[img_assist|nid=832|title=Broad Street by Christine Weiser|desc=|link=url|url=http://www.philadelphiastories.org/store/|align=right|width=150|height=221]Questions for Christine Weiser About Broad Street by Marc Schuster
Broad Street is set in Philadelphia during the height of the grunge-rock scene of the early-nineties. Why did you choose this setting, and how does it factor into the story?
I was in a Philadelphia band called Mae Pang, which was mainly a chick rock garage band that started in the mid-90s. It was a great time for garage and underground rock. We saw bands like Nirvana at a small Philly rock club called JC Dobbs before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit. Weeks later, they were playing arena shows. We saw Dinosaur Jr. and Tad and Mudhoney and they were all great, but it was really the women that inspired us — performers like PJ Harvey and Liz Phair and Hole and The Breeders. I remember this time as being wild and magical, and those moments inspired me to write a book about the time and the experience.
The main characters in Broad Street, Kit and Margo, make a drunken pact to form a band, ostensibly to get back at the overbearing men in their lives, but as the novel progresses, music becomes an outlet for them. Do you see the arts in general and music in particular as liberating?
I think having art in a balanced life—whether it’s writing or playing an instrument or knitting—finding that one thing that you love to do just to do it–can be incredibly liberating and satisfying. Finding that balance is important, but it can be tough. It’s great to pour your soul into a piece of art, but I think you still have to stay connected to the world. I believe life inspires art, and if you cut yourself off from life and focus only on the art, you lose a great source of material. In Broad Street, for example, Kit thinks that if her band just became famous, then all would be right in her world. She learns that isn’t true.
I think women are especially pressured to do it all, and our challenge becomes how to carve out some time for ourselves in a way that doesn’t overwhelm us.
There’s a certain irony in the name of the band, which also happens to be the title of the novel. “Broad,” of course, is generally considered an obsolete, sexist term, but Kit and Margo appropriate it for themselves in a way that’s empowering. Do the characters see themselves as “broads” in any way? Alternately, how do they redefine the term to suit their own needs?
Margo love to embrace sexist, backwards terms like chick, skirt, and broads, and flaunt them in a tongue-in-cheek way that make these words silly, rather than degrading. This is a challenge for Kit, who has been raised by sixties-era radicals who think life in a girl band is not the best use of her intellect and schooling. When Margo first introduces the name, Kit questions how this reflects her parents’ ideals:
“I thought about this, feeling a slight tug on my feminist upbringing. My parents had spent many hours dishing out the importance of equal rights to my sister and me. I wasn’t sure they would agree that this was a fucking cool name. But this was different, I rationalized. This was just a tongue-in-cheek poke at the gender of our band.”
But, Kit begins to find a way to move beyond these expectations through the music. In one scene, she comments on their music:
“One song used these chords for a surf instrumental. Another song rumbled over a primitive African rhythm to proclaim, “never pick a man who’s prettier than you are.” Our songs were about living out repressed post-feminist fantasies in glorious ass-kicking frenzy. No more dick rock. Enter three girlie feminists not afraid to wear a dress, makeup, heels. What the hell was wrong with being a chick?”
I think that sums it up pretty well.
On a related topic, do you see yourself as a feminist writer?
I think “feminist” has many meanings to many people, and unfortunately not always positive. To me, a feminist is someone who advocates equal rights for women. Based on that definition, I suppose you could say I’m a feminist writer. Broad Street illustrates the challenge of being a girl in a boys’ rock club. Kit and Margo strive to be equal to their male musician peers, but they don’t necessarily mind that they get attention because they look good and are considered by some a novelty act.
This metaphor could ring true in a lot of areas of work and life. Sex is such a huge part of our culture, it’s hard to figure out how everyone can be treated exactly the same way when so many judgments are made based on the way someone looks.
In addition to making a name for their band in the music industry, Kit and Margo also have to deal with a number of personal issues. For example, they both have interesting relationships with their parents: Kit thinks she’ll never measure up to her father’s expectations, and Margo’s parents worked on the fringes of pop-music superstardom before settling down to raise a family. Why the interest in family? What draws you to such issues as a writer?
I think the power of family history is huge. We’re all shaped by the way we’re raised, whether it’s rebelling against our families or striving to be accepted by them. Often times, this behavior is repeated in our lives with parent substitutes, like a boss or an audience. I’m fascinated by people’s family histories and what that often reveals about their choices and personalities. For example, like Kit, I am very influenced by my father who always pushed me to question authority, strive for social justice, and pursue a balanced life of work and art. I have a job, a kid, a husband, a band, a book, a charity – and it’s tough balancing all of these things sometimes. But I feel I wear all of these hats better because I am lucky enough to have this whole package.
Your novel is the first from PS Books, the publishers behind the widely read Philadelphia Stories magazine. What’s your relationship to Philadelphia? Do you find that there’s a thriving literary community there? What does Philadelphia have to offer the burgeoning (or established, for that matter) author that other cities might not have?
I think Philadelphia has a bad cultural rap. People who aren’t familiar with the city still hear “Philly” and think: Rocky, cheesesteaks, and The Hooters. And while these are all great Philly icons, we also have a rich, diverse cultural voice that often gets drowned out by New York. I’ve lived in many places, but when I moved to Philadelphia, I fell in love with the city. It’s humble, and raw, and welcoming. Philly is nothing like New York or Chicago or Paris. It’s more like a big town with lots of neighborhood flavors that become rich sources of inspiration for writing and art. I’ve never felt more at home.
Any plans for a follow-up to Broad Street?
I have completed a sequel that picks up with Kit and Margo ten years later. Without giving too much away, things don’t turn out exactly as they expected (otherwise, what would I write about?), but their adventure continues in a new and surprising way.
Read an excerpt from Broad Street
Hear another interview:
Christine Weiser on Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS-FM, 9/22/08
More at christineweiser.com