Of Witches and Monsters, the Filth and the Fury: Two Australian Women’s Post-Punk Autobiographies

Margaret Henderson

Abstract


The last few years have seen a sudden upsurge in punk and post-punk memoirs and autobiographies by musicians, in Australia and internationally, both women and men. The 1970s cultural movement of punk and its immediate aftermath has been a particular focus of academic study and of the broader processes of social memory as in film, popular histories, documentaries, and life writing. We are, then, in a time where the historical record of punk and post-punk is being made. Similar to the critical neglect of the broader category of musical autobiography (Stein and Butler 115), there has been little scholarly attention to punk and post-punk life writing, even though its popularity, sense of authenticity and historical detail, and accessibility makes it a powerful element of punk and post-punk social memory.

I discuss two recent autobiographies by post-punk Australian women musicians, Pleasure and Pain by Chrissy Amphlett, lead singer of 1980s band Divinyls, and The Naked Witch by Fiona Horne, lead singer of 1990s band, Def FX to explore questions of gender, music, literary genre, and cultural context. 

 

By performing a feminist textual analysis of these two autobiographies, I examine the nature of the intersections between the putative liberations for women afforded by punk and post-punk music, and autobiography as a textual performance of the self. In addition, a reading of these autobiographies enables me to address questions of national context. I argue that, in an echo of Julian Temple’s ferocious documentary of the Sex Pistols, The Filth and the Fury, the characteristically punk thematics of filth and fury enable these autobiographies to narrate the narrators’ rejection of, and consequent sense of monstrosity in relation to, conventional Australian femininity and the rock industry. Filth, in terms of abject and excessive elements, personae, and processes characterising the punk self, and fury, as this subject’s central type of affect, are means to articulate the making and unmaking of the female musician’s self as monstrous. Analogous to their stage work, Amphlett’s and Horne’s textual selves recruit and exploit a typically masculine set of codes to perform a novel subject of music: the female post-punk singer. Both Amphlett and Horne thereby write in a fraught space—an industry just starting to admit women in less conventional terms—to write a liminal self: one partly created by myths—some self-created, others externally imposed.


Keywords


punk, rock music, women's autobiography

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