I got no strings on me

22 Mar

Picture this: a fat five-year-old with a frizzy mane of curly hair, strapped into the backseat of a dinky Toyota, shouting “I’m sayin’ I’m not ready for any person, place, or thing to try and pull the reigns in on meeeeeeeeeeee! Sooooooooo! Goodbyeeeee….”.

It must have been hilarious for my mother, who, to appease my young musical taste, was relegated to only  listening to Pittsburgh’s Oldies music station. (She also taught me to love and sing along to nearly every Billy Joel and Elton John song- shout out to Uptown Girl, my other fave at the time!)

I didn’t really know what decade I was in; my favorite musicians included Lesley Gore, the Four Seasons, Aretha, the Shirelles (damn, I should have just made a playlist, eh?), and many more regulars on 94.5, but by far, Different Drum stands out as an all-time favorite song of mine and one that speaks to my development as a feminist and the evolution of feminism in America.

The 60’s of course were a turbulent time, in which society was learning to fully realize its laws.  On paper, men and women, black and white were equal and free, recognized citizens of the USA.  But old habits die hard. Soon those pesky social norms that kept inequality alive and well became the target of second wave feminism and the civil rights movement, both of which have come to characterize the time period.

Different Drum, first performed by Linda Ronstadt in 1967, can be understood as a pop culture representation of the sexual revolution, the movement coinciding with second wave feminism, which began the slow process of allowing women the freedom to enact their ‘equality.’ Different Drum’s lyrics portray a fiercely independent woman who refuses to compromise her dreams for the sake of a man, a woman who refuses to abide by the tired old relationship standards that would confine her.

In my opinion, one of the best things about this song (besides that fucking ill harpsichord solo!) is that it was originally written and performed by men, yet only became a hit once being picked up by the Stone Poneys.  I think this small fact has a lot of relevance – if you think about Different Drum coming from a man’s perspective the lyrics are representative of traditional gender norms and assumptions — they portray a man who must free himself from a clingy, self-conscious, weepy woman who wants to condemn him to marital doom.  That this song climbed to the top of the charts when sung by Linda is a testament to  growing acceptance of female empowerment in this country and a growing willingness to redefine gendered boundaries.

Ok, now I’d like to return to the aforementioned dirty Toyota. What meaning did this song have for a little girl in the early 1990s?  When I listened to Different Drum, I heard the echoing voices of the women’s movement telling me, “You can be anything you want — don’t let anyone or anything stop you!”  This message briefly resulted in a fantasy of becoming the first female Steeler (black and yellow! black and yellow!), but mostly, it encouraged me to dream of how awesome I would be when I grew up and inspired me to achieve such awesomeness all on my own.

So, happy Women’s History Month and thanks to Linda and the many other ladies whose influences lead me to a life fueled by pure girl power.

This post is brought to you by Alexa, who hopes her five-year-old self would be proud of her first blog post!

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