Songs We Love: Alice Bag, '77'
In 1980, Dolly Parton became Doralee Rhodes for the proto-feminist workplace comedy 9 to 5. "Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin' / Barely gettin' by, it's all takin' and no givin'," she sings in the film's eponymous theme song. "They just use your mind and they never give you credit / It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it."
Perhaps a 22-year-old Alice Bag sat in an East Los Angeles movie theater in 1980 and sneered at the silly white women onscreen. Or maybe she identified with Judy's, Violet's, and Doralee's desire to avenge themselves against their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss, Franklin Hart Jr. Alice Bag was, after all, the bloodthirsty Chicana punk legend who wrote "Violence Girl": "She's taken too much of the domesticated world / She's tearing it to pieces, she's a violence girl!"
In "77," the second single off Bag's upcoming album, Blueprint, Bag is the ghost of female office-comedies-past. Riot Grrrl royals Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile — who both inherited the feminist punk mantle that Alice Bag and the Bags created in the '70s and also appear on "Turn It Up" — provide guest vocals and appear in the video. They are the Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton to Bag's Lily Tomlin, each fake-typing in correspondingly colored wigs. They are angry that as of 2012, American women still only earned 77 cents to a man's dollar.
9 to 5 —the movie, song, musical, et al — has aged into its silliness. Like the actress who played her, Doralee is portrayed as beautiful, busty and unintelligent. Many of the film's jokes hinge on Judy, Doralee, and Violet occupying roles that their characters weren't meant to have. Yet in the moments when the trio aren't accidentally poisoning their boss, Doralee provides the film's best-aged and still-relevant emotional core. She confronts her harasser boss after he spreads a false rumor that he is having an affair with her.
"Look, I've been straight with you since the first day I got here," she tells him. "And I've put up with all of your pinchin' and starin' and chasin' me around the desk because I need this job. But this is the last straw!"
Like so many of the girl comedies of our mothers' generations, 9 to 5asks us to laugh, because what else was a woman to do?
Alice Bag is still laughing, but it's an angry laugh. If white women like Doralee earned 67 cents to every Franklin Hart Jr.'s dollar in 1980, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, Hanna's and Wolfe's characters have won only fifteen cents more — 82 cents in 2015 — in 35 years.
"I make 77 cents and it's not right / It's bad for women!" shouts Wolfe on the song. While this figure relies on 2012 census data that is no longer accurate, Bag's point still stands. The same Pew study indicates that Latina women like Bag statistically make 58 cents to a man's dollar now-- less than Doralee did back in 1980. As white women trudge closer toward pay equity, real equity will involve prioritizing their sisters of color.
"It's worse if you're not white," Bag shrieks in retort. Sneering at the traditional weak justification that men are providers, Bag invokes the Latina mothers who have always "needed this job" or had to work. "You're head of household? So am I / It's not just about me / I need to provide."
And yeah, Bag, Hanna, and Wolfe do string up their boss (played by Hunx and His Punx vocalist Seth Bogart) like their foremothers with a cord telephone — only this time, it's less Western steer and more S&M.
Blue-haired, this time as herself, Bag sets off a TNT explosion of money and defibrillates a man's bare chest with clothing irons. The women mosh around a GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS neon sign and chant "it's time, it's time" like bacchants.
Somewhere, Dolly Parton may be clutching her pearls, but I hope she's laughing, too. Bag's humor is a violent one. Feminist music's greatest stride over a century has been its re-purposing of female hysteria into meaningful anger, refining it into something precise and sharp, yet no less piercing.
"Yeah, don't pretend that we're paid equal," Bag sneers. "You wrote the script / But I'm writing the sequel."
Blueprint comes out March 23 onDon Giovanni Records.
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