12 May American Woman
sop, afl, bcl, perc, kbd, vn + db [10′] 2009.
Commissioner: Motion Ensemble
Funder: Canada Council for the Arts
Premiere: Motion Ensemble, Sappyfest, Sackville, July 31, 2009.
Lyrics: Burton Cummings (excerpted from the Guess Who song)
In 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, Canadian band the Guess Who released the song “American Woman”. The album of the same name became their first U.S. Top Ten hit and first gold album. The group performed for President and Mrs. Nixon and Prince Charles at the White House. (Pat Nixon requested that “American Woman” be dropped from the set list.)
In recomposing “American Woman” I was thinking of two wars: the Iraq war and the strange war against the body waged by the American beauty industry. The war in Iraq costs over $2 billion per week while Americans spend more than $15 billion per year on cosmetic surgery. In 2004 nearly 12 million surgical and non-surgical beauty procedures were performed in the U.S., including more than 290,000 eyelid jobs, 166,000 nose jobs, 478,000 liposuctions and 334,000 breast enhancements. In The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report, Susie Orbach and Nancy Etcoff found that only two percent of women feel comfortable describing themselves as beautiful.
“American Woman” has been covered by Lenny Kravitz, Krokus and the The Butthole Surfers, among others. This version was commissioned by Motion Ensemble with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.