Fifteen years ago, the singer Peaches released her breakthrough album The Teaches of Peaches. In 2000, my friends and I, punk rock and feminist to the core, were coming off 10 years of politically infused riot grrrl bands — a movement that captured the psychic and physical subjugation we felt as young women living in a society obsessed with stifling beauty concepts: skinny, white, hairless, "feminine."
We adored Peaches from the start.
She was the raunchy, gender-blurring, sex-positive rock star we'd been waiting for. She wore sparkly leotards and capes. She had transgender backup dancers (backup dancers!) that looked like Amazonian warrior gods. She had armpit hair and wasn't afraid of the occasional beard. She pulled off the ultimate rock 'n' roll swagger, the kind that made our tongues drop to the floor like a dog in a Warner Bros. cartoon. And then, there were her lyrics.
To be honest, I don't remember most of the songs from The Teaches of Peaches. They've been overshadowed by the album's opening track. "F*ck the Pain Away" kicks off with a dark, synth beat, setting the stage for Peaches' raunchy, unabashedly sex-loving lyrics, half-rapped, half-sung. The song got a lot of play at the turn of the century -- in 2003, it featured prominently in the Sofia Coppola film Lost in Translation -- and every listen felt like one step closer to liberation. From what? Mainly, the worry about fitting into some prescribed package of what it meant to be a young woman. Peaches gave us permission to enjoy sex, to own and celebrate our bodies, to blur gender and to wear skin-tight sparkly leggings, if that was our jam. Most importantly, Peaces let us know that engaging in these behaviors wouldn't get our feminist club membership revoked.
As actress Ellen Page writes in an heartfelt essay in The Teaches of Peaches, which comes out next month on Akashic Books: "She (Peaches) is more than a musician, though: she is a true artist, and a prolific one at that. For a 16-year-old gay person, she offered something that I could not find elsewhere."