Category Archives: Punk Rock

The First Rule of Punk: A Book Review (of sorts)

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I got Celia C. Pérez’s The First Rule of Punk  less than 24-hours ago, and I read it in two sittings, finishing this afternoon, crying over the climax at a table in my neighborhood café.

I have never wanted to hold a book in my hand more than my own book The Spitboy Rule, until I learned about First Rule of Punk. The First Rule of Punk is a middle grade novel. I learned about it from Bustle online in February. It got a lot of early buzz months before its scheduled release, I think, because a book about a punk rock Xicana in middle school in the era of Trump gives dems, leftists, feminists, book nerds, zinsters, ex-zinsters, librarians, Xicanas, punx, ex-punx, punk parents, and perimenopunxs hope.

I also cried when I read this summary of it: “There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.”

On February 28, I wrote this on the Spitboy Rule Facebook page: “This book looks awesome and like the middle grade version the The Spitboy Rule!” Twenty people shared the Bustle link straight away, the post reached over 35000 views, and I got excited and reached out to the author on Twitter.

She responded with this tweet:

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I was smitten right away and we began following each other on Twitter and Instagram, and we recently became friends on Facebook where she promised to send me an advance copy of the book when she got them. Not too long after, I began seeing people post copy of their books, their advance copies (probably straight from the publisher or a conference), and I began obsessively checking my mailbox. I haven’t checked my mailbox so religiously since I was single and had a crush on my Puerto Rican neighbor who I eventually learned was engaged to be married (but that’s a whole other story!).

Yesterday, I checked my mailbox, hoping to find some stickers that I ordered, and out popped a recycled manila envelope, book-shaped, and with Celia’s name and address. I tried to open the envelope carefully, so as not to rip the book, but I was excited. Out flew the book, a FRP book mark, a FRP button, and two Sherman Alexie zines!

“Move,” I told my 15 year-old son who was sitting on my spot under the reading lamp on the couch. “Don’t anyone bother me until dinner time.”

I turned the bright yellow book over in my hands, looking for things you can’t see in picture of the book online. I saw pan dulce, a sugar skull, an anarchy symbol, and a quetzal wearing a Walkman.

I read the back cover, and then I took a deep breath, and opened the book to Chapter 1.   I cried twice in the first fifteen chapters, once because I was touched, and the first time because I simply could not contain my joy over the existence of a book written about a girl like me. I am 47 years old, 48 in October, and not once in my life have I read a book (fiction) about someone so much like me. There are books by Xicanas about Xicanas who have had many of the same experiences and feelings that I have had, like Teresa in Ana Castillo’s Mixquahuala Letters. Still, last winter on Facebook, it was a thing to change your profile photo to a character from a children’s book character who was most like you, and I wanted to play along, but found I couldn’t think of any character who was like me or who I identified with. I posted a photo of Speedy Gonzales. It was all I could come up with and I wanted to make a point, but it was the first time that I realized that something seemingly trivial on Facebook could make me feel so sad.

Growing up, Speedy Gonzales was literally the only children’s character who was anything like me. Kids at school used to scream, “Arriba, rriba, andale, andale,” when I walked by.

But now, at nearly 50 years-old, I have Malù, but most importantly, kids all over America get to have Malù too – brown kids, comic book or zine nerds, punk or rock music fans (since electronic/digitized music has taken over the airwaves),  budding activists, kids who break the school dress code, tough girls, and unladylike girls who want to pour drinks over the school mean girl’s head (I actually did pour beer over a trendy girls head at a party, which Malù would never do because she doesn’t drink beer).

Since you probably haven’t yet read the book, you might be wondering now what else it’s about, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will say that Malù makes zines and is keen on lists, like the one on the back cover. You might also be wondering how I’m like Malù besides the Xicana punk connection. Here’s my list:

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Thank you Celia C. Pérez for writing a book about someone like me, for making it happen in my lifetime, and for giving me a character to use in my profile pic next time I need a children’s book character to identify with, for making us visible – you’re my hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Up with Punk Rock

This summer, as I spend most of my time working furiously on my novel, I will be reposting some of my favorite pieces.

About this piece, when I told her a version of this story, Alice Bag, said, “You really broke up with punk rock didn’t you.” I realized then that I ought to write it down. This piece was originally published  July 16, 2016 on my PM Press blog

In 1998, I broke up with punk rock. It was not a good boyfriend. It liked fucking me, but it wouldn’t introduce me to its mom, worried she’d notice that I wasn’t just punk rock, but that I was something else too, something/someone it didn’t quite understand. I feared I had aged out too. Standing around at 924 Gilman hurt my feet, the cold, hard cement floor. All the young people, seeming to get younger, as I got older didn’t bother me. I quite like young people. I gave birth to one, and I teach at a community college.

I broke up with punk rock, but it appears I’m back, having never really left at all. Still, I feel I have some explaining to do.

For me, punk rock was always about participation. I starting listening to punk at thirteen, was in a band, Bitch Fight, by the age of fifteen, and in 1987, by the age of seventeen, I had moved to San Francisco with Bitch Fight, and we began playing shows with bands like MDC, Operation Ivy, Frightwig, and Crimpshrine. When Bitch Fight broke up a year and a half later, I did a stint in Kamala and the Karnivores, and started Spitboy. After Spitboy broke up in 1997, Karin (guitar), Dominique (bass guitar), and I stayed together, and formed Instant Girl, a band we knew that would be short lived because Dominique was headed to Yale to study architecture. No longer hungry to continue participating in this way, I figured I should finish school too, and I got myself accepted, and a large scholarship, to Mills College. I wanted to study creative writing and English. My feet hurt from standing around on cement in my job of fifteen years as a preschool, and Gilman, and my back from hauling around drums all those years. My band days were over, and I was fine with that. I had said a lot through the band, made a contribution, traveled the world. I wanted to study. I wanted to write. I got married too – I felt like traitor, but I was happy.

Punk rock has a way of making you feel like a traitor when you decide to grow up a little, go to college, get married. At least it did back then, but after years of dating men in the scene who liked to pretend they didn’t have families, didn’t come from somewhere, let alone introduce me to their parents, I married a Mexican. I had finally been true to myself.

Photo by Ilona Sturm

For about ten years, when I was in my thirties, nursing my son, going to graduate school, I hardly ever mentioned to anyone that I had been in a band that traveled the US, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.  A band that put out records, did radio interviews, and for fanzines, a band that got fan mail. I didn’t want to be another boring adult talking about her glory days. Everyone wants to be rock star. Everyone wants to write a book too, but as a wise professor once said, you can’t, especially the later, standing around at parties talking about it. The cool thing about punk rock is that you actually start a band by standing around talking about it. That’s how bands start. Someone says let’s start a band, you think of some cool names, you decide who’s going to play what, you learn to play your instrument if you don’t know how already, and you write your first song. It’s what attracts people to punk rock in the first place – you don’t need to go to Mills College or Yale to do it.

While some people get into punk rock because they just want to fuck shit up, many of us call punk home because of its access to radical politics and people who hold them, people who question authority, people who question their own thoughts, people who read books, and attend demonstrations, and now discuss white privilege, people who don’t believe we should give up our basic privacy rights to protect ourselves from actual, or  so-called terrorism, people who aren’t afraid to call themselves feminists. And it’s         for all these things that I’m back, lending my voice, participating, now, in the best way I know how. 

The President Elect’s Ministry of Truth

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I can understand the urge to boycott things as a form of resistance, but I forced myself to listen to and watch  — not my president’s—first press conference since the election because as exhausting as it is and as it will get, I need to get angry and stay angry. We all do. “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power/D’you know that you can use it?”

All that said, I’m not the first person to point out how Orwellian things have gotten in American politics, but having read 1984 with my students just about every year for the past 13 years, and having the ability to recite several parts of it by memory, I feel it’s my duty not to simply make the comparison, but also to point out that Orwell’s chief concern in writing 1984 was to warn readers about authoritarian rulers and the tactics they use to manipulate, confuse, trick, and control. As a disciple of Orwell’s, I realize, all this comes a bit late bit. I should have started writing this sooner, but as a disciple of Orwell’s I also know that one must continue to resist – to keep a record, to remember, to stay focused, vigilant.

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If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER                     HAPPENED—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?  (Orwell                        43-44)

‘I didn’t say shut down immigration.’ Donald Trump

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/24/10-things-trump-said-but-says-he-didnt/

1984

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith,               knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago.                   But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case                   must  soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed— if             all  records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who               controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present                   controls the past.’ (Orwell 44)

The day after the Brussels terrorist attack (3/22/16), Trump said in an interview with CBS “This Morning,” “I didn’t say shut it down. I said you have to be very careful. We have to be very, very strong and vigilant at the borders.”

On December 7, 2015, Trump issued a press release that begins, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He read and reaffirmed his statement at a rally that day.

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/24/10-things-trump-said-but-says-he-didnt/

Video begins at attack of the press, dictatorial behaviors displayed by the pres elect in the recent past.

1984

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid                     away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be                             conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold                           simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and             believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying                   claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian             of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into                     memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again:               and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate                       subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become                         unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word             ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink. (Orwell 44-45)

Jan. 28, 2016: Asking for Megyn Kelly’s removal from a debate

Trump’s war with Kelly led to him boycotting the Fox News/Google debate in Iowa. An hour before the other candidates took the stage, Trump insisted on CNN his absence was due to a mocking Fox News press release and he “never once asked that (Kelly) be removed.”

We found several instances of Trump and his campaign telling reporters and tweeting about skipping the debate because of Kelly. He went so far as to say Kelly “should not be allowed” to moderate, that she “should recuse herself,” and she “shouldn’t be in the debate.”

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/jul/06/17-things-donald-trump-said-and-then-denied-saying/

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Something To Prove

karnivoresEveryone laughs a little when they find out that Kamala and Karnivores started practicing in August for a show that will happen on January 1, that we have a shared spread sheet filled with practice dates, that we don’t dare drink at before we play or during. We’re not afraid to suck; we just don’t want to, and we are women, so we have something to prove.

Women always have something to prove.

It might be why we went on to work for colleges and the city of Berkeley. It might be why we studied philosophy, became a multi-million-dollar fundraiser, a college professor, and a mathematician.

We are the kind of women who run the world, or who should, the kind of women who do things right. We don’t fake it, or half-ass things, phone it in, or drink beer at band practice. And we do run the world, or worlds within worlds, worlds that depend on one another for the other to exist, worlds that some might not even notice because our running them is so stealth, so efficient, like a plate spinning on a plate, and a saucer on top of that, a balancing act that you can only grasp the deftness of when something almost comes crashing down on your head but doesn’t because one of our Kali arms righted it just in time.

And the sound, oh, the sound, it may even be better this time, the songs tighter, the harmonies better, the anger, and loss, and joy in the songs felt so many times over by now.

My son a talented musician and a teen boy working every angle to feel separate from his mom, scoffed when I told him how hard it was for me to learn our old songs all over again. He talked about his jazz ensemble teacher, a man who plays saxophone and played in the studio and toured with the Grateful Dead.

I hate the Grateful Dead.

“Mr. E could learn all those songs in a day or two.”

“Mr. E is man.” I hit the edge of the pot I was stirring at the stove with the wooden spoon to get the potatoes back inside.

My son looked me in the eye, his cockiness fading to confusion, the soft glow of the light fixture shined behind his head from the dining room, casting a shadow.

“A man who probably never stopped playing his instrument or doing his art when he had kids. A man who didn’t get pregnant or carry a child for nine months, and a man whose wife probably stayed home with his kids when he gigged at night.”

One of my hands was most certainly on my hip and the other gesturing in the air with the spoon.

“Yeah, your probably right,” my son said, and he backed out of my kitchen.

One of the most disturbing questions I’ve ever heard asked of female artists is how has becoming a mother changed your art. Have you ever heard a man asked such a question? Sure some men give up artistic pursuits for jobs that support their families, but it’s always assumed that when artists become mothers that they soften, start writing children’s books, make a kids album. In the cases of some women the answer would be, I stopped doing my art because the pressure to leave the self behind in order to be selfless and to morph into the perfect mother was too great.

I was only nineteen when I started playing in this band that has reformed for a few months to play this anniversary show, almost thirty years ago, a band that I play guitar in when I am really a drummer, a band that I played in when I only made $4.25 an hour, when I had no children, and no responsibilities but paying rent, buying cheese and tortillas to make quesadillas, and guitar strings. In my most panicked moments about signing on to play guitar again, when I can’t play and F or an F# chord, and my mind starts to race ahead, demanding I recall the next chord, so I can make the change in time, or when I despair about how many songs I must memorize, I wonder why I said I’d do this in the first place, why I agreed to subject myself to the humiliation of possibly sucking on stage, but I know the answer. It’s not simple, but it’s true, and it’s not because music makes us feel young again because it doesn’t when you need a music stand to hold the tab charts for your punk songs — it’s the camaraderie, the female company, moms, a non-mom, making art together, resisting expectations, and because women always have something to prove. 

 

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.

Call Me Exotic, I Dare You

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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.