Spitboy Rule Book Tour Diary: Day 1

MG.RosevilleMN

LM having an okay time after all.
LM having an okay time after all.

Roseville, Minneapolis

June 20, 2016

After feeling like I was in a holding pattern all last week, a holding pattern of doing laundry, packing bags, getting subs for my spin classes, sending work e-mails, and listening to my son complain about how he didn’t want to go on a stupid book tour, and not writing, I am finally on the Spitboy Rule book tour.

The three of us my husband, son (14), and I took a red-eye from SFO to Minneapolis. Our friend Evan (who happens to be a lawyer and business instructor who I used to work at the college where I teach) picked us up at the airport at 6:00 AM, took us to his house, where I took nap to sleep off the 1/4 xanax I took on the plane to sleep, and got up at 8:00 to do a phone interview for Madison, WI’s WORT, 8 O’Clock Buzz radio show. The host, Brian Standing, was a real pro and totally did his homework, reading up about Spitboy, and asking all the right kinds of questions, not shying away from race or class at all. They lead the interview with the Spitboy song “What Are Little Girls Made Of” which I’m sure woke up a lot of people half asleep in their cars real fast. When that interview was over, I had an e-mail from Tessa, from the Daily Iowan, who interviewed me Friday. She wanted more photos for the piece. Tessa asked great questions, and I’m really excited to get Mid-West press, to maybe have a chance to reach midwestern latinx/punx. After all that I went for a walk around Evan’s neighborhood while my son slept — it sure is lush here, flowers blooming everywhere, and very mild. 

Tonight I read at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis with local writer Venessa Fuentes who was recently published in the anthology, A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota. Moon Palace is owned by Jamie Applebutter, or at least that’s what I call him. Applebutter is the punk name that I gave him. I think it’s because he really loved applebutter. I do too, and it will be really great to reunite with him after about fifteen years! 

 

The Spitboy Rule Book: Fall 2015 Update

The_spitboy_rule

A lot has happened since I wrote the June Spitboy Rule book update.

  • The book cover happened! I could barely steady my fingers to open the e-mail when I saw that John Yates, Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band, cover designer, sent files with book cover options. Seeing the book’s cover art for the first time is pretty surreal. Seeing the photo of me on drums, the word Xicana, and my full name on the cover, wow.
  • Spitboy put out a record on John Yates’ old label, and he designed all the art for that release. It’s great to be working with him again because he’s so nice and great at what he does, asking about color palettes, choosing fonts, listening to my layperson suggestions, and laying everything out on some fancy program. We both agreed that Karoline Collins’ live photo of me in Australia captures the blur of my moving head and sticks was the right shot for the cover.

       I initially thought that the whole band should be on the cover, but my husband                    disagreed. At first, I thought it was cute he thought that I should be on the cover.                Then I realized that he was right.

      “You wrote the book,” he said. And it became clear real quick that live band photos              that feature the drummer prominently at all are a hard get. Spitboy was very wise               taking friend and photographer, Karoline Collins, as a roadie on the Pacific Rim tour           because she had full- stage access, and she just got up in there to get the shots she             wanted and thought we should have.

  • I also collected blurbs or endorsements; you know the nice things that people say about the book that are printed on the back of the jacket. It turns out that getting these endorsement can be very tricky. I upset an old friend in the process, but I did get several other great endorsements, including one from Alice Bag — that one was practically required. In spite of what I perceived to be a misunderstanding – the friend would say I was being too businesslike, trying to sell books.

      That part is true. I do want to sell a lot of books. On a small press, selling a lot of                   books will not mean making a bunch of money, but it could mean a bunch of readers.         Writers, including the upset one, love imagining people reading their words.

       It’s also true that I had to get an endorsement from Alice Bag. I know this sounds                strange, but I’ve gotten the sense that this how these things work. Alice Bag wrote              one of the first, if not the first, punk rock Latina memoirs, not having her                                endorsement on my book which follows hers by about five years (at time of release)          would not go unnoticed by people in the business. 

        She could have said no. She could have been too busy, and actually I think she was,             but Alice Bag read, liked, and wrote nice things about my book.

         Pinche me, seriously, pinch me!

  • Another thing I did over the summer was spend a lot of time sorting through my own collection of Spitboy photographs and reaching out to people who photographed us. A bunch of really nice people and great photographers have been kind enough to send photos they took of Spitboy back when we were all still using film. This means photos had to be scanned and organized digitally – thanks to everyone who helped out – Ace Morgan, Chris Boarts Larson, David Sine, Karoline Collins, and Lyn Lentil.
  • I was, along with news of the upcoming book, featured on two websites Paste Magazine and Flavorwire, thanks to Shawna Kenney and Jess Skolnik. I was featured along with Alice Bag in Paste Magazine’s “8 Old-school Punks Doing Cool New Things” and interviewed by Skolnik for Flavorwire as a part of her “Forgotten Women in Punk Rock” series. Jess Skolnik did a lot of homework before she interviewed me, which helped her to write great questions, which made me sound really smart – something I know I am, but I am often credited for other things, things like being articulate, driven, feisty, businesslike, feisty, and exotic, yes, exotic.
  • The official release date for the PM Press publication of The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band is April 2016, but there will be copies available at AWP, which takes place in LA in March, and I will be there all excited and trying not to cry because I’ll be so happy. There will be some readings too, so watch out AWP, here comes one Xicana that you never saw coming. I don’t write about corn, goddesses, the Catholic church, bright colors, or the homeland, unless that homeland is California, and I don’t teach in an MFA program, but I do teach community college.
  • In the meantime, come see me read from the book and play drums in Alice Bag’s band at 111 Mina in San Francisco – Punk Rock Renaissance Show on Friday, September 15. Yes, I get to play music with Alice Bag. Pinch me!

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Summer Reading, Feels So Good

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MCG with Wayward Writer hermana, Lisbeth Coiman at The Last Book Store in Los Angeles

Because I teach and grade hundreds of essays during the school year, I don’t get to read as much as I like – just the books I’m teaching, books I’ve read five to ten times or more already. Because I’ve been writing mostly memoir in the last couple of years, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs.

This summer I read four memoirs, all by women.

           I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, Shawna Kenney/1999

           Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon/2015

           How To Become a Chicana Role Model, Michele Serros/2000

           How to Grow Up, Michelle Tea/2015

Not only does it appear that I really like memoirs written by women, and books organized like how-to guides, but I also like books written by women who share my unfortunate first name.

imgres I Was a Teenage Dominatrix by Shawna Kenney made me laugh out loud several times. At only twenty-nine when she wrote it, Kenney is wonderfully self-reflective and good at punch lines. The thing that surprised me about this book is how much she included about her family, her working class background, and her determination to do everything she had in her power to do pay for college, since no one else could pay her way for her. I could have read even more about that, but I also loved her honesty about the choices she made about when to drop the dominatrix personae to just be a friend to a caller when she saw that some of these guys were just poor lonely saps with bad social skills and had only called her for the company. She even helped one guy learn to dress better and get some dates, and ultimately married. I am lucky to know Shawna personally, and I could really see her doing that.

imgres-1 Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon was practically required reading, as it was one of the books I read and wrote a brief summary of for PM Press to include with the distributor’s info, along with Violence Girl by Alice Bag, and Clothes, Music, Boys, by Viv Albertine of The Slits. Girl in a Band is well-written book, quiet and subtle in ways that I liked, but Albertine’s book was more my style, louder, brasher, and forthcoming. It’s important for me to point out here that it’s likely that I felt this way about Albertine’s memoir because she was in an all female band like I was, and because her background is similar to mine. We were both raised by single moms who were often down on their luck and money and necessities were often hard to come by. It’s not Kim Gordon’s fault that her mom was stable and that her dad was an academic with steady work and expectations that his children would go to college too. Gordon admits to being the type to keep her emotional reactions pushed down, but when she opens up in the, she is good at writing about her emotions, as a reader, you feel like super let in — I liked that.

  MicheleSerros           images  How To Become a Chicana Role Model by Michele Serros is a memoir of sorts, more a book of semi-instructional essays. In March, I read at a Michele Serros memorial reading in Highland Park. Shawna Kenney invited me, and I was honored to do it, especially since I only met Michele Serros once at a reading where she signed my copy of Chicana Falsa – a book with the best title ever. There’s a poem in that book that has a stanza strikingly similar to a poem I wrote around the same time. The stanza was about how both Serros and I did not grow up speaking Spanish because our families have lived in California for a few generations already. Michele was good at expressing the shame you feel when you can’t communicate in what most assume is your mother tongue. My favorite part of How To Become a Chicana Role Model is when Michele, who has grown tired of being asked where she’s from and not satisfying with the answer California, begins asking the same question back. “Where are you from?” She says this near the end of the essay.

      It was then I suddenly felt sorta sorry for him. It’s amazing how many white                          people don’t know anything about their own ancestry or background and so it’s                    no wonder why a lot of them confess to feeling so culturally bankrupt.

 

imgres-2 How To Grow Up by Michelle Tea — if you’re trying to learn to treat yourself better or break up with someone, you should read this book now. It is charming and super influenced by her roots in punk rock, spoken word communities, and recovery. It’s sort of weird that I’ve never met Michelle Tea, not because I feel I have to know every writer or every writer named Michelle, but because we have always traveled in similar circles, and we have a lot of friends in common. I  will finally meet her in October, as she’s reading at Lit Quake sponsored Zocalo Spits: Arts in the Dro event, a reading series that I host with Soma Mei Sheng Frazier.

In addition to sharing a name, Michelle Tea and I also have a similar background, but it was my mom who was the one doing all the drugs – that’s not to say that I never experimented, or made terrible choices, and it’s for those reasons that did not agree at all with Michael Shaub at NPR’s review of the book, especially this:

                 Even for slow learners, the lessons here are painfully obvious, but Tea spells                           them out anyway: Don’t date people who sell pills in bus stations. Don’t date                         people who you know in your gut are lying to you all the time, whose stories are                   so shady you start to hope they are lying to you.” Fine advice, to be sure, but it’s                   hard to imagine readers who wouldn’t consider Tea’s story and come to those                       conclusions by themselves.

Those of us who are slow learners, or for whatever reason, growing out of a state of arrested development do need IT spelled out for us. Yeah, Michael Shaub (maybe you are just super lucky, privileged and well-adjusted), the lessons are obvious, but being raised a certain way and/or living a certain way for so long makes certain behaviors so ingrained that we need lots an lots of reminders to avoid them, and these lessons are extra helpful when they come from someone we admire. In this case, for me, it was Michelle Tea.

To Dolezal

JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Rachel Dolezal, director of education & curator of the Human Rights Education Institute, discusses the offering of Human Rights Education Institute flags Monday in response to flags flown by local hate groups.
JEROME A. POLLOS/Press

In the summer of 2015, an event almost too shocking to believe, yet, somehow totally believable in America, created widespread use of a word, sure to make it in the dictionary, faster than whites seeking representation for claims they were victims of race-based, discriminatory hiring practices.

The word dolezal, Czech and Slovak in origin, meaning lazy — as of late, has come to mean quite the opposite. By popular usage the word is used to describe someone who works rather hard, going to extensive lengths to pose as someone they are not.

Practical examples include claiming to be descended from a royal line, to be Native American, or having a Native American grandmother or great grandmother, probably Cherokee, or claiming to be Mexican for the purposes of writing a best selling memoir about growing up in LA, and not common until quite recently, claiming to be African American. To dolezal, or to dozal for short, describes the act of expending a great deal of energy, time, and even money to coopt and perform another ethnic identity while concealing one’s own. This phenomenon seems to afflict those vulnerable to insecurities about their actual ethnicities, or those who believe that white American culture lacks a specific cultural identity, one with full rights and privileges so omnipresent as to be invisible.

In the recent past, one can find numerous examples of people of color, passing or attempting to pass as white to avoid racial discrimination, or to gain access to the aforementioned rights and privileges, but we can all agree that this behavior, while unfortunate, is excusable, while choosing to be white when its convenient, and to dolezal for a prestigious position that one could have earned as an ally is not.

dolezal

verb

The act of going to extensive lengths to pose as another ethnic identity while concealing one’s own

dolezal

adjective

He married a woman from India, but he’s no dolezal.

zalling (informal)

Verb

She married a guy from Mexico, and she is zalling like she’s Mexican.

Synonyms: wannabe, poser, fake, opportunist

Antonyms: sincere, true, truthful, ally

The Spitboy Rule Book: An Update

Spitboy With Clint Sydney 95
Spitboy in Sydney Australia 1995: Karoline Collins

This summer I am working toward publication of The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Female Punk Band (PM Press — spring 2016), and there’s lots to do. In addition to having to ask my very a busy writer friends and friends in bands to read the book on a deadline and blurb it — write a sentence or two praising its strong points — I was asked to write a 300 word and a 150 word description of the book itself. Writing a description of your own book is hard, especially at first. In the end, I had a great time doing it, mainly because I secretly love summarizing. There really is something very satisfying about it.

The 150 word version was much easier to write after writing and condensing the longer version, which you can read below.

Michelle Cruz Gonzales played drums and wrote lyrics in the influential 1990s female hardcore band, Spitboy, and now she’s written a book — a punk rock herstory. Though not a riot grrrl band, Spitboy blazed trails for women in the Bay Area, Gilman Street punk scene and beyond, but it wasn’t easy. Misogyny, sexism, abusive fans, class and color blindness, and all-out racism were foes, especially for Gonzales, a Chicana, the only person of color in the band.

The Spitboy Rule is a collection of stand-alone memoir pieces that detail the early and final days of the band, touring the US and overseas, what a group of women did on tour when they all happened to be menstruating at the same time, and how Gonzales really felt about the punk rock identity that eclipsed her Chicanisma.

Spitboy were as central to punk rock in the 1990s considering they were a female hardcore band in a scene dominated by men. They had allies in bands like Econochrist, Paxston Quiggly, Neurosis, Los Crudos, and Gag Order. Other notable figures in the memoir include Aaron Cometbus, Pete the Roadie, Green Day, Fugazi, and Kamala and the Karnivores.

Unlike touring rock bands before them, the unapologetically feminist Spitboy preferred Scrabble games between shows rather than sex, drugs, and alcohol, but they were not the angry man-haters that everyone expected them to be. Serious about women’s issues and being the band that they themselves wanted to hear, a band that rocked as hard as men but that sounded like women, Spitboy released several records and toured extensively overseas. The memoir details these travels and Spitboy’s successes and failures in navigating sophisticated artistic relationships in their twenties, and for Gonzales, discovering who she was with or without the band along the way.

On Why Dystopian Literature Is Totally Punk Rock

MG.NL.Suzy.SeanIf there were ever a literary genre designed just for punk rockers, it would be dystopian literature. Dystopian literature is notoriously dark; for sure, it wears all black. In the 1990’s when I was playing drums in punk bands, I was naturally attracted to and read books like 1984 and the Handmaid’s Tale for the first time, two books that would provide me with important frames of reference and ideologies about dark realities of government and human nature, things like mind control, pervasive surveillance, systematic oppression of women, and propagandistic uses of war – books that I now teach to college students.  

Like punk rock, dystopian literature is urban, and gritty, and gray scale, and like many punk rock bands, dystopian literature makes important critiques of society. Dystopian literature sneers satirically at social ills, inequality, hierarchical divisions, abusive power, and glib politicians – punk rock often does the same. In fact, many punk bands have referenced dystopian novels in their songs. The Dead Kennedy’s reference 1984 in their song “California Uber Alles,” an anti-Governor Jerry Brown song, a song that rails against yuppies taking over the state and making kids meditate in school:

                        Close your eyes, can’t happen hear

                        Big Bro on a white horse is near

                        The hippies won’t come back you say

                         Mellow out or you will pay

                        California uber alles    4x

                        Now it’s 1984

                        Knock-knock on your front door

                        It’s the suede-denim secret police

                        They have come for your uncool niece.

The majority of the Dead Kennedy’s lyrics were satirical, and satire is a device/genre that makes extra close examination of meaning especially important, for unlike what many of my students often think, author Jonathan Swift isn’t being literal when he says we should turn to cannibalism and eat babies to help the poor. Satire aside, a friend of mine once articulated something that I wondered about the “California Uber Alles” even at the age of fifteen when I was blasting this song in my room and pumping a fist in the air, or when I saw the DK’s at the Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway in San Francisco: why pick on a liberal democrat? Why pick on Jerry Brown? Looking again at these lyrics now, I realize why. First off, George Orwell, author of 1984 would say all people in power, all politicians should be questioned and scrutinized, and secondly, if you look closely at what Jello Biafra, singer and lyricist of the Dead Kennedys was railing against, may seem like yuppies, but it’s also gentrification in its references to jogging, organic food, and “zen fascists.” In essence, Biafra’s fears of a “cool, hip,” read expensive, California have come true, especially in the hyper-gentrified San Francisco where the Dead Kennedy’s were based.

Growing up, I felt much like a dystopian protagonist: trapped in world that denied me my individuality. A spikey-haired, black eye-liner, ruffled Mexican rick-rack skirt, wearing teen, I noticed that many punk kids came from broken homes, or had parents who were addicts, or lived in boring go-no-where suburbs. We were kids who lived with a lot of stress, kids who were prone to depression. Our lives as we were living them didn’t fit. While some tried to make us feel like it was us, like we weren’t right, like we were messed up, like we were the problem, we had enough sense to know that there was a much larger looming problem. Angry punk rock songs and angsty literature were good outlets for these feelings. The Subhumans address some of these feelings in the song “Big Brother.”

            Here we are in the a new age

            Wishing we were dead

            There’s a TV in my front room

            And it’s screwing with my head

            There’s a scanner in the toilet

            Two watch you take a bath

            And there’s a picture of Hiroshima

            To make sure you never laugh

In 1984, the actual 1984, at the age of 14, I saw the band Reagan Youth at the Democratic Convention held that year in San Francisco with my freshly chopped hair, dyed blue black. My friend Nicole Lopez’s mom drove us three hours from our small town to San Francisco just so we could see the bands and take part in the protest. A protest site was designated in the empty lot at Mission and Howard across from the Moscone Center, which back then was simply a large slab of concrete that took up an entire city block. It was there that Reagan Youth, who had named themselves after President Reagan, played with the Dead Kennedys, MDC, and the Dicks. Given the year, 1984, and the draconian policies put in place by the outgoing president whose policies had further marginalized the lives of many, especially youth from low-income families, there was a lot to protest. Sort of unknown on the West Coast, Reagan Youth played early in the day, but they were loved by the crowd right away for their energy and aptness of a band with their name playing on the rock Against Reagan tour. Dave Insurgent with his hippie punk, white-boy dreads stood at the edge of the stage, leaned into the crowd and incited our ire. Frustrated about class hierarchies, Regan Youth wrote the song Brave New World whose lyrics are drawn straight from the book of the same name by Aldous Huxley. Many English punk bands wrote anti-Thatcher songs during the same time period, songs that often also referenced dystopian texts, or the dystopian nature of the Reagan/Thatcher era.

Like dystopian literature much of punk rock is a critique of societal norms or trends, but while dystopian novels are cautionary tales, political punk rock lyrics are a document of concerns and frustrations current for the band, issues that are themes common in dystopian literature, themes such as frustrations about squashed individuality under the pressure of societal norms, corporate control of our lives, and subtle and overt forms of propaganda used by democratic nations who should know better. The straight-edge band, Set It Straight, from Redding, CA, active 2004 -2007, address some of these themes in the song “Self-Deprogramming,” a song written prior to Gary Shtenyngart’s modern dystopia, Super Sad True Love Story, a novel about a nation obsessed with mobile devices, youth, hotness ratings, and group think. The novel and the song have a lot in common.

A sea of suits with empty, mindless eyes

swarming like bees amongst their platinum high rise hives, and every single one?

Yeah, they know their place.

Super latte charged electrons, androids with no face.

But only those who subconsciously want to live their lives spoon fed, subordinated, placid, incarcerated, succumb to the machine.

I’ll tear down their graphs and charts, and take back rational thought.

It’s not too late to start.

I refuse to live my life homogenized.

I refuse to just sit by with half shut eyes.

I will think… think for myself

Like Shytngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, this song rails against modern day forms of brainwashing via slick technology and the allure of power. Its references to lattes and androids are references to familiar dystopian fears regarding loss of individuality and a loss of humanity, a loss of humanity that we sadly participate in by our robotic obsession with digital technology that does our thinking for us.

I have often said that being an English teacher is a natural extension of being in a punk band without quite understanding the connection myself, but it has always felt true. And even though I don’t always only wear black and try to look tough like I did when I was in a punk band, helping students learn to think for themselves, to avoid lazy thinking and to spot fallacious arguments, to question authority is one way the two are connected, but the other way is teaching dystopian literature, a genre, that demands all those things, especially questioning authority, by its very style and content, a genre that warns us about hierarchical thinking, class privilege, and endless wars, a genre that begs us to open our eyes, to be better.

Looking Like Alice Bag

1f548427e16a37abb25f9bb134bb099cAlice Bag lookalike

Last summer, I went to a bay area’s women writers’ gathering at a pub downtown Oakland. It was a pub, so just about everyone was drinking artisan beer. I ordered a glass of red wine.

The purpose of this gathering was to network with other female writers. I went by myself with no idea that I was about to come down with a violent stomach virus. I attributed my sudden, but familiar, feelings of standoffishness to a comment from one of the gathering’s organizers, a white woman, just five minutes after I arrived.

“You look like Alice Bag,” the women smiled and shook my hand.

My hair, which parts on the side, was cut in an asymmetrical bob, dark with bright red pieces opposite the part, and I had just told her that I was working on a memoir about being in a female punk band.

 “I do?” I said.

 I could see the woman’s face fall in a sudden realization.

“Because I’m Mexican? Or maybe it’s my haircut,” my voice trailed off on the word haircut. I decided that I should try to give the woman the benefit of the doubt.

The woman stammered something inaudible, then turned and introduced me to her friend standing nearby. The friend and I exchanged the requisite writer information, what kind of writing we do, publications, and what we’re working on now; then I decided to sit down. I needed to think carefully about what had just happened.

Had I stood up for myself and questioned a potentially rude comment, or had I nearly accused the organizer of being racist, or at least of stereotyping?

It is actually a good thing, in the writing world, if you resemble another writer in some way, writing style, genre, or region because it’s a convenient way to give a frame of reference for your own work, to demonstrate that your style, genre, or region already has an audience, so I know that writers do this, make these convenient comparisons, but telling one person of color that she looks like another person of color, always smacks a little “they all look alike.” Of course, Alice Bag had recently released her own memoir about growing up Chicana and being in a punk band.

 This was all getting a little hard to sort out.

When the movie Lone Star came out in 1996, many people told me that I looked like Elizabeth Peña (RIP). This seemed like a convenient comparison too – a Latina in a movie seen by many people that I knew, a film that got attention for its content and good critical reviews, and I all of a sudden looked like her. It felt like the fact that I now supposedly looked like someone in a movie, a woman deemed pretty by the movie industry, legitimized my face, my slightly Mayan nose, my heavy-lidded, almond shaped eyes, my full lips. Most people probably didn’t really mean for the comment to feel this way, but I can’t help having a lot of baggage about standards of beauty growing up in a small town in the 80’s when perfectly blond feathered hair and blue eyes reined supreme.

ripezliabethpenaMG.Mexico.bw

The irony, I’ve realized, is that while Elizabeth Peña and Alice Bag look nothing a like, I do actually look a little like both of them. I look more like Elizabeth Peña around the eyes and maybe like Alice Bag around the mouth (or is it the shape of our faces?) but perhaps more so because my hair is often cut and died similar to hers and we are both Chicanas who were in punk rock bands, though years and years apart – superficial things?

It’s confusing isn’t it, which is why you might want to be careful. Those of us on the receiving end may want to be careful too, because I quite like the way Alice Bag looks, and looking like Alice Bag, looking like a fierce, not-so-light-skinned Latina is what I look like and what I want to look like after all.