Before she formed the riot grrrl act Bikini Girl in 1990, singer Kathleen Hanna was just another private school student trying to find herself. Contrary to popular opinion, the teachers at trendy Evergreen College in Olympia, Wa. didn't take kindly to her literary experiments.
"I was in this class called Advanced Essay Writing," she says. "We were supposed to write these essays about whatever topic they would give to us. Every time, I would drink a beer and write a bunch of crazy stuff from a thousand different perspectives. I wasn't willing to be the sole narrator; I wanted to change identities around the person or look it from all different angles. It was difficult for me to do that in the structure of an essay. I wrote a bunch of shit that was kinda good and kinda crazy. I would turn in the most anesthetized version of that."
But then she met underground writer Kathy Acker and realized she didn't need to hold back. Acker helped her channel her more extreme impulses, and it wasn't long before Hanna was fronting the abrasive and openly feminist Bikini Kill. Hanna's history is well documented in the new film The Punk Singer. The movie shows at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at the Apollo Theatre in Oberlin and at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17 and Wednesday, Dec. 18 at the Capitol Theatre.
For Hanna, the film represents a kind of closure on a more volatile part of her life. While she still sings with the indie rock the Julie Ruin and is in the process of pitching a sit-com to a "network that shall remain nameless," she no longer engages in the same kind of extreme behavior (though seeing the vintage footage of Bikini Kill performing is a real pleasure).
"This movie became a part of wrapping stuff up," she says. "I felt like I could do anything I wanted because everything was archived. It doesn't belong to me anymore; it belongs to everyone else. Everything that comes on top of all this is just gravy. Hopefully, it's super-delicious gravy that everybody in the universe wants and it's on the top of good mashed potatoes."