Welcome to the first entry in a series I’ll be doing called “Tuning In.” Over the next eight weeks, I will be highlighting intersections of music culture and television from a feminist perspective. As music is often relegated to the background or given minimal consideration when used in other mediums, I thought a post on Lane Kim, protagonist Rory Gilmore’s best friend in the long-running series Gilmore Girls, would be a good introduction to my interests here.
During the dramedy’s seven-season run, attention was paid to the show’s smart writing, the central and unconventional mother-daughter relationship, star Alexis Bledel’s promising career, Lauren Graham’s inimitable turn as Rory’s mother Lorelai, and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s authorial control and distinctly feminist presence on prime time television. Of course, popular culture was of considerable importance in establishing the show’s tone, and its ultra-referential dialogue potentially influenced Diablo Cody’s Juno. But while Rory and Lorelai possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of literature, movies, and music, it was Lane (played by Keiko Agena) who gave the show its focus on popular music and indie rock, lending the show a certain credibility that parent networks like the WB and the CW could potentially cash in on.
However, as music tends to be peripheral in television criticism, Lane was often at the margins of the show’s narrative. While most episodes focused on generational and class tensions within the Gilmore family, professional and educational pressures Lorelai and Rory had to contend with, humorous conflicts between townspeople in Stars Hollow, and the drama resulting from the titular characters’ romances, Lane often drove B-stories that involved music.
At first, these stories were informed by Lane’s rebellion against her strict mother who wanted to instill her daughter with strong values according to the family’s Korean background and religious affiliation with Seventh Day Adventists. Lane would hide things from her mother, like the CD collection under her bedroom floor boards, her love of drumming, and her formation of the band, Hep Alien (an anagram of producer Helen Pai’s name).
But for her friends and viewers, Lane was defined by her love of indie rock rather than in opposition to her mother. As a white woman, I cannot relate to how race or ethnic identity may have informed the values Lane’s mother placed on religion, sexual purity, nutrition, decorum, obedience, and abstaining from American popular culture. However, I can relate to being the girl who knows a lot about bands. Thus, I was thrilled by the moments when Lane bursts at the seams to recommend new music to friends or indulge them with monologues about the minutiae of rock culture and technology. If Rory was a fan of Rilo Kiley, X, Belle and Sebastian, or Sonic Youth, Lane was most likely the person who turned her on to them. Rory also borrowed CDs from Lane, whether trying to set the ambiance for a romantic evening with a boyfriend or just when she wanted to kick out some new jams.
I also enjoyed when Lane would take her expertise to a public forum, whether it was deejaying an event in Stars Hollow or starting a band. Lane’s enthusiasm for independent music and her ability to recall line-ups, influences, record labels, gear, and historical movements speaks to the same need I had to have my own radio show in college.
As someone who is learning how to play the guitar, I was inspired by Lane’s resolve to learn the drums, which she began doing in secret by taking lessons at the local music store owned by a woman named Sophie, played by Carole King (who also sang the show’s theme song, “Where You Lead,” with her daughter Louise Goffin). She also displayed resourcefulness and independent thinking when finding a band to play with once she felt confident enough in her skills. As the lone female in Hep Alien, much less a member playing the instrument least associated with women (shouldn’t she be playing the bass?), I found her brave in defying not only her mother’s conventions but in forging a path for herself on her own terms.
In the band, she also had to negotiate romances with fellow members Dave Rygalski (Adam Brody) and Zach Van Gerbig (Todd Lowe), the latter of whom she married at the end of season six. That she was able to balance a private life with professional duties is a model for others to follow. Eventually, mother and daughter reconciled their differences as adult women, in no small part because Lane proved herself a responsible person who could book gigs, organize touring schedules, handle the money, and balance other responsibilities to subsidize her passion.
Unfortunately, the series ended with Lane at home with twin infant sons while her husband and former bandmate struck out on his own with another band. But should the show get the big-screen treatment, here’s hoping that she picks up her sticks again.