Kathleen Hanna. Credit: PRESS

Kathleen Hanna has spoken to NME about her brand new memoir Rebel Girl: My Life As A Feminist Punk – tackling her life and experiences with the riot grrrl movement, Fugazi and Courtney Love.
Having risen to fame fronting the legendary punk band Bikini Kill – who pioneered the riot grrrl movement with their fiery lyrics and electrifying live performances – Hanna worked to make the punk scene a safe and inclusive space for women. Upon the band’s breakup, Hanna went on to front seminal bands Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin.

Rebel Girl: My Life As A Feminist Punk – released this week – provides an in-depth look into the story of Hanna’s tumultuous childhood and the realities of being a feminist on the frontlines of the male-dominated punk scene; facing violence and antagonism that threatened at every turn.

“I did an interview with Sarah Marcus, who wrote the book Girls To The Front and when I was telling her about some of the stuff, she was shocked,” Hanna told NME. “She thought that [Bikini Kill] were so loved and everybody because all these women came to the shows and they took their shirts off and they dance and they were so happy. And I was like, ‘No there were five of those people’. At most of the shows, it was frat guys throwing chains in our heads.”

One of the first stories shared in the book is of Hanna’s roommate Allee being assaulted in their own apartment.

Kathleen Hanna 'Rebel Girl' book jacket Cover. Credit: PRESS.
Kathleen Hanna ‘Rebel Girl’ book jacket Cover. Credit: PRESS.

Following the horrific event and without hesitation, Hanna began volunteering at Safespace – a rape relief and domestic violence center in Olympia, WA – as a way to be there for her roommate. This decision would go shift Hanna’s world completely.

“It was very serendipitous that I knew that the Safespace office was two blocks away,” she said. “I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just gonna walk over there’. If I wouldn’t have walked over there, I don’t know what would’ve happened in my life. I made this commitment in the moment without thinking about school or work. It felt like this was exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”

From there, Hanna was able to use the same tools learned from the volunteer program during riot grrrl meetings – which started off a way for girls to  come together and be a part of this scene where they may have felt unwelcome but quickly became a space where they’d be able to feel accepted and release traumas.

Bikini Kill shows were described by Hanna as a place where “guys wanted to kill us” and girls smiled “as they pushed their way toward us” when the singer would say: “Girls to the front!” The tools she picked up from volunteering at Safespace were also useful when women would come up to her after gigs and open up about their own experiences.

Asked about the most memorable part of riot grrrl, Hanna replied: “Young girls under 20 crying in a room of other girls for the first time letting something go. Whether that was ‘I was raped’ or ‘I’m embarrassed that I live in poverty’ etc., hearing them say that stuff for the first time and then watching them be supported and being part of that support was pretty intense but also pretty miraculous.”

Quick to explain that the book is “not setting the record straight at all”, Hanna said that the memoir serves as more of a cathartic release and likened the creation of it to “ripping my face off, punching myself in the face, and rolling in a bed of nails.”

“For the most part, it was miserable,” she explained. “There were times when it was joyous. But those times were few and far between, I gotta be honest, it was like really fucking hard.”

The book took her five years to complete due to the COVID pandemic and the political turmoil of the Trump years – but upon working on it, the feminist icon realised that it was a great sense of release.

“I wanted to write stories that have resonance for me still. Things that I look back on and I’m like, ‘I learned something from that’,” she said. “I came out the other side [of writing the book] feeling like I can move on. I thought it was gonna be really awful and painful talking about the book in interviews, but I just felt kind of like a relief.”

Scattered throughout the memoir are some familiar faces like Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain – one of her close friends. Hanna detailed the moment in which she wrote “Kurt smells like teen spirt” on his bedroom wall, eventually becoming the title of the group’s most famous song.

Bikini Kill and Joan Jett (center) (Photo by Steve Eichner/WireImage)
Bikini Kill and Joan Jett (center) (Photo by Steve Eichner/WireImage)

A pivotal moment in the book is when Hanna first saw Fugazi perform live. Having first heard the song ‘Suggestion’ for the first time, she was immediately mind-blown over the fact that the song discusses street harassment and rape – with Ian Mackaye and co. addressing the issues as allies.

Throughout the book, ‘Suggestion’ pops up during major moments of her career. “I realized how much that song had resonance for me as I was writing the book and it kept coming back up. That wasn’t a device that naturally just kind of kept coming back up,” she explained.

The track served as a tool to show the singer that she could write any lyrics she wanted, adding: “[The song] gave me the permission slip to move into myself as a songwriter.”

Though Hanna ended up questioning ‘Suggestion’ later on, she “witnessed women take over that song for themselves. It was this thing about how a song can change and grow over time and how it can be a mile marker in your life.”

Another moment that Hanna touches on is the incident between her and Hole frontwoman Courtney Love  at Lollapalooza 1995. In the book, the singer writes how after Hole  performed at the festival, Love went up to her, nearly burned her with a cigarette and ended up punching her in the face.

Since then, Hanna has constantly been asked about “the Courtney thing” with her telling NME: ” I’ve had interviewers be like, ‘So have you worked it out with Courtney?’ And I was like, ‘Have you worked it out with your stalker?’ I don’t know her? I don’t know why she did it. Would I accept an apology? I don’t know. I don’t want her to know where I am so that she can apologize because she’s terrifying. I don’t need that person in my life. I don’t want to work things out.”

Though the book is dense with dark moments dealing with heavy topics, there are moments of light – especially when Hanna opens up about her life currently including her “funny as fuck” husband Adam Horovitz – aka Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys – and their son Julius.

Hanna revealed that the main reason why she married Ad-Rock – who she described as the “cutest, funniest person I knew and wanted to spend everyday with him” – was because her health insurance ran out and she needed to get on his.

They married on January 1, 2006 in a small setting with their two friends and a tape recorder that Ad-Rock brought to play Style Council‘s ‘You’re the best thing’ while they exchanged rings. Hanna sports a nameplate ring that reads “Adam” on her ring finger while the Beastie Boy wears one with “Kathleen” on it.

Reflecting on stepping away from falling into the same routine of going after partners who reflected the dysfunction from her childhood, she said: “I started being attracted to these like really funny, genuine, weird ass people who liked me. I was sexually attracted to them and that I think that’s a big shift in your life.

“If and when that happens, and if it hasn’t happened for people reading this article it can. That’s the miracle to me.”

Rebel Girl: My Life As A Feminist Punk is out now. Visit here to purchase a copy. Hanna is currently on a US tour for her memior. Check out a full list of dates here and visit here to purchase tickets.

Bikini Kill reunited in 2019 and completed their first UK and European tour in 18 years back in April this year.

The post Kathleen Hanna on her new memoir: “I came out the other side feeling like I can move on” appeared first on NME.


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