Kathy Acker

Redoing Childhood

by Kat Iudicello


“I want to tell you about my childhood. Nothing will prevent me, neither close attention nor the desire to be exact, from writing and speaking words that sing.” Kill Rock Stars moved brilliantly in putting out this recording of Kathy Acker’s Redoing Childhood. Her words are infused with genius. Take the literary classic Blood and Guts in High School, which is filled with aggressively performed female desire, throwing established patriarchal, heterosexual order into a chaotic state.

Acker’s in-your-face writing confronts readers by unsettling their assumed oppressed-approved positionality in terms of gender and sex. She belligerently dis-places readers who passively receive texts from their comfortable positions, forcing them to address issues in ways that stray violently from traditional dialogue. Women’s bodies within Acker’s text are unavoidable, unexpected, uncovered, staring directly out of the text from places readers shudder even to consider. Such performances collapse simplistic dichotomous images of women on stage, in your face, and create space for a transformative gestural politics.

cover art

Kathy Acker

Redoing Childhood

(Kill Rock Stars)

Redoing Childhood is a text written and, six years ago, read by Acker for Hal Willner. The CD jacket features a photograph of Acker that Allen Ginsberg took, which is fitting since literary critics have often compared the texts of Acker and Ginsberg. Acker considered Ginsberg a powerful influence and once interviewed him. The back up music features Joe Gore on guitar, Kenny Wollenson on percussion/drums, and Steve Bernstein on trumpet, joined by Ralph Carney for a horn section. Kathy Acker suggested that San Francisco hardcore, lesbian punk band Tribe 8 be added and even took Willner to a show, which featured knives cutting into dildos, a gesture of anarchy typical of the band.

Leading off with, “President Bush,” Acker claims her childhood began with the Bush administration. She becomes Bush, reading into a dictaphone his last wishes, which include getting rid of university education “the state is just a mass that secretes and shelters the power relations behind it.” Tribe 8 rocks at the end of the second track, “Miss Savage’s School for Girls,” which speaks of a girl gang, dancing school, capitalization, colonization, drugs, a utopian community of hermaphrodites, and pirates.

After leaving school, Acker’s “A Country That I’ve Never Seen” depicts the next stage in her life where she travels from one surreal hotel to the next. The eerie music on this track is continued on the next, “I Will Stay with You,” during which Acker interrogates American men and leaves her childhood along side some odd, funky horn work and a sweet jam by Tribe 8.

“Hotel Etoile Rouge,” begins with an old school New Orleans tune and is a space for questioning the convoluted concept and perception of identity. Tribe 8 rips a sly guitar through “Outside the Law, Which is Language” while Acker speaks of being and want as a “woman who thinks… outside the law, which is language.”

Dreamscapes are journeyed through against a steady yet eclectic percussion in “The Female Doctor” and waning horn work in “Hotel of the Lilac Eyes,” which also features haunting Western TV sounds and a punk rock tune by Tribe 8.

The last track, “Face to Face with Death,” builds with a strangeness created by the sounds of a guitar, a horn, and some clicking percussion work. The music that backs Acker’s voice and words runs from punk rock to haunting horns and drums, a movement that parallels Acker’s own exploration of her life on Redoing Childhood.

For folks who aren’t afraid of or uncomfortable with an exploration of spaces of humanity that are often purposefully stepped over, check out this CD. For Acker fans, it’s a must.

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