It was great because I was supposed to see Alanis Morissette and Garbage in June Happy, but the show was canceled because of the Corona virus.

S12: So this was a nice little stand in for me because I was I’ve never seen Alanis Morissette lie than I know.

S10: You know, she she didn’t perform at Lilith, but I was really happy to get this in my field because it was of like a little bit of comfort. I don’t know. Hopefully the concert comes back next year once Cauvin is gone. But, yeah, this was great. I think he did a wonderful job.

S2: Thank you. I guess if you were if you were going to see garbage and L.A., that gives me some of the answer to this question. But what are your 90s musical memories? What were you all about? The ladies of Lilith? Where did you come out back then?

S10: Alanis Morissette was the first C.D. that I ever bought. I think I was like eleven or something like that. I was born in 88. So at the time the Lilith Fair was happening, I was too young to attend, but I was listening to them.

S12: I remember walking around my suburban neighborhood with a Walkman and listening to L.A. on repeat. Formative years for me as a young girl that likes listening to me like these women rockers and I’m like 12, 13. By that point.

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S10: So, yeah. I was definitely jamming to them. And that’s one of the reasons why I wished that I could attend Lilith Fair and kind of wanted to vicariously do it through brainstorming with you. The last time we did that, that many bridge episode. And then this was even better because I really learned a lot. Like, I learned more than I even realized there was to know about love. And it was super fine. And I do hope that one day all these amazing women artists that we have out there now that really span so many different kinds of genres. I hope they band together and make wine. And once, you know, this whole pandemic’s over. Yeah, me too. We’re gonna need some joy right there with you.

S2: So now comes the fun part.

S11: Oh, God, it’s. Yeah, it’s time for some trivia, which this was your brainchild when we launched the bridge that we would engage our listeners in hipper a trivia. You know, in the first dozen or so episodes of The Bridge, you took a certain delight when our trivia contestant stumped me. Well, now the contestant is you. Oh, God. And this is the moment where I remind everybody that we only open our trivia rounds to Slate plus members. So if you would like to be a trivia contestant, visit Slate dot com slash hit parade, sign up. That’s Slate dot com slash hit parade sign up. So, T.J., Rafaelle from Brooklyn, New York. I think you know how this works. We’re going to ask three trivia questions. One will be a callback to our most recent episode of Hit Parade. And the next two will be a preview of our next hit parade episode. Are you ready for some trivia? I’m ready. All right.

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S2: Question one in last month’s episode. I noted that a 1996 hit by a future Lillith performer was the last modern rock chart, number one by a solo female for 17 years. What was that hit? A, Alanis Morissette. Ironic. B, Sheryl Crow. If it makes you happy. See Tracy Chapman. Give me one reason or D. Tracy Bonham. Mother. Mother.

S10: I’m really trying to dig deep here, especially look at this two ways. I think I’m going to go with the D. Tracy Bonham. Is that right?

S13: It is quite the correct answer. Is D. Mother. Mother. Sam.

S14: After Tracy Bonham’s big hit, the part of the modern rock top spot in June of 1996. It would take until August 2013 for another solo woman, Lord with Royals, to top this chart again, one for one.

S13: Well done. All right. Time for preview trivia. Are you ready for some preview trivia?

S10: Yeah, I feel like this is going to be harder than the last one. Yeah.

S2: All right, here we go. Question two, these four, late 70s, hot 100. Number one hits were nominated for either record or Song of the Year at the 1980 Grammy Awards. Which song ultimately won both prizes? Eight. Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. You don’t bring me flowers. B, The Doobie Brothers. What a fool believes. See Peaches and Herb reunited. Or D. Gloria Gaynor. I will survive.

S10: This is super hard. I think I’m gonna I’m going to guess here because I don’t know the answer. So I’m gonna go with a..

S14: I’m sorry. The correct answer was B.. What a fool believes.

S1: Co-written by Michael McDonald and his friend Kenny Loggins. The Grammy sweeping song completed the Doobies conversion from Southern rockers to prime progenitors of what came to be known as yacht rock.

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S13: OK, that’s one for two. But you’ve got one more question. Are you ready to hear? I am.

S2: All right. Question three. Speaking of yacht rock and the Grammys, two years later, the top prize was taken by Toto’s LP, Toto, for which won 1983 is Album of the Year. What was the first single from this album which also won Toto the record of the year? Grammy a Rosanna Bee Make Believe C Africa or D? I won’t hold you back.

S10: I’m really stunned. I’m going to unfortunately have to guess again. I’m going to go with C because they say C is always a good choice when you don’t know the answer.

S4: Well, it didn’t work out in this case. The correct answer is a.. Rosanna.

S14: Named for but not actually about actress Rosanna Arquette, the lead single from Toto four, spent five weeks at number two in the summer of 1982. The now more famous song, Africa, a number one hit in early 83, was actually the album’s third single. All right. Well, you went one for three.

S13: That’s not totally terrible, but you pulled out that Lilith Fair question. So that was well done.

S10: Yeah, that was the important part. So are you ready for me to turn the tables on you again? Ready as I’ll ever be. Which of the following songs hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on January 30th, 1982? Knocking Olivia Newton John’s physical out of a 10 week run at the top spot. Was it A Africa by Toto B sailing by Christopher Cross. C Blackwater by the Doobie Brothers. Or D. I can’t go for that. No can do by Daryl Hall and John Oates.

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S14: I’m not going to have to think hard about this one because I’m a huge fan of the song and I know very well when it went to number one. So it’s gonna be D. I can’t go for that by Hall and Oates.

S10: You’re right. The correct answer is D. I can’t go for that by and Oates. The song stayed at number one for just one week. All of these songs did hit number one in different years, spanning from 1975 to 1983.

S14: Fun Fact Physical by Olivia Newton. John was bookended by two Hall and Oates songs. It knocked out private eyes by Hall Notes. He spent 10 weeks at number one, then was knocked out by I can’t go for that beholders. They they would have succeeded themselves at no one except for the 10 weeks in between that. Olivia Newton John was number one with physical.

S11: That’s one of my favorite trivia tidbits. Well, T.J., it was fun matching what’s with you on the trivia round that you created.

S10: And it was now called this by a school, by you on the thing that I created. I’ve created a monster.

S13: I’m afraid you do.

S11: But, T.J., in all seriousness, it is such a delight to have you back. The bridge is your legacy. It persists. It’s a fan favorite. And we can’t thank you enough for gracing us with your presence and giving me the idea for my latest Full-length episode. So thank you for being on the bridge.

S10: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I can’t wait to listen again next month.

S14: So as those two preview trivia questions indicated, our next episode of Hit Parade is going to be yet another longtime request from several of our listeners. It’ll be about yacht rock. Yacht Rock is a genre that was invented retroactively in the 21st century, but refers to a period in the 70s and 80s in the 20th century, and it caught on massively just in the last 15 years. So why why did it catch on like this? Well, folks loved this music, but it’s also a genre that feels real, describing an actual musical mini era, an era when studio based musicians on the West Coast were appearing on all sorts of records, sometimes each other’s records, like Ken Loggins, Michael McDonald, Christopher Cross, the members of Toto, producers like David Foster and Quincy Jones, and even some outliers who were not York rockers themselves, but sometimes recorded Yellow Rock. Since the term caught on, a lot of music has been stuffed into this rubric, but frankly, not all of it qualifies. We’ll explain to you why Jimmy Buffett, for example, is not your rock. But the chart dominance of yacht rock at the turn of the 80s says a lot about how Pop was changing coming out of disco, including both sonic elements and even the racial politics. So Yacht Rock is going to be the subject of our July Full-length episode of Hit Parade. Look out for that in a couple of weeks. This episode of Hit Parade, the bridge was produced by Asha Solutia. I’m Chris Melaniphy. Keep on marching on the one.