Bikini Kill

bikini kill carnival


By Zero Feeney

During my second sophomore year in college I had a show on the school radio station. (I actually had three sophomore years. It’s a long story.) But during my second, I was on KLC, Lewis and Clark radio. We had the same radio frequency as Reed College. Their station could be received over most of the Portland metropolitan area. Ours could be received from inside some of the closer dorms on campus. Then just from inside the student union building. Then just from the closed speakers to the booth. Then one of the speakers broke.

However, nobody seemed to know this at the time or perhaps they didn’t care, or at least didn’t care to tell me. So I showed up on the day in question, nervous, excited, and ten minutes early like the passionate student DJ I was. I got my spiral notebook out of my bag and opened it to look over my song list but found it difficult to concentrate because the best punk song ever recorded was coming out of the speaker from the booth. (I am tempted to qualify this part and call it my favorite punk song, or one of the best punk songs, or an important punk song, but I owe it to you and to the song itself not to soft pedal it for once. It’s just the best.) That was the first time I heard it and it was rapture. I stared at the steel speaker in the wall, simultaneously frozen and on fire.

When it was over I just stood there, paralyzed for a long time. Then I turned and looked into the booth while the DJ played her last two songs. After this it would be time for me to go in and set up. I was excited but I was also scared. I had to ask her what the song was but I was intimidated. You see, the other DJ was really quote She, like, did stuff. She was Macrobiotic before anybody even knew what that was. But on the other hand I couldn’t not do it; I couldn’t not ask her. So when she was wrapped up and her signoff song was playing I asked her what that song third from last had been. Her face lit up like a bright light.

It’s called Carnival by Bikini Kill. Isn’t it incredible?”

Yeah, It’s unbelievable. Who are they? Where are they, like… from?”

They’re students! From this art school up in Washington. They just played downtown on Saturday at the X-ray Cafe!”

Oh… well too bad. I guess I missed it.”

No! They’ll be back at the end of their tour in a few weeks. You could totally see them.”

I know she told me more but I can’t remember any of it. In my memory her voice fades away.

This is the part of the story were I would love to tell you that I went to the show. That when the room was howling and they brought the girls to the front it gave me that magical feeling of seeing justice be done and maybe feeling like I was part of it. That it helped me become a more vocal feminist and not a semi-closeted one.

But none of that happened. I played the song on my show every week; I looked at the cover of the EP; I played the other songs. But I didn’t do anything else. I never went to a show. And then the band was gone. Forever.

zero quote 2I never saw Bikini Kill because in that moment, talking the cool DJ in the doorway of the booth, I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t believe her. I couldn’t believe that anything that good, that sharp, that pure could come from people that you could actually go and see. Who you could talk to. Who were just across town or down the hall. Things like that songincredible thingswere from far away. From big cities on the far side of a screen where someone like me would never be on the list. I felt that she must have wanted to deceive me somehow or had made some mistake. She must have gotten it wrong.

So I didn’t go and I have always regretted it. I hope that someday I will somehow rectify that mistake and stand up and cheer for the music I love so much.

Now you may think that this is a sad story but actually it’s not. Because that song taught me a lesson and taught that lesson deep. Since then, whenever I see a show or a play, listen to music being played in front of me or hear a demo tape that an accountant made over the weekend, I can hear it. I can really hear it. I can listen with everything I have. Because the best things, the perfect things can happen, are bound to happen just down the street or right here, right now, in front of someone, in front of you, in your real life.

Art is for, and comes from, and belongs to, everyone.

Especially when the transmitter is broken.

Like I said, it’s a really good song.

Bikini Kill


The Man Who Sold the World

By Lemon Peralta

Yes, I know it’s a Bowie song. But our dear departed Man Who Fell to Earth, Thin White Duke, Supermodel husband and Space Oddity is unfortunately not dancing on the tinfoil surface of my brain right now. There are some people who have so much inside them that they outgrow each persona like last year’s lace-up bodysuit. Bowie contained universes. Our dear departed Kurt, God bless him, never gave himself the chance to explore much beyond the feedback squeal of his acid-gargling grunge laments. The 90’s must have been hard for him, because damn, they were hard for me.

david bowie dress
Bowie in a dress

Think back to the 90’s. Has there been another recent decade more drenched in hairy upper-lip, sweaty armpit, semen-stained testosterone? Bruce Willis was big, Horn-dog Clinton was in office, and unshaven Grunge was on the radio.

But I have no problem with Kurt. It was his flannel-frocked fans who were the problem. It was his flannel-frocked fans who moshed in the mosh pit and who banged their heads and who locked me in my locker when they realized I was petite enough to fit in there.

My brother was one of these fans.

I won’t go into it, but I don’t talk to my brother anymore. But my brother is the focus of this memory, my brother who somehow got the hairy upper-lip, sweaty armpit, semen-stained genes in the family. My brother who was a member of the Field Hockey team. My brother who left pubes in the soap and skid marked chonies on the bedroom floor. My brother liked Nirvana. And one day I walked in on him strutting around our shared bedroom to this song, wearing our sister’s dress just like Kurt on the cover of The Face.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m trans.

Kurt Cobain Dress
Cobain in a dress

First thing for all you straight girls and boys who may not be familiar, I have to clarify that drag and trans are not the same thing. Girls in drag are always at their best. Because drag is about putting on a show. Drag is about the false eyelashes, the sequins, the MAC Cosmetics. Drag is tucking and pushing-up and hairspray and neon. Drag is about a night out.

Trans is the opposite. Trans is about living every day. Trans is about running out into the street in the piss-yellow light of six a.m. in flip-flops and three-day-old leg stubble when you realize you forgot to park the car out of the street sweeper zone because your desk shift at the clinic ran long when someone ransacked the supply closet and the manager thought it must be you. (Hint: it wasn’t me.) Trans is wearing dirty sweat pants to the emergency room when you cut your arm open on a jagged can of three-bean salad.

So whether I’m talking about my brother strutting around in our sister’s dress to the strains of Nirvana or Miss Thang in a hot-pink bouffant at Ray-Ray’s on a Friday night lip-syncing to the strains of Gloria Gaynor, I know they’re as different from what I am as a pancake from a prostitute. And there have been times when this has really pissed me off.

billy corgan dress
Billy Corgan in a dress

Don’t get me wrong. I like my caramel-colored skin and my size nine feet. But there have been times when I’ve boiled over watching straight boys putting on eyeliner to go to the Smashing Pumpkins concert, or bachelorette parties going to the drag club lining up outside the drag club. These things have pissed me off exactly as much as the white boy who used to drive down my street every evening in his Subaru Outback blasting Public Enemy. These kids get to play at being black or being trans, but without the downside. And the downsides are many.

When trans people (I prefer the term “Fantabulistix”) talk about gender, or when people of color (I prefer the term “Exquisitudinians”) talk about race, straight white people think that’s all we can think about. That’s because it’s always there on the surface, like that delicious froth which rises to the top of all those straight white people’s Americanos. And that can be a burden, even if you like Americanos.

But what I now know, at the wise old age of 26, is this: it’s culture as much as legislation that legitimizes the Fantabulistic Exquisitudinians. It’s the Bowies and the Kurts, God bless ’em.

When I was a kid I always wondered why there were no blue M&Ms. My mom said it was because the blue dye was cancerous. Well, it turns out the blue dye is not cancerous, it’s just that people think it’s unnatural. But you know what? These days kids eat the blue M&Ms without thinking twice about it.

I could never hate Bowie or Kurt as much as I hated my brother that day. But what I’ve learned, I guess, is that by enacting these fantasies, the straight white dudes who might otherwise shove me in a locker are getting to experience just a little bit of what I’ve experienced. And tasting a blue M&M can never be a bad thing.



Rodgers and Hart

My Funny Valentine

Excerpt from The Emerald Ballroom 


by Andrew Fort

The air was dense with smoke. A mask of moisture appeared on her face almost immediately. Anna clutched her bowling ball bag and pushed through the crowd. She considered finding a table and going through the articles in the bag, but the music was too numbing. Instead she wandered through the crowd. She lost track of time. She had a dozen or more listless, bored conversations with listless, bored people who swayed rhythmlessly to the music and whose eyes wandered around the room as if they’d rather be talking to anyone else. The band played one miasma of a song after another. Anna’s senses were dulled. Occasionally the colored lights shifted; red became blue or blue became dirty yellow. At some point in the evening, while talking to a man in a leather jacket who claimed to be an “Assassin of the Establishment,” she momentarily forgot where she was and what she was doing there. She slipped through the crowd into the bathroom and looked at her face in the mirror. It was a face she had long since studied into meaninglessness. She squeezed an emergent pimple.

The woman in the stall directly behind her began to cough violently and Anna caught sight of something red. There was a sound of water splashing. Eventually the woman emerged from the bathroom stall and stuffed something that looked like a length of surgical tubing into the garbage can. She had the face of a junkie. Anna watched her go. The bass from the band made the latch on the bathroom stall buzz like a dying beetle. She suddenly despaired for everything she had left behind. Numb and unsure of where else to go, she left the

She wove her way through the complicated screen of clubbers to the other end of the room. When she reached the door, she stood for a moment with her hand on the handle. The lights went from blue to yellow and the pianist pounded a sickening, unresolved chord and let it resound. It sounded premonitory. Anna saw her own shadow change color on the door. She turned on instinct to see the stage illuminated by a single spotlight, under which Ferrian was standing.

“O,” Anna said. She did an unintentional double-take, looking back at her colored shadow on the exit door and then at Ferrian as the piano introduction continued, pulsing and dissonant. Ferrian swayed along. She was dressed in a kinky ensemble of black fishnet stockings and a white poet’s shirt which stopped in a ruffle high on the thigh. Anna felt as if she had been tricked; she had come to the club looking for M. and meaning had stepped in sideways.

The piano introduction continued, jazzy and a little perverse, with a bass line that descended stubbornly until it had reached the bottom keys. There was an effect of deepening, of widening. When the bass ran out of places to go, it began descent on a new note. Ferrian’s face was transported. Her eyes were closed. There was a flush of fever on her cheeks. She began to sing, her voice surprisingly deep and resonant and drawn out of her slowly, so that every note verged on expiring before it became the next.

My funny valentine…
Sweet comic valentine…
You make me smile with my heart.

Her eyes were closed, her voice deep and regretful, and so deadly serious it could only have been ironic, or so ironic it could only have been deadly serious. The little parenthesis appeared at the side of her mouth. The bass line continued to descend, hinting at richness, at profundity.

Your looks are laughable
Yet you’re my favorite work
Of art…

red-and-blue-3Anna felt betrayed by coincidence. Were she following a different trail, Ferrian’s performance might have meant something. As it was, she couldn’t connect it to anything she was looking for. But there was still a sense in which the performance conjured some of the richness which had been missing from the club itself.

She moved back through the crowd towards the stage. At that moment Ferrian opened her eyes in a sideways glance to the pianist and caught sight of something which shook her. It might have been Anna. She gave a self-conscious wink, but something had shaken her. She cocked her head slightly as if trying to forget—she sang “weak” for “Greek.” The pianist continued but Ferrian had fallen behind and couldn’t or wouldn’t keep up. Anna stopped where she was. Suddenly it seemed an impossible weight, the complex construction of self and a world where self could function. Meaning kept creeping in the side door, revising itself.

There was something fake about the club. The yellow light became red. Anna watched as Ferrian attempted to laugh her mistake off but the laughter shattered the spell of the music and it was impossible to find the thread of melody amidst the pianist’s cacophonous playing. Ferrian glanced behind her, panicked. She clutched the microphone stand. Anna could feel her face growing hot. People pushed up against her. Everything in the club felt fake and it seemed impossible that Ferrian would be able to recapture the richness of before. Her face convulsed, tightened. It looked drawn, like the face of the junkie in the bathroom. The bass began to descend again. Miraculously, Ferrian found her footing, almost stumbling on the correct phrase. The solemnity was even deeper for having survived that near-death. Anna watched, drawn in as Ferrian regained confidence and began to eerily sway, to cock her wrists and, Kewpie-like, swing in tiny arcs first the left then the right, even as the music reached a fearful clamorous pitch, the pianist pounding with both hands.

red-and-blue-4Halfway through the next phrase Ferrian looked behind her and an expression of paranoia, panic, came to her face. The song became unbearably tense. Anna saw a desperation in Ferrian’s face that mirrored her own. How could she construct a self when coincidence kept creeping in, skewing things? She felt herself going hot and shaky. She felt as if everyone were watching her. She self-consciously scanned the room. Ferrian sang the final phrase, her eyes wide in terror, as the pianist brought the song to a shockingly tonal close. Her expression faded from terror to acceptance. The pianist played a few final strains and the blood which had seemed to make Ferrian’s complexion so ruddy suddenly drained, leaking in a blackish trickle out one side of her mouth. It was an over-the-top touch, but utterly convincing and in keeping with the inherent camp value of the song.

There was a smattering of applause. Anna didn’t want to look at the Inferno; she knew that Ferrian’s performance had communicated the essence of the place more eloquently than the colored lights or the velvet curtain. It had communicated a complete world, a world somehow richer than her own. Perhaps it was only a world of the junkie on taking her first hit. She bumped into a listlessly swaying man in her haste to get out. Already the world was fading. She tried to hold a picture in her mind of Ferrian singing. She zigzagged through the meandering black shapes of the clubbers, trying to hold on to at least a scrap of melody. By the time she made it to the door and out into the cold, salt air, the only thing she heard with any certainty was the persistent clanking of the buoys.

Rodgers and Hart

Skinny Puppy

Tear or Beat

A Remembrance in Six Scenes

by Lara Shelton


Lots of PVC and latex, shaved heads and mohawks. LARA is not exactly out of place in her strategically ripped KMFDM t-shirt and black eyeliner, but there is something studied about her abandon. MIREILLE is more at home with her studded dog collar and mesh shirt and writhes to every angular synthesized beat as if Skinny Puppy had orchestrated an epileptic seizure just for her. The song is so loud that it nearly overwhelms all other sensation, but camera cuts to a CLOSE UP as LARA pauses for a moment to watch MIREILLE with an expression which is half-envious, half-admiring.


The room is an eleven-year-old’s dream. Unfortunately, LARA is seventeen. The late summer sun penetrates lace curtains, rippling shadows across pastel walls. LARA lies in bed, fully awake, staring at the ceiling. She is still wearing the KMFDM t-shirt and her black eyeliner has smeared into raccoon-like shadows.

LARA’S MOTHER, unseen, knocks on the door. We hear only her voice.

LARA’S MOTHER (insitent): I came back for lunch. I left it in the fridge.

LARA doesn’t answer. We can hear LARA’S MOTHER walking down the hall to the kitchen, opening the refrigerator, walking back to LARA’S door, tapping again.

LARA’S MOTHER: Do you have work today?

LARA doesn’t look away from the ceiling.

LARA: I set my alarm for two o’clock.

LARA’S MOTHER: I put your uniform in the dryer. I needed to wash some towels.

There is a silence during which LARA covers her head with the pillow. For a moment we think her mother has left, until she knocks again.

LARA’S MOTHER: I left my tuna salad in the fridge. I’ll be back around five-thirty. (She pauses, considering her words.) But you won’t be here. (She taps on the door again.) There’s a message on the phone. From Mireille?

LARA: What did she say?

LARA’S MOTHER (tentatively): Is she okay?

LARA: How would I know?

LARA’S MOTHER: She said her dog died.

LARA: She doesn’t have a dog.

LARA’S MOTHER pauses, taps on the door again.

LARA’S MOTHER: Call me if you’re going out.

When LARA’S MOTHER leaves, LARA gets out of bed, wrapping the comforter around her shoulders. She goes into the kitchen. Everything is at least ten years out of date: Harvest Gold refrigerator, Formica counter top, dust-covered copper gelatin molds hanging on the walls. She presses the “PLAY” button on the answering machine. While she listens, we can see the kitchen in a series of CLOSE UPS.

MIRELLE (Voice-Over): Hey. My dog died.

MIREILLE laughs, or cries. It’s hard to tell.

MIREILLE (Voice-Over): Come over tonight. I need to dance. Or something. I need to shake of my skin. This dog’s skin. (Laughter again, or crying.) I’m such a bitch.


It’s eight years later. LARA is now twenty-five. Her boyfriend, RICK, is puttering around in the kitchen. Rick is a typical nice-guy whose niceness turns out to be a mask for an unsavory soup of neuroses, insecurities, and offhand cruelties. But LARA doesn’t know this yet. At the moment, they are a Rom-Com version of a happy couple and their apartment could have come out of a Pottery Barn catalog.

RICK puts his arm around Lara’s waist and nuzzles her hair.

RICK: What time is she getting here?

LARA: Eight-thirty, she said. She’s always been late.

RICK: I want to meet her. She sounds wild.

LARA: She is. She was. I haven’t seen her for years.

LARA is clearly nervous. She extracts herself from Rick’s embrace.

LARA: There’s some hummus. I think she’s Vegan.

RICK takes her meaning and goes to the refrigerator. He grabs a container of hummus and puts it on the kitchen table.

LARA (calling): Also the vegetables. I cut them up.

RICK (from the kitchen): Relax. Either she comes or she doesn’t.

LARA: I think you should be upstairs.

RICK (appearing with the vegetables): Can’t I meet her?

LARA: Okay. But you have work to do upstairs.

There’s a knock on the door. RICK rushes to the door to answer it and LARA watches him, as if for the first time she has noticed something in him to disapprove of. MIREILLE still has a shaved head, but it’s now covered with a scarf, and her eyes have a hunted look which was always present, but disguised by youth. Despite the multiple piercings she resembles a chemo patient more than a punk. RICK welcomes her, his nice-guy enthusiasm falling flat when he leans in for a hug. LARA watches with satisfaction as his body visibly deflates.

RICK glances at LARA, helpless, and LARA rushes to the door to rescue him, but her own hug gets no better reaction. MIRIELLE accepts it as if it were a heavy yoke and she were a beleaguered ox.

MIREILLE: I’m not a hugger.

LARA: It’s okay.

MIREILLE: I’m more of a cocksucker.

RICK erupts in shocked laughter, but LARA shoots him a look. It’s clear that MIREILLE was being derogatory, rather than funny.

LARA: What are you doing in California?

MIREILLE blinks her large, liquid eyes.

MIREILLE: Sucking cock, I told you.

LARA pauses, uncertain if it’s a joke.

LARA: You mean…?

MIREILLE: My brother died.

LARA: How?

MIREILLE: On a diving board.

LARA pauses, glancing at RICK. RICK looks her way, a wry smile on his face.

RICK: Nice to meet you, Mireille. I have work to do upstairs.

LARA watches him go. MIREILLE is meanwhile taking in the apartment, and LARA can feel her judgment descending on her Pottery Barn lifestyle. She moves into the dining area.

LARA: Sit down.

MIREILLE follows, but stands at the table, her hands resting on the back of the chair. She is like a hunted animal, unable to calm down.

MIREILLE: In the hills. It was a porn shoot. He fell back. It snapped his neck in half.

LARA: My God.

LARA pauses, takes a carrot from the tray and dips it in the hummus. The CRUNCH of the carrot seems deafening.

LARA: So you’re here for the funeral?

MIREILLE blinks her large, liquid eyes, as if she were a camera taking photographic evidence of a crime scene. LARA pauses, the baby carrot still raised halfway to her mouth, caught in the act of seeming content.

MIREILLE: It was good to see you.

MIREILLE wraps the scarf around her head, and before LARA can stop her, she has left.

RICK comes out from the stairwell, where he has been listening.

RICK: Jesus.


A large house in what was once the nicest part of Duluth. Numerous people in their 30s are gathered around an illuminated swimming pool, lifting red plastic cups to their mouths. It’s a party, but a somber one. A lone plastic ring drifts forlornly across the surface of the water. LARA opens the sliding glass door, dressed in her KMFDM t-shirt but carrying a knock-off Gucci bag. DANE, a young man with an unmistakable resemblance to MIREILLE, hops up to hug her, give her a beer.

DANE: Look at you! How is California. She said you had a Silicon Valley boyfriend.

LARA shrugs. That relationship has ended badly.

LARA: She told me you were dead. That you broke your neck on a diving board.

DANE: She always says that.

DANE takes her by the hand and they sit on the edge of the pool, dangling their feet in the water.

DANE: Did she tell you she was a hooker too?

PARTY GUEST #1 raises her beer.

PARTY GUEST #1: She told me that.

PARTY GUEST #2: She told me she was a dominatrix.

PARTY GUEST # 2 pours a little of her drink into the pool.

PARTY GUEST #3: She told me she was a Satanist.

PARTY GUEST #3 pours his drink into the pool. The rest of the party joins in. LARA looks from DANE to her bottle. She has been compulsively peeling the label.

PARTY GUEST #2: You never told us exactly how…

DANE laughs, but it is an uncomfortable laugh, as if he is on the verge of hysteria.

DANE: It was the only way. We always knew it.

PARTY GUEST #1: But I mean it was heroin, right?

DANE shakes his head. He chucks his empty beer bottle at the poured concrete fence, where it shatters, then gets up and leaves, slamming the sliding glass door shut so hard that LARA winces.

PARTY GUEST #3: You always were an idiot, Steve.


LARA’s childhood home. She puts her Gucci knock-off purse down on the counter.

MIREILLE (Voice-Over): Hey. My dog died.

MIREILLE laughs, or cries. It’s hard to tell. The camera cuts to CLOSE UPS of the Harvest Gold refrigerator, the Formica counters.

MIREILLE (Voice-Over): Come over tonight. I need to dance. Or something. I need to shake of my skin. This dog’s skin. (Laughter again, or crying.) I’m such a bitch.

LARA takes her phone from her purse, carefully unlooping the earbuds as she walks down the hall.


The same bedroom from when she was nineteen, which is the same bedroom from when she was fifteen, and the same bedroom from when she was twelve. LARA puts her earbuds on with the same solemn sense of ritual that an executioner uses when preparing the needles for a lethal injection. She presses play. The sound of Skinny Puppy fills the soundtrack, and LARA begins to dance.


Skinny Puppy