As “women's music” began defining itself in the early 1970s, publications on the subject also began to emerge. Musica, a small newsletter from Oregon edited by Indy Allen, appeared in 1974, and the same year, Paid My Dues, a more ambitious effort, started in Milwaukee, edited by Dorothy Dean. In 1977, six Chicago women, including Toni Armstrong, Jr., took over publication of Paid My Dues and kept it going until 1980. In November 1984, a new national publication originated in Chicago, called HOT WIRE; The Journal of Women's Music and Culture. Started by Armstrong, Michele Gautreux, Anne Morris and Yvonne Zipter, it quickly became the national voice of the burgeoning women's music movement, and a wide-ranging chronicle of lesbian feminist culture. After its first year, Armstrong took the helm as publisher and managing editor, with a large crew of dedicated lesbian volunteers. A total of 30 issues of HOT WIRE were published, three times yearly, from 1984 to 1994.
One of HOT WIRE's primary missions was to document and celebrate woman-identified music, writing and performing arts, as well as creative political actions that were of interest to lesbian and feminist readers. Hand-stapled into each issue was a soundsheet—a flexi-disc containing from four to six songs that could be played on a record player—so subscribers could hear the music of performers who were written about in that issue. The magazine garnered subscribers all over the United States, and some in Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Europe and Africa.
HOT WIRE featured cover interviews with women who were well-known on the women's music circuit—a wide variety from Alix Dobkin to Ronnie Gilbert, from Linda Tillery to Melissa Etheridge—as well as interviews with more mainstream figures such as Alice Walker and Kathy Najimy. Centering its reporting on the performers and events at women's festivals such as the National Women's Music Festival, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and the East Coast Lesbians' Festival, HOT WIRE also featured women who were prominent in other arts, such as the writer and poet Audre Lorde, the cartoonist Alison Bechdel of Dykes To Watch Out For fame, and the comedians Kate Clinton, Karen Williams, and Suzanne Westenhoefer. All the artists featured were women, mostly lesbian, many of them “stars” in women's music but unknown to the mainstream. The magazine also included straight feminist artists who were gay-friendly.
“We wanted to print a lot of photos. We wanted to cover festivals. We wanted to have feminist writers' input as well, not just in writing articles that are journalistic, but also talking about feminist writing, feminist theater, all of these things, trying to pull together artists who would appreciate each other's work,” says Armstrong. “We never covered anything that had men in it. It was all put together by women, every single thing, including the mailing, putting on the stamps, all the writing, everything.”
Positioning itself at the intersection of the lesbian movement and the feminist movement, HOT WIRE described, documented and defined an explosive era of lesbian feminist activity. It was a publication that believed in the creative force of liberated women and proud lesbians whom it reported about and spoke to. In the publication's final issue, Armstrong commented that she had been “in the enviable position of interviewing, photographing, and schmoozing with many of the most interesting, talented women of our generation.”
From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.