The musician Kathleen Hanna is coming to
next week, a good
inspiration to get this written and up on the blog! Seattle
Warning, this post is a SPOILER for The Punk Singer. If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it now, then come back here and read.
Last summer, the movie The Punk Singer was chasing me down. In June, Beth, from my dance group, told me I should watch a movie she’d just seen, a documentary about the lead singer from Bikini Kill.
“You know, Kathleen Hanna?” Beth said. “She had Lyme disease and she had to stop singing.”
I smiled and nodded at Beth and thought to myself, ‘Nope, I’m never going to watch that movie.’
A couple weeks later, my friend Lynn told me I should watch The Punk Singer. Again, I thought, ‘Nuh-uh.’
A few days later my new roommate, Jessica, told me I should watch The Punk Singer.
Given the way it was chasing me down, this movie might as well have been green eggs and ham.
And I did not like it.
Why the Sam-I-Amitude?
It’s not that I’m against punk music. To the contrary, my feet have spent their share of time in Doc Marten’s, and I still have The Clash and The Ramones in my playlists, although I’d never heard of Bikini Kill (they were a few years after my punk days, it turns out).
No, it was the thought of a movie about someone with Lyme disease that turned me off.
I devote too much brain space to Lyme as it is. All day long I’ve got Lyme threaded through my thoughts and in my peripheral vision. The one time I am reliably not thinking about Lyme is when I’m reading or watching a movie. I didn’t want the damn disease invading that corner of my life too.
On the other hand, I maintain the policy that when the universe shoves something at me three times, I should give it some consideration.
Filled with doubt, I found The Punk Singer on Netflix and started streaming. ‘Just the first ten minutes,’ I told myself, ‘and if I don’t like it I’ll watch something else.’
I watched through to the end and never once thought about turning it off. Kathleen Hanna is a force to behold, one of those people you’re ready to worship for her sheer energy and creativity and the positive impact she had in the world.
I was out of the country in the late 90s, when the riot grrls were happening, so the movie filled me in on that later wave of punk music and feminism. The documentary also covers Kathleen Hanna’s second band, Le Tigre (post-punk electronica) whose music is fantastic. (I’ve been listening to Le Tigre non-stop since I saw The Punk Singer.)
And there was one more remarkable thing about this documentary. An hour into it, I was sobbing. Because, yes, this is also a movie about Lyme. I was experiencing text-book catharsis thanks to The Punk Singer. The tears washed through me with a momentum of their own, tapping into a sadness I’m usually quite good at ignoring. I felt release, and connection, and that I wasn’t alone in my daily battle with this alien thing in my body. I felt (and this to me makes no sense, but I felt it so I’m going to say it) that if someone as amazing as Kathleen Hanna had Lyme, then it wasn’t quite so bad that I had it too.
The moral of the story: I was wrong not to want to watch a movie about Lyme. Far from being a drag, it was a good thing.
In fact, The Punk Singer beats out all the other movies I’ve seen about Lyme.
I acknowledge that ‘Movies about Lyme Disease’ is not a big category. OK, this is a category contains two movies as far as I know, and The Punk Singer is one of them. So I might as well just say it: I prefer The Punk Singer to Under Our Skin.
Why? Because The Punk Singer is a movie about Lyme, but first it’s a movie about a remarkable person, someone intelligent, headstrong, talented, and putting that talent to good use. It’s about a woman determined to change the world, who was moving people with her music, inspiring younger women to stand up for themselves, and bringing a much-needed dialogue about sexism back into the national conversation.
Just when the world was saying feminism was a washed up remnant of the past, Kathleen Hanna brought feminism back by bringing punk rock to feminism—how cool is that.
Then Lyme crashes in and knocks her to the ground. Kathleen stops singing. She disappears from the music scene and no one knows why. She goes years without a diagnosis. (Is this sounding familiar, my fellow Lymies?)
Once she’s diagnosed, Kathleen bravely lets the documentary film makers record her struggle with her Lyme meds, including some not so flattering moments. The camera follows her as she later makes her way back into the greater world, still giving herself injections, managing to keep Lyme at bay so she can take the stage again; but the movie leaves us with indications that Lyme might always be a struggle for her, and that she’s now negotiating her way through life on radically different terms.
Do you want your friends and family to understand what Lyme is like? Tell them to watch The Punk Singer.