TUNES // Big Thief – Shark Smile

I got to spend Fathers’ Day at my favorite feminist art space, Junior High, where I was working the door for a comedy show (magnificently titled ‘Bush Administration’). One guy came there with his dad to see a friend perform. He took one look at the vagina stickers on the cash box and asked me to explain “what this place was about.” I started to launch into my thing –

“Well, so, Junior High is a non-profit dedicated to amplifying young and marginalized voices in the arts –”

“Oh yeah, that’s super dope,” he interrupted, looking around nervously. “So is it, like, a place for…” – and here he gestured back to his father – “is it a safe space for, like, dads?”

 

And listen, I get it. Dude was feeling weird in a room full of pink fuck you, where the wall is covered in photos of women with hairy armpits; he was trying to make a joke. He was afraid of saying the wrong thing, standing in the wrong way, being looked at funny, being silently evaluated and found wanting. Life hasn’t prepared him with the skills needed to ask if he has permission to be somewhere.

I really do get it, but nonetheless my smile felt cold and rigid as I replied, “We try to make this a safe space for everyone.” He smiled, reassured, meeting my eyes for the first time. And he paid the $5 cover for himself and his dad.

As he walked away I wished I’d said, “Yeah, sure, it’s a safe space. But it’s not for you.”

Because the mark that his question so spectacularly misses is that the entire fucking planet is a safe space for (white, straight, able-bodied) men. Junior High is for women and girls. As we were setting up for the comedy show earlier – five women and just two men – we started discussing birth control. We shouted to each other across the room about period flows. A couple of the women had long, dark hair peeking out of their sleeveless tops.

For a rare moment it didn’t feel like existing in someone else’s world, constantly having to guess and check an exhausting rule book – don’t wear shorts after 8pm when you walk to the grocery store; do wear headphones, but don’t listen to anything in them – you have to keep your wits about you; if a man says something to you, do smile enough to placate him, don’t smile so much that he follows you down the street.

Dude at the door needed this space to feel like his before he walked in, so he claimed it. He made a joke about “safe spaces.” He didn’t understand what safe spaces are any more than a fish understands the concept of water. It pissed me off.

After the show, I came home and put this song in my headphones. Went outside and smoked a cigarette down as far as it would go. I don’t really smoke but I felt like I either needed to get something out of my system or into it. I listened on repeat for hours, reclining in a cheap plastic chair on the patch of dirt off of Glendale Boulevard that masquerades as our front yard until, around 3 in the morning, a drunk dude started pacing the sidewalk in front of our house.

He was swearing incoherently, possibly mentally disturbed. My muscles tensed automatically; I turned off the music. Brain started running through the geometry, drawing a triangle between him, me, the door. Velocities. Blunt objects. And they said I wouldn’t use math after high school.

I walked quickly, didn’t run, to the front door. Inside, I thought about being safe.


Shark Smile is off Big Thief’s magnificent sophomore album, Capacity, an achievement in dynamic power and intimacy. Buy the album here. Tour dates here.

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