Today sees the official release of Carrie Murphy’s Meet the Lavenders! You can purchase the chapbook, which boasts illustrations by Rhani Lee Remedes and Susanna Troxler, here.
In celebration, here is an interview with Murphy concerning Meet the Lavenders and girl groups, amongst other subjects:
How did the project of Meet the Lavenders begin? In what ways was it inspired by/based on The Supremes?
I wrote the first poem of the chapbook (which, coincidentally, is actually the first poem in the chapbook) in the spring of 2010; I think I just kind of got on a kick of listening to girls groups music, and then wanted to incorporate it into my poetry somehow. Then, in the fall of 2010, I took a literature class called “Representation of Girlhood.” We were able to do creative work for our final projects, and I instantly knew I wanted to work more with girl groups. I did a lot of research, listened to a lot of music, and ended up writing the poems that are now the chapbook.
I grew up on 60s music, particularly Motown; my father was a huge HUGE Supremes fan. And in some ways I think the Supremes are the quintessential girl group…they are certainly one that has captured our cultural imagination, you know, with Diana Ross’ solo career, the Dreamgirls musical and movie, the success of groups like Destiny’s Child, even. So the music and the imagery and the idea of the Supremes were always in the back of my mind when I was doing this project, especially when thinking about the early 1960s and race relations, the way that the Supremes were one of the first groups to really become “palatable” (not to mention widely successful) to a white audience. I also became interested in many of the other girl groups of the period, including the Shangri-Las (my ringtone is “Leader Of The Pack”). I was attracted to the OMG completely over the top teenage drama ethos of the Shangri-Las songs, something I don’t necessarily associate with the Supremes. The group in the chapbook is meant to be a composite encompassing many of the elements of how I perceive (imagine) the world of a 60s girl group, so not necessarily based on any one group in particular, although the title of MEET THE LAVENDERS is a reference to the title of the Supremes’ first album, MEET THE SUPREMES.
How do you feel the creation of the “girl group” has impacted popular music culture? What are some of your favorite girl groups, both past and present?
In some ways, I still feel like the idea of a “girl group” is a bit looked-down on in popular music, even post-Supremes, post-Pointer Sisters, post-Bangles, post-Spice Girls, post-Destiny’s Child. The concerns of girls are still not taken seriously in popular culture, at least not in my opinion. Girl groups are fluff; they’re not “serious” musicians because they don’t write their own songs (although many did, and many still do), because they sing about “unimportant” topics, because they’re controlled by their producers and managers or publicists, because they’re not ‘”real.” But what attracts me so much to girl groups, especially those of the 60s, is that the music feels so goddamn genuine. It’s simple, real, human stuff: “he kissed me,” “don’t leave me,” “is he going to call me?” “breaking up is hard to do,” that kind of stuff. Those emotions felt real and pressing and all-encompassing to me as a teenager, and they still feel real to me, to a certain extent.
As I said, I adore the Shangri-Las. I also love the Marvelettes and the Ronettes (you’ve probably heard “Be My Baby” a hundred times. But listen to it again. And then one more time. It’s amazing, a perfect pop song. I heard a story that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys would listen to that song hundreds of times a day, trying to find out what made it so perfect). And, of course, the Spice Girls. I went to their reunion tour in 2008 and it was fucking awesome. Oh, and everything on this album.
And as for today, I really like the band Best Coast, which has an awesome girl-groups meets surf rock meets grunge sensibility. Bethany Cosentino’s lyrics could easily have been sung by Ronnie Spector or by Courtney Love…or written by myself in my journal when I was in high school.
When you approached the project did you have a particularly feminist perspective in mind, or did that emerge as you went? Did you/do you feel obligated to present a typically one dimensional pop culture phenomenon in a more complex light, and was that instinctual or more carefully thought out?
I hope that anything I write has a feminist perspective; being a feminist is integral to my identity as a person and as a writer.
Initially, I just thought that 60s girl groups would be a fun topic to read and write about; I like the music, I liked the era, I liked the sort of campy glamour that I associated the groups with. Once I began looking at my research on the topic from a feminist and cultural studies perspective, though, the project definitely became a bit more complicated. I became much more interested in the ideas of performativity inherent in the girl groups phenomenon. I mean, there’s endless ideas and tropes that are ripe for exploration: identity (maybe the biggest one), innocence, youth culture, social mores, mid-century values, the construction of the teenager, and on and on. So I guess to some extent I did feel obligated to show a girl group in a more complex light, just based on the research I did.
Almost all of the research I found looked at girl groups not only from a critical or academic perspective, but from a personal one; women were writing about how listening to and dancing to and inhabiting these songs affected their lives. And actually, I learned that the girl groups of the early 60s were, in some ways, a precursor to second wave feminism. I mean, the teenage girls listening to these songs were the girls that eventually became politicized during the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and then the women’s rights movement of the 70s. Girl group songs, while seemingly innocuous, were important because they were a mouthpiece that girls didn’t previously have; here were girls singing songs about the realities of their lives: dates, boyfriends, parents, friends, even sex (to a certain extent). Then these listeners (girls and women) kept listening and starting speaking about (and changing) the realities of their own lives.
What have you been reading/seeing/hearing lately that inspires or challenges you?
I’m obsessed with Pinterest. Like everyone, I like the new Adele album. I’m digging the bands The Civil Wars and Thrift Store Cowboys. I’m liking the art of Caitlin Berrigan and Lydia Anne McCarthy. Tim Jones-Yelvington’s shared items in Google Reader. My friend Yvette Lopez’s Instagram feed.
How did you come to name your fictional girl group The Lavenders? Were there any other names that you considered?
The Lavenders just seemed like an appropriate name to me, something simple and feminine, a name teenage girls would choose for themselves but also a name that other people in the 60s would think was appropriate for marketing teenage girls. I meant for it to be along the lines of many real girl group names like The Chiffons, The Coupons and The Aprils, but just a little bit campy, too. I wanted the name to conjure an image or a feeling in the reader’s mind, which I hope it does.
You get to cast The Lavenders for a film. What three actresses and/or singers (dead or alive) do you pick to play them? What designer do you pick to create The Lavenders’ outfits?
That’s a hard question! I envision them as kind of a collective unit, a mass of blurred girl identity, so I don’t know about the actresses. Brittany Snow might be cool, or Zoe Saldana. I think Zac Posen could design some cool, slick, mod-inspired outfits for the Lavenders. Or maybe Daniel Vosovic from a few Project Runways ago.
What are your current writing or artistic projects?
I am still working on revising my MFA thesis, which also is very much about teenage girls, although much closer to my own (early 2000s) experience. I’m also hoping to start another project involving clothing and fashion, but it’s still in embryonic stages right now.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Meet the Lavenders?
If you’re interested in girl groups, I highly recommend the book Girl Groups: Girl Culture by Jacqueline Warwick. It was the most important book for me when doing my academic research and then incorporating that research into a creative landscape, into poems. It’s race and class and feminism and identity and girl groups: totally fascinating.