Third Coast Mixtape No. 10: An Ode to the Female Auteurs

mixtapeI made this playlist a week ago not anticipating that it would have any connection to the election, but irony has slapped me in the face. Enjoy the tangential theme. The songs are mainly concerned with dealing and coping. I hope it’s optimistic.

Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. Unless you are Bob Dylan, you probably heard about this the day it was announced. Most musicians seem supportive and congratulatory. A few writers have applauded the win, but there’s been a fair amount of criticism as well. Since when is music considered literature?

Personally, I was conflicted, but not by the compounding of art forms. Awarding a prize for literature to a songwriter is a poignant choice that reflects a trend of the last half of the 20th century– artful, politically conscious lyric as popular music. But why is Bob Dylan the emblem chosen for the reemergence of the bardic tradition?

If any musician deserves a literature award, it should be Joni Mitchell. Jessica Hopper deemed Joni Mitchell “pop music’s first female auteur.” Mixed media references are apt when describing Joni Mitchell, who thinks of herself as primarily a painter who also writes music. Her artistry is apparent. Listening to her lyrics can stretch your vocabulary. The diversity and consistent depth of the albums she produced is incredible. Her career inspired Prince, Bjork, Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde and countless other talented musicians. Joni Mitchell was reinventing herself before Madonna started menstruating. She wrote “Both Sides Now” when she was 24 years old. In an interview with Wally Breese, David Crosby said that Joni Mitchell outgrew him musically. I’m a Dylan fan, but I am fully aware that he often writes radio music (e.g. Wagon Wheel, Make You Feel My Love). He’s not a sell-out, but he’s not this completely pure troubadour figure that he seems to get credit for being; he is not Joni Mitchell.

Naming a musician the winner of a prize for literature is sufficiently bold. Would a female musician winning have been simply too radical for the world to take? Sometimes it seems like women have to be twice as good, twice as competent, twice as qualified to earn the respect a man in their position would receive. Most of the language surrounding arguments in support of Hillary Clinton focused on preventing Trump from winning. She’s a talented legislator and politician with an impressive resume, but her best quality leading up the election was not being Donald Trump.  

This playlist is an ode to the female auteurs, the women who will never win the Nobel Prize, nor be president, nor receive the recognition their male counterparts do. Of course the playlist starts with Joni Mitchell. She wrote “You Turn Me On, I’m a radio” when her record label asked her to write a hit song. I like to think of it as satirical, a symbolic “fuck you.”

Emma Terhaar
Emma Terhaar