Late in 2010, after six years of a mysterious and debilitating illness that often left her too weak to move or speak, she was finally diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease. She underwent two years of intensive therapy.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/02/arts/ ... .html?_r=0
The singer Kathleen Hanna, who fought illness for six years, has a new project.
By MELENA RYZIK
Published: September 1, 2013
Donating her file cabinet, full of old journals, letters and zines to New York University’s Fales Library archive was a bittersweet move for Kathleen Hanna. A singer and founder of the riot grrrl band Bikini Kill and the feminist electro-pop act Le Tigre, Ms. Hanna had been a den mother to contemporary-girl culture for a generation, but she was still only a midcareer artist, too young to grapple with archiving her work. The donation helped legitimize the riot grrrl movement.
But Ms. Hanna, 44, had more personal reasons for securing her legacy: She wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be around.
Timing has played a big part in Ms. Hanna’s creative life since she emerged from the DIY scene in Olympia, Wash., in the early 1990s. The brief but influential riot grrrl movement seemed to arrive at just the right moment, during debates about workplace harassment and young women’s sexuality, fresh issues that still resonate today. But over the last few years, even with a ‘90s revival in full swing and her view in high demand, Ms. Hanna had all but disappeared from public life.
The reason for her absence, as she is just beginning to reveal, was illness, depression and artistic flux. “I’m still not sure, day to day, if I’m going to wake up and be really sick,” she said.
Late in 2010, after six years of a mysterious and debilitating illness that often left her too weak to move or speak, she was finally diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease. She underwent two years of intensive therapy. Now on the mend, Ms. Hanna is returning in a big way.
She resurrected a 1997 solo project, Julie Ruin, as a band, the Julie Ruin; its debut album, “Run Fast,” is to be released Tuesday on TJR Records, a label formed by Ms. Hanna and her band mates. For the first time, the group is touring nationally, beginning with a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday. And a documentary about her, “The Punk Singer,” which has been making the festival rounds since it had its premiere to warm reviews at South by Southwest this spring, is due to be in theaters in November.
Seeing these projects come to fruition at once is stressful but empowering, Ms. Hanna said. “I am like somebody who maxed out their credit cards because they thought they were going to die,” she said, “and I lived.”
Walking through Chelsea recently, she fretted about a girly bit of overshare. Whether some overwrought teenage poetry was on view, in her bubble-letter handwriting, at the Fales’s Riot Girl Collection, where Ms. Hanna donated her work in 2010. That material and others were anthologized in “The Riot Grrrl Collection,” an anthology published this summer. Ms. Hanna further tells her story — including sexual abuse and naming Nirvana’s hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — in the documentary, directed by Sini Anderson. Footage of her bopping onstage in her trademark high ponytail masked her illness; she announced a retirement of sorts from Le Tigre in 2005.
The Julie Ruin was reborn during her illness, as a way for Ms. Hanna to connect to her artistic identity. “I was like: ‘Is this who I am now, this sick person? This isn’t me,’ “ she said in an interview in a cafe not far from her Flatiron apartment, one of two homes she shares with her husband Adam Horovitz, a k a Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys. He encouraged her to sing as much as she could. “When I would practice and I would feel O.K., I saw me again,” she said.
She conceived the group as what she called her “dream band,” with players from different walks of her life: on bass, her Bikini Kill band mate Kathi Wilcox; on guitar, Sara Landeau, an instructor at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, where Ms. Hanna occasionally teaches; on drums, her friend Carmine Covelli; and Kenny Mellman, Herb of the cabaret act Kiki & Herb, as a keyboardist and songwriter. They rehearsed casually around town and at Ms. Hanna’s New Jersey home — “I can’t call it jamming, because I hate that; I don’t jam,” she said — without considering where it would lead.
According to Ms. Wilcox, “When she approached me to join the band, she was sort of like, ‘We may never tour, we may never make a record, but we’re just doing this now for fun, because I need to.’ “
But Ms. Hanna arrived with some songs intact — including one, “Just My Kind,” written for Christina Aguilera — and though she didn’t have an overarching sound in mind, she knew what she liked. “I know I love sexy surf guitars, I know I love loud snare,” she said. “I love really simple repeating bass lines, and I love weird mad scientist keyboard sounds.”
Mr. Mellman, a musical savant and a voracious consumer of new bands, gave himself the task of keeping the Julie Ruin up-to-date. “The last thing I wanted was for it to start sounding like a ‘90s revival,” he said.
The album, which the group created for about $50,000, is energetically punky, with new-wave synths and beats. (James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem mixed “Just My Kind”; Ms. Hanna did the same for the single, “Oh Come On.”) Lyrically, the songs take a dark turn. The title track is about tumultuous girlhood. “Party City” is defiant about death. There are several peppy numbers about euthanasia.
“It sounds really cute,” Mr. Mellman said. “Then it’s like the kitten with the claws.”
Ms. Hanna said she has always loved juxtaposing the sweet and sad with silly. And writing without a specific political agenda was a release: Bikini Kill and Le Tigre covered that ground, she said, and a new generation of artists and writers, including Pussy Riot, are taking up the cause. Ms. Hanna has found acolytes in the likes of Tavi Gevinson, publisher of the youth magazine Rookie.
More leaps may be in her future. She is designing for an as-yet-unnamed fashion label with Ms. Wilcox. With her husband, she has created a TV comedy starring the downtown performers Bridget Everett, Neal Medlyn and Murray Hill; they are shopping the script. She thinks about writing country songs and doing a one-woman show at 60.
Being forced to take artistic stock because of her illness wasn’t easy. “I have to live with historicizing myself maybe a little bit too soon,” she said. “I mean, I’m 44, I’m not 80.”
Then again, she said, “it’s really freeing. I’m not some young 20-year-old ingénue who’s reinventing the wheel. In a way, the pressure is off. I’m just happy to be here.” Her contribution has been documented. “So now I can do whatever I want, and trust that I’m a good artist.”