Song Profiles

Song title: Borderline
From the album: All Girl Band
Requested by: Chelly

In my most rock and roll dreams, the year is 1999. The album is Julie Ruin and my name is Kathleen Hanna. I would never have to worry about not being cool, because I invented cool. I would never have to worry about selling out, because selling out would be cool if I did it. In my most rock and roll dreams, I would inspire Kurt Cobain to write "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and all would be right with the world.

Instead, I spent 1999 impoverished, lonely, and neurotic. Whether I was ducking from my insane apartment manager, my pervy neighbor, or the wicked-cool North Hollywood gang that liked hanging out near my parking space, I was nothing but a bag of nerves...which is why the stories about Kathleen Hanna recording Julie Ruin in her bedroom closet inspired me so much.

At the height of my obsession with that album, I fancied myself a similar lo-fi bedroom grrrl. Only, I didn't have any songs recorded yet. When I told people that I was going to record an album, I'd describe my music as "bedroom piano punk". Now, I realize I don't have a single punk bone in my musical body. However, I SO BADLY wanted to. To be fair, although my music was never remotely punk in any way, shape or form, my approach to it was. It was all a bloody fuck this, fuck me, fuck you. I don't need a fucking studio. I don't need to know what the fuck I'm doing. This music is fucking brilliant.

Borderline was a song I could only write in such a cesspool of faux-punkness. Didn't ask to be born, and I'm going to make sure I tell the world...quietly, with a pretty marimba in the background.

There was a horrible moment in my early career where I had a reoccurring gig at The Coffee Bean in Burbank. I actually had to AUDITION for that shot at fame and fortune. The booking doode required me to "jam" with him, to see how good I was. The only thing I remember was that he wore a button up blue t-shirt, with orange and yellow flames. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "righteous." And, lo, did I jam to some of the most hip rockabilly tunes y'ever heard. When we were done, he stuck out his hand and said, "Yeah. You're alright. You got Friday nights if you want 'em." Do I want 'em? Hells, yeah. I'm gonna bring the roof, my punk-ass self and this 80 pound Kurzweil. In those days, my stage attire consisted of mismatched confusion. I think I ratted my hair. And then I wore a velvet dress with Converse sneakers. The only thing missing was my white face make-up and black fingernails.

However, you probably think I'm joking about the fame and fortune comment. Not so! My first-ever fan was a guy named Tristan who bought one of my cassette tapes at The Coffee Bean. The manager at the bookstore across the street began playing that same horrendous tape in his store. And I was approached by a bona fide manager of rock and roll. For about one week, I had me a manager, yo. But he envisioned me sitting at a grand piano with candelabras, wearing velvet, and totally rocking the white face paint. And the face paint? That was a deal breaker.

So it was at The Coffee Bean in Burbank that I was calming my nerves in-between songs with a little improv. As I switched out of the improv and into Borderline, I accidentally hit the "marimba" button on my keyboard. Shock! Horror! But the show must go on, so I sang the whole song to its warbly pitch. Eeeek. Much to my surprise people liked that version of the song. They would ask me to play it again - that one, and also Metro Joe. Those were the two smash hits of The Coffee Bean in Burbank, circa 1999.

I can't think about Borderline without thinking about all that stuff. Borderline is Kathleen Hanna. It's Julie Ruin. It's the pervy neighbor. It's The Coffee Bean. It's velvet and Converse. It's 1999. But I swear to god, it was never ever Madonna.

November 2006