Tag Archives: women in punk

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

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.