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.

Spitboy in Little Rock (a tribute)

 

Rainbow 9-6-2014-2

One of the most memorable Spitboy shows, for me, was the show we played in Little Rock with Chino Horde outdoors during a spectacular summer rainstorm. I fell in love in Little Rock too (something I only did once while on tour), but that’s not the story I’m going to tell, though the two are definitely related.

We must have arrived in Little Rock early in the morning, or the night before we played in the afternoon by the river because we spent a lot of time at Burt Taggert’s architectural marvel of a house, soaking up some genuine, old-fashioned Southern hospitality. Burt’s mom was kind to us, but she clearly did not approve of our crumpled, fresh-out-of-the-van look and unshaven armpits, urging us to use her shower, “there’s one here and another one down the hall,” and rest up before we came to eat. 

Rested and fed and chatted up, we made our way to the amphitheater where we’d play with Chino Horde and probably some other band too. Adding to the magic of the day, Burt and the rest of the guys doted on us quite a bit, asking if we needed to make any stops for anything we might need once back out on the road. I got the feeling that the Little Rock scene kids were this way with all bands that came through, but that we were getting the extra-special treatment because we were women, and not in the let-me-take-care-of-you-little-lady way; still, there was something sort of gentlemanly about it. And there had been, for quite some time, a strong connection between Little Rock and Bay Area bands, which probably started when Econochrist relocated to the Bay Area in the late 1980’s, but these slightly younger Little Rock punk kids were more Ben Sizemore (quiet, thoughtful in action, and serious about their message) than they were Jon Sumrall (funny, wild, and sometimes out of control). Though, the Ben Sizemore comparison isn’t quite right either. These guys were a whole new, kinder, gentler, punk guy – nothing hard, or threatening, about them.

The sky was a hazy blue when we arrived to the large covered amphitheater, where we would headline since we were the touring band, but we would have been happy playing anywhere on the bill, especially when we saw this beautiful spot — the lazy river, a bridge connecting the two sides of Little Rock on one side, and a large grassy area that spread out all around us. We had played churches, Elk’s lodges, basements, small all-ages clubs, and garages, but this was our first outdoor amphitheater and our first time in Little Rock.

To my surprise, the haziness in the sky had turned to clouds as people began arriving for the show, and by the time Chino Horde began to play, the rain was coming down heavy. The large, covered, amphitheater stage held all the bands and all the punk kids who came out, and we all managed to stay mostly dry. I had never seen or heard of Chino Horde before the tour, but I couldn’t take my eyes of them as soon as they took the stage. Depending on how tired or over stimulated I felt on tour, I would sometimes sit in the van and read before playing. I didn’t usually get nervous before playing, but I did often need to gather myself quietly before playing, and sometimes the van was the only quiet place to go. But sometimes there were bands like Chino Horde who gave you energy, made you excited to get up there after them and participate in the moment, and that’s how I felt on this day. It didn’t matter that the rain was coming down. It only added intensity to the band on stage, their performance punctuated by claps of thunder and flashes of lightening.

At one point during the Chino Horde set, with Burt, and Steve, and Jason, all at their mics, the rain started coming down sideways, wetting one side of the stage. I remember looking from Karin and Adrienne and Paula and to the suddenly dark sky and the rain all around us. They looked worried too, for we couldn’t be sure that Chino Horde or the rest of us wouldn’t be electrocuted. It seemed that Mother Nature was trying to match the energy on stage, or even demanding that Chino Horde keep up, for the further Chino Horde got into their set, the harder it rained. I had never seen such a thing before, a group of young men so intent on playing their music that what seemed to me a dangerous electrical storm was of no consequence.  And for a moment, I didn’t want them to stop. The weather, the music, the young men playing their hearts out in front of us, the whole thing took my breath away.

And just when I didn’t think I could take anymore of the frightening weather and Chino Horde’s intensity, Burt announced their last song, and just like that, the rain slowed, the clouds parted, and the sun burst through, lighting the sky. The audience couldn’t help turning its attention to the sudden change overhead, to the sun shining down again on the bridge, creating a reflection on the water. I remember looking at the Karin, and Paula, and Adrienne, wide-eyed, relieved and in disbelief that such a thing could happen, at what we had just witnessed. Then as Burt, and Steve, and Jason strummed their final notes, and David hit his cymbals the final time, a glittering rainbow fanned out across the whole sky.