Tag Archives: 1990’s hardcore

Seriously: Spitboy’s First Song


“Seriously” was Spitboy’s first song. We started working on it the night guitarist, Karin Gembus, came to play with us, the night she joined the band. I had written the song using a few of the only chords I knew on guitar and wrote the lyrics about a night I was sexually harassed at a party at my house in West Oakland by two guys in a band from Salt Lake City, Utah.

It’s quite a kick ass song, in spite of my obvious amateur song-writing skills, with the odd loping opening and even odder break. What it lacks in musical maturity it makes up for in straightforward toughness and a certain vulnerability. Plus it has those three quick hard stops in the second verse right before the chorus.

We stopped playing “Seriously” live after a couple of years because it didn’t quite fit what would become the Spitboy sound, but it lives on as a track on the Ebullition Give Me Back compilation. The odd opening does allow for a welling of emotion and the satisfaction of screaming “Well, honey, I got news for you!”



Subtle cues warn me

I’m on to you

You’re spewing your best

but babe

manipulative charm does not have me impressed


Not interested wasn’t good enough for you

All girls play hard to get

You ain’t no fool

Consideration for how I felt wasn’t important at all

To you a girl, is a girl, is a girl


Well, honey, I got news for you

It doesn’t work that way here

I don’t listen for the shots you call

Babe, you take me seriously or don’t take me at all

Pete The Roadie

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Pete and Italian guy who asked me in perfect but heavily accented English, “Are you a lesbian?”

It didn’t seem very punk rock to me to have roadies, to be waited on by people hired to help, so when we had to find people to help us on tour, I felt a little reluctant about it. My reluctance about hired help was magnified because I’m a woman, the oldest daughter of a single mother, expected to anticipate the needs of others, and not the other way around.

To be clear, no one that I knew in a punk band considered roadies just the hired help. Roadies were usually friends who knew a thing or two about guitars, amps, and drums and who didn’t mind helping the band lug shit around, and often for no more than the opportunity to travel. However, when Paula started dating Pete the Roadie, Spitboy had instant access to an actual professional roadie, a man who had dedicated his life to touring with bands and practically crafting the punk rock roadie code for punk rock roadies who admired and looked up to him, even trained with him. Pete, and roadies like him, were not unlike those in other service jobs who took serving others seriously. In fact, I thought of Pete the Roadie many years later when I read Barbara Eherenriech’s opinions about what it means to serve in her book Nickle and Dimed, though, unlike Ehrenreiech who worked as a waitress and hotel maid then goes back to her real life to write about it, being a roadie and serving others is Pete the Roadie’s real life.

Pete the Roadie seemed to believe that his primary job was to serve artists, to make it easier for them to make the music that he loved and to spread the ideas that he believed in. He did what he did without the glory of actually being in the band. Being a woman whose life had, in large part, been about serving others, helping my mom take care of my brother and sister, and in my job as a pre-school teacher where all I did was take care of small children who couldn’t take care of themselves (and their parents who needed reassurance that their children were happy while they were away at work), I admired this code, but when applied to me, it felt decadent. I didn’t feel comfortable being served. Still, none of that mattered to Pete. All that mattered to him was that my drums were set up properly or that nothing moved out of place when I played them.

When we played live, Pete would kneel at the side of the stage half way between the drum kit and the amps on the stage in his grungy jeans and work boots, a roadie tool attached to his belt for easy access. Ready to jump into action, he’d watch for me to nod in the direction of my high-hat if it was sliding out of place or the bass drum pedal, which often came loose by my furious pounding. When I nodded, Pete would come running to fix whatever was out place, his fingers always in danger of getting munched by some moving part on the drum hardware, a consequence that he’d gladly accept if it allowed me to finish out whatever song we had been playing uninterrupted.

During one show in Prague, our only show in the Czech Republic (a country that had split from Slovakia just earlier that year), my bass drum pedal went clean through the head of the bass drum of the set I was borrowing from one of the opening acts. In England, while touring with Citizen Fish, I had played Trotsky’s set, and Karin and Paula had used the Citizen Fish amps, as were unable to bring our large pieces of equipment over on the plane, just guitars, cymbals and my snare drum. Not having my own kit scared me at first. Would I be able to play someone else’s drum set, a different set each night? Touring definitely required a new kind of flexibility. Still, I hadn’t actually worried so much about breaking someone else’s kit. The head of the Prague drum set must have been worn already because I could feel it give way early in the set. I looked down at it a couple times, wondering if I could see a crack, and when I looked back up, Pete had stood from his keeling position, his eyes trained on me, waiting for a cue. By the end of the song, the pedal had gone straight through the head and there wasn’t another. Pete had watched the mallet slice through the head, and was at my side with a solution when I thought that we might not be able to even go on. As I signaled to the band what was going on, Pete moved my drum stool out of the way, disconnected the foot pedal from the bass drum, and set about unscrewing the head from the drum using the drum key normally attached to his other tools on his belt loop.

“Don’t worry, Drums,” he said, looking over his shoulder on his hands and knees in front of the kit, “I’ll have this sorted right quick.”

In addition to his dedication to the service, Pete also really loved the communal feel of being on the road, the friendships that developed, the habits, the fast-pace, and the inside jokes. Pete rarely called me by name. He’d usually call me drummer or drums, especially when I was on stage. He called Adrienne “singer,” and he called Paula “Mrs. Roadie,” as he still does today. Pete also took it upon himself to make sure we had drinks if we wanted them, and he memorized what we liked to drink and when. He knew I was homesick too, missing Jason, my Little Rock boyfriend, and so he’d sit with me while I drank my glass of Tetley once we finished playing, and he had the drums torn down, and the equipment sorted and put away.

The movie Wayne’s World had just come out, and we had all seen it, given that, like Spinal Tap, it parodied rock musicians who we both represented and were rebelling against at the same time. Somewhere early in the tour, Pete and I began making Wayne’s World jokes, trying to make the other laugh harder with each new joke. But nothing made me laugh harder than when Pete the Roadie, who’s not known for being the sexiest guy in town, his punk band t-shirts tucked into his road-dingy jeans, for quicker access to his roadie tools, arched his pelvis toward my high-hat and said, “Sha-wing, high hat.”

I felt like I should do something to help Pete fix the bass drum head, but there wasn’t much I could do but watch in awe as Pete, pit-crew-fast, pulled the rim off the drum, turned the head 180 degrees, put the rim back on, tightened all eight tension rods, and duct taped the hole that was now at the top of the drum instead of near the bottom where it would be hit by the mallet.

“Party on, bass drum,” he said, with a big smile once he finished.

This cracked me up extra hard given that I had just broken someone else’s bass drum head, and Pete’s duct tape job had given it more life, though much altered

I wanted to hug him but there was not time.

My mirth over the repaired drum head only lasted so long because after the show we learned that most people who attended the show had paid a week’s wages to get in. We were sitting in the tour organizer’s grey, utilitarian-looking, high-rise apartment. It was hard to hear. All I could think of was that I should have paid for the drumhead and Spitboy should have played for free. If we had known this in advance, we would have done the right thing, even though Prague had been a super long drive from East Berlin. Though the prostitutes all along the highway on our way there should have been some kind of clue that the recent reunification of East and West Germany, and the breaking apart of the former Czechoslovakia had not resulted in any kind of instant economic prosperity.

I thought about Prague and all its haunting beauty and gray scale block housing on the long drive back to East Berlin, back by the sex workers, probably the same women standing by the side of the road on the way there. I thought about the people who spent a week’s wages just to see us play and wondered if it had been worth it, and how naïve we had been going there. I hoped that the drumhead that Pete had doctored with duct tape would last.

My Body is Mine

imgres                 tumblr_n5zioi00AB1tvqu8xo1_500When we released our Mi Cuerpo Es Mio 7”, a riot grrl from Olympia accused Spitboy of cultural appropriation. The riot grrl, I’ll call her Amy, had ties to the Bay Area, and she was white. Maybe she really believed the accusation. Maybe cultural appropriation was a new concept to her, one that she wanted to try out, and felt it applied to us, or maybe she was just pissed off at Spitboy because we had distanced ourselves from her movement. Amy objected to our use of Spanish for the title of our record. She objected to the words “mi cuerpo es mio” which translates to my body is mine – apparently my body was invisible.

Mi Cuerpo Es Mio, Spitboy’s third release, followed our self-titled 7” on Lookout Records, and our full-length LP that came out on Ebullition. Mi Cuerpo Es Mio was an Allied release, and we chose Allied because of our ties, mostly through Karin, with John Yates, and because we had decided that we would not be owned by any one particular record label, especially since like the punk scene itself the punk record labels were run by men. We were of course, grateful for these particular men, but we didn’t want any of them to feel any kind of ownership over us, our music, or our message. I remember Karin framing our approach that way, and it made sense to me after feeling a great deal of embarrassment from comments made during the release of the Kamala and the Karnivores 7” which came out when I was still dating founding partner of Lookout Records, David Hayes. Turns out that Girl Band was just a really good record after all and with a brilliant cover concept that I will take some credit for. In it, each member of Kamala and the Karnivores is depicted with Barbie dolls. We even found a brown skinned Barbie for my doll and an Asian Barbie for Lynda who played guitar.

During my days entrenched in the scene, I never tried to pass for white, but my nickname was Todd and people didn’t always go by there last names. Familial ties were less important than what band you were in, zine you wrote, or city you were from, and a lot of us were from broken or dysfunctional families anyway. If you were in a band, you went by your first name and your last name was the name your band: Todd Spitboy, Adrienne Spitboy, and so on. Before Spitboy, people called me Todd Bitchfight.

Although I looked quite different from the rest of the Spitboy, my ethnicity didn’t often come up in conversation, not in the Bay Area. In the 1990’s, people were still trying to be colorblind, to not see race, or to pretend not to see it, as the case may be. It wasn’t polite to talk about race, and so I didn’t really talk about it, but this one conversation sticks out in my mind:

“What’s your last name?”

We had just played a show and a friend of Karin’s had come to see us play.

“Gonzales,” I said. It was an unusual question.

“Your last name is Gonzales? Are you, um, Mexican?”

“Yeah, I am,” I said.

This was sort of nice – most people usually said, “What are you?”

“How come I didn’t know that before?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s so weird. I’m sorry,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“It seems like I should have known that before. I’ve seen you play and Spitboy, you know, you’re a punk band. I never thought about you all being anything other than that.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

“I feel bad.” She reached out and touched my knee.

I didn’t know what to say.

“Identity is so important, and I didn’t even see it, see you. I just saw Spitboy.”

“I don’t think that’s uncommon,” I said, “It’s easier just to see the short hair and clothes I guess.”

“Well, I’m not going to do that again,” she said, “It’s not right.”

After so many years of race/class ridicule that I endured growing up in Tuolumne, fitting in was important to me, but fitting into the punk scene the way I did then created a whole other problem. In conforming to the non-conformist punk ways, adhering, mostly, to the punk uniform, I had lost something along the way, and I began to experience rumblings of discontent that I didn’t quite understand. I secretly listened to Linda Ronstadt’s Canciones de Mi Padre and sang along, holding long sad notes to words that, like Ronstadt, I only vaguely understood. I knew that my identity was the root of my confusion and discontent, so I began taking Spanish classes at a local community college when I could fit them in after work.

Learning to speak Spanish had been a life-long dream. As a child, someone had given me a red hardcover Spanish/English dictionary, and, naively, I thought if I read it everyday that I would become bilingual like the rest of my family in East LA. Later, living in the Bay Area and not being able to speak Spanish began messing with my head, made me feel inadequate, like a phony. I sometimes avoided going to the Mission District in San Francisco because while I was working super hard to fit into the punk scene, playing in bands, going to shows, and volunteering at Blacklist, and not always feeling totally accepted or understood, I felt really out of place in the Mission where it seemed like everyone spoke to me in Spanish and looked baffled when I couldn’t respond. Learning to speak my family’s language, even the little that I was able to speak after only a couple of semesters of college Spanish, provided some relief and helped me to come out as a person of color in the punk scene.

I didn’t say all of this out loud when I suggested Mi Cuerpo es Mio as the title for what would become Paula’s last release with the band because I still didn’t really have words to express all that was going on inside me at twenty-five. Later, when I did have the words, they often came out wrong, clumsy, angry, abrasive, and alienating, especially in those last days of Instant-Girl, but I suppose this was part of my process.

Everyone in the band liked the phrase mi cuerpo is mio because of it’s strength in sound and content and because it summed up all that we were about. The syntatical alignment of the masculine ending noun “cuerpo” and pronoun “mio” is what creates the strength in the line and is an aspect of the Spanish language that makes it particularly euphonious and easy to create rhyme. It was also a concept of the language that I understood particularly well, and I when I learned it, I was drawn to the way it created emphasis.

Still, the main reason that I suggested mi cuerpo es mio as the title of the 7” was to acknowledge an aspect of my membership in the band that I felt was missing, an aspect of myself that I felt unable to or insecure about expressing. Blame the scene; blame Tuolumme; blame America. It could have been any number of those things. Probably all of them together were to blame for my locura, for my schizophrenic, or closeted identity.

I hadn’t been at all sure that the Spitwomen would want to name our record “My Body is Mine” in Spanish, but they did, and that felt good, but being criticized by a riot grrrl was a huge blow. It really pissed me off.

Like a lot of people, my first reaction to anything upsetting back then was anger. Anger is a good mask for sadness, so I didn’t understand right away that I wasn’t really mad that that some riot grrl, keen on accusing people of cultural appropriation but who couldn’t recognize a person of color when she was staring one in the face, had attacked the band. I was hurt. I was hurt because people didn’t really see me, and I had let it happen. I had been invisibilized. People in the scene did not see my identity, the core of who I really was, the face and body through which I experienced the world. At shows, I did not register as a Chicana. I was just the drummer of Spitboy, and for some reason, I couldn’t be both.      

The Riot Grrrl Controversy


“SPITBOY are the best girl band around. They piss all over every Riot Girl band I can think of. They’ve got more power in their dirty little fingernails than Courtney Love, Kathleen Hanna and Kat Bjelland put together… Tonight, these four women, sweaty and angry, but also (between songs) witty and endearing–have stolen my heart… Spitboy are uniquely inspiring, not only for their awesome bile, but also for their straightforwardness. They hate sexism, not men. They know exactly what they’re talking about and how to articulate their righteous aggression.”

—From Melody Maker April 10, 1993

   London, England

   “Live!” review by Lucy Sweet                           

We weren’t trying to piss on riot grrrl bands. But we did understand that the comparison, or being labeled a riot girl band, wasn’t going away and neither was what had now become rivalry between female punk bands who ultimately had the same mission: to speak out against sexism. It would have been easier to say we were a riot girrl band, but we had formed Spitboy in the Bay Area during the early days of their movement. And we stood for just about everything they did, only we didn’t want to be called girls.

It happened in Washington DC, an already strange city, which added to the days angst.  After getting lost on one way streets and roundabouts, we found our way to the venue we were scheduled to play that day, a sort of loft space storefront on a swanky tree lined street with Victorian architecture, a strange place to play after playing church basements and Elks Lodges in the mid-west.

I followed Adrienne out of the van, staying at the heels of her clunky boots, as I often did during times like these.  Adrienne was outgoing and became even more so when in doubt; whereas, I tended toward standoffishness. We weren’t playing with any riot girl bands that day, but members of Bikini Kill and the guys from Nation of Ulysses who they were all hanging around with were there for the show. Punk bands from the bay area, where every other band wanted to play, or played as often as they could, were a draw, and women came out when Spitboy played. Bikini Kill and their friends had come out to see us play, to see what we were all about.

Adrienne marched up to the door of the venue looking for the guy who had set up the show to find out where we should load in. I figured I could get past the intimidating moments of meeting new people, new scenesters, faster if I hung with Adrienne while she went around, smiling wide, her straight-toothed smile, her blue eyes sparkling, introducing herself to people, laughing easily, shaking people’s hands, and hugging those who wanted a hug. I stopped at shaking hands. I didn’t want people I didn’t know hugging me or touching me, men in particular, no matter how much they liked Spitboy, and not when I was already feeling tense about being on riot grrrl territory.

Like riot grrrl, hugs had become a sore subject too. Earlier in the tour, on our way out of some city, this guy, a friend of our tour contact had offered to give us all hugs. Apparently, I was the only one in the band who found this creepy.

“Everyone tells me that I give the best hugs. Do you want a hug?” the young man said, holding his arms out, waiting for one of us to step in. He was a pale-faced, chubby dude, not fat, just a little husky, the kind of punk guy who was probably vegetarian who rarely ate vegetables and who subsisted on mainly cheese and bread and beer or soda.

“Sure, I’ll have a hug.” Adrienne smiled wide and stepped forward.

I took a step back and looked toward our dented blue van.

“You do give the best hugs.’ Adrienne turned to Karin who was standing at her side. “Karin, you have to get one of his hugs.”

Karin stepped forward and let this guy hug her, hugging him back.

I could see the guy’s face as he hugged Karin, his head over her shoulder, his eyes scrunching with the squeeze of his arms, his goofy smile.

“Okay, I’ll have one too,” Paula said.

 I stepped to the side to avoid his line of vision once he opened his eyes.

“Thank you,” Paula said, once he released her. She smiled a real smile, her freckles dancing about.

I looked down at the ground, to where the asphalt met the dirt on the side of the road. I could feel all eyes on me.

“Do you want a hug too?” Huggy Bear Boy smiled and stepped in my direction.

“No, I don’t,” I said before he got too close. “Thank you,” I added.

Huggy Bear Boy stopped his forward lumber, and there was an awkward silence as he lowered his arms, like two long animal balloons out of air.

In the van, I felt like I had to explain myself, as if our ‘body is mine’ motto didn’t extend to fans.

“But he was nice,” Adrienne said.

Karin and Paula were in the front seat waving at Huggy Bear Boy and his friend as we drove away. I waved and forced a smile because I didn’t want to look like a total asshole.

“That was probably the most action that guy’s gotten in days, maybe ever,” I said once we had driven a block or so.

“Todd,” Karin said, shocked but she laughed anyway because she knew it was probably true.

Even though I didn’t want to be hugged by fans, unless I felt some kind of real connection, like after a conversation, I was oddly confident in other ways, and I didn’t usually get nervous before playing live, but I was nervous the night we played in front of members of Bikini Kill and Nation of Ulysses. In short, I was intimidated. Then a tall guy came up to me before we took to the stage ( which wasn’t a stage at all, just a piece of the floor in the back of the venue, opposite the glare from the front windows) to ask if we required the men in the crowd to stand in the back of the room, like they were told to do during a Bikini Kill set. I couldn’t believe my ears, but I now had someplace to direct my angst.

At my drumset, sitting on the stool, I pulled my backup vocal mic up to my mouth, “Before we play, we’d just like to say that we don’t expect men to stand in the back of the room. We’re not a riot girl band.”

All the air sucked right out of the room as soon as I said it. Mouths dropped open and silent. It was as if someone turned off the sound.

Being the hot headed one, I had nominated myself to say something first about what we realized had become an elephant in the room, but I had chosen my words poorly, spoke too soon, shat where I ate. But there it was out in the open, we were a female punk band in 1992, but we were not a riot grrl band. And it was probably best for the rest of the band that I had been the one to say it, the one who would became the most hated Spitwoman of just about every riot girl thereafter because I was the scrappy one, the only one who didn’t grow up middle-class, the non-white one; I had thicker skin.  But they backed me up; Spitboy was great this way. We did sometimes discuss possible approaches and reactions to familiar crowd responses, but we never shut anyone in the band down who felt passionate about about a something, and when one of us spoke first on a topic, there was always room for another of us to chime in and add her two cents. In this case, Adrienne stepped into recover some sense of decorum.

“Please don’t block a woman’s view; don’t stand in front of someone who is shorter than you are. Just use common sense.”

I appreciated Adrienne’s attempt to soften the blow of my comment, but my hands and knees, which started to shake the second the words, “We’re not a riot girl band,” came out of my mouth and I saw the stunned looks on people’ faces, wouldn’t stop. We knew that this one comment, saying this one thing that we had discussed with one another privately, in public, would forever alter our relationship with one of the most influential women’s movements in the punk rock scene nationwide. Still we had discussed it, and we, Spitboy (even before boys in the DC crowd came up to us and thanked us after the show) had made the deliberate decision not take a separatist stance. It was true, we hated sexism; we didn’t hate men, and neither did Bikini Kill, really.  Though if we could go back and do it over again we would have gone about it, I would have gone about it a bit differently, but not much, not much differently.