Tag Archives: Alice Bag

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

The Spitboy Rule Book Release Countdown

When PM Press said, yes, they would like to publish my book, the first thing that I thought was, now I just have to not die before it comes out. Writers are always writing against the clock, but now I only need to hang in here for about a week because there’s  word that the books have shipped from the printers. I have written two memoirs, and this is the first one to be published, and the whole process, getting this book published, has been really fun and collaborative. I was assigned an editor, then a cover designer, a copy editor, and an events planner. Everyone at PM Press has been super cool to work with, and they see me, the individual, and that is, wow, really nice.

At the end of March, I will begin doing readings for The Spitboy Rule with the book in hand; in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to lend your support:

  • Watch the book trailer created by my old friend Owen Peer and Martin Salazar. Spitboy and Owen’s band, Good Grief, used to share a practice space in Oakland, and Owen came to the hospital the day my son was born. It was fun working on the book trailer with him, and given that we go way back, there was very little that I had to explain. 
  • Read the Remezcla profile piece written by my new camarada, Michelle Threadgould.
  • Plan to come see me read in the East Bay or in LA on April 2 with Alice Bag and Keith Morris (Circle Jerks)
    • March 15, 2016, Get Lit, 7-9 PM,  Ale Industries 3096 East 10th Street, Oakland CA
    • March 29, 2016, 6:30,  Oakland Crossroads 3234 Grand Avenue, Oakland CA
    • April 2, 2016, Reading with Alice Bag (the Bags) and Keith Morris, (Circle Jerks), Pehrspace, 325 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90026
    • April 17, 2016, Gilman Zine Fest, 924 Gilman, Berkeley CA, 10 – 6PM2349 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
  • Pre-order the book from PM Press or Amazon (if you have to)
  • Like my Spitboy Rule Facebook page.
  • Follow me on Twitter @xicanabrava

Punk Rock Panelist Do’s and Don’ts

 

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Don’t tell another panelist that you don’t know who they are.

Don’t say something like, “I don’t think I even know who you are or anything about your band,” somewhat annoyed and faux apologetic, especially if you’re on a panel of musicians that spans eras.

While it’s nice when people recognize you, you shouldn’t expect anyone to, especially a white man now playing prog rock.

Do take advice from Jello Biafra. He might be a little intimidating and intense, but he knows a thing or to about speaking in public.

Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and call him curmudgeonly when he says that being on the panel was actually fun and not terrible like he thought it was going to be.

Do say yes to paneling at colleges, especially if the talk is somewhere cool like New Orleans, and colleges can sometimes pay!

Don’t get upset if you’re speaking at a college and people get up and leave during your talk. Students are often scheduled by the hour while on campus, and they may need to go class.

This is a no-duh, but to do prepare your talk in advance. Jot down or type up some talking points and keep them in front of you, even if no one else does. You might go off script, here and there, and that’s fine, but don’t ramble, get back to those talking points – embrace your inner academic.

Don’t ramble. Nobody wants to listen to you ramble.

Don’t hijack the talk, especially by rambling over your allotted time.

Do stick to your allotted time period. Even punks have to obey some rules.

Don’t look bored when you’re waiting to speak or once your done. If you’re waiting to speak, listen, and take notes on related points that you’d like to make. If you’ve already spoken don’t sit looking angry, bitter, and bored as if someone made you listen to “Hotel California” or the Spin Doctors.

Do panel with Alice Bag. She’s always prepared, and she’s kind to everyone.

Don’t be afraid to be interesting. Unless there’s a Q & A session, which usually doesn’t happen until all the panelists have spoken, a panel discussion is a one-way discussion. This can get very boring for more interactive audience members. If you speak in a monotone voice, look super uncomfortable, angry, or bored, your audience will get uncomfortable, angry, or bored. These nice people came out to see you speak, give them something to chew on, something to reflect on, be prepared, crack a joke or two, smile every now and again. Smiling won’t cost you punk points, and it might even get you invited back.

Musing on Drumming, Aging, Rocking Out, and Why the Hell Not

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You may have heard by now that I’m playing drums in Alice Bag’s band September 25 at 111 Mina in San Francisco for the Punk Rock Sewing Circle’s 40th Anniversary of Punk show.

What you don’t know is that I have signed on to play this show, and I’ll only get to rehearse once with the band before we hit Zappa Room stage. Alice sent me a link to the tracks of the songs we’ll play on Soundcloud, and I’ve been learning them on my own between teaching, writing, sewing, cooking dinner, reminding my thirteen year old to practice the piano more, paying attention to my media naranja, and walking the dogs. I have had a couple moments of serious doubt while sitting behind my drum set.

I totally don’t want to suck.

I learned the two slower songs right away, but those fast punk rock songs are harder to learn because they’re fast and because it’s a lot harder to hear what’s going on in the songs, what the drummer’s doing during transitions, and to hear the right rhythm of some of the fills. I saw Pat Libby at 1234 Go Records Recently, and he helped me remember that if I suck on one of the fast songs, at least I only have to suck for about two minutes.

Alice did say to go ahead and make the songs my own where the drums were concerned. That was nice and a real comfort, but I don’t want to change the songs too much because I don’t want to throw off the rest of the band who has probably gotten pretty used to playing them a certain way, depending on the drummer as those in a band must do. But here’s another thing — being an old-lady drummer is not as easy as being a youthful twenty-something drummer. At least I don’t have to memorize song lyrics!

There were several years there in my thirties when I didn’t play drums at all. I sold my beat up set when I went back to school, not quite being able to imagine that I’d be in a band again, that I’d have the energy for all of that, that I could handle any more nights tearing down drums, carrying drums, stands, and cymbals, setting them all back up, munching my fingers in the process, tearing them down again, and carrying them back to the van. Writing, school, then graduate school, and my future baby with my media naranja were the only things I could foresee at that point, (and writing a book) though in the back of my mind I knew that if I wanted to play drums again that I could just buy another set. The one I sold was quite old and beaten up and a real cheap set to begin with. I do regret getting rid of my ride cymbal, the heavy Zildjian hammered and lathed one with the super rich sound. That cymbal went with me all over the world a couple of times because it was one of the few I never broke.

I started to play again about five or six years ago when my colleagues and I formed an English department band – we’re like the Weird Al of English department bands. We play covers of songs, changing the lyrics to address whatever community college English instructor woe is most present at the time: the bad budget, revolving door administration, paper grading, convocation, and anti-intellectualism. Being in the Rawk Hawks has been great fun, and my colleagues got me behind a drum set again in our low pressure, two- shows-a-year band. I sing in the band too, trading that duty with Karin Spirn and whoever else wants to sing a song. Richard Dry plays drums too, and he’s a lot better than I am a lot more versatile. Seriously, name a beat and he can play it or figure it out by the next practice.

Over the summer, I took a jazz drumming class because I wanted to learn some new beats too to be more versatile and because I knew Alice Bag might call. The jazz beats I learned won’t help me play punk drums better, but drum lessons, beginning to learn to read drum music, learning about sticking, and having real specific practice goals have helped my drumming overall. It was nice too to see how much of my previous experience playing drums helped me learn quickly and to know that I can continue to improve as a drummer, even as ease toward my fifties.

And that brings me back to Alice Bag, or Alicia Velasquez. When I met her earlier this year, she played with Frightwig – they backed her up. It was wild. My first band Bitch Fight played our first show at Gilman Street with Frightwig. I remember I thought they were scary – all womanly and intense. I was just some young country bumpkin from Tuolumne trying to make a name for myself in the Bay Area. Alice and Frightwig are all about the same age, between eight and twelve years older than I am, and they are out there playing their old songs and writing new ones. Older women rocking out that hard is not what anyone expects, and I know that many people would find it shocking, and odd, and un-old-lady-like (meanwhile, Keith Richards is still revered). For all those reasons, it made me want to cry when I saw Frightwig and Alice get on stage and do what they’re good at, what makes them feel good too.

I don’t want to suck when I play with Alice Bag and her band, but even if I do, it will still be an honor to have been asked.

The Spitboy Rule Book: Fall 2015 Update

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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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Fucking Carrie Brownstein

 

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Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

Fucking Carrie Brownstein! She’s smart, cute, a riot grrl, in a super awesome band that everyone loves, even critics; she has a super funny, edgy TV show, and now she’s publishing a memoir. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (Riverhead Books) is due out October 27th, just two days before my forty-sixth birthday. My memoir, The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band (PM Press) isn’t due out until Spring 2016. Just what, I ask, will Brownstein’s memoir be about? What has she done?

There should be some kind of law that you can’t write a memoir until you’re forty-five, until you’ve lived at least half your life like I have. I was already forty-five when I got word my memoir would be published.

When I got the news from PM Press, I didn’t run straight to my family to tell them the good news, hug them, or cry. No, I thought this instead: Okay, now, I just have to not die before it’s in print.

So imagine my shock last night, squinting at a Riverhead Books Instagram post on my phone announcing Brownstein’s book, my dismay at always having to be in the shadow of those sexpot riot grrls.

I should have known this would happen when I read her blurb on the back of Kim Gordon’s book A Girl in a Band, which credits her as —Carrie Brownstein, writer, actor, musician. I know she writes. However, to declare her a writer in that way, on that book is a bit like product placement.

Alice Bag, the most famous and legendary Chicana punk, Viv Albertine, of the Slits, and Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth, all did the decent thing and waited until they were in their fifties to publish their memoirs. The four of us will have to think very carefully about whether we’ll let the youthful, fancy pants Brownstein into our edgy female writer/musician’s club.

There is consolation in the fact that while Brownstein’s book will be published before mine, people will read my book too, because Alice Bag, Viv Albertine, Kim Gordon, and now, Carrie Brownstein have laid the groundwork, and because everyone wants to be a rock star, even if it’s only as long as it takes to read three hundred pages. It just isn’t fair always having to live in the shadow of those damn riot grrrls, who are and always have been younger and more pop-culture than I am.

In conclusion, I must ask the obvious question. Who are they going to let write a memoir next? It seems that there should be some sort of cap, some sort of quota. We can’t just let any literate woman who can play an instrument write a memoir. What would people think? What kind of message would that send? Americans might actually start to really believe at younger and younger ages that women can and should be heard, that women should have a voice, be musicians, writers, artists, great thinkers and creators worthy of solid place in history.

Looking Like Alice Bag

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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.

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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.