By Erika Meyer
Nestled in one of my favorite blocks of S.E. Portland, 25th and S.E. Clinton Street, between Clinton Street Bar and Clinton Street Record and Stereo, there is a three-chair hair salon called Gilly’s Salon. Gilly’s specializes in organic, non-toxic hair care products. The atmosphere is fresh, clean, low-key. The walls display a beautiful series of abstract oil paintings by the salon owner’s husband, David Morgan.
Gilly Ann gives a great haircut. Her artistic sense is evident in her approach and she is fun to talk to, also. She is a natural, thoughtful storyteller. After talking with Gilly casually over the course of my visits to her salon, I decided to ask her if she would be interested in letting me do a Collapse Board interview and profile on her. I am interested in her history as a pioneering female rock musician and contemporary of mine.
Despite a quarter-century history as an accomplished independent musician, Gilly is not as well known as some of the others to come out of the 80s Olympia, Washington music scene. A child of the 70s west coast back-to-the-land movement, Gilly grew up on a farm in the mountains of southern Oregon surrounded by a supportive, loving, and artistic family. She took an early interest in guitar, and specifically, in playing rock’n'roll music. After attending a year at Southern Oregon University as a music major, she transferred to Evergreen State College in Olympia, and it was there where her musical aspirations really began to take form.
Over the years, Gilly has held different roles in different bands. She has collaborated with many different artists, and toured along with the likes of Elliott Smith and Quasi, but she is best known for her time leading the early 90s all-female band, Calamity Jane. Formed in Olympia, Calamity Jane found a supportive home in Portland. They focused on their music: writing, recording, performing, touring. They released several singles, and an LP. They went through a couple of line-up changes. Then, they were asked to fly to do a show with Nirvana in Argentina. There, in 1992, after a mass assault of disrespect by Nirvana ‘fans’, they fractured and dissolved.
On October 30, Nirvana played… in front of one of the largest crowds of their career: nearly 50,000 at the Velez Sarsfield Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina… when the partisan crowd started heckling Calamity Jane – simply because they were female (or so Nirvana surmised) – everything really went downhill. “The entire crowd were throwing mud and rocks, just pelting them,” Kurt told Request in November ’93. “Eventually, the girls stormed off crying. It was terrible, just a mass of sexism all at once.” p 413. NIRVANA: The Biography. Everett True. Omnibus Press 2006.
Nirvana went on and played a noisy, taunting set, beginning with a long noise jam and skipping all but a few teaser bars of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
Their gear was broken, their van was broken – and when that fabled $5,000 check arrived – months later – it was made out to a non-existent entity: “Calamity Jane”. That was their last show as Calamity Jane. Broke, broke down, road weary – the band broke up. Guitarist and bassist Joanna Bolme went on to perform with The Minders, Quasi, and currently, Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks. She is also a recording and mixing engineer, working on notable albums such as Eliott Smith’s Either/Or, among others. In 1993, drummer Marci Martinez joined Team Dresch. And Gilly went on to other projects, playing with Neil Gust (formerly of Portland’s Heatmeiser) in his band, No. 2, and with her friend Stef Darensbourg in the more collaborative/experimental Braille Stars, among others.
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