Music Article

JUST SAY MOE

MAUREEN TUCKER, ORIGINAL RIOT GRRRL

She was a riot grrrl back when the word girl still had a vowel. In 1965, 20- year-old Maureen Tucker was banging along to Stones records in her Levittown, N.Y., bedroom on a cheap snare drum and a cymbal ''the size of a sandwich plate.'' ''It was just for fun,'' she recalls. ''I never had any intention of playing with anybody.'' Then Lou Reed, her brother's Syracuse University buddy, knocked on her bedroom door, and Tucker passed an audition that earned her a seat behind the drum kit of the Velvet Underground, the first chapter of the Book of Alternative Rock. For the next five years, Tucker's primitive poundings grounded Reed's dark musings about junkies and transvestites. Tucker set the tone for grrrls to come by playing it her way: flipping her bass drum on its side, beating it with mallets, and dressing like a boy, complete with close-cropped hair and shades. She wasn't a babe, but she was a musician, and she was cool. After the Velvets split in the early '70s, Tucker got married, had five children (Kerry, 23; Keith, 19; Austen, 18; Kate, 15; and Richard, 12), divorced, and moved to Douglas, Ga. Leaving Warhol's Factory behind for Sam Walton's, she toiled as a billing clerk at the local Wal-Mart (and later dissed the late billionaire in her song ''Spam Again'': ''Me and you will stay so poor/He'll get richer for sure''). Then one day daughter Kerry went to her biology teacher's house for a science project. ''When Kerry opened the door, 'Heroin' was playing,'' recalls Tucker, 49. ''Kerry said, 'That's my mom!' and the teacher was flabbergasted.'' It wasn't long before Tucker traded in her drumsticks for a guitar and began making a string of albums for indie labels (her latest, Dogs Under Stress, is out this month). As a testament to her alternative cool, VU offspring like Sonic Youth and Gumball's Don Fleming played on those records; a fanzine called Moe Works at Wal-Mart popped up in Florida; and Tucker still tours Europe twice a year (last summer with the reunited Velvets). Is she familiar with her other rock spawn-riot grrrls? ''Not really,'' Tucker says. ''I've heard the term, but where I live there's no opportunity to get anything other than Michael Jackson or Ice-T or whatever he's called. Even the Velvet Underground are too far out to be in what we call a record store in this town.'' -Michele Romero

Originally posted Jan 28, 1994 Published in issue #207 Jan 28, 1994 Order article reprints
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