Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna looks back in the memoir 'Rebel Girl' The Bikini Kill frontwoman pioneered the "riot grrrl" movement in the 1990s. "I thought of myself as a feminist performance artist who was in a punk band," Hanna says.

Kathleen Hanna on life as a 'Rebel Girl,' and the joy of expressing anger in public

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Our guest is a co-founder of the feminist punk rock riot grrrl movement, musician, writer, and artist Kathleen Hanna. Her new memoir is called "Rebel Girl," which is also the name of one of the best-known songs by her band Bikini Kill. Kathleen Hanna spoke about her life and work with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado.


BIKINI KILL: We're Bikini Kill, and we want revolution. Girl-style now. (Singing) Hey, girlfriend, I got a proposition, goes something like this. Dare you to do what you want, dare you to be who you will, dare you to cry right out loud. You get so emotional, baby.

ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: Kathleen Hanna has always been a force. She burst onto the music scene in the '90s as the frontwoman of Bikini Kill, a band that fearlessly confronted issues of sexism and sexual assault while encouraging female empowerment through their music. Her raw vocals and unapologetic lyrics helped challenge punk rock norms and inspired others to do so as well. Bikini Kill, along with other feminist punk bands, encouraged their fans to come to shows, write zines and form girl bands of their own as a way to fight the sexism that existed in punk and in wider society in general. Hanna created a space for young women to express themselves, fight against misogyny and build community.

Bikini Kill made an enormous impact in music and in the lives of their fans, but as Hanna writes about in her new memoir, "Rebel Girl," it took a toll. Helping fans deal with their experiences of sexual violence meant that she had to think about her own. In the book, she writes about all that, as well as her childhood, the building of her feminist art in college, starting and leaving bands, and becoming the face of a movement. She also writes about finding out that an undiagnosed case of lyme disease was the reason she couldn't physically perform anymore.

She's performing again with her band Bikini Kill and her other bands, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin. Kathleen Hanna, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

KATHLEEN HANNA: Thanks for having me.

BALDONADO: I'd like for you to start by reading a passage from the beginning of your book, "Rebel Girl."

HANNA: Sure. This is from the prologue.

(Reading) I want to tell you how I write songs and produce music, how singing makes me feel connected to a million miracles at once, how being on stage is the one place I feel the most me. But I can't untangle all of that from the background that is male violence. I wish I could forget the guy who stalked me while I was making my solo record, how he sat on the roof of the building across from mine and looked into my windows with binoculars as I worked, how he told my neighbors he thought I was a prostitute who needed to be stopped. I wish I could slice him out of my story as a musician, but I can't.

(Reading) I also don't want this book to be a list of traumas, so I'm leaving a lot of that on the cutting room floor. It's more important to remember that I've seen ugly basement rooms transform into warm campfires, dank rock bro clubs become bright parties where girls and gay kids and misfits dance together in a sea of freedom and joy, art galleries that had only ever showcased white male mediocrity become sites of thrilling feminist collaborations. I also ate gelato on a street in Milan with my bandmates and cried because it tasted that good.

(Reading) But yeah, there were also rapes and run-ins with jerks who threw water on my shine. I keep trying to make my rapes funny, but I have to stop doing that because they aren't. I want them to be stories because stories are made up of words, and words can't hurt me. But the things I'm writing about aren't stories. They're my blood. They're the things that shaped me, the things that keep me up at night rechecking the locks on the doors, the things that make me afraid and ashamed, the things that inspire me to keep going.

BALDONADO: That passage, among other things, sets up how, for you, performing, being on the stage - which is your favorite thing - brings on conflicting feelings for you. The fact that the thing you love most is something that's connected to so much pain - that must be difficult to deal with and to write about.

HANNA: I mean, yeah, but it's also like - eating a whole family-sized thing of Cheetos is also, like, really bad for you, but sometimes you do it because you just love it, and you want to do it in the moment, and later, it makes you feel bad. So I think we've all had this kind of conflicting thing of being attracted to the things that make us feel bad. The complicated issue for me is, like, this isn't Cheetos. This isn't something that would normally hurt everybody's stomach. This is something that only affects people who are marginalized in some way within the punk community who have to get up on stage and take abuse to do their jobs, you know? And that's the part that's been really hard.

One of the things that has been getting me by is this phrase. In punk rock, there is no HR. And I think about how many different clubs that we walked in - not only in Bikini Kill, but also in Le Tigre - where - literally, in Le Tigre, we had a sound man who was just mumbling the whole time and wouldn't look at us. And then when I said, Hey, is there some kind of problem going on? He said, I'm going to stab you.

(Laughter) I laugh about it now, but it was like - at the time, I went to people who - I couldn't figure out who worked at the club, and I was trying to be like, can somebody do something? Can you call another sound person? I can't work with someone who just threatened to kill me. And they were like, yeah, he's harmless. He's kind of weird. He's - this was our workplace. And every single night was a different set of threatened, angry men - or I don't know what their problem was - who would treat us with such utter disrespect.

And there was - we didn't have any recourse 'cause you got to play the show. You know what I mean? So that has actually been as traumatic for me to process as, like, the kind of, like, really big, you know, trauma with a T, sexual violence moments in the book.

BALDONADO: So speaking of your memoir and the title of your memoir, "Rebel Girl," I wanted to ask you about that song. It was released in 1993. It ended up being produced by Joan Jett, who heard about Bikini Kill and wanted to work with you all. And this song kind of became an anthem for the feminist punk movement of that time. Can you talk about writing that song?

HANNA: Yeah, we wrote that one in the basement of this house called the Embassy. It was a punk house, and punk houses, a lot of times, have names. And this one was called the Embassy because it was pretty close to Embassy Row in D.C. And I'll always remember writing that song because it was one of those times where I was writing it as we were playing it. So they started coming up with the music, and as it became more full-formed, I started hearing the first couple of lines in my head, and I just stepped to the mic, and then they just kind of fell out.

And I stepped back and started thinking, OK, what's the chorus going to be, or - you know, I was, like, looking through poems and stuff I had in my notebook. And then I was just like, no, what are you feeling in this moment? I'm going to feel this moment because in that moment, riot grrrl meetings had just started in D.C. Our friends Bratmobile were playing shows and - that we were just, you know, gobbling up, like, you know, manna from heaven. And Joan Jett had just called me on the phone and said, I like your band. And I was just like, I'm not going to look at my notebook. I'm going to feel this feeling. And then I walked back to the mic, and I just sang. And you know, rebel girl, rebel girl, you are the queen of my world, came out.

BALDONADO: Well, let's hear my guest, Kathleen Hanna, on the song "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill.


BIKINI KILL: (Singing) That girl thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood. She's got the hottest trike in town. That girl - she holds her head up so high. I think I want to be her best friend, yeah. Rebel girl, rebel girl, rebel girl, you are the queen of my world. Rebel girl, rebel girl, I think I want to take you home. I want to try on your clothes, yeah.

BALDONADO: That's the song "Rebel Girl" from 1993 by the band Bikini Kill. I think for a lot of people, that song is about you (laughter). You know, like you're - a lot of girls, a lot of your fans wanted to be. But so you were thinking - who else were you thinking about when you wrote that song?

HANNA: I mean, I was thinking about my friend Juliana Luecking, who's a spoken word artist who really kind of mentored me. I was thinking about Tobi. I was thinking about Kathi. I was thinking about...

BALDONADO: Your Bikini Kill...

HANNA: My Bikini Kill bandmates...

BALDONADO: ...Bandmates.

HANNA: ...You know? I was thinking about the girls in the riot grrrl meetings who were saying stuff like - you know, just crying because it was the first time they'd been in an all-female atmosphere. And they were just like, whoa, this feels really weird. I'm confused. And then, like, wait, why have I never made this a priority before? And just that feeling of, you know, a room changing. Like, you know, just sitting at a crappy plastic Office Max table with a bunch of young women who have been relegated to the back of the room at punk shows for so long, finally saying, I've always wanted to start a band, or, hey, does anybody know how to play guitar? I'd like to learn. That's an amazing feeling that really kind of changes the room into this beautiful place of possibilities.

BALDONADO: Well, let's take a short break here. Then we'll talk some more. My guest is singer, writer, musician, artist, and activist Kathleen Hanna. She's the lead singer and songwriter for Bikini Kill, Le Tigre , and the Julie Ruin. She was a subject of the 2013 documentary "Punk Singer." Her new book is called "Rebel Girl." More after a break - this is FRESH AIR.


LE TIGRE: (Singing) Hot topic is the way that we rhyme. Hot topic is the way that we rhyme. Hot topic is the way that we rhyme. Hot topic is the way that we rhyme. Carol Rama and Eleanor Antin, Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann...

BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ann Marie Baldonado back with our guest, performer, writer and activist Kathleen Hanna. She's the frontwoman of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and the Julie Ruin. She was instrumental in the feminist punk movement of the 1990s, challenging the male-dominated scene with her fierce vocals, uncompromising lyrics and activism. Her new memoir is called "Rebel Girl."

Now, you were born in Portland, Ore., but you spent a lot of your childhood in Maryland. Can you describe where you grew up and your family at that point?

HANNA: We moved a lot, all around Maryland. Like, we moved every three years. So I changed schools every three years. You know, we lived in kind of suburbs where not much was going on typically. And then we moved back to the Pacific Northwest, and I changed schools even then. In high school, I went to two different high schools. So I really started seeing the game. You know what I mean? Like, what a game school was and how at every school, there was, like, kind of the same group breakdown of people, you know, like the popular rich kid clique, the stoners, the people who were into this kind of music, the people who were into that kind of music, people who were into sports - like, these kind of different groups and how a lot of the ways the interactions were so similar at every place that it just started to feel ridiculous to me.

And I didn't have very many friends. I just sort of experimented with, like, what would it be like if I was in this group of people? What would it be like? And I think it gave me a chameleon-like quality that definitely served me later when I had to grin and bear it through a lot of nonsense in the punk scene. But yeah, I think the moving a lot made me really turn to singing as my home.

BALDONADO: Well, one of the first times you performed as a kid was in a musical. It was "Annie." Can you talk about what you liked about performing at that point?

HANNA: I didn't think of myself as a good singer, but I sang all the time by myself because it was a place that I felt safe, and I knew no matter where we lived, I could walk in the woods and sing or I could sing along to records in my room. Like, I didn't want anybody to know, and I didn't think I was good or, you know, whatever. I just - it was something that was fun. And then a friend of mine in - I guess it was fourth grade. Maureen Gaines (ph) convinced me to go with her to an audition for "Annie" for the school play, and I got the part.

And so in that moment, I was like, wait, other people think I can sing? Like, it was this real shock. Like, I was like - I didn't realize that I actually had any kind of talent at it or that it sounded good to anybody beyond myself. So there was that kind of eureka moment. So I was like, practicing, practicing, practicing and practicing. And then once it came time to be on stage, I just felt like it was the first time where I really expressed mainly sadness in front of a bunch of people.

You know? Like, even though, you know, I didn't write the lyrics myself, they definitely spoke to my situation. And just the quality of my voice and what I could do with my voice. I felt like I was saying, I'm having a really hard time at home to, you know, a whole auditorium full of kids and grown-ups. And that felt really, like, a relief.

BALDONADO: Well, you tell this story about what happened after the real performance, and that story is heartbreaking. Do you mind sharing it?

HANNA: Yeah, I mean, I was feeling really proud of myself. And as we're getting to the car, my dad was saying, let's go get ice cream. And in my family, that really meant, like, you did a great job. You know what I mean? Like, nobody said, like, I love you or, you know, like, oh, I'm so proud of you kind of thing. It was more like, we'll get ice cream. And that is code for we're proud of you. So I was like, they're proud of me. My parents thought I did great. Like, you know, I read all this stuff into it. Like, they thought my singing was great. They thought, you know, blah, blah, blah - in my head.

And then as I sit down in the car, my dad says, anyone who can make such a fool of themselves in front of that many people deserves an ice cream. And I was just like, oh, my God. Like, I just remember feeling like going from the top of the world to just, like, crashing, you know, on, like, concrete. And that was something that my dad's side of the family, I have to say - I got to give them credit. They were so good at giving a compliment and then ripping it away. Like, it was almost a skill that they passed down from generation to generation.

So while I think it's a hideous thing to say to a child, that moment also inspired me to keep going, because the fact that that didn't stop me meant I really wanted it. And also, I didn't like my dad. I thought he was a jerk. So, like, I learned really early, like, whose opinion matters to you, you know? I came out the other end kind of being, like, more determined to get more involved in music at my school because I was like, this is what I want despite you.

BALDONADO: Well, and there's this point in the book where you write about what your father went through. Like, he had siblings that passed away and his father passed away, and he sort of never recovered from that. And he carried this darkness, you say, into your house. And he drank a lot. But I felt like that was not - that you gave that background not to give him an excuse but to maybe try to explain why he was the way he was.

HANNA: Yeah. I mean, there's also great things about my dad. My dad always said you need to go to college. And he wanted me to go to college because he, I think, took, like, one or two semesters and had to drop out to get a job because, you know, my sister was born. And he wanted that for me. And that was something beautiful that he gave me. I think it's complicated. And I think it's important to acknowledge that we can get positive things out of really negative situations. And, like, the experience of being shot down by my dad and keeping going was something that I still hold in my heart to this day, you know, in a way that is fuel.

BALDONADO: You write about your mom and how she had a really good sense of humor and kind of developed a feminist consciousness in secret. She would even get Ms. magazines delivered to the house, but she would try to hide the issues from your dad. Did you get the beginnings of your feminist ideals from your mom, do you think?

HANNA: I definitely think I did, but it wasn't so much through Ms. magazine, or we didn't ever have, like, feminist talks. Like, she wasn't like, Kathleen, I want you to know, even though you're a girl, you can do anything. Like, we didn't have any of that kind of thing. And she wasn't - you know, she didn't tell me about domestic violence or - (laughter) you know what I mean? Like, it wasn't - she wasn't like, oh, here's this book, you know, about the history of women. Like, there wasn't any kind of education like that.

It really was seeing this woman who worked her butt off as a nurse every day, made every meal, kept the house spotless, you know, managed my father and still had a really wild sense of humor. And every time I just got to go to the grocery store with her, it was an event. You know what I mean? Like it was really special to be in the car with my mom going anywhere.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Kathleen Hanna, co-founder of the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Her new memoir is called "Rebel Girl." Coming up, they'll talk about how volunteering with victims of violence gave Hanna a way of talking to her fans and dealing with it in her own life. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


BIKINI KILL: (Singing) Hey, yeah. I don't owe you nothing, nothing.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Back with more of our interview with Kathleen Hanna. She's the frontwoman of the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. She helped form the so-called riot grrrl movement, challenging the sexist punk scene in the 1990s. Her songs took on sexual assault, misogyny, and female empowerment. Her new memoir is called "Rebel Girl: My Life As A Feminist Punk." She spoke with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado.

BALDONADO: When did you decide that you wanted to be a punk performer? You said that when you were a kid, you were always searching for a way to be heard. Was this that way?

HANNA: You know, I moved to Olympia, Wash., to go to college, and it had a really thriving music scene. And they really defined punk in that town in a different way than I'd ever seen. I'd gone to punk shows in high school, and it was like, you know, kind of B-versions of the Sex Pistols, you know, straight white guys who were like, I'm going to spit on you, bleh. And it just was, like, a lot of toxic masculinity disguised as, you know, radicalness. So it's kind of like the beginning of the edgelord.

But yeah, when I moved to Olympia, there were all these kids who were making music and putting out records on small indie labels. And you know, they sort of defined punk not as a genre or a sound, a loud, angry, aggressive sound, but as an idea, as the idea that we don't have to wait for corporations to tell us what is good music or art or writing. We can make it ourselves. So it's like, hey, let's put on a spoken-word event. Let's put on a punk show at the laundromat. Let's...

You know, it really was the town that gave me permission to do stuff. And I'd always, you know, wanted to be in a band, but sort of thought it was off limits, and this was the place that I saw people in bands just, like, walking around on the street. And I was like, well, if they can do it, I can do it. And at the same time, I was being really inspired by feminist performance artists like Karen Finley, who I saw live in Seattle and was just - what this woman is doing on stage, going into - from different voices, you know, getting naked and dumping chocolate and sprinkles on herself, you know, making fun of herself while also being incredibly powerful. And so a lot of times when I first started being in Bikini Kill, I thought of myself as a feminist performance artist who was in a punk band.

BALDONADO: You went to college in Olympia, Wash., at Evergreen State, and you started out as a visual artist, doing photography, and you also worked in sewing, like fashion. You also did a feminist fashion show. And you were working on this big project. You were at school late at night, and you - so you weren't at your apartment, and your roommate, a close friend of yours, was attacked. She was assaulted in your apartment. It's a terrible story, and it's assault that kind of propelled you to talk about violence against women even more in your work. And you also started volunteering with victims of violence.

It seemed like it gave you, like, a framework for your feminism or thinking about oppression. But it also gave you tools to help the people that you were going to be encountering, like, very soon, you know. You started playing in bands while you were in college. And at your shows, you started to talk about sexism and sexual assault between songs or in your songs. And that's when girls in your audiences started to come up to you and talk to you after shows about their experiences with, you know, sexual violence and assault.

HANNA: Yeah, I mean, it was really pretty amazing because I was like, oh, you know, this actually is a great way to continue the work that I'm doing at Safe Place when I'm not able to volunteer. So I felt like it was just I was still working - I was still doing further work for Safe Place when I was doing, you know, counseling in an alleyway after a show. And that felt great to a certain extent. You know, after a while, it's a job that is a heavy burnout job where you can just get burned out to the point where you feel like, you know, you've been vampired, and you have no blood in your body.

So it is a lot to be in a band and to not - we had no crew. We had no management. We had no publicist, and we did everything ourselves. On top of it, my friends and I started, you know, a venue, an all-ages venue, and then on top of it, I'm doing social work for free. So that was like having a lot of jobs and then actually a real job and going to school. So at a certain point, and it wasn't until many, many, many, many, many years later that I said, I need to pull back on this, like, kind of one-to-one social work, which is what it was.

BALDONADO: Now, Bikini Kill tried to make your shows a safe place for women, a safe space. Can you describe how and why you did that? Like, it's of a particular time.

HANNA: Yeah, we did stuff like handed out lyric sheets that had the lyrics on them so that other girls and women would know, these are the lyrics and what the subject matter was, because a lot of times you couldn't understand what I was saying through the crappy PAs I was singing through, and sometimes even talking in between songs, you couldn't understand what I was saying. And so that was one way that - give them a souvenir to take home. You know, to read through and think about and maybe disagree with so that they start their own bands or it encourages them to write their own poetry or write their own zines. We also had zines that talked about a lot of different political issues of the day that we sold at our shows.

And I also - you know, we prioritized having girls and women come up to the front. Because a lot of the shows we were playing back then, it was, you know, straight, cisgender white guys predominating and taking up all the space of the room. And we really selfishly wanted to build community, so we had more girl bands to play with. And how is that going to happen if they're all stuck in the back? And they can't see us play, and they can't see, oh, you know, that's how you do a drum fill or you know, that's how you play, you know, three notes on the bass and make them sound really interesting.

And so I started saying, you know, inviting the girls to the front. Hey, do you guys want to come to the front, and then it kind of became a thing. It's like something that's actually meant to be an experiment, you know, in punk. It was like, What if we just rearrange this room a little bit? What's going to happen? And what happened were - you know, a lot of men were really mad and hated us. But it was also an interesting experiment.

BALDONADO: Well, let's take a short break. Then we'll talk some more. My guest is singer, writer, musician and artist Kathleen Hanna. She's the lead singer and songwriter for Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin. Her new book is called "Rebel Girl" - more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ann Marie Baldonado back with our guest, Kathleen Hanna. She's the frontwoman of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin. Her new memoir is called "Rebel Girl."

In your book, you write about Kurt Cobain, who was a friend of yours. How did you meet? It was in the music scene in Olympia.

HANNA: Yeah. I think we met when I was running this club with my girlfriends called Reko Muse and Nirvana played one of our first shows when we were supposed to be an art space, like, a feminist art space. But no one was buying feminist art in Olympia, Wash., in the late '80s. So we decided we're going to put on rock shows as well. And they played and let us keep the money, and that kept us going, and they did a couple things for us. Later, when he was dating my bandmate Tobi Vail, we had started just hanging out. Like, I would walk up to his apartment and - that was in the back of a house and just, you know, drink beer and smoke pot and write lyrics and - I don't know - watch TV.

BALDONADO: There was one night you spent with him and, I think, Dave Grohl, who was, at that point, the new drummer of Nirvana. And you were drinking a lot, and you inspired what would be the title of Nirvana's first big hit. Can you talk about how that happened?

HANNA: You know, we were super-drunk, and it's not the most pleasant...


HANNA: ...Memory of a night for me. But it started off pretty good. Where we were, there was a new abortion clinic, which was not an abortion clinic. A pregnancy clinic, I guess, it was called. It was, like, a Christian or, you know, some kind of religious-based place where they try to get you in if they think you're pregnant and show you, you know, horrific, like, you know, pictures from the movie "Halloween" and tell you it's late-term abortions or whatever and trick you into not having an abortion, shame you into not having an abortion or at least psychologically damage you. So it's not real counseling. It's, like, almost like one of those hell house horror rides.

And when I found that out, you know, Kurt and I were just talking about it, and we're like, we got to do something. Like, how do we let people know that this is fake? And so we got spray paint, and we went down there. And I wrote fake abortion clinic on the outside. And he wrote God is gay on the side of it. And we went back and crashed at his house, and there was one point where we turned off the lights and just, like, smashed everything. And I took out a sharpie marker, and I just wrote, like, Kurt smells like teen spirit because me and Tobi had been at a grocery store and seen this new deodorant called Smells Like Teen Spirit, and we were like, that's hilarious. What does teen spirit smell like? Like, we were just, like, laughing at it.

BALDONADO: It was geared towards girls, too. It was, like, one of those...

HANNA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BALDONADO: ...Products geared towards girls that, I guess...

HANNA: Yeah.

BALDONADO: ...Smelled like bubble gum or something.

HANNA: I mean, note - it doesn't smell like bubble gum.


HANNA: It smells like teen spirit.


HANNA: So I guess it smells like locker room feet. Like, I was like, what is that supposed to - like, it smells like streamers. What does that - it smells like poster - Sharpie marker on poster board. Like, what does it smell like? But - so we were, like, just goofing on that. So it was in my head, and when I was wasted, it just came out. And I wrote, like, 10 other things on his wall. And he was a renter. So that was kind of a bad move on my part - not very kind or thoughtful.

And then he just, you know, asked me to use it. He called me on the phone, you know, many, many months later and was like, can I use that in a song? I didn't even know it was going to be the title for a song, and I was like, yeah, sure. That's great. But I just wanted to get off the phone 'cause I just - that night was - I got way too drunk, and I ended up quitting drinking for many years...


HANNA: ...After that night.

BALDONADO: Well, you did keep in touch with Kurt Cobain as Nirvana became, you know, the biggest band. And you almost saw each other a couple times, and then you write about the last time you saw him at a show, and it felt weird to you. Can you describe that show you saw each other at?

HANNA: It was a show at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, and, you know, they had just signed to a major label. And it was really weird because there just seemed to be a lot of people around. Like, usually, it was just, like, you know, the band, the opening band, maybe the other opening band and some friends backstage. And this was, like - there were, like, business people, and there were all these women, like, really attractive dancers who were dressed in these leotards and had, like, cat makeup on and wigs. And I guess they were supposed to come out during "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and dance. It was sad. I didn't even talk to him.

He was just, like, in the back of a room and sitting there, looking really not happy. And I didn't want to - you know, it's before a show. And you kind of need your privacy before a show, and it didn't seem like he was being given privacy. And I definitely wasn't going to walk up and be like, hey, how's it going, you know, because it didn't - he was putting off the, you know, force field vibe like, do not enter. When we left Seattle, went back to Olympia, it just really felt like we might not see him again.

BALDONADO: Now, before your book, you'd never really talked publicly about being a parent. You're married to Adam Horovitz of Beastie Boys, and you have a son. And you've said you didn't want to talk about it because you didn't want to be asked those questions that people ask women artists about work-life balance and doing it all. And I totally get what you mean there, but I did want to ask why you decided to write about it now.

HANNA: I asked my son, whose name is Julius - I said, Julius, you know, Mommy's writing a book. Do you want to be in it? And he's like, yeah, I better be. And so he's in it. And it was - it felt really good to be able to write about being a parent because it's a huge part of my life. You know, you learn a lot about who you are in the world by being a parent. And I think also, with the current political situation, how do we talk to our kids about this stuff? How do we educate, you know, fun, awesome, wild but good citizens.

So these are conversations I'm looking forward to having and not dreading. I didn't want while I was actively promoting albums to have, you know, constantly, like, you know, you and Ad-Rock have a kid. That kid must be so cool. They must be so lucky. They must listen to Kraftwerk every day. You know, like, I just didn't...

BALDONADO: (Laughter) Kraftwerk.

HANNA: I didn't - my kid did listen to Kraftwerk, actually, for a while. And he told me in the kitchen one time, he's like, Mom, I know more about Kraftwerk than you. And you know what I replied? Go to your room. And it felt so good. I was like, don't childsplain (ph) Kraftwerk to me, toddler.

BALDONADO: (Laughter). Now, recently, you've been playing out again the last couple of years. You've had reunion tours with Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, and you're touring with Bikini Kill again this year. Your shows when you were young were so, like, visceral. Do they still feel that way to you?

HANNA: Oh, yeah. But I feel like there's so much more joy. Like, the anger is still there but it's like a joyous anger, because it's like, you know, a lot of us are sitting at home yelling at the TV. And to get outside and, like, yell into a microphone and to have that release of, like - you know, it feels joyous to explore our anger in public. It feels joyous to be like, look, it's normal that we're all really upset and sad and all these different emotions, and they can all co-exist together. And the songs really go from joy to sadness to rage very quickly. And I'm finding nuances in them that I didn't know were there.

BALDONADO: In the lyrics?

HANNA: Yeah. And so I'm really enjoying the songs and they feel very fresh. Like, it doesn't feel like, oh, God. I felt more that way about, like, playing "Rebel Girl" for the 800th time back in the '90s. And now I feel, like, so excited when it comes on because, I mean, the song really has legs, because I can sing it about anybody in my head. We played a show in, like, 2019. And I got up onstage and I sang it and I thought about myself. And I sang it to myself.

I mean, and I felt, like, proud, you know, that I kept going and that I didn't give up, and that I was still making music and that I really love what I do and that I have such great friends. I felt grateful. I felt proud. And I sang that song directed at me. And I know that's probably really gross and embarrassing, but it felt amazing.

BALDONADO: Well, Kathleen Hanna, it's been great talking with you. Thank you so much.

HANNA: Thank you.


BIKINI KILL: (Singing) When she talks, I hear the revolution. In her hips, there's revolution. When she walks, the revolution's coming. In her kiss, I taste the revolution. Rebel girl, rebel girl, rebel girl, you are the queen of my world. Rebel girl, rebel girl, I know I want to take you home. I want to try on your clothes, uh.

GROSS: Kathleen Hanna spoke with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado. Hanna's new memoir is called "Rebel Girl: My Life As A Feminist Punk." Tomorrow night, she'll speak at Kings Theatre in New York. After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review Claire Messud's new novel inspired by a handwritten memoir of over 1,000 pages written by her paternal grandfather. This is FRESH AIR.


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