Ailing Kathleen Hanna back in action 

While tracking her new album "Run Fast" with her latest combo, the Julie Ruin, ex-Bikini Kill-Le Tigre firebrand Kathleen Hanna came to a stark realization.

Listening back to jaggedly energetic cuts such as "Cookie Road," "Ha Ha Ha" and the tongue-in-cheek feminist anthem "Girls Like Us," she noticed something unusual.

"It's really funny — when I'm depressed or I'm having a hard time, I'll write really fun stuff," she says. "And then when I'm really happy, I write really depressing stuff. And I'd been through a really hard time in my life when we wrote this record."

Few friends knew that Hanna — who hits The City this week — had been suffering from an invisible illness since childhood.

"I have late-stage Lyme disease," says the riot grrrl icon, who for seven years has been married to a similarly sharp-witted musician, Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz of The Beastie Boys.

"I was misdiagnosed for many, many years and told I had lupus, MS, Crohn's disease, even degenerative arthritis. And finally in 2010, I got the correct diagnosis, because on the last Le Tigre tour, I was having several seizures a day and at times not being able to brush my own teeth."

But treatment often proved more daunting than the condition itself. For more than eight months, Hanna, 44, was hooked up to a line that pumped antibiotics straight into her heart.

"It was a lot like chemo — it's very uncomfortable and it makes you very sick," she says. "We were writing the record when I was diagnosed, so there were periods when I'd be well — for four days at a time — and that's when we'd work. Everybody was very gracious about not knowing when — or if — we were ever going to finish the record or tour."

Hanna originally came up with her Julie Ruin concept back in 1997 for the Kill Rock Stars imprint, after her Olympia, Wash., group Bikini Kill disbanded. But she moved to New York and instead launched Le Tigre, whose 2010 hiatus after three albums left her free to resurrect the Julie Ruin idea.

"During those well times, the best thing I could have been doing was playing music," she says of why "Run Fast" bristles with such kinetic punk spark. "Because it really brought me back to who I was before all this happened."

The singer — who also stays busy with photography — is now venturing into the space-sculpting field of art installations.

"I still have some hard weeks, but I'm pretty much in remission now," she's pleased to report. "So look for our next album to be one of those sad-sack horror records!"


The Julie Ruin

Where: Slim's, 333 11th St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Tickets: $18

Contact: (415) 522-0333,

About The Author

Tom Lanham

Pin It

More by Tom Lanham

Latest in Pop Music & Jazz

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation