Tag Archives: 924 Gilman

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. 

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

Punk Rock Reunions

kamala-the-karnivores-girl-band-7-punk-lookout-records_5683621

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.

20160304_190747 (1)

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!

2016-08-28-19-50-08

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.

 

 

 

Spitboy Rule Review of Green Day’s Return to 924 Gilman

GREENDAY3

We used to call it the pest list, the list bands put names on to get their friends into the show for free. You can’t put everyone on the pest list.

If I remember correctly, when Spitboy was playing Gilman we were only allowed a few people on our guest list, a couple more if could make a particularly good case. The reason bands are only allowed a few people on their guest list at small clubs has everything to do with the size of the club, fire code, and of course money.

My son, Luis Manuel, and I weren’t on the guest list of last night’s Gilman show at which Green Day played (a benefit for the AK Press and 1984 Printing damage in a fire that claimed two lives) for the first time in twenty-one years, but we got in anyway. I won’t say how because it was a little dodgy and because I don’t want to implicate anyone (I did make a donation to the cause). A friend in one of the other bands that played offered to get my son and I in once we got to the door, so I guess we did have a real in after all.

My son who is thirteen and becoming mildly embarrassed of me (as is the order of things) is not the Green Day fan that he once was, but I am, so I made him come with me to see what all the fuss was about.

“We’re not even going to get in,” he said in his snide thirteen year old way on our way there.

As the parent of teen, I tend to ignore such behavior because it’s not worth the power struggle.

 “I bet some of my friends from school will be there,” he said later as we walked from the car.

I had my own doubts about getting into a show that sold out online in a reported ten seconds , but it was worth a try, plus I was meeting my friend Juliette from out of town at Pyramid Brewery across the street, a friend who did get on the guest list, someone I hadn’t seen in twenty years.

My son tried to play it cool when Juliette asked him if he was excited about the show once we got access to the wrist bands. He  just shrugged his shoulders. In addition to being a surly thirteen year-old, he can be shy around people he doesn’t know. I explained to Juliette that my son is a jazz musician, a piano player, and that he doesn’t listen to Green Day or any of the other alternative music that he was listening to two years ago. However, like Green Day, my son hopes to one day make money playing music because like Green Day, he is all about the music, playing it, thinking about, listening to it, and he hopes, one day composing it and playing for an audience other than his parents or other parents of his peers at recitals for the performing arts school that he attends in Oakland.

I understand the sellout argument, but I won’t bother rehashing it here. I was in a band that would not have been pursued by a major label. We were too loud, too angry, too feminist, but that was never a reason for me to turn my back on bands that have, to shame people I sort of grew up with. I, famously, went to see Nirvana play in 1993 at the Oakland Coliseum. In fact, I went to with Jason White who plays guitar in Green Day. It’s not in my nature to hate people for making a decision to make a living doing something that they love. I would love to make money on my writing, and I had a story recently published in an anthology put out by a major publishing house. No one is calling me a sellout or creating a bunch of controversy.

Punk rock is fussy. I know that. There are rules in punk rock too, rules made by people who hate rules, and that’s fine, I guess, but don’t ask me to make excuses for liking Green Day even though I played drums in Spitboy because I won’t do it.

I will, however, stand up on a table in the back of Gilman and dance just like I did when I was twenty-three years old if, even my thirteen year old son doesn’t approve.