Dear Bean: On Being A Second Wave Woman in Punk

Dear Bean,    mg-bean-claudia2

You recently asked me which women in punk that I looked up to when I was first starting out playing drums in punk bands, and I have a confession to make. Aside from the women who were my friends, the women who I was playing music with, the answer is none. In some ways, because there were so few women playing punk rock music, we felt like we were the only ones. We named our band Bitch Fight because we were women and because we were young and we fought a lot over petty things, but we didn’t always want to be referred to as a girl band, and while we were excited to be feature in MRR in 1989, we were a bit disappointed to be in the Women’s Issue. We had a range of mixed feelings about what we were doing because of the messages being sent to us from the scene, messages that made it clear that women in music were just a novelty, and we wanted to be more than that. At the same time, we like many other women in the scene, bought into the idea that punk and punk ethos was defined by men. We didn’t exactly want to be one of the boys, but we also didn’t want a label that we knew was used to downplay our importance in the scene, or to only play girl band night at Gilman.

I developed a love for music and a desire to become a musician at a very early age, learning to play the flute in third grade. I loved Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, and later the Go Go’s. In my early teens, I, for obvious reasons, became fascinated by Poly Styrene of the X-Ray Spex and Annabella Lewin of Bow Wow Wow. It was a downer, though, to discover a band like X-Ray Spex after they were already broken up. In fact, it seemed like all the first wave punk bands with women in them were all broken up. For this reason, my punk idols became men: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Jello Biafra, DH Peligro, Dave Dictor, save one woman, Lynn Perko of the Dicks, a voluptuous blonde, who beat her drums and sweated so ferociously, I was hardly ever able to tear my eyes away from her each time I saw The Dicks play. I also looked up to bands like The Clash, Dead Kennedys, MDC, and the Dicks because of their overt political lyrics.

I never, however, in those early years, looked up to Alice Bag. It pains me to say this. I loved the idea of the Zeros, the Xicano punk band from Chula Vista. When I  learned of them, I wished I had never left LA and had been old enough to see them play, but Alice scared me. I first learned of her, like so many of us did, when I first saw Decline of Western Civilization, a movie in which so many others in bands featured in the filmed were interviewed when Alice was not. All those interviewed came off as dangerously self-destructive, and there was Alice, dominating the stage with her ages-old, indigenous power, her short hair a fuck you to Mexican and Mexican-American parents everywhere. Combined with the deranged depiction of punk and Alice’s intensity, I became afraid of punk, and women in punk, because I wasn’t sure I could match such power, was up for it, or could handle the responsibility, the responsibility that came with defying dominant culture, female gender roles, Mexican-American culture, American standards of beauty, and a multitude of social mores all at the same time.

If I just tried to blend in, I thought, it all might be less exhausting, of course, as you may know from reading my book, I was wrong.

There were several bands with women in them, or all female bands, that Bitch Fight and Spitboy played with that I’d like to mention, bands that were not riot grrl bands: Gag Order featured Wendy-O-Matik on vocals; Paxton Quiggly had Bronwyn on vocals too. Blatz featured Anna Joy, and the Gr’ups featured, Danielle Sea, Deb Dupas, and Kamala Parks. The all-female bands include Fright Wig, Tiger Trap, a jangly melodic band, whose drummer I also had a big crush on, Tribe 8, 7 Year Bitch, a metal-tinged outfit from Seattle, and the Trash Women, who featured Bitch Fight’s guitarist, Elka Zolot, and Kamala and the Karnivores, a band that I was actually in for a short amount of time, even getting lucky enough to play on the 7”. I mention the Karnivores because they are a band that was truly ahead of their time (even Mr. Ask Kent thinks so), and because in the spirit of supporting women, they asked me to join them on guitar after Bitch Fight broke up, which had left me depressed and broken. They picked me up, and helped me learn to own my place as a woman in punk, playing mixed gender bills and playing women’s nights, and via their camaraderie and the tongue-in-cheek title of our Lookout Records 7” “Girl Band.”

I am happy to say, being so subsumed in punk, playing in bands, starting at an early age, and meeting and making friends with so many women in the scene, I stopped having idols, and began having allies. And now you, you’re my ally too.

All my love, respect, and admiration,

Michelle

This is My Fucking Country

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MG, her brother and sister, in the country, circa 1979

Link to “This is My Fucking Country” up at hipmama.com

“This is my fucking country,” I said this to some colleagues at work on Friday, November 4. It felt like the thing kind of statement that I should expand into an essay, but I knew that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. 1001 Black Men artist, Ajuan Mance, wrote on Facebook on election night that she told a friend that she wasn’t going anywhere either, least of all Canada. She said, “With a Black population of something around 2.5 percent and some really wonky race politics, the neighbor to our north is really not happening for me. No matter who is president, I’ll stay right here, continuing the legacy of celebration and resistance established by my ancestors.”  It’s the kind of statement that I would expect from Ajuan, who was my American Literature professor at Mills College. 

I wasn’t planning write anything after the election, even though I knew that I should. I just didn’t think that I could harness all my thoughts and emotions, be articulate/surprisingly articulate (*wink*),  or say anything fresh. But then Ariel sent me a message, and in it were the words “resistance “and “punk,” and I was off. 

I say all this to give credit to my community, my teachers, friends, and all the people whose ideas meld with, inspire, and buoy mine.

Grab My Pussy, I Dare You: Medusa’s Revenge

 

 

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When you are caught on tape saying women let you do what they want, that you COULD even grab them by the pussy, because you are famous, AND then you say, you’ve NEVER done such a thing, that it’s all TALK – women who you’ve GROPED, KISSED without consent, BULLIED, made to stand on tables, so you could see up their skirts, or RAPED will speak up. Women who felt they had no power, no voice, women who you only did it to once, women who thought no one would listen, women who maybe spoke out before and no one did, WILL speak out. These women won’t stomach you any longer. They will speak out and they won’t stop.

When you shoot your mouth off and bully and insult and demean – women will start to speak out and they won’t stop. AND women who have pushed it all down, harassment at work, on the streets, leers, whistles, cat calls, “smile, why don’t you smile”, “ok, fuck you, bitch,” “suck my dick,” will listen, and we will tell our stories, and we won’t stop because there is no end to the litany of examples because this is what it’s like being a woman in America.

Men show their dicks to us on public transportation, rub up against us, and leer, and suck their teeth, and sometimes they get off the same bus stop and chase us across the street, forcing us to run into traffic. This is what it’s like to be a woman in America, you should know that, of all people you should know. 

You shrug it off give it a cute name, say it’s normal.

Then you say, “They’re liars. It’s all lies, you say.” Fiction. Anyone could make up a story like that. BUT here’s the thing. We don’t have to make up stories. There’s no shortage of adult men leering at girls, fingering them, “sit on my lap,” “it feels good, don’t you want to feel good?” There’s no shortage of NON-FICTION tales that I, or any number of my friends could tell – the men who tried to lure us into their cars, yes, more than one, the men who turned vicious when rebuffed or rejected or exposed.

“Look at her and look at her words.” YOU said. “You tell me what you think. I don’t think so.”

“These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false,” you said.

You have proof, you say, evidence.

You say there are no witnesses, that no one was around. WE know it’s how you operate, in the dark, under the covers, safe in first-class, money, power, influence. You say you have proof but we can’t prove you groped, bullied, leered, demeaned, raped. You’re right, we don’t have proof, no DNA evidence, no fingerprints to lift from our skin, no audio, no video, just stories, stories that we will tell, that we will keep telling because we are full, and you have lifted the lid.

Pandora is out of the box. Medusa’s head full of snakes is yanking apples off trees, and biting into them, letting their juices run, and run, and run.

Call Me Exotic, I Dare You

callmeexotic

My mom was born in Los Angeles — had me at seventeen

Call me exotic, I dare you

                                                    My dad was born in Los Angeles — beat his wife

                                                    Call me exotic, I dare you

My grandfather was born in Los Angeles — played jazz piano

Call me exotic, I dare you

                                                  My grandma was born in Camarillo, CA — lived her whole 

adult life in Los Angeles and my cousins were cholas

                                                  Call me exotic, I dare you

So, I’m not from South America

Call me exotic, I dare you

                                                  I’m not from Spain

                                                  Call me exotic, I dare you

I’m not from India, either

Call me exotic, I dare you

                                                 I grew up in Tuolumne, California

                                                 Call me exotic, I dare you

I learned most of my Spanish at Diablo Valley College

Call me exotic, I dare you

                                                I love Taco Bell bean burritos

                                                Call me exotic, I dare you

I can’t  salsa, cumbia, or do the tango

Call me exotic, I dare you

                                                I won’t wear a flower in my hair

                                                Call me exotic, I dare you

I don’t sing in Spanish, Nahuatl, or Portuguese

Call me exotic, I dare you.

                                                I play punk rock drums

                                                Call me exotic, I dare you

 I’m a hardcore, ball-busting, bra-burning

carpet-munching, dick-sucking, feminist, perimenopunk

Call me exotic, I dare you.

Punk Rock Reunions

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At a recent reading I did for The Spitboy Rule, someone said that they heard that Spitboy was going to reunite to play a reunion show. I would like to state for the record, and as publicly as possible, that the likelihood of Spitboy getting back together to play a reunion show is next to none. There are a couple of different reasons that would make doing so pretty impossible.

That said, since writing The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in Female Punk Band, I have had the same or similar recurring dream. Spitboy is going to get back together to play a show, probably at Gilman, and just a couple of hours before the show I realize that I don’t remember any of the drum parts, and that some of us haven’t seen each other in like fifteen years. In the dream, I begin to panic. How will we play if we don’t even know the songs or each other, and then I wake up. When I wake up, terror is replaced with a sudden relief that it was all a dream, that I don’t have learn to play my own songs again in two hours, but then the Lookout Records Reunion show happened.

In January 2017, as a part of 924 Gilman’s 30-year anniversary activities, there will be a weekend of shows by reunited Lookout Records bands. I know that some people think that reunions are stupid and that they take away time, space, and money from current local bands, and while I sort of understand that argument, I am still super excited to announce that I will play guitar with Kamala and the Karnivores who will play one of these reunion shows. Here’s the ultimate irony. Not only did I suck at guitar when I was in the band in 1989, but I don’t even really know how to play guitar anymore, so like the dream, I have to relearn all these songs, songs that I knew how to play at one point. Thankfully, I have more than two hours to learn them.

It was Kamala who approached me about reuniting to play this show. She contacted me; I contacted Ivy, and Ivy contacted Lynda, the line-up on the Lookout Records 7, Girl Band. Ivy said, “Sounds like a fun time for some old ladies.”

Within a week we had set a time and date to have dinner to discuss how we’d approach practicing, knowing that we’d all need to relearn all the songs.

It all came together quickly that it made me think, this is why women should run the world.

Lynda who lives in LA and who has two small children, was not able to make it to the dinner, but Kamala and Ivy and I were all there with our husbands. Like punk rock, we are all well into our forties, and some of us our fifty, and being more or less cis women, we are all married with what our parents would call respectable jobs, but we’re still a bunch of weirdo music nerds, only now with grey hair and menopause.

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Since I’m a grownup now and not 19, I paid money to have my guitar worked on before our first practice, rather than asking Kent (yes, of “Ask, Kent” fame), Ivy’s husband, and one of my fave people in the world, to do it for me. I’m actually playing my son’s guitar this time around, the best guitar in the house. I took it to Broken Guitars to have it set up for me to play. I told Justin who does that work there what I needed, easy to play strings, low action on the fret board, and new strings, which he’d had to put on for me, so I could start building up some callouses as soon as possible. The next day, I went to Ivy’s house to learn some of the songs. She had hand-drawn some tabs for me, and we were both surprised that I could remember how to form most of the chords without her showing me. We had a good laugh over the fact that when I was in Kamala and the Karnivores in 1989 that she had to draw very detailed diagrams of the fret board, the notes, and chords. Learning to play guitar a bit better when I played in Hateplate with Dominique made a big difference even if I haven’t really played since 1997. My son, who is a talented jazz pianist who can sight read and all of that likes to say that I really don’t play guitar, and he’s right. I’m really a drummer, but I can still add something, even if it’s just well-placed feedback or on-point tambourine. While Ivy and I ran through the songs way faster than either of us had anticipated, I showed Ivy what I did remember about how I was playing some of the songs. Arrangements that she herself had written.

“Oh, that’s so clever. I see what we were trying to do there,” she said.

“That was your idea.” I’d remind her each time.

We laughed a lot more than we did when she used to have to teach me how to play a song she’d taught me to play that I had gone and forgotten in a few days because I had barely any grasp on it at all. When we got to the song “Bone Bouquet” and I saw that it had a dreaded F chord in it, Ivy said, “Yeah, F is totally the reason to learn bar chords.”  Then I remembered I played tambourine on that song. Phew!

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On August 28, with Frank, Kamala’s husband, sitting in on guitar, Kamala, Ivy, and I played “29,” “Love Like Murder,” “Black Thumb,” “Bone Bouquet,” and Back to Bodie,” and we almost sounded like we did on the 7.” Kamala still plays drums with the sound and ferocity of a freight train, and Ivy can still sing like she did when she was 22. Frank was kind enough and is talented enough to learn all the songs by ear since Lynda lives in LA, and won’t be able to make it up to practice more than once a month or so. By the time she does come up, we’ll know at least three or four more songs, and we’ll be ready for her to come and put her stamp on them. Two hours went by quickly at that first practice, of many to come, and we, like Ivy predicted, had a lot of fun, but we had to stop practicing before Ivy lost her voice, and so I could get home and get into bed before 10.

I promise I’ll stay up later the night of the show.

 

 

 

The Spitboy Rule Book Tour: Back Home

Zocalo Coffeehouse, San Leandro, CA

 

IMG_33331 (1)My last reading was Friday night at a punk show in Kansas City at Minibar. The touring band Magnet School from Austin opened for the local band Emmaline Twist, and I opened for

Emmaline Twist

Emmaline Twist

Magnet School. Dominique, Spitboy’s second bass player and bassist of Instant Girl, came with me, while our husbands stayed home with the kids. I was scheduled to go on at 10:00, which is both late for a reading, and frankly, past my bedtime. There were a lot of late nights while touring with Spitboy, and I was always tired by 11:00 even though I tried to pretend I wasn’t. I was always the first one awake too because I’ve never been one to sleep that late either. In fact, I got up just a bit after Dominique got up with the kids at around 6:30 in the morning.

This guy named Sean who is in the Kansas City band, Red Kate, reached out to me on Facebook and helped me set up the reading. He even made a flyer for the reading using my book as the image. This is one thing Spitboy was always really impressed with: the kindness of people that you meet on the road. While there were definitely more people in the audience later when the bands played, there were at least twenty or so people in the audience when I read, and Sean said that a few people came just to see me read, and I sold 8 books, which is a good amount, definitely some gas money.

Dark bar photo with Dominique and Sean of Red Kate

Bar Selfie with Dominique and Sean

The band Emmaline Twist were great with an amazing post punk, Echo and the Bunnymen or Killing Joke – the kind of band that I’d like to be in if I were ever in an active band again. They are a female fronted band too(who also plays guitar), and they have a female bass player, Kristin, who saw Spitboy play in 1992 in Sioux Fall, South Dakota. When she met Dominique and I said that going to that show “was a very big deal.” It was a pleasant surprise to read with such a great band, and to share the stage with these women. When they release some music, I will listen to it all day long.

On Saturday we took my son to the Jazz Museum at 18th and Vine in Kansas City, and I got to hang out with Dominique most of the day before we got back on the interstate and headed back to Minneapolis, back where we started the tour and from where we’d fly back home. It was a 6.5 hour drive, our longest on the tour, but we got to see Iowa again, and drive along side a cool lightening storm.

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Jazz Museum

As it turns out, I was pretty sick the whole trip. It started with a sore throat that turned into swollen glands, a stiff neck, congestion, sneezing fits, and a bit of a cough. I didn’t really say that I was sick out loud until nearly the end of the trip, but I went through nearly a whole bag of lozenges, and a lot of tissue. I must have made it through the readings on pure adrenaline and old-fashioned work ethic, but I know I could not have even done that if my marido, Ines, hadn’t done all the driving, and if my son hadn’t navigated the roads, so I could rest in the back of the car. I was thrashed by the time we got back to Minneapolis. We all were, and I slept off and on all Sunday. We all slept off and on all Monday too after getting back home, and we slept well knowing that we done so much and seen so much in just six short days.

It might be a bit too early for real meaningful reflection on this book tour, but here’s what comes to mind now:

  • Do include your family and bring them with you when you can.
  • Your kids won’t always want to, but you should make them at least once.
  • Stay with friends if you can.
  • Staying with friends can make such a trip possible because it’s more affordable
  • Staying with friends is also often better because you’re more likely to see more of each city and be with people who actually know it.
  • Don’t forget to bring each host a small gift of appreciation.
  • Take a chance on the kindness of strangers, like Sean in Kansas City!
  • If you publish with a small press, try not to do all your readings in bookstores because you can’t sell your own books in books stores, and it’s nice to make a bit of gas money.
  • Do read in some bookstores because bookstore people are your kind of people.
  • If you can allow more time for sightseeing if you can, but since time is money, know that it might not always be possible.
  • Consider doing a fund-raising campaign, complete with cool perks. I didn’t want to at first, at all, but I also didn’t feel comfortable spending all my family’s money on a trip that revolves around me.
  • Find ways to make the trip to not feel all about you.
  • Lastly, always keep a journal.

The Spitboy Rule Book Tour: Day 5

MG.DailyIowan

Interstate 80, en route to Kansas City

Tonight we get to see, Spitboy bass player, Dominique Davison. Dominique was Spitboy’s second bass player, and I was in her wedding in 2002, a few years after Spitboy and Instant Girl broke up. We’ve always hoped to visit her where she lives now, but I was never sure we would because one does not often plan to go to Kansas City. Tonight, will be the last reading of the book tour. It has gone by surprisingly fast.

I booked most of this tour myself, but I had a lot of help from my Mid-West friends. I’ve also had a lot of help from my family. This is how it works for us on tour. My husband drives our rented car, and my son sits in the front and navigates. In the early days of Spitboy, we all had specific jobs too: I fixed the van door latches when they got jammed; Adrienne kept things tidy; Karin was the expert map reader, and Paula was our mechanic. Later Dominique, who was younger than the rest of us was good at just about everything. My son is way better with cell phone apps than I am, and he gets car sick sitting in the back, so we’ve made him the designated copiloto. Just like in Spitboy, we pay him $10 a day for his services, which make it possible for me to sit in the back of the car, post to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, read, plan what I’m going to read, make contact with our next hosts, and write these blog posts. Even though I had a sore throat since Madison, I’ve only slept a little on these drives, which are usually about four hour long. Since my son has always hated long car rides, I tried to keep the drives at this length. He won’t like the drive from Kansas City back to Minneapolis, which is around 6 hours. He has, however, seemed to have enjoyed these drives, judging from the way he looks out the window, and the conversations he has with his dad about the scenery, reading music, and how many tolls we missed by accident. It’s really nice being, literally, this close together for extended periods of time.

Last night, I read at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, Iowa. I’m pretty sure that Spitboy never played Iowa City, but I think we did play in Cedar Rapids. Iowa City is a very cute college town, the city center has many shops and restaurants, pianos outdoors on the plaza that anyone can play (in fact, an older-looking man all dressed in black who came to my reading and napped a bit while I read was playing one of the pianos when we walked by afterward), and the neighborhood streets are lush and tree-lined. I would love one of those houses with a screened in porch to write in and drink coffee and wine.

Before getting into Iowa City, I got a notification on Facebook from Shell, my Wayward Writer hermana who got me hooked with Prairie Lights Books, and who introduced me when I read, that the Daily Iowan article was up on the website. The piece turned out great and featured a photo of me taken by Ace Morgan. It was a real thrill to get press in the Mid-west. Ines thought to ask if the article also ran in the print paper, and we found out it did, when the cashier at the bookstore said that they had a copy in the bookstore café that I could take have. The print copy has a banner of a photo of Spitboy playing at Gilman at the top of the front page, and the Arts section had a full spread of photos that weren’t featured on the website, including a photo with Ines! Shell couldn’t believe it either, and she said that Steven King was in town about a week ago, and even he didn’t get a full page.

The reading itself was well-attended by about 25 people. One of Shell’s students came, her family, and Ariana Ruiz and her husband, who name I didn’t catch (sorry vato). Arianna supported the Indigogo campaign, and is friends with Mimi Thi Nguyen, and originally from the Bay Area. She brought a student of hers too after teaching my whole book already last semester. I know! I read an excerpt from “A Band is not an Identity” and “Not a Riot Grrrl Band,” and then Kathleen moderated a Q & A session, complete with a cordless mic that she took around for audience members to ask questions. Kathleen, who I adored right away, listed off a bunch of Clash songs, including “Guns of Brixton” when I couldn’t remember the name of one of the songs off of Combat Rock — “Rock the Casbah.” She also prompted me to talk about my book in relation to the other rock members written and published recently, which I think is a particularly interesting topic. We spent so much time at Prairie Lights Books and we liked the people there so much that we wound up buying four books. Normally, I would try not to buy books while on a trip because they are so heavy, but we came with so many books in our suitcases that we’ve since sold, we’ll have the space going back.

After the reading, we did one of my favorite things, went back to Shell’s and hung out in the cool air on her back porch. Shell’s partner, Sean, BBQ’d, including this cheese and garlic bread (not store bought), which almost gave me an orgasm when I bit into it, and Shell and I drank a bit of wine. LM finally ate after not eating since breakfast, which made Sean super happy. When you’re on tour, there’s not much time to sightsee, but we could have done a bit. Still, I preferred sitting still, eating, and having a good laugh with Shell and her family.