An Open Letter to Shirley Manson From Collette McLafferty
Fierce Femme and GRGR Alum!
Speaking out and up for Women in Rock and Fighting for the Music and Against Ageism!
Thank you for being a part of the soundtrack to my life and growing years. I feel lucky to be an 80’s/90’s baby, as both decades were blessed with age diversity on the charts. Popular music matters and is worth fighting for. It seeps into our culture and how we relate to each other. Even if we don’t listen to it.
When I was 38, I was fired from a singing contract by a male bass player, also 38. I was fired for the crime of being born in 1973 ,then replaced by a woman who looked older then me, but made the “cut off age” of 35. At that point, I decided to stop hiding behind a “showbiz age”. And now, just like you, I challenge ageism everyday. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
You said don’t worry about it. And I don’t! But LEGIONS of brilliant artist here in NYC feel they’ll never share their gifts to the world if their “dirty secret” of years rotating the sun are revealed. We both know that our age and experience is a gift to be embraced and celebrated. But too many insanely talented artists don’t realize this, which is why I am writing to you publicly.
I’m not sure if it is my Scottish roots (I represent the McLafferty clan of Glasgow…holla!), but there’s something in your “tell it like it is” delivery on your Facebook page that feels like your exact words were already etched into my own brain. I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts and would comment occasionally. Imagine my surprise at 2AM(ish) when I was logging in and there was my picture in the comments of your post on ageism in the music industry at the top of my feed.
“Fuck everyone who is ageist”. Words right out of my fucking mouth , Shirley. The article was from the BBC’s “What’s age got to do with it”. Then as I looked down there was me right underneath. What, whaaa?
A mutual fan of yours and friend of mine, Mike Bonefig, shared my story with you in your comment feed. (And for you readers new to the party, the story is this: a stranger sued me for $10,000,000 for singing in a P!NK tribute band he used to play drums for, the media reported it was because I was “too old and too ugly” for the band.) What are the odds I would log in at that moment? In times of chaos and torture, (which is precisely what this whole ordeal has been), I cling to synchronistic moments, in hopes of finding lessons, silver linings and allies.
This situation I’m in right now is downright unacceptable and a complete violation of my life and career. I feel like having a conversation with the world about the way the media broke this story. If I don’t speak up, loudly, it might get worse for the next person in my shoes.
After 20 years singing professionally, 1000 shows, 4 self booked tours/ EP’s, a record deal, 8 music videos (5 of which I produced), MTV airplay, television jingles, and a successful side business vocal coaching I was reduced to the following headlines:
“Singer sued for being too old and ugly for Pink cover band.”, NY Post
And this gem:
“Pink cover band “ruined” by bad, ugly singer $10 lawsuit claims”. Findlaw.com
Here is what the mainstream media is hiding from the world:
1) I have never met the Plaintiff, (he was long gone before I was hired).
2) The 112 page complaint is a dispute between 2 former friends and band mates that I was dragged into. Yes 2 grown men in their 50’s fighting over a fucking P!NK tribute band. The Plaintiff’s opinion of my looks is a detail of the case, not the center of it.
3) My age was never once mentioned in the lawsuit and had no business even being a talking point in the media coverage. The NY Post knew that I felt the Plaintiff had no idea he targeted a grown woman with decades of professional experience. They made a clear choice to make an issue out of a non issue.
“Is this a joke?” people usually ask when reading about my case. And yes, just like you Shirley, the sheer absurdity of it all makes people wonder if they are reading from The Onion. Although, I can assure you that behind the entertaining veneer of the All- American “wacky, frivolous lawsuit”, is some very real devastation of an innocent woman whose life has been hijacked by a complete stranger. But there are 2 chapters to this story…the lawsuit and the aftermath of the NY Post article, which went viral worldwide. I’ll speak mostly on the second.
Our country has seen some extreme shifts in past years… first black president, gay marriage, legalized weed in some states…but somehow age shaming and discrimination seems to be perfectly socially acceptable and done on autopilot. The treatment I was given by the MSM is precisely why so many brilliant artists lie about their age or assume that any window of success for them has closed. This has the potential to rob our society of some great works of art.
In my opinion, ageism in music should be taken just as seriously as any other form of discrimination in any other industry. Would we ban an accountant from crunching numbers because of an ethnic background? Or keep a disabled teacher out of the classroom? Should a postal worker lose a mail route because of a sexual preference? Reasonable people would say no. I say there no reason in hell a musician or performer should be barred from any stage, radio station or any other musical medium because of a birthday. There just isn’t.
In my opinion, the age discrimination that runs rampant in the business simply shouldn’t be legal. It’s an insult to the time we put into our craft.
I remember when women started to vanish from rock radio in the late 90’s.. My favorite stations morphed into an all %100 male playlist. I would actually call, email and write to the radio stations to please play female artists. To my surprise, they would throw me a bone because I spoke up. Often, to my delight, it was a Garbage record in the “token” slot. . What if more people spoke up and stopped accepting ageism as the status quo in the music world? To Shirley’s fans and my fans who are reading this, I would encourage you to write your radio stations, magazines and speak out against “cut off ages”. We could find ourselves back in a golden age of popular music if we all shout just a little louder.
People may say that there are more pressing things going on today, but I firmly believe that the values we express in popular culture ripple throughout the world. And though ageism in the business is not exclusively a female issue, the airwaves are sending a message that %51 of our population is losing value with every year as they exit their 20’s. And as long as this is the status quo, our world will be out of balance and we will continue be horrified our daily headlines. This matters.
On November 19th, I will be speaking in our state capitol of Albany, NY at the annual meeting of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. I will be taking my story into the political realm in hopes to contribute towards a journey of meaningful change in our legal system. While my focus will be on lawsuit abuse, when the time is right I will continue into this new politically charged chapter of my career to make the change I want to see in the music business. I might fall flat on my face, but if I convince one fellow artist to turn their back on the ‘age cut off’ propaganda and sing out full force, then I have done my job.
Shirley, thank you for speaking out against ageism in a time when too many are mind numbingly accepting it as the status quo. I hope more artists will join the conversation and get loud.
Thank you for reading and commenting on my story. A few celebrities have reached out privately, as their PR people have asked them not to comment on my case publicly. Unfortunately, P!NK’s camp has been radio silence as my entire life is crumbling before me (Although I have no doubt it will, one day be rebuilt.). I ask you humbly to please keep sharing my story, as what is happening to me is not OK and should not happen to anyone else. Ever.
Yours in rock and roll, the continued rising of the divine feminine and telling it like it fucking is,