Monday, January 6, 2014

Meet Genya Ravan—Finally (2/26/13)

I was in my 26th year teaching in an all-girls environment. I didn’t seek my first job at a single-sex private school because I believed strongly in such an education. I took it because it was one of scant opportunities in an economically challenged city into which I had married. As you could imagine, however, the advantages of such an education were internalized over the quarter century of my first-hand experience.

This is important to understand before telling you about how I came to meet Genyusha Zelkovicz, a woman who not enough who should appreciate women in music have heard of, even when going by her professional names—Goldie or Genya Ravan.

I was attending a national conference in Philadelphia on an unseasonably mild but rainy February weekend. Consistent with my usual MO, I decided to arrive a day early and take in whatever interesting local event might be available. I came upon the World Café schedule. As luck would have it, there was a show that evening on the edge of the Penn campus venue. Although I had never heard of the featured artist, I had already decided to go.

Goldie (top) and the Gingerbreads
As I began to research Genya Ravan, it became clear that this would be a great person to see and talk with. She was, after all, the leader of the first true all-girl rock group (in that they all played their own instruments) to sign on a big label—a fact lost on most. Goldie and the Gingerbreads scored a semi-hit with “Can’t You Feel My Heartbeat?” in 1963 (you may better remember the Herman’s Hermits version). She went on to join a very good fusion rock band called Ten Wheel Drive in the 70’s and later had a string of solo efforts, while being a regular a CBGB’s and producing Dead Boys and Ronnie Spector. After a supposed battle with substance abuse (take a number), she was making the next level of her comeback. Genya was tapped to host a Sirius Radio show by Steven Van Zandt, and she had released a book and companion CD which are brilliantly combined as an eBook available on iTunes, called “Cheesecake Girl.” Both text and music create the autobiographic account of her immigration from Russia as a young girl, through work as a “cheesecake” model, her music career and the rollercoaster ride it all has been.

Genya and the band
Her music is pure rock’n’roll. It’s old school, and it’s genuine. So is she. The show was amazing. I had a great seat at the end of the bar, just feet away from the stage. The band was tight, while the banter was loose and warm. A sense of the band in its current incarnation can be experienced here. For whatever reason, I never wrapped my head around the fact that she no longer outwardly resembled the woman of the 60’s through 80’s era. But at 68, she still possessed an aura that drew one to her. Maybe 70 is the new 40?

Genya and the author
After meeting her and learning about her experiences in her book, I considered the story from its varied aspects. Is she an historical role model for today’s girls? Is her career one of being a Madonna/Miley opportunistic entertainment whore who we should protect our young girls from idolizing? I vote for the former, although I don’t see her being incorporated into anyone’s modern history curriculum. It’s a shame that she probably won’t get her due. Watch for the movie “CBGB” (in which Stana Katic from TV’s “Castle” plays Genya), and cross your fingers that the film stirs up interest in this underappreciated originator.

Postscript: Another female pioneer worth knowing is Gloria Jones. This 60’s R&B artist had a minor hit with her original version of “Tainted Love.” She later sang with, and married, Marc Bolin, of T-Rex fame.

Next Week: "Moving in Stereo(scope)"

No comments:

Post a Comment