On their final album, The Woods, Sleater-Kinney included a song, “Entertain”, that was interpreted by some (i.e., me) to be a challenge to the audience. I’m not sure this is a universal reading of the lyrics … AllMusic claims the song takes on “easy targets of retro rock and reality TV”. The ferocity of Carrie and Corin’s vocals suggest something more than Wannabe 1972ers have got their goats. It was a startling note, coming from a band we thought of as “one of us” … they set up their own instruments, they worked their own merch tables, they were approachable. When the band broke up after The Woods (it’s time to finally say goodbye to the word “hiatus”), it was “Entertain” that stuck with me.
Carrie is featured in a piece in Rolling Stone, “Carrie Brownstein’s Life After Punk”. She is now known as much for the television series Portlandia as she is for her music career, which strikes old S-K fans as odd (as Simon Vozick-Levinson says in the article, “it's as if PJ Harvey joined the cast of Parks and Recreation”).
What hit home for me was the description of life during the later years of Sleater-Kinney, as seen from the perspective of Carrie. “She had struggled with anxiety for years, and was overwhelmed with the stress of constant touring”. The latter comes as no surprise, the road isn’t an easy place, but I don’t think most fans understood that a lot of what seemed like fiery charisma to us as we watched her grew out of anxiety we didn’t recognize:
Brownstein was fighting a private battle even as the group reached new creative heights. … Brownstein checked herself into emergency rooms around gigs in Denver, Seattle, Berlin and Leicester, England. "I'd think I was having a heart attack and I couldn't breathe, or I would have hives and be going into anaphylactic shock," she says. "My body was rejecting the life that I had built for myself. It didn't stop until the band ended."
Reading these words, knowing what she went through to provide us with something more than just another band, but also, yes, to entertain us, I head back to “Entertain” and want to cry.
So you want to be entertained?
Please look away
We're not here 'cause we want to entertain
Please go away (don't go away) …
All you want is entertainment,
Rip me open it's free
1, 2, 3! If you wanna take a shot at me,
Get in line …
[Don't drag me down,
I'm not falling down]
The grip of fear is already here
The lines are drawn,
Whose side are you on?
Here’s a powerful live version from The Henry Rollins Show: