By Celina Hex
Bust magazine, Issue No. 5, Winter/Spring 1995
Lying on her back across a set of speakers, curls of smoke rising from the cigarette that rests in her hand, Thalia Zedek possesses a kind of rock and roll grace that most male rockers would give half their record collections for. The rest of her band, Come, is setting up for their sound check, and Thalia seems to be enjoying a moment of blissful silence before they take to the stage to create the beautiful noise that they came here for.
It’s a cold, rainy night in New York City, and Tramps is quiet and empty. The place is decorated for Xmas, with silver stars and snowflakes hanging on thin threads from the ceiling, the red lights above the stage blazing the only warmth into the room. Thalia joins the rest of her band, and as the sound of her guitar blasts into the echo-y space, the fragile sparkly stars begin to sway like crazy.
Thalia and I are the only women in Tramps. Cute (and not-so-cute) guys in leather jackets and baseball caps keep milling around, trying to look like they are doing important things. But I’m riveted to my seat by the music, by its ferocious honesty, strength, and noisy beauty. Thalia is singing about anger and about sorrow, but never about being a victim. And me, in my silvery dress, I allow the intensity of her songs to blow me away, just like those stars.
A child of immigrant parents (her mother’s from Germany, her dad’s from Lithuania), Thalia was raised in Washington D.C. “I was like a total tomboy, and kind of like a bookworm, too. I used to like to read Nancy Drew. I liked to play detective a lot, and my friends and I used to go around spying on everyone.” When she was ten her family moved to suburban Silver Springs Maryland (“the kind of suburbs where every house looks the same but sometimes they reverse the pattern”) where Thalia lived out her teen years. “I started smoking pot when I was like in the eighth grade. It’s weird, I always really wanted to smoke pot — ever since I was really little, I don’t know why. The first time I tried it we were in the woods smoking really bad pot, and I wasn’t getting high at all. My friend who had smoked pot before was getting really wasted. Then the second time I did get high and I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ “
Thalia learned the guitar, moved to Boston, and began forming bands. “My first two bands were all-women bands, White Women and Dangerous Birds, and we’d get lots of cat calls and shit. Like we’d go to a club and it would say underneath our name, ‘all girls,’ like that was the attraction. It was never just ‘band.’ “
But in her first band to achieve national recognition, the New York City-based, punk rock noise-band Live Skull, being a woman was never really a problem. “The music I was playing was a lot weirder than me being a woman playing it. Back then, punk rock was just like, people couldn’t stand it. You were considered a freak for not playing covers.” Thalia also cites the existence of other women in punk-rock bands, like X-Ray Specs, as having made it easier for her as a female rocker.
Still, as the lead singer in both Live Skull and Come, Thalia’s on-stage buffalo stance seems to arouse chubbies in the (mostly) male journalists who come to see her play, and who later can’t avoid writing about her “electrical presence,” using words like, “…she presses her lips softly to the mike…” (Spin), and “strung-out and savagely erotic” (Melody Maker). In fact, a co-worker of mine and ex-Bostonian told me that he and all of his male friends used to have intense crushes on her. How does Thalia feel about having this kind of effect on men? “I don’t think I do really, anymore. I might have at one time; I don’t really know why. I mean, they’d always be like, ‘You’re different.‘ Yeah — I was gay, that’s why I was different!”
On the new album, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (“I heard the phrase and it just seemed to say a lot about the way people deal with each other”) Thalia sings about disappointment, distance, and anger, in a perfectly-crafted album that has taken up residence on my personal heavy-rotation list, second only to Hole’s Live Through This (and for me, that’s about the highest compliment I can give anything). Her voice calls to mind other strong emotional female vocalists such as Patti Smith and Marianne Faithful (and yes, Courtney Love), and in the beautiful, noisy, jangly guitar sounds you might be reminded of Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and The Bad Seeds.
“I guess Patti Smith was a big influence,” says Thalia. “I was really, really into Patti Smith for a long time. I’m not so much any more. She did this really weird interview, I don’t remember where I saw it, and she was like, ‘I don’t wanna see some chick up there, playing bass, with her breasts flopping around,’ and, ‘I don’t know why all these lesbians are so into me. I’ve never been gay. I’m totally into men.’ It just seemed kind of misogynist.”
I’ve been talking with Thalia for over an hour now, and she’s been very obliging and open with me, but nothing seems to get her excited until we begin talking about the recent spate of openly gay punk rock bands, sometimes labeled “homocore.” Then her eyes totally light up. “I love Team Dresch, and I’ve seen Tribe 8 like three times. I think the homocore thing is really great, because when I used to go into [gay] clubs there’d always be this big faction of us who’d just sit there and bitch about how the music so totally sucked, it was all this fucking disco and really conservative. There were always gay punks in Boston and we would always hang out together, but then it really started coming together and fanzines started reaching out to everyone and it really hit a note for a lot of people, who, even though they were gay, felt really culturally alienated from the gay community.”
As for feminism, Thalia says, “I consider myself a feminist and stuff but I’m definitely not like one of those people — I mean, I like the Rolling Stones and I don’t care if Mick Jagger is or is not a misogynist. But I do hate Camille Paglia. I think she’s a total fucking idiot and if she hates feminists then I’m a feminist. I think she’s a total fucking asshole.” After a bit more ranting Thalia concludes, “I’d like to kick her ass. I’d just like to beat the fucking shit out of her.”
I’d watch out if I were you, Camille.