Share the Joy: In Loving Memory of the Vivian Girls

By Annie

Illustration by Sarah Kennedy
Illustration by Sarah Kennedy

I cut my own bangs in the Fall of 2011, which I think is a mistake that every girl needs to make in order to truly become a woman. It’s like a bat mitzvah for girls who are too scared to go full-on Angela Chase and dye their hair. As I knelt in front of my bedroom mirror, scissors and gum-covered garbage can at the ready, I created the ragged, stringy mess that would be immortalized on my drivers license a few weeks later. It looked so ridiculous and awful and—mind you—different from what I look like now, that when I show it to security personnel at airports and concerts, they have to study my face for a few extra seconds with the same confused look every time.

In retrospect, this terrible but necessary decision under the influence of none other than the late ‘00s noise pop band Vivian Girls. I know it’s bogus to reduce women in any context to their appearance, but bangs to Vivian Girls was like what that red cartoon tongue and aging terribly were to the Rolling Stones. It was basically their logo, and a set of scrappy DIY bangs is pretty much as close as a 16 year old can get to the correct use of the word “homage”.

The band was formed in 2007 with Cassie Ramone on guitar and lead vocals, “Kickball Katy” Goodman on bass, and Frankie Rose on drums. Having taken their name from In the Realms of the Unreal, a 15,000 page manuscript written by the reclusive outsider artist Henry Darger about a “child slave rebellion” led by the Vivian Girl princesses, it was basically destiny that they would bear a certain underdog quality. They never had that apathetic, cooler-than-thou attitude that was put on by most of the other indie bands they were usually compared to. Their albums were like microcosms of their influences, each song a virtual geek-out over Brill Building era girl groups, the Beach Boys, and, the noise rock band to end them all, the Wipers.

That kind of unabashed excitement is a rarity and it was what made them so refreshing and relatable. They were cool. Not because they didn’t give a shit, which I guess is what the definition of coolness has generally become, but because they totally did give a shit and they never, ever tried to hide that. Cassie Ramone said in an interview with Impose “I’m really sensitive, and I get way more hurt by criticism than I should”, which is a very simple sentiment that I have rarely heard from other artists. At this point, it’s way more radical to admit that you’re not above criticism than to just say “fuck bloggers!”. It’s a level of sensitivity and honesty that is so fundamentally un-punk that it’s actually the punkest thing ever.

Vivian Girls broke up at the very beginning of this year. I’m bummed that it happened, but it wasn’t a surprise, as they had been largely inactive since the release of their last album, the incredible Share The Joy, in 2011. I’m bummed that I never got to see them live, but I’m thankful that there’s video of one of their last shows to compensate, even if only a little bit. The set is so hectic and messy in the best way that, even while I’m sitting here watching it in a public library, I can practically smell the beer and B.O. that is inevitable of a show that great (though that might just be the guy who fell asleep at the computer next to mine). While the Vivian Girls as we know them may now be resting peacefully in Noise Pop Heaven, they will live on forever in my heart and on my drivers license.

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