Zoe Street Howe's book on the Slits - "Typical Girls?" - was a real highlight of last year. Since then we've met up & worked together on an "Exotic Pylon" show at resonancefm. Now she's got another excellent book out, "How's Your Dad? Living in the Shadow of a Rock Star Parent" & has taken time out from her hectic schedule & social whirl to talk to Mudkiss about the new book and much more.
DEN: It doesn't seem that long since "Typical Girls?"- how long did this one take to write?
ZOE: I started it just after I handed in "Typical Girls?" last January (09). I suggested it as a concept and it appeared to be all systems go, so I started thinking about it in earnest between going over edited chapters of "Typical Girls?" during breaks in the studio while we worked on Viv Albertine's EP 'Flesh', down at the Levellers' studio in Brighton during the early months of 2009. So from conception to hand-in, it took about a year.
DEN: How different was doing this to "Typical Girls?"
ZOE: Very different, although I still felt the same intense sense of responsibility and protectiveness toward the interviewees. With this book there were many more people involved but they weren't quite so closely involved, with the exception of Dylan, my husband, who the book (and title) is inspired by. He helped me to edit it as I went, it was really very important to me that he was there to over-see the tone and the way it was going, as someone who is totally inside that situation. It was also even more research based, particularly because there are so many very different examples, and so many issues tied up within the subject. For those people I couldn't get hold of, I researched voraciously.
But with the Slits book and this, the motivation in both cases is a sense of wanting to bring balance and some justice to how we view certain people. And hopefully raising a smile too...
DEN: Anyone you'd have liked to talk to but couldn't?
ZOE: Plenty of people! Some of them had a huge PR wall around them that was seemingly impermeable (which I could understand) - the more obvious examples such as the Geldofs, Osbournes, Cobain etc, not for want of trying but their 'people' were at least very polite (with about one exception, so not bad going). Some people just didn't get back to me at all either way, which is something I never really understand, I don't care how famous you are! (Rolan Bolan didn't respond to any emails, but maybe they just didn't get through, who knows). Some people politely chose not to be involved, because while they understood where I was coming from, they felt even giving their take would be further anchoring them to their parent, which was totally fair enough. A member of the Zappa fold also was up for it, but then disappeared on tour and I couldn't hold the book up any longer!
The amount of chasing and following up and checking was phenomenal. Sometimes if I was being messed around or having my time wasted (fortunately that didn't happen much) I just felt like saying, 'If you timed what you're doing by about 100, that's how much I'm dealing with every day and night!' I think it doesn't occur to some people that they're not the only one. But it was an exercise in discipline... and patience.
One person, whose absence is no loss to the book, had his manager put me through my paces, asking if he'd be paid (the book is kind of free publicity, I gently explained) and I gave more examples of questions, synopses, lists of other possible interviewees over a period of weeks than I did when I was pitching the idea to the publisher, only to be graciously turned down. Haha! I just thought it was funny. The guy is not in any way famous or anything, but it's often the ones who aren't that feel they have to throw their weight around in an attempt to make themselves seem more important, maybe. Which is a shame.
I think most people involved were happy to have the opportunity to put their side forward.
DEN: Any refusals you can tell us about?
ZOE: Oh! See above...
DEN: How's "Typical Girls?" been doing?
ZOE: Great thanks! It's had lots of lovely attention and I've been reading at wonderful events such as Peel Night, and Gavin Martin's Talking Musical Revolutions.
The latest thing is that "Typical Girls?" is being published in France on Rytrut this September, which is great news. I believe there is also a possibility of a Japanese edition, I really hope so. Japan has been very supportive of the book (maybe not the WHOLE of Japan, but you know what I mean.) I would love to go there and do a book event. I'll also be reading at Ladyfest's tenth anniversary festival in London this November, which I am very excited about.
DEN: What about your many other activities - Rockanory, radio, your music, the Viv Albertine collaboration?
ZOE: Yes, am putting together a radio series for Resonance FM which is based on the concept of the psychogeography of different regions of the UK, and the resulting creative output. It's fascinating and I"m thrilled RFM are into it. Got some great guests - Pete Wylie, Kevin Cummins, Jayne Casey, Adrian Utley, Gavin Martin, John Moore to name a few...
Music-wise, the last thing I did with Viv was record a Christmas Single - 'When It Was Nice' - with her and the Brain Dead Collective, really up my street, very free and experimental. I basically stopped working with her in a live capacity last year, but it was really her and also Keith Levene who got me back into music at all, so I'll never forget that.
Recently I've been recording some free music sketches with the pianist Yumi Hara, and I may also be playing some drums with Anne Pigalle soon, we'll have a jam and see what transpires.
Rockanory is my 'Jackanory for music lovers'! As I'm sure we all do, I have so many stacks of music mags and books and I just wanted to read and celebrate some of the writing within them, so I started a YouTube channel called 'Rockanory', where I basically sit on a comfy chair every week (more or less) and pick a reading from a mag or book and read it to camera, plugging the source from which it came and giving peeps a chance to buy it (if it's a book) with a link to the book / writer etc under the vid. It's fun! So far I've read some Nick Kent (on Iggy Pop), John Peel, Kirk Lake on Rufus Wainwright, Malcolm McLaren. You get your share of YouTube loons though of course - I was accused of being a 'Satanist dumb little girl' because of my appreciation of Nick Kent by one YouTuber. Haha! Slightly alarming...
One slightly sad thing I've found is that whenever someone weird or bitter and twisted rears their head - which is thankfully rare - the words 'little girl' always crop up, like they have a problem with a young feminine woman who knows their shit when it comes to rock 'n' roll? It isn't a competition, there's room for all of us, surely? But thankfully these berks are in the minority, most people I come across are very evolved and supportive and lovely. I choose to just try and ignore any sexist bollocks and get on with enjoying what I'm doing! I suggest if they find me so offensive that they do the same... Get a fucking hobby...
DEN: Who was the most interesting interviewee?
ZOE: They were all really interesting in different ways, I couldn't possibly choose! I love them all so much and truly appreciate how open and honest and funny they were.
DEN: Any celebrity dads who didn't want their kids involved, or were all receptive?
ZOE: To be honest I went straight to the kids themselves, as opposed to the parents, as this was about the children and their perspective. The only occasion where I think I was in touch with the parent first was with the guitarist Steve Lukather (Boz Scaggs, Toto) - the journalist Steven Rosen kindly put me in touch with him, and Lukather was so kind and enthusiastic and put me straight in touch with his lovely son Trev, who is just great, very funny. He and his dad know the score, they're very down to earth.
DEN: Any ideas for what's next?
ZOE: Yes! Am working with a great photographer called Jerry Tremaine on a biographical project of an iconic British artist, but it's all a bit hush hush at the mo. Hopefully that will be gracing coffee tables across the UK before long : ) Will keep you posted. Otherwise, I've been writing a few short stories, one of which will (hopefully) end up in an anthology that Kevin Cummins is producing later this year, in which writers write a piece which reflects a chosen image by Kevin, so that's an honour for me to be asked to do something like that, his work is so beautiful.
Am also working on my first novel! Great fun, and, being fiction, no one to placate / chase etc! It's still going to be quite rock 'n' roll...