Lynn Breedlove: Speed Freak (DIVA, 7.03)

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Up until last year Lynne Breedlove was best known as the singer and founding member of Tribe 8, the world’s first and best-loved dyke punks.

The band was started by a group of friends who were frustrated by bland white bread gay culture, and in the grand punk tradition it didn’t matter that they could barely play their instruments. Tribe 8 tore up the stage every time they appeared with songs such as Butch in the Streets, Neanderthal Dyke, and Femme Bitch Top. Not surprisingly their show, which regularly featured faux-castration dramatics and public whippings, attracted a substantial and loyal following of equally badass fans who were hungry for fun. It sure beat all that lesbian folk-singer crap.

An ex-drug addict, Breedlove got clean about a year before starting Tribe 8. Now, with the publication of her memoir-infused novel, Godspeed, she’s come full circle to re-examine her past again.

The book follows the adventures of Jim, a boi-dyke with a predilection for riotous women and speed – the chemical kind. It’s a right royal romp of a story that depicts the reality of addict logic with a bleak humour that could only have been earned first-hand. Breedlove remarks: “Education is one of the motivations of the novel, besides catharsis. But you can’t protect an addict. People have to make their own choices. I only try to hold up my mistakes as an example of what not to do, and live my life as an example of one possible way out of that mess.”

But Breedlove says that she resisted turning Godspeed into a regular autobiography because there were: “Too many lawsuits. My own mom just said if she weren’t my mom, she could sue me for libel. I told her it was all very tenderly intended, but if that’s what my own mom thought, you can imagine…But a lot of it is embellished, made up, and characters are composites. I always say, as much as audiences starved for human connection crave real life stories, life is not literature.”

So why write a book at all? Wasn’t singing and writing songs enough? “No,” says Breedlove, “apparently neither was running a messenger business, and touring, and getting sober, and having a girlfriend, and being a menace to society. Actually it started as spoken word performance and became a novel. Expressing myself verbally was important to me, and although I wrote songs and sang them with my band, the loud musical style made the words unintelligible. Reading satisfied my need not only to be heard but understood.”

It’s a little-known fact but Breedlove also had a mentor who helped get her published. The late novelist Kathy Acker held public writing workshops, which Breedlove attended, and later, “She told me to write and gave me her agent’s number. That’s the agent who got me published years after Kathy’s death. I think she would have liked Godspeed. She liked the first chapter, which I wrote in her class, and it only got better, because I learned to write by the act of writing the book. I think she’d be proud. I have a poster of her staring at me in my room, telling me to write.”

Despite the patronage of such a high-ranking member of the literati, Breedlove recalls: “When the book came out, I think a lot of people were surprised that a punk like me could spell, much less write a novel. Even punks tend to think of ourselves as anti-intellectual, but it’s not true. Punk is political art. There are some beer punx, but others like Jello Biafra and Poly Styrene are all about intellect, education, and social commentary. And that’s all ‘Godspeed’ or Tribe 8 is, comments on society from a queer point of view.”

This queer point of view extends to the depiction of gender in Godspeed. For example, the book’s protagonist, Jim, is a Boi who has crushes on drag queens. Breedlove explains: “I have always embodied many genders and sexualities. I find it enriches my life, and since society seems bent on prohibiting it, it seems like that much more of an irresistible adventure. We’re in the eye of a gender storm, and when it spits us out in a hundred years, hopefully we’ll look back and laugh at the limits of two gender boxes, and try to imagine what it was like before everyone was their own gender and could morph into a different one everyday.”

Breedlove says that she hopes Godspeed “will be the next Boys Don’t Cry,” an aspiration which could turn out to be more than a pipe dream. With close friend Silas ‘By Hook or By Crook’ Howard, the filmmaker who used to play in Tribe 8, shopping the project around the Sundance independent film festival, a movie of the book could really happen. Breedlove adds: “We may work on a short film together first, Godspeed the poem.”

In the meantime Breedlove continues to work and play in San Francisco. She’s the executive assistant at the Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club – “We put on shows by for and about women. Yippee!” She wants to produce more “one-freak shows, stand-up comedy, movies, performance, books, screenplays, rock ‘n’ roll.” She is also looking for a UK publisher, and winks: “Hope one finds me soon.”

Tribe 8 still keeps a-rolling, Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary is currently doing the rounds, and Breedlove remains true to her roots, proclaiming that despite the yuppification of San Francisco: “I am a punk-ass outsider who has learned long ago that the more friends you have, the more fun you have, so find common denominators among other outsiders that may not be punk-ass.”

Finally, why is punk such a potent force in her life? “Punk is just an outdated word for revolution,” she says, “and that word I can only hope will also one day be outdated. But in the meantime, it’s good because it’s better than being mown down by TV anti-culture, wargasm, and the mall.”

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