Thursday, April 28, 2005

Women In L.A. Punk Part IX - Theresa Kereakes

Theresa Kereakes is yet another person I've met (or reconnected with) through Jenny Lens. Like Jenny, she is a photographer and was around to witness and document the birth of the mid-seventies punk movement. She says that she first grabbed her camera to prove to her doubting friends that she had actually been to the rock shows she was always talking about. Thirty years later, she's begun publishing her "photographic evidence" on the web, along with her humorous and insightful memories. Aside from her invaluable documentation, she was kind of a punk rock den mother to some of the scene's most creative personalities.

Theresa's blog is at Be sure to check it out on a regular basis for her great stories and photos, or click on the thumbnail below to read her interview.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What Ever Happened To...The Masque?

Been REAALLY busy this week with parent conferences, but I wanted to take a second to let you know that we've posted a new page in the website archives to display some photos that were emailed to us very recently. They were taken during a visit to the site of the original Masque in Hollywood. Since I occasionally get asked "what ever happened to the Masque?" I thought I'd let these photos answer for me. I haven't been down there in many years and no - I don't give guided tours :)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

What The Swastika Means To Me

My last blog entry about racism in the early L.A. punk scene got quite a bit of feedback and I'd like to clarify and expand on one of the subjects: the use of the swastika by punks.

Ever since reading the Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank when I was about 10 years old, I've had strong negative associations with the swastika. It's pretty much inextricably connected with the horrors of the Nazi regime in my mind. Even to this day, when I'm watching an Indian film and the swastika image appears, I have to remind myself that it is an ancient symbol and appeared in various cultures throughout the world long before it was employed by the Nazis. Unfortunately, for my generation and our parents, it was redefined during the middle years of the 20th century.

Some people mentioned wearing the swastika as a way to take away the negative power of the symbol. I understand that idea. I suggested in another blog that we might choose to redefine sexist or racist terms by using them in a way which empowers, rather than demeans, the subject. However, the Nazi emblem of the swastika is something much more than an epithet. Unlike derogatory language, which we seek to eliminate, the Nazi swastika and what it represented should not be eliminated, precisely because we need to remember what it once meant. For the same reason that we do not raze Auschwitz and sow the ground with salt, we must not try to do away with the Nazi swastika's negative connotations. We must remember that part of history, not redefine it. To use the swastika merely to shock people is to trivialize the meaning of that symbol. With each trivialization, we lose a little bit of that memory until it becomes a distant reality, another page in the history books which are filled with lessons that we never seem to learn.

I'd like to say that I understand the interest in Hitler and the Nazi regime. I've long been interested in Nazi history and I've read quite a few books about it; I even took a course in college about it. I grasp the incredible power of their imagery. Hitler and Goebbels were, for lack of a better term, fascinating personalities to me and the way the Nazi Party rose to power and orchestrated a bid for world domination is still astonishing to me. There is a great deal to be learned from studying that period of time. Even though it was and remains a fascinating period to me, I was never tempted to wear a Nazi swastika. Everytime I see it, it makes me uncomfortable and a little bit angry. I know that there were punks who wore it precisely for that reason, to provoke and shock, but there were others - like the Clash - who felt that it was inextricably linked to the Nazi attempt to eradicate an entire race of people and that it should not be taken lightly. Joe Strummer once said, "I think people ought to know that we're anti-fascist, anti-violence and anti-racist. We're against ignorance." I agree with that statement and I think that using the Nazi swastika simply as a joke (Prince Harry) or as a means of shocking people (Sid Vicious) is wrong. To put it succinctly, I'll use the words of my pal, Phranc: "Take off your swastikas, you're making me angry!"

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Racism in The Early Punk Scene

Over the years, I have been interviewed by students and academics who are researching the East L.A. or Chicano punk movement. I always have to point out that I do not consider myself or the Bags to be part of that scene. Like the Zeros and the Plugz, the Bags were considered part of the Hollywood scene of the mid to late 1970's, although we had Chicano members. The East L.A. scene really picked up speed in the early eighties, had their home base at the Vex rather than the Masque, and was spearheaded by bands like Thee Undertakers, The Brat and Los Illegals. I'm not able to speak about their experiences because I assume that they were different from mine.

I think that the early punk scene (1977-1979) was a somewhat unique time in that race and gender roles were pretty much discarded. What we were doing was so new (at that time) and counter-cultural (is that a word?) that no one had time to label us or put us in boxes. There was no one to say, "you can't do this or that because you're
a) a woman
b) a chicana.
So my own experience was that those gender/race barriers did not exist for me personally. I saw myself and was seen as a performer, not as a "Chicana/Female/Punk" performer. Those distinctions did not arise until much later, I would say towards the end of 1979, when the original punk scene had started getting major media coverage.

The first group of punk rockers was a special group of individuals. Most of us had been outcasts in high school. Venturing out into the world at large for the first time, we were almost incredulous at finding accepting, like-minded peers. We were unified by our sense of being "the other" or "the outsider." Since we had all been ostracized for being different, we bonded over that shared experience and came together as a group.

Also, many of us in the early scene dropped our surnames and adopted punk names: Pat Smear (who was black), Kickboy Face (who was French), Alice Bag (that's me). This helped us to create a new identity for ourselves. I don't think we were trying to escape racial prejudice, it was more like breaking from the past. Picking your new name was almost like a rite of passage. At the same time, new names leveled the playing field because nobody knew your ethnicity just from your name. Some people, like Diane Chai of the Alleycats, did not change their names and no-one thought less of her for being Asian. She was just cool.

In fact, I experienced much more prejudice from the Chicano community than I ever did in the punk scene. I remember wanting to join MECHA after the Chicano moratorium and discovering that I was too weird to fit in. Being into Glitter Rock, I dressed differently and had a different perspective from the people I met in MECHA. My impression was that the MECHA leaders were big fish in a little pond and they had no room for freaks like me. There was plenty of room for freaks in the big pond so that's where I went. Years later, as an adult, I watched again as people who identified themselves as Chicanos spent hours arguing over who was "chicano" versus "latino" versus "hispano". They spent more time refining and narrowing the definition of what was "Chicano" than actually creating art or doing something constructive. In order to grow and continue to be meaningful, they needed to accept those who had been previously marginalized like women, artists, lesbians and gays. My experience with the punk movement taught me to define for myself what it means to be a chicana and reject the definitions and limitations that are imposed on me by others.

But to get back to my original point, I don't want to sugarcoat this by telling you that there was no racism in the early Hollywood/L.A. scene, because there was, but for the most part people didn't tolerate it. When we lived at the Canterbury and the Berlin Brats came in wearing swastikas, a whole bunch of us harrassed them, yelling at them "die, Nazi pigs!" and "take off your swastikas!" Eventually, the Berlin Brats changed their name to the Mau-Mau's and stopped wearing swastikas. Another infamous racist was Farrah Faucet Minor, the subject of X's "Los Angeles", who "had to leave" because she "had started to hate every nigger and jew, every mexican who gave her lotta shit..." My guess is that she had always hated us and I'd like to think that maybe I was the mexican who gave her a lot of shit.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Women In L.A. Punk Part VIII - Nicole Panter

For as long as I've known Nicole Panter, I've admired her intelligence, honesty and directness. In fact, I think she values those qualities as much as I do. She has always been one to speak her mind freely and you always knew just where you stood with her. This boldness must have served her well in her role as manager of the Germs. "Managing the Germs" almost strikes me as a contradiction in terms, but she did it. But the Germs are not where her story begins or ends. Nicole is also a respected author, college professor, feminist and political activist. Check out her personal website at for some examples of her work and more information on this talented woman. Or click on the thumbnail below to read her interview.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

Yesterday, something unusual happened at my school as the kids were lining up in the yard after lunch. Several of the students were staring in awe at the sky. I followed their eyes upward to see an immense B2 bomber (I had my kids Google it afterwards) flying silently, very low over our heads, looking like a giant bat. Without provocation, several of the kids began chanting "U.S.A! U.S.A.! U.S.A!" We went in to the classroom and as the kids researched the plane they had just seen, they realized that it was a bomber and began asking me why a bomber would be flying over the school. "We're not at war," they reasoned. I told them that we were, in fact at war, but there seemed to be the feeling that the war in Iraq was a distant reality and incongruous with seeing a weapon of mass destruction flying overhead. It made me sad to think that just a few years from now, these will be the children who will be sent to war.

It brought to mind my own experience with the reality of war, a subject I briefly touched upon in one of my old blogs, when I wrote about spending time abroad and how it helped open my eyes to the way our government manipulates public opinion. At the time, it was shocking for me to learn that the U.S. government was in the business of smuggling drugs in order to fund and illegally conduct not only war, but the worst kind of human rights abuses. This was all done in the name of protecting democracy from the threat of a tiny, economically impoverished nation that dared to embrace communism. Much has changed since that time, for better or worse, and I can only hope that most people nowadays are more or less aware that public opinion is under constant manipulation by those with access to mass media.

Anti U.S. imperialism mural in Leon, Nicaragua. The figure is a silhouette of Augusto Sandino , who is often villified in U.S. history books but was a national hero to the Nicaraguan working class, stomping Uncle Sam with his boot.

I've said that my time in Central America opened my eyes to the way our government operates, but it also opened my eyes in other, more profound ways. Twenty years ago, I traveled to Nicaragua on a work-study program for school, ostensibly to observe educational methods with a group of U.S. teachers. This was at the height of the Reagan administration, when the U.S. was waging a covert war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

I went down to work at a school in Esteli, which is a village in the northern part of Nicaragua. There was still sporadic fighting going on, since we were near to the border of Honduras. Sometimes, we would be walking down a street and hear machine gun fire from a block or two away and we would immediately duck down and find a place to hide. Part of working at the school was the agreement that we were there to learn, but in exchange we would assist with the development of the community. For weeks before I left the U.S., I collected school supplies by asking for donations and raising money to purchase them. I brought these along with me and donated them to the school in Esteli and they were very much appreciated.

However, I quickly found that nothing in my relatively comfortable upbringing in the United States prepared me for the real and difficult task of daily living in a third world country, trapped in a state of war.

En Nicaragua, Jesus carga un fusil.
"In Nicaragua, Jesus carries a rifle."

Soon after I arrived in the village of Esteli, it became apparent that my education was of little use, when what was most needed were strong legs, arms and backs to do the heavy lifting and building for a neighborhood that, for the most part, lacked running water, plumbing and electricity. Since I had no construction skills, I was given the task of transporting bricks from the brickpile to a construction site on top of a hill. After my arms gave out and I dumped a wheelbarrow of bricks down the side of the hill, the foreman shuffled me from assignment to assignment, eventually realizing that I was pretty much unfit for manual labor. I remember them asking me, "what CAN you do?" I thought for a minute and responded that I could paint. They then gave me the task of painting seeds with the likeness of Augusto Sandino, which they made into necklaces and pins to sell.

Some of my handiwork.

The fact that I was bilingual in English and Spanish was also valuable, since they needed to translate documents. Happy to have found a skill I could use, I eagerly said I could do this, not realizing that the documents they most needed translated were repair manuals for truck engines and power generators. Of course, I didn't know the Spanish words for such technical terms as "flywheel" or "spark plug," so I was kind of a washout in that as well.

Children of Esteli.

The family I lived with, in front of
the house I stayed in, Esteli, Nicaragua.

As poor as these people were and despite the difficulty of their circumstances, I found in their spirit a warmth and generosity that I'd rarely experienced before. I learned by watching their daily example that what was important in life was not wealth or material possessions, but purpose and resourcefulness. Being in Nicaragua at that time also allowed me to witness firsthand some of the effects of war in a way that was not sanitized for my consumption. I'm certain that the people of Esteli gave more to me than I gave to them.

All of this came to my mind yesterday afternoon as I watched my students go from the initial excitement of seeing the bomber, to pride in the might of U.S. military power, and then to confusion over what it means to be at war.

Monday, April 11, 2005

This Post Is Dedicated To...Sheila

I'm writing this post to answer a question that was emailed to me from a Canadian musical artist named Dandi Wind...she wanted to know more about this young woman named Sheila Edwards, who appears in my gallery of punk photos:

Sheila Edwards was my Canterbury roommate at one time, along with Shannon Wilhelm, later of Castration Squad. She was also somewhat mentally unstable (she herself recognized this and from time to time would commit herself to Camarillo State Mental Hospital until she felt better.) I remember she would walk up to people and ask if they had a dime so she could use the payphone (we had no phone at the Canterbury) to call the hospital and check herself in. She would always regale us with stories of the inmates when she returned and we looked forward to hearing her tales from the asylum. Sheila told me and Shannon that in a past life, she had been Caligula's sister. She also claimed to have the ability to suck blood from anyone through the pores of their skin, which she readily demonstrated by sucking blood from her own arms.

One time, Sheila and I decided that we would apply for jobs at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, so we got dressed up in our finest dresses and high heels. Needless to say, they took one look at us and sent us packing. As we were leaving, Sheila stepped off the curb and was nearly hit by a car driven by an elegant looking couple who were leaving the hotel. Sheila began yelling and pounding on the hood of the car. The woman driver then made the mistake of starting to get out of her car to confront Sheila, who went ballistic. Sheila going ballistic was a truly frightening spectacle to behold, not like an average person going ballistic. She began screaming and pummeling the hell out of the car with her handbag. Then the male passenger started to get out of his side of the car and I sprang into action, screaming and beating his side of the car with my own handbag. The startled couple jumped back into the car, locked the doors and sped away, leaving me and Sheila collapsing in hysterical laughter on Hollywood Blvd.

After that, we decided to lower our sights and we applied for jobs at an Arby's Roast Beef in Hollywood. Shortly after we got this job, we agreed to trade shifts and through some confusion, neither of us showed up for one of the shifts and we both got fired.

One of the more memorable nights at the Canterbury happened when some scary drug dealers who lived upstairs from us came to our apartment, looking for Sheila and some money she owed them. We were terrified and refused to answer as they pounded on the door, trying to get inside. We knew that these guys had guns and were not kidding around, as people had been shot in the Canterbury before. After awhile they gave up and went back to their apartment. Sheila suddenly burst out, ran down the hall and up the stairs and began pounding on the drug dealers' door, shouting at the top of her lungs "KILL ME! I WANT TO DIE! KILL ME!!" This time it was the dealers' turn to hide inside their apartment until Sheila gave up and returned home, exhausted. I guess they figured she was crazier than they were and wanted no part of it.

She later confided to us that she had done this to scare the drug dealers. In case they were actually planning to kill her, they would immediately become the prime suspects since she had drawn so much attention to them. So it was a bit of reverse psychology.

If you haven't been through my online punk photo gallery, then you won't know why Sheila appears battered and bruised in the photo above. Sheila liked a certain guy, who instead liked Dorothy James, the little sister of Barbara James. Barbara is the girl who pulled up a "no parking" street sign during the Elks Lodge incident after the L.A.P.D. had billy-clubbed her sister Dorothy for no reason. She was arrested and charged with assault since she had supposedly threatened the police by swinging the pole and sign at them. After being subdued, she broke her handcuffs and went after the police again. Anyway, Sheila and Barbara got into a fight because of some comment Sheila had made about Dorothy. Barbara said that Sheila took a bite out of her stomach. In a telling bit of irony, each girl claimed that the other had gotten the best of her. I wish I had seen it; they were two of the scariest and best brawlers ever and you would definitely want them on your side in a fight. Sheila asked me to snap this photo of her bruises afterwards.

Another time, I remember that Sheila spent all night in the park with some people she had met and she came home early, early in the morning, raving "look at my tongue! IT'S BLUE, CAN YOU SEE MY TONGUE IS BLUE??" She hinted that these people she had met had some kind of special powers, that they might have come from outer space and this accounted for her tongue being blue. Her tongue was blue, but it could just as easily have been colored by a blue popsicle. I figured that was a much more likely explanation but Sheila was not naive, so either she was convinced or wanted to convince us that something extraordinary had occurred.

Sheila sang with Tomata of the Screamers at the shows they did at the Roxy and she appears in some Screamers related videos. She had an amazing voice, with great range and power. Shannon wrote an ode to her for Castration Squad, a song entitled "Sheila," which was later covered by 45 Grave. I haven't seen Sheila since the punk days and I'm not sure if she is still undead. I'm hoping that she is.

POSTSCRIPT 4/16/05: Here's a link to a video of Sheila onstage with the Screamers in New York, 1979, that was mailed to me and is provided courtesy of More cool stuff! Thanks to everyone who wrote in about Sheila.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Pass me the neck brace.

Ouch!!!! Will I ever learn to stop shaking my head at punk rock concerts? Third Grade Teacher was so much fun at Mr. T's Bowl last night that I woke up with a very bad case of the dreaded punk rock neck.

Since last week was "teachers in punk" week, I thought that it would be appropriate to go see a real third grade teacher in action.

Photos courtesy of (top) and Angie Skull (bottom).

The band was in fine form and rocked my pantyhose off. I definitely recommend that you check them out if you have the chance.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The School of (Punk) Rock

Shortly after Penelope Spheeris' movie, "The Decline of Western Civilization" came out, I decided that I needed to get away from the Hollywood/L.A. music scene, which had already lost much of its appeal for me anyway. Partly motivated by the instinct for self-preservation, I went back to college and earned my degree in Philosophy. I decided to become an elementary school teacher. As a kid who entered school speaking only Spanish, I can remember how painful it was when my teachers would get frustrated with me. I thought I might be able to help spare some children that anguish.

People who knew me back in the old punk rock days are sometimes surprised to find out that Alice Bag became a schoolteacher. But the funny thing I've realized is that many, many punks are naturally drawn to education as a career. I suppose I shouldn't "out" them here...being a schoolteacher is still not considered very cool. But trust me when I say that you'd be surprised at just how many of us there are in classrooms all across the country. Some singers who punk fans would consider really "hardcore punk" are in fact shaping young minds daily. Like Dewey Finn says in School of Rock: "I'm a teacher. All I need are minds for molding."

Here's a small video clip that was part of a PBS documentary from some years back that features me and Teresa Covarrubias (of the 80's punk band, The Brat) in the classroom, back when we worked together at an inner city school in L.A. Click on the thumbnail photo to launch a Windows Media Viewer file from Chicanas In Tune.To once again quote the great Dewey Finn, "Your kids have all really touched me, and I'm pretty sure that I've touched them."

Friday, April 01, 2005

Pleasant Gehman - Women In L.A. Punk Part VII

I can hardly believe that I'm up to interview number seven in my series of email chats with influential and overlooked women in the L.A. punk scene. It's so exciting for me to look at the growing list of past interviews and realize that it is actually happening. It's a dream come true for me and I am extremely grateful for the participation of the women who've been interviewed thus far. I can't thank them enough.

Pleasant Gehman
Artwork by Zeroxed, from an original photo by Lynda Burdick

For people with more than a passing knowledge of the early L.A. punk scene, Pleasant Gehman almost needs no introduction. She was there at the beginning and was involved on an incredible number of levels, as you will see when you read Pleasant's interview. You just might be inspired to "live your own life"...or to get drunk and make out with your friends in the ladies room. You'll just have to read the interview to find out what that means! Click on the thumbnail below to go there now.