Books

When You Speak to Your Muse, Does It Answer? It Does in 'Boss Broad'

Wild rebellion and reckless combat are increasingly less valued than ethical wit and spiritual sustenance in Megan Volpert's entertaining and insightful Boss Broad.

Boss Broad
Megan Volpert

Sibling Rivalry Press

Jun 2019

Other

To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, the chief business of American writers is America; Megan Volpert, author of Boss Broad (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019) and PopMatters contributor, is no exception. We have heard a lot lately about what makes America "great". Our Tweeter-in-Chief speaks on the issue in accordance with his current levels of attention span, reducing the worst bastardizations of American exceptionalism down to divisive, white-washed, tribal slogans. Others have responded with a very different interpretation of their nation, though, citing inclusiveness, diversity, and unity as principles representing the best this nation has to offer, both past and present. Volpert locates herself in the latter camp.

Whether sharing a personal anecdote about her friend and fellow teacher, Abby Norman, or assessing the merits of her primary muse, Bruce Springsteen, Volpert is ultimately concerned with what it means—for better or worse—to be an American. As such, Boss Broad could just as well have been called American Broad; her business, clearly, is to support and encourage a broader America than that in which we currently live.

This mission is undertaken by using a broad-based approach that employs multiple forms of expression. Personal memories transition seamlessly into letters and book reviews, each interrupted periodically by personalized rewrites of selected Springsteen songs. The unifying thread running through each of these disparate genres is the constant presence of muses upon which Volpert contemplates her ideal America. And as much as those muses serve as guiding spirits and sources of inspiration, they are not spared the author's occasional critical censure. Musicians, comedians, writers, politicians, and critics are all put under scrutiny, each appraised in terms of their artistic and personal virtues—or lack thereof. Like Greil Marcus in Mystery Train (Plume, 1975), Volpert's subjects serve as symbols that lead us into America's cultural mythology. By airing their voices, a voice is given to all those yearning for "other" Americas.

Springsteen is perhaps not an unlikely myth-symbol to focus on for a writer interested in American culture and character. What is surprising is the methodological approach Volpert uses on her fellow Boss. Instead of a conventional critical analysis, the author instead responds to her muse by rewriting his songs. Fed up with the "sea of girls, babies, darlings and belittling yet affectionate referents" (p.33) that populate Springsteen's songs, Volpert decides to talk back, maintaining the original rhythms and beats but inserting a new (mostly) female-centered narrative viewpoint and lyrics. She gleefully calls this the act of an "arsonist", burning down the originals while facilitating ignored and marginalized voices to rise from the ashes.

In some respects, this act is a variation on the "rewrite" tradition that has long existed within folk and blues music, but a hat is also tipped to the "answer" song scuffles that existed around "Annie" in the 1950s and "Roxanne" in the '80s. Volpert's justification is closer to the folk/blues legacy, whereby each re-vision adds an additional link to the chain of (un)common connectedness. She explains it as "a form of worship and also of generational knowledge transmission" (p.17). One of her more inventive and audacious rewrites is of "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)", which is newly envisioned as a song in which an aging drag queen initiates a younger one.

Volpert's song recasts reveal the love-irritation relationship she has with her main muse. Besides being delightful deeds of irreverence, they also tell the Boss that his America is too narrow: too male, too white, and too conventionally heterosexual. "Isn't he supposed to be the voice of the people?" the author implicitly asks. Springsteen gets a slap on the wrist, too, for his dereliction of duty as a public spokesperson, further illustrating that his symbolic significance goes beyond mere music. Many have blamed Hillary Clinton's loss in the 2016 presidential election on her not showing up to campaign in the rust belt states, but Volpert points the finger squarely at Bruce for not rallying "his people" on her behalf. She is equally "pissed" that her muse canceled his North Carolina gig in protest against that state's bill dictating which restrooms transgendered people should use. If similarly victimized, she asserts, "I'd have needed to go to a show more than ever" (p.23).

Any deliberation on American values nowadays seems to inevitably draw one into polemic; however, Volpert largely discusses political issues using a small "p". For her, decency and justice are what matter, not party political or denominational alignments. Yes, gender and sexuality are omnipresent concerns throughout the book, but the author does not necessarily tow a party line, showing more affection for an avowed non-feminist like Chrissie Hynde than celebrated women warriors like Camille Paglia and Kathy Acker. The author obviously admires the rugged individualism and pioneering creativity of all these women, but one senses that she has grown weary of the bludgeoning approach of Paglia and the immaturity of Acker's libertine lifestyle. Feeling more settled and secure in her mid-30s, Volpert admits to moving into calmer waters of late, such that wild rebellion and reckless combat are increasingly less valued than ethical wit and spiritual sustenance.

These qualities she finds in the critical humorists that serve—like the court jesters of old—as our nation's truth-tellers and conscience. In Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Stephen Colbert, Volpert not only brings up muses to muse upon, but she also finds representatives of candor and courage. In the Catholic Colbert she finds a modern-day Bruce, someone driven to "evangelize" in the name of secular ethics. Scourges of hypocrisy, unchecked power, and greed, these comic dissenters symbolize the kind of America Volpert hopes for, one where politics and religion are instruments used for the common good, not for institutional benefit.

Four bawdy "broads" are also hailed in the book as contemporary comedic forces; one is Volpert's energetic and eccentric ex-comedian wife, Mindy Friedman, and the others are her wife's peer Paula Poundstone and the "loud-mouthed women" of Broad City (p.35). Each display the kind of dance-to-your-own-tune autonomy and don't-give-a-fuck outsider pride that highlight America as the unruly nation it has been and can be, molded and modeled as much in the maverick margins as the mainstream.

At one point Volpert speaks of her critical purpose as finding and communicating "what is at stake" with the artists and art she examines (p.42). In conversing with her myriad muses from modern America, what she finds is love, friendship, intelligence, and authenticity battling for supremacy against selfishness, self-absorption, elitism, and narrow-mindedness. As such, Boss Broad is a classic American story that resonates through both our collective past and present.

Photo courtesy of Sibling Rivalry Press

7
Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.