&Now 2015: Blast Radius has ended

Jack Halberstam

Jack Halberstam is the author of four books including Female Masculinity (Duke UP, 1998) and most recently The Queer Art of Failure (Duke UP, 2011). Halberstam just finished a book for Beacon Press titled Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the End of Normal due out in Fall 2012. Halberstam blogs at bullybloggers.com



"Losing Control: Grace Jones vs. Joy Division"

Grace Jones is queer in every way and in her performative range she offers a vector between the drag femininities of disco and the perverse masculinities of punk. Jones is no androgyne, she is a gender all her own. When she loses control, Grace Jones lets the levies break and the infectious beat flows one way while the scream of refusal rises to meet it. She loses control and her crazy gender, something much more charismatic than androgyny, her masculine intensity and her feminine mania literally force a connection between disco and punk – we dance with her to the edge of sanity, crying now, laughing later. While listening to Grace Jones’ flirtations with sonic chaos are suggestive of the incipient chaos that punk promised and represented, socially and politically in the 1970’s, it also reminds us of a long tradition of “losing control” and because Grace Jones allowed herself to dig into a sonic anarchy she led punk off in a whole new direction, the direction of feminist rage, Black riot, female screams that cannot be organized into harmony, or poignancy or acquiescence.

This is the scream that echoes through Sinead O’Connor’s debut in “Troy,” it is the sound that spills out of Poly Styrene in “Oh Bondage Up Yours,” it is the yelping in Rhoda and The Bodysnatchers’ powerful ska song about rape “The Boiler” from 1980; it allows for Kelis to “hate you so much right now” and Beyoncé to “Ring the Alarm,” it is the missing link between riot and girl and between both and r n b, it is the sound of a punk diva coming undone in glorious stereo and in the aftermath of its musical mayhem, punk, and disco and diva-dom would never be the same again. This paper will dig into the archive of sonic mayhem from the 1970’s and think through the urban noise of Grace Jones, Rhoda Dakar, Poly Styrene and others in relation to contemporary black female performers who practice the art of losing control.