Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Rocking out with their cocks out


'Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary' plays the Red Vic

S/M dyke punk band Tribe 8.
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"I'm glad I wasn't there last night, if somebody got a blowjob. I'm glad I didn't see that, because that's totally degrading." — A young attendee of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, in Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary.

"I think a lot of people come and they think, 'Oh, lesbian feminist band,' they think it's going to be preachy and political, then they're really shocked when we're goofy." — Leslie Mah, Tribe 8 guitarist.

"I got some mail from a nice boy who said, 'Oh, I'm totally in awe of you guys, and I think you're really great, but I know you'll never like me and you'll never be nice to me because I have a penis.'"

"You guys all have penises."

"We have many penises, and there's nothing wrong with them as long as they're detachable, and every penis is." — Lynn Breedlove, lead singer and co-founder of Tribe 8.

To fully enjoy Tracy Flannigan's witty, in-your-face, full-submersion history of an all-gal S/M dyke punk band, Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary, playing through Saturday at the Red Vic, it helps to love punk rock played as loud as possible, to love the lyrics whether or not you understand them, and to believe, as I do, that everybody is entitled to a penis of their very own, detachable at their pleasure or peril.

Flannigan pays homage to Penelope Spheeris' pioneering study of the LA-based punk scene of the early 1980s, The Decline of Western Civilization. Like a lot of great music docs, Rise Above is not so much about a love of punk as a very clever way to get a film audience to enjoy the experience of listening to how five women turned their lives around by playing music that one of them didn't particularly like, and three confess they didn't really know how to play.

Like abominable show people everywhere, they had a gimmick, and they played it like the pros they were becoming. The gimmick was the thrill, for some women in the audience, of seeing attractive dykes taking their shirts off and waving their "dicks" around on stage. Not all devotees of the venerable women's music community were thrilled by such displays. Flannigan documents the considerable consternation that ensued when Tribe 8 was invited to play at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. A determined feminist faction threatened a boycott of the concert, and there was much buzz around the tents as to whether Tribe 8's proud S/M philosophy constituted violence aga

inst women by women. Eventually, the dust settled on these inner-group rhubarbs. Tribe 8 has gone on, like their counterparts in San Francisco's frisky-boy punk band Pansy Division, to enjoy a lively, diverse fan base, including a few beautiful if comically sniveling male slaves who get off on sucking those plastic dicks on stage.

In end, what does it all mean? Unlike the male punkers of Spheeris' Decline, the women of Tribe 8 never expected this to be a full-time paying gig. From the get-go, it was a lifestyle statement, a vehicle for several band members to stay clean and sober, and a possible launching pad for other women's artistic and business projects. Lead singer Lynn Breedlove turned her hand to writing, publishing Godspeed, a novel about a female speed-freak bike messenger. Guitarist Silas Howard created the sublime transgender buddy flick By Hook or By Crook with film partner Harry "Harriet" Dodge, and other band members have made creative waves in the music, film and tattoo fields.

Rise Above contains a very revealing mother/daughter duo. Flannigan took advantage of Breedlove's invitation to chat with her mom to frame a film subplot that goes to the heart of what some of these bold, brave women are rebelling against and aspiring to be. Breedlove's mom, her now-proud daughter sitting next to her, admits that the early years of raising Lynn were hell. "She was a monster from day one. She was a tomboy, and I stuck her in little pink dresses that took me a long time to iron." Ordered to leave home at 18, young Breedlove took a stint in the Army to get her bearings. "Yeah, I loved it. Got to shoot a machine gun, hand grenades, M-16s." While mom looks a bit chagrined, a female army buddy boasts that Breedlove won soldier-of-the-month one time, "for having the shiniest boots in the unit."

As Rise Above demonstrates, those boots have done some walking. Fans of the film should also look for the DVD, which contains nifty extras: three extended concert segments, and printed lyrics to the Tribe 8 songbook.

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