Sunday, December 02, 2007

No Apologies

I have left this blog unattended for too long. Several of the comments that have been left within the last month deserve a response. I’d like to begin by responding to the comment below about Jenny Lens. I understand the reason for this comment, and yet I love a woman who can sing her own praises. I wholeheartedly support the practice. It doesn’t mean that I think that Jenny Lens single-handedly created the L.A. punk scene. The L.A. punk scene was made up of a bunch of highly creative, intelligent people. Many of us had been misfits in school and not just because we liked a different kind of music, but because many of us had social I.Q.s that were sub-par. Committing the social faux pas of announcing to the world that we’re happy with ourselves is a hallmark of that type of behavior, but is it really a bad thing? Most of us probably think we’re pretty cool, but are aware that spending too much time talking about our own achievements will create the impression that we’re self centered or conceited. I think it’s refreshing that Jenny thinks she’s all that and is willing to say it. Women in general should do a little more of that. Men have been doing it for years. Take a look at any of the male dominated cable news shows and you’ll see for yourself.

As one of many punk rock artists involved in the early punk scene, I often meet people for whom my band or something I’ve said or done had deep personal meaning. Sometimes they tell me I’m the best and it makes me feel really good and sparkly when they do. I know that “the best” is a relative term. I know that because I connected with certain people in a different way than some of my fellow artists, I became significant to them but each artist, musician, photographer or journalist appeals to individuals for different reasons. Just ask around and you’ll hear people give you their analysis of who the best (fill in the blank) really is. I like me best, and I respect people who like themselves best. Shouldn’t everyone be working towards being their own hero? I mean, if you don’t like yourself best then you should probably start working on yourself until you do because it’s not what I think or what Jenny thinks, or what anyone else thinks that matters.

Another comment that made me think long and hard was from a woman defending her choice to wear the veil. It was not my intention to insult women who wear the veil and yet I find that what I’m saying may be interpreted as inherently insulting. I am saying that these women are being victimized by their religious beliefs and by the establishment that supports them. I could say that of many religions and in fact of any women who must function within a patriarchal establishment and play by its rules. There’s no nice way to say it. I think you’re being hoodwinked in the same way that Americans are made to feel unpatriotic if they disagree with the administration’s views. Religious leaders need to be questioned and their ideas need to be challenged now and then.

Although I cannot apologize for my position on the subject of the veil, you shouldn’t take my disagreeing with you as a personal insult. Being able to exchange ideas, to question your own beliefs, to respond and defend your views, all those things are necessary for spiritual growth. I know that religious belief is not something that most people debate intellectually. The religious experience is personal and unique to each individual. My intention is not to attempt to invalidate anyone’s beliefs, simply to voice my own. For me, it would be impossible to participate in any religion that does not put women on equal footing with men. If Jesus himself, or Mohammed, or Buddha, spoke to me personally and said that women are inferior to men, I would still reject that as false dogma because I know with every ounce of my being that this is not true. I do not practice blind faith. I like to examine my beliefs scrupulously, with my eyes wide open.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Delayed Gratification

I turned 49 a couple of days ago and I am in my happy place. There's change in the air and even though I can't attend, I'm excited about Brendan Mullen's show in Los Angeles this weekend. Brendan is promoting his latest book, Live At The Masque - Nightmare In Punk Alley and has managed to assemble an old codger contingent that makes me want to run out and grab my Depends. The show is this Veteran's Day at the Echo and Echoplex. Scheduled to appear are The Plugs, The Eyes, The Controllers, The Gears...It promises to be fun. I saw somewhere that Geza X will be joining the Deadbeats onstage. Not only is Geza an ex-Bags member, but he also had a band at the time who were called the Jerrys (after Jerry Lewis). I thought it might be fun if he had a new band called The Geris (after geriatrics). I would love to be in that band! So climb into the wormhole and click on the flyer for a journey back in time.

The many photographers who contributed to the Masque book, along with Brendan Mullen and his co-editor are doing their part to preserve the legacy of punk rock. It's something I get asked about in almost every interview and I typically wrestle a bit with the answer. Truthfully, it's sometimes difficult for me to say which things have changed for the better (or worse) as a result of punk rock. But today, I saw some photos that gave me the answer I was looking for. More on that below.

Earlier this week, L.A. Record asked me to do an interview in conjunction with this event but because it was my birthday and I was out celebrating, I missed the deadline and only half my interview made it in on time. Click on the drawing to read the first part of the interview. I've included the missing second half below the drawing.

Drawing of me by Christine Hale

"When Necessary, Annihilate" interview part II

Q: Being female and Latina, did that present any obstacles for you in the scene or was it an asset to be female and 'exotic' in the scene?
A: I never felt that I was treated as anything other than a human being by the people involved in the punk scene. Being female was not a liability as the large number of women who were involved in the early scene can attest. Neither was being a Latina. At a certain point my band got a bad reputation because of our aggressive behavior and unruly fans, but that was well deserved. I am nobody's victim. I very often confuse people who get in my face with punching bags. You can take a girl out of East LA, but you can't take East LA out of the girl.

Q: Can you recall specific events that, for you, sounded the end of LA Punk and signaled the shape of things to come?
A: Yes, I remember one particular show where I looked into the audience and I realized that it was made up of people who were not connected to me (or connecting with me) in any way. They were there to "make the scene," hang out, act tough, fight with each other, whatever but they were not there to hear The Bags. Up until then my performances were all about interacting with the audience. I never wanted to make background music. I think I knew then that there was a new breed of punk on the horizon and that I had to move on to something else.

Q: What are your thoughts on 'music' today; how it is made, what is being made, and the way we experience and consume our music now as opposed to then?
A: Music today is just as exciting and creative as it was in 1977 - if you know where to look for it. There are lots of young musicians making their own recordings, putting out their own merch, exploring with new sounds and instrumentation, planning their own tours. The internet has made it possible for us to hear small, unsigned bands from all over the world. That's a good thing but I still feel that the best way to experience rock or pretty much any kind of music is live, in a club setting.
Mainstream radio is just as bad or even worse than it was back in the seventies when punk started. The whole music industry has become slick, sophisticated and geared towards image driven pop stars who are as interchangeable and disposable as the products they sell, from sneakers to cell phones.

Q: How did the closing of the Masque affect the scene? I'm wondering if the bands were maturing and growing up and out of the Masque?
A: You know, I hear people talk about how there were other venues for punk rock other than the Masque and it's true that there were clubs who would book punk bands who could draw a drinking age crowd, but the Masque was more than a venue. It was almost a clubhouse. Brendan wasn't selling liquor, he wasn't making big bucks off admission fees. He was just doing what he wanted to do. He opened his doors to a bunch of strangers, welcomed us in and gave us a place to express ourselves and create. I think the fact that the L.A. Scene was so strong was because it was unified and interactive. We were living, working and creating in many of the same places like the Masque and the Canterbury. Those places were like little greenhouses for us. As those circumstances changed the scene changed. I'm not sure if the closing of the Masque affected the scene as much as the natural evolution of the scene itself and the influence of outsiders affected the closing of the Masque. The scene just grew beyond the Masque and the original, tight knit community unraveled around the same time.

Q: How do you want to be remembered at your passing?
A: Truthfully, if you want to remember me do it now. I won't give a shit when I'm dead.

Megan Brown shreds on the Alice Bag skateboard.

Finally, for those of you who asked about the Alice Bag skateboard deck, it's done. Gridlock Skateboards has produced a limited edition of Alice Bag skateboards and the last I heard, they were planning on selling a few at the show this weekend. All proceeds go to supporting a youth skateboarding mentor program organized by Michael Fox. The art for the boards was designed by Zeroxed in conjunction with Gridlock Skateboards. So if you've ever wanted to step on my face here's your chance.

Today, I saw some photos of a young female skater named Megan Brown riding my board on MySpace and I've posted a couple of them above. It's hard to describe the many feelings I get from these photos but I can tell you that I couldn't be more proud. Seeing a young girl riding a board with my face on it really brought home the "legacy of punk rock" idea for me. It's like the whole thing has come full circle. When I was a kid, girls didn't ride skateboards; if they did, they certainly didn't ride them aggressively like the boys did. Seeing this image of a young girl, empowered on a skateboard with my face on it,'s kind of the ultimate delayed gratification for me. It tells me that punk changed something about the way young women feel about themselves and the way society views young women.

Monday, October 22, 2007

No Excess Bagisms!

For someone who's just starting to sew, one of the easiest things to make is a supermarket bag. It’s a good project because not only do you get to practice your sewing skills, if you feel like it you can add some personal touches to your grocery bag. If that weren’t its own reward, you also get to feel good about not adding more non-biodegradable flotsam to the environment.

This morning, I had to make a quick pit stop at the supermarket to pick up some sandwich bread. I didn’t take my cloth bag, figuring I wouldn’t need it for just a loaf of bread. I shoulda' known better. I couldn’t pass up the freshly baked puffy cheese bagels. The scent of them immediately had me salivating and then the French bread loaves were peeking out of their bags, flashing some very sexy flaky crust at me. Anyway, I don’t want to turn this narrative into kinky bakery porn. Suffice it to say that I ended up with plenty of warm bread in my basket.

Which brings me back to my story. When I got to the cash register with my loaves and bagels, I asked for no bag. In the past this request has been met with irate indignation, which I’ve never been able to understand. Is it too much to ask that the checker or bagger pause his/her robotic impulse to bag my groceries? Well, this time it wasn’t. To my surprise and delight, the cashier responded to my request with “Oh, you're trying to do your bit for the environment. Good for you.” Though that was a nice touch, it wasn’t the payoff. As I wheeled out my cart full of unbagged bread I heard the man behind me say “That looks like a good idea. Don’t bag mine, either.” Now that would’ve made my day, but as I drove out of the parking lot I saw ANOTHER customer coming out of the market with an armful of unbagged groceries. I couldn’t believe it. It was contagious!

You don’t know how many times since I made those darn bags I’ve forgotten to take them to the market, or felt dumb for asking the cashier to take my merchandise out of the bag when they jumped the gun and bagged stuff before I had a chance to stop them. There have certainly been plenty of times when I’ve thought that taking my cloth bag to the market was never going to make any difference but today I caught a glimpse of the power that each one of us has to make change. Sometimes all people need is a little encouragement and someone to start the ball rolling.

Sometimes I think I can be obnoxiously positive, but then I remember that I can be angry and mean too, so I guess it all balances out. I think positivity has gotten a bad rap. I'm not positive in that "don't worry, be happy" sort of way; my positivity has more to do with tenacity. It can even be confrontational. In fact, I just saw a case study in what I would describe as confrontational positivity - a documentary which is out on DVD , The U.S. vs. John Lennon.

John Lennon's rebellious, in-your-face attitude, his idealism, and commitment to rallying the youth of the world to demand peace and an end to the Vietnam war are inspiring. In fact, I'm struck by how little anyone is doing to stop the current war and how bold and shamelessly President Bush asks for more funds to finance a war which is becoming increasingly unpopular.

In one scene from the documentary, a group of antiwar protesters stands outside of the White House chanting "Fuck War, Fuck LBJ!" (referring to then-President Lyndon Baines Johnson), middle fingers waving in the air - wow! Can you imagine chanting that sort of stuff anywhere, let alone outside of the White House, now? I don't think we'd get away with it. What the hell is wrong with us? How did we become so afraid of our own government? I wonder if those activists in the early seventies thought they'd get away with it back then. Guess what? They did. There I go being positive again...but really, what the hell is wrong with us?

Here are some statistics related to Bush's increased war budget that should get you pissed off.

Source: AP 10/22/07

For the Pentagon, the latest request includes:
  • $1 billion for military construction projects, including improvements at airfields and other U.S. bases in Iraq;
  • $1 billion to expand the Iraqi security forces; and
  • $1 billion to train National Guard units.

    All told, the $189.3 billion Pentagon request for 2008 includes:
  • $77 billion for military operations and maintenance;
  • $30.5 billion to protect U.S. forces from roadside bombs, snipers, and other threats; and
  • $46.5 billion to repair and replace equipment that has been damaged or destroyed in combat or worn out in harsh conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • **************************************

    Source: CBS NEWS 10/22/07

    The U.S.
    The insurgents
    Neither side

    Source: Alice Bag 10/22/07
    Defense contractors and big oil companies

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    Ghost Town Travelogue

    It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween. Not that I need a special reason to start crafting with skulls, ghosts and other ghoulish creatures, but each autumn I feel my love of the dark side rekindled. When I lived in Glassell Park, I used to have my house done up in Dia de Los Muertos decor year round. My walls were painted with bright, bright colors and a permanent collection of devil masks, calaveras and little skeleton shrines were on display regardless of the season, which led my mother to place cut out paper crosses on the foreheads of my "demonios" for my own protection, but I digress...I really meant to talk about Halloween.

    This past weekend, we drove up to Jerome for their annual Ghost Walk. We had been to a Ghost Walk last year in Prescott and I’ve started to wonder if this is a uniquely Arizonan tradition. I’ve taken ghost tours in different cities but usually they involve a tour guide relating spooky stories as the group visits various locations purported to be haunted. It’s done differently here.

    In Jerome, we began our evening by meeting in the town hall where we were sorted into small groups while a trio of musicians sang about death, murder and phantoms. Each group departed from the town hall and from there we went to different locations around the small town. At each location, we were met by the "ghosts" of Jerome who told us the details of their own passing. The actors were costumed in period dress and put on a little skit reenacting the significant moments leading up to their deaths. It was fun and entertaining.

    I’ve written about Jerome before. It is a colorful place, as befits a mining ghost town that refuses to rest in peace. Inhabited by the type of people who would inhabit a ghost town, it is quirky, spooky and artistic. The ghost walk was fun, but not scary at all. Walking around Jerome on any given night is much scarier. There are places here that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. If you ever drop by, take the unpaved road up to The Jerome Grand Hotel and have a drink at the Asylum. If you should plan to stay and don’t mind a sleepless night, you could get a room at The Jerome Grand Hotel, The Connor Hotel or The Inn at Jerome, all of which are reputedly haunted.

    I like to actually sleep, so The Ghost City Inn with its homemade peanut butter cookies suits me just fine, although it is also reportedly haunted. The last time we visited, we ate at the Haunted Hamburger, but this time, we opted for the delicious veggie burgers at the Mile High Inn & Grill. Locals say that just about every place in Jerome has its own spirits. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, it's a good place to visit anytime of year, but especially when there is a chill in the air and you're in the mood for some spooky fun.

    Saturday, October 06, 2007

    Learning The Ropes

    I have been collecting aprons for a few years. I’ve always had one or two pretty ones that I’d dig out when my mom was making tamales at Christmas time or when I used to serve up lattes at Troy CafĂ©, but ever since my days as Mothra Stewart in the apron-wearing band Stay at Home Bomb, my love for this useful little accessory has grown steadily. A few years back I began scouring thrift stores for vintage aprons and recently I’ve started sewing my own. They’re relatively easy for a beginning seamstress like me. A simple waist apron requires that you be able to sew a few straight seams and that’s all, but they can be very feminine and elaborate too.

    Stay at Home Bomb

    I started sewing about a year and a half ago after having to whip up a poodle skirt for my daughter to wear to a school dance. After a little success with that I started making bags, simple gifts sewn from Mexican oil cloth, homemade dresses and skirts, and worked my way up to a button down shirt. My friends are always gracious and seem to appreciate the things I make for them. I like to think they really like their gift, but I’ve had a nagging doubt that makes me wonder if they’re just being polite and they’re secretly rolling their eyes when I gift them with yet another homemade treasure.

    Homemade "treasures"...

    This weekend I decided to put myself to the test. I wanted to see if my aprons were something that only I and my friends would like or if they could appeal to impartial shoppers. My friend Angie came out to visit me from California with the intention of joining me in our very first craft fair. We gathered up a bunch of aprons that we’d sewn over the summer, rigged up a coat rack with a CD holder on top and set up on the street. Phoenix’s art galleries hold openings the First Friday of each month and local crafters set up tables in the vacant lots that dot the downtown art neighborhood. There are usually musicians who set up makeshift stages. There are no fees, no auditions to play; it’s completely DIY so you have to be willing to take charge of everything. Some vendors mooch power from the galleries and shops by running extension cords; a band last night brought their own gas powered generator, some go unplugged. Angie and I took some camping lanterns, but we didn’t need them because we found a good spot under a street light on the busy corner of 5th and Roosevelt.

    "Get Your Red-Hot Aprons Here!" The tenacious Angie Skull.

    We were so excited all day, ironing our aprons, pricing them, making a cute poster, rigging up the coat rack so that we could hang our aprons. No sooner had we set up our aprons than a huge gust of wind kicked up and knocked our rack of freshly pressed aprons onto the ground. We picked them up dusted them off, but the wind wouldn’t let up. Our apron poster fell over about a hundred times, our rack and all the aprons fell over 3 more times and we were seriously bumming thinking that we would have to take turns holding up the rack all night. When my husband and daughter showed up with sandbags they’d “borrowed” from a construction site. We weighted the coat rack down so that it would teeter in the wind but not fall over without giving us a chance to catch it.

    Our mood improved after that but we still had to hover pretty close to our stuff. The up side of that was that we heard everything people said about our work and it was all complimentary. The downside is that we behaved like preschool mothers on the first day of school, not because we were worried about our aprons but we didn’t want to have an unsuspecting shopper get knocked over by an avalanche of aprons. I think we scared the customers away. After a couple of near accidents, Angie and I really did end up having to take turns holding up the rack. It was demoralizing. I was ready to pack the stuff up and give up, but Angie, who is one of the stubbornest people I know, insisted that we stay. After a while a large parade of zombies passed by. About fifty or sixty people dressed like something out of Night of the Living Dead walked through the crowd, all of them in character. Not one was smiling or chatting with a friend. That cheered me up, as zombies always do. A few minutes later, a group of people dressed in very fine and elaborate Ghostbuster outfits rushed by on their way to solve a case. A local roller derby outfit, The Coffin Draggers were there selling sweets to raise money for their team. How could I be bummed?

    After three and a half hours, Angie had sold three aprons and I’d sold one. I had told myself that I’d be happy if I sold even one apron, but the one I sold was to a friend, so I proved nothing. I did learn lots of things my first craft fair. I learned that I should iron my aprons the night before, that I should check the weather report and most importantly, that I have friends who appreciate (and even pay for) my homemade goods just because they’re my friends. That is the sweetest lesson of all.

    Click on my Flickr badge in the blog margin to see some more of my homemade aprons.

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    Pogo Proof Cameras - Punk Rock Pix

    I’m thrilled to tell you about the exciting things that are happening to some of my talented friends. This coming Saturday night from 7:00 to 10:00 pm, Drkrm Gallery will be hosting the opening reception for Destroy All Music, The Masque and Beyond, a photography exhibition featuring the work of Dawn Wirth and Louis Jacinto.

    Both Dawn and Louis have been pretty quiet about their photos of the early L.A. punk scene for many years. They’ve finally decided to dust off their proof sheets and share the treasures they’ve recently unearthed with the rest of us. It should be a fun reception with lots of faces from the past. It's too bad that I can't make it out to L.A. but I will certainly be there in spirit and perhaps in a few of the photos. Coincidentally, the Drkrm Gallery is located in Glassell Park, walking distance from my old home. Stop in at King Taco on Cypress Ave after the show, I used to love their carne asada tacos back in my carnivorous days.

    The internationally recognized work of Ms. Jenny Lens is also currently on display in the new Punk 365 coffee table book. Jenny has been tirelessly documenting the punk and rock scenes for decades and many of her photos have achieved iconic status. She has her own book in the works and you can read about it on her website and blog.

    Punk 365 also features the photos of former Dead Boys tour manager and Whisky A G0-Go ticket girl Theresa Kereakes.

    I'm extremely proud to have three of the photographers whose work is featured in Punk 365 in my Women In L.A. Punk section: Dawn Wirth, Jenny Lens and Theresa Kereakes. Congratulations to you all!

    Sunday, September 30, 2007

    Wild Books in Public Places

    A couple of posts ago I started writing about books and in the course of researching links for that entry, I found a website called BookCrossing. BookCrossing's main objective is book recycling or sharing; they define it as "the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise." Because the books are registered before being released into the wild, their journeys all over the world can be tracked and one of my favorite features of the BookCrossing site is the "catch/release map", a global map that updates constantly to show the titles and locations of books recently caught or released.

    The person who captures the wild book is encouraged to go to the website, enter the location where the book was found and write a comment if desired. The person who releases the book gets to follow up on the book by reading the comments from subsequent readers. It's a strange sort of international, anonymous book club.

    My family and I have planned to release some books into the wild this morning. Part of the fun is strategically planning where we are going to leave our books. My daughter will be leaving some of her pet care books on benches in front of the local pet store. I might leave some crafting books near the entrance of Joann's. My philosophy and theology books are being released in or around churches. My husband plans on sneaking his copy of Fast Food Nation into McDonald's and leaving it in a booth.

    I have been hoarding books for a long time and always hoped that someday I'd have a large personal library with tall bookcases and a window seat where I could in the sit in the sunlight and read for hours. My goals have changed over the years. My family and I are really embracing a nomadic existence these days and hope to do some traveling over the next few years. That means keeping personal belongings to a minimum. I've come to a point in my life where I feel that I have to choose between gathering experiences and gathering material possessions. Somehow, I'd managed to exempt records and books from these periodic purges, but I think I'm ready to part with many of them. I don't have many expensive things, nor do I want them. Records, books and photos are my most precious material possessions, but of those, only the photos are irreplaceable. So I'm saying goodbye to some of my old friends, a few at a time. I hope they make new friends out there and make others as happy as they've made me.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    A Tree Grows in Jena

    The White Tree in Jena, LA.

    I am pissed off again. Have you heard of the Jena 6? I hadn’t until yesterday, when a friend sent me an email telling me about a legal battle raging in Louisiana. Ironically, it all began with a tree on a high school campus in a small town called Jena, nicknamed the "White Tree" because only white students sat under it during lunch and breaks. One day a black student asked the school principal during assembly if blacks were allowed to sit under the tree. The next day three hangman's nooses appeared, dangling from the tree. If you want to find out what happened next, click on some of the following links:

    Jena Six Wikipedia

    If you have heard of the Jena 6, then I hope you’re as angry as I am that this sort of insidious, institutionalized racism is still happening. No, I'm not surprised that racism is still around but I am surprised by what short memories our elected officials have. I was in Los Angeles in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict and I remember the feelings of unease and anger that brewed during that trial and then exploded in the L.A. Riots/Rodney King uprising - whatever you want to call that insurrection doesn't make a difference here. What matters is that Los Angeles proved that it would not tolerate institutionalized racism in that instance without a fight and Jena, Louisiana will do the same. Oh yeah, I am pissed and I am not alone. Newsweek quotes a man named Ray Hodges who claims to have planted the tree (which has since been cut down) 20 years ago: "I watched that tree grow...It was planted as a tree of knowledge. But guess what it became? It became a tree of ignorance."

    There is a peaceful march planned for tomorrow morning in Louisiana. Let’s hope that peaceful measures work. I signed the online petition and am doing my bit to spread the word but I’m too old and crotchety to be satisfied with that. When the charges against those kids are dropped (and I know we will make that happen), we must make sure to write down the names of the politicians who showed support, the celebrities who showed their support, the businesses that showed support. Clip their names to your bulletin board, get a magnet and put them on your fridge, but do not forget them. We must vote at the ballot box and with our dollars because these 6 kids are just the tip of a giant iceberg. When this is all over and the marchers and media go home there will still be other kids at that high school who will still have to contend with hostile conditions. We need to make sure that we set those kids up for success. All children, regardless of color, deserve leaders who teach them about justice and equality with their actions. Inaction sends a message of cowardice and who needs cowardly leaders?

    I hope you will join me in spreading the word, signing the petition, and calling for our leaders to step up and tell us where they stand on this! It's disgusting that in 2007 we are still dealing with the strange and bitter fruit wrought by America's economic roots in the slave trade, but it does us no good to look the other way. When racism rears its ugly head we must kick it in the face.

    Billie Holiday sums up my emotions at this moment much better than I can express in words. Here's Ms. Holiday singing her great song, Strange Fruit courtesy of YouTube.

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Books Are Good Food

    If books are good food, then this guy is starving.

    A few days ago, my dear friend Teresa asked me to recommend some good books by Latina novelists. I'm embarrassed to say that I could think of very few. Isabel Allende's The House of The Spirits and Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo... after that my mind went blank. I had to go to my online book club Books are Good Food to get some tips from them. I was comforted by Sara, the group moderator, who reminded me that the literary world is still dominated by white males. Sure enough, I started to jot down a few of my favorite books and I realized that most of the authors are white males. I don't want to apologize for my choices. I love the books that I picked out as my Baker's Dozen (see below). I'm just saddened by the fact that women are still published much less frequently than men, especially Latina writers. I've also started to understand that I have to take a proactive stance. I have to seek out Latina authors and buy their books if I want to vote with my dollars.

    I've been doing this for years with my music selections. I love new music and I appreciate creativity regardless of race or gender but I go out of my way to support bands with women in them because I want to see the playing field leveled. I'd like to see the same thing happen in the world of literature. If you have a favorite Latina writer, let me know so I can check out their work.

    I've added a list of some books to the side panel of my blog along with links to pages that will tell you more about them. I call it my Baker's Dozen because I couldn't stop at just twelve. It's difficult to explain in a sentence everything I like about these books; suffice it to say that they all gave me plenty to think about and I regard them so highly that I would list each of them among my all time favorites. I've listed them in alphabetical order.
    • A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway The internal dialogue of the main character is fascinating to me and I found echoes of it in Bukowski's writing. A timeless love story that avoids romantic cliche and expresses something true about human needs.
    • Adolf Series - Osamu Tezuka Historical thriller about the rise of Nazi Germany and anti-semitism told in graphic novel form by the God of Manga.
    • Aztec - Gary Jennings A fascinating glimpse into the hitherto unknown world of the Aztecs.
    • Buddha Series - Osamu Tezuka An epic series of graphic novels that captures the important concepts of Buddhism with Tezuka's unique blend of humor and humanism.
    • Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole Brilliantly funny and scabrous satire.
    • Frida A Biography of Frida Kahlo - Hayden Herrera This book introduced me to the life and work of Frida Kahlo. It's hard to imagine a time when Frida was not a household name. This book remains my favorite biography of this amazing artist.
    • Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski One of my favorite modern writers, this was the first book I read by Bukowski. Even when writing about the most painful or ugly memories, there is a sweetness that makes his stories compelling. I also like the way he gives me a man's eye view every time an attractive woman enters one of his scenes.
    • Hardcore Zen - Brad Warner I studied Eastern Religion in college but I don't think I ever really got Zen. It's nonsensical riddles were usually the butt of my jokes. Warner writes about the subject clearly and with a sense of humor. This is the first book I've read that gave me a clearer idea of what Zen is about. I especially like the bit about questioning authority.
    • Love In The Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez A beautiful, romantic tale of obsession told by a master.
    • Post Office - Charles Bukowski Sums up every crappy, clock watching job you've had in your life. Bukowski as the hero of the working stiff.
    • The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky An obvious choice but well deserving of its classic status. I love the way the characters slowly reveal themselves, seeming to evolve as the story progresses.
    • The House of The Spirits - Isabel Allende I love the atmosphere and magic of this book. Social commentary, politics, feminism and generational change all come together in the framework of this marvelously written story of a family and a country in turmoil.
    • Tipping The Velvet - Sarah Waters The author captures the turn of the (20th) century milieu in this tale of forbidden love. An absorbing tale of a woman's struggle to express her sexuality and find love in a society dead opposed to homosexuality.

    Saturday, September 08, 2007

    Craftivism, Viral Marketing and Grizzly Adams

    An interesting topic came up on our Destroyers of Mass Production MySpace group. Someone brought up the desire to really destroy the establishment in more sweeping ways than just crafting. The thing is that crafting is a part of it. As much as it may seem that sewing your own clothes is just a means of self expression, it also sends a message to the clothing manufacturers.

    Let me back up. I recently went with my family to see the 11th Hour, a movie about global warming produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the women interviewed reminded us that one way to achieve change is to vote; not just by casting a ballot she said, but with our purchases or lack thereof. I agree with her. It was partly the decrease in revenue that made the boycotts of the ‘60s so effective and brought about the changes that were being sought (although many would argue that it was also the threat of a militant, armed alternative which forced the establishment towards reform) and it is the decrease in revenue that would ensue in a crafting revolution that could create real change today.

    Grannies by Banksy

    I’m not talking about macrame plant holders or crocheted doilies. I’m talking about the kind of crafting that uses recycled materials, transforming them into utilitarian goods that don’t create waste. I’m talking about learning skills that provide us with the ability to meet our own needs. Sewing, cooking, building, gardening - all these and many other skills used to be part of everyday life. Learning to do some of them doesn’t make us cuckoo extremists, it allows us the freedom to choose not to be completely dependent on mass produced clothes, furniture, food, etc.

    It’s true that crafting is a drop in the bucket and that’s why I wanted to start a crafting group online - because lots of drops fill the bucket faster. Using the internet and especially the corporate owned and ad-filled MySpace to spread the idea of destroying mass production is delicious irony and, to use corporation-speak, viral marketing at its finest. Turn the tools of mass consumerism towards a new purpose. Even technophobe (and Unabomber) Ted Kaczynski wrote in his manifesto,

    "It would be hopeless for revolutionaries to try to attack the system without using SOME modern technology. If nothing else they must use the communications media to spread their message."

    This movement has even got a name and a Wikipedia entry - it's called Craftivism.

    Few people want to build a log cabin in the wilderness, drop out of society and eat bark and berries. It’s fine if you do - it’s just not for me or for most people I know, but having a group of friends that teach each other new skills, discuss politics, art and music, inspire and challenge each other can produce meaningful change, even if it’s only one person at a time.

    Here are just a few links I've found to other like minded crafters:

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007

    Anarchy in Venezuela

    I've been working on an email interview for the past few days and this one's been a bit challenging because I'm corresponding with a writer for a Venezuelan anarchist publication called El Libertario. Even though he initially wrote to me in English, I answered his email in Spanish, which led him to believe that I was more fluent in written Spanish than I actually am.

    One of my concerns in doing interviews is that my statements could be taken out of context or (in this case, literally) misinterpreted, so I made the extra effort of answering the questions both in English and in Spanish. I quickly realized that my command of written Spanish leaves something to be desired and I struggled to find adequate translations for U.S. expressions and idioms.

    Here are a few of the questions that didn't seem to touch on subjects I've written about before. I've posted my answers in both English and Spanish.

    In 1976, you formed the Bags due to the influence of, among others, the music of David Bowie and the New York Dolls. Why did you want to form an all female band at a time when rock and roll was dominated by male stars?

    Precisely for that reason it seemed to me that a change was long overdue. We’re talking about the late 1970's - a time when the women’s movement had lost momentum and many men and women believed that equality had been achieved. At the same time when women were earning pennies to every dollar a man could earn, rock and roll stars could strut their stuff on stage, make loads of money, influence the young and pretty much have the world laid at their feet. I wanted a piece of that and I wanted other women to be able to have a piece of it too.

    Prescisamente por eso me parecia que era tiempo para un cambio. Estamos hablando de los anos ‘70 - un tiempo en que el movimiento femenino habia perdido velocidad. En ese tiempo en los Estados Unidos, la mayoria de las personas de ambos sexos quizas por los logros de los anos 60 empezaron a pensar que la igualidad habia sido lograda. Al mismo tiempo las mujeres aun ganaban una pequena fraccion de lo que ganaban los hombres haciendo el mismo trabajo. En el escenario del rock los artistas masculinos gozaban de una libertad tremenda, podian ganar muchisimo dinero, y tenian el mundo a sus pies. Yo queria la oportunidad de tener todo eso y queria que todas las mujeres tuvieran esa oportunidad tambien.

    On your website, you state “It is my hope that visitors to my site will understand the burning desire for change that was behind the early punk scene.” Can you explain in detail what you mean by this statement?

    It must be hard for young people to imagine a time before bands made their own records, CDs and booked their own tours. In the time before punk, musicians and artists who hoped to ply their trade and make a living from it had to prove that they could sell their product. Record companies controlled the means of production. Nobody made their own recordings or pressed their own records. It just wasn’t done that way. Artists worked hard and waited to be discovered (they even had a phrase for it, called “paying your dues”) and some even tailored their music or artwork to the demands of these companies in order to land a record deal. Once these deals were struck, a record company might decide to change your music, your image or even your name and the artist usually complied because they knew that a record company’s support was everything. Record companies, publishing companies and all the other businesses that profited along the way were making the decisions as to what was being played on the radio. Not surprisingly what WAS being played on the radio was shit. The most diluted, safe and boring tunes imaginable. We disparagingly called it muzak.

    It was out of sheer disgust that many us turned our radios off and turned to live homemade music for something better. The irony is that many of us hadn’t thought things through. We hoped to wake up the record companies and turn them on to new music. We hoped they would be so impressed with our live shows and homemade recordings that they’d give us some money to release records that would actually reach a bigger audience and enable the artists to support themselves. It wasn’t until the punk scene had been around for two or three years that the bands realized that we were going to have to take control of the means of production, but once we did it was like a dam bursting. Bands began booking their own tours, making their own swag, recording, pressing and selling their own music. The profits were smaller, but for many it was enough.

    Things are not much different today. Young artists still have to make choices about their work. I have three daughters and each of them has very different taste in music. They watch the Disney channel, and/or American Idol, and don’t understand why I say that the people on those shows, although in many cases very talented, are not real artists or real musicians. They are like very fine pieces of clay that will be molded by another’s hands. They are the pretty packages that wrap the TV commercials. They are a product that sells other products.

    Debe de ser dificil para la juventud de hoy poder imaginarse un tiempo antes de que las bandas hicieran sus propios discos y CDs o que lanzaran sus propias giras. En el tiempo antes de punk los musicos,y artistas que deseaban ganarse la vida con su profession tenia que demostrar que podian vender su producto. Las companias disqueras controlaban el medio de produccion. Nadie hacia sus propias grabaciones ni sus propios discos. Las cosas no se hacian asi. Los artistas estaban acostumbrados a esperar la oportunidad de ser descubiertos, hasta habia un nombre para esa espera le llamabamos “paying your dues” que significa pagar lo debido. Algunos artistas trataban de ajustar su arte o su trabajo al gusto de las companias disqueras con el anhelo de obtener un contrato disquero. Si ese contrato era logrado las companias podian decidir cambiarles el nombre, la musica, la imagen a sus artistas. La mayor parte de artistas no protestaba porque sabian que el apoyo de una compania disquera lo era todo. Las companias que publicaban la musica, tanto como las disqueras y todos los otros negocios que se beneficiaban de la labor del artista estaban en la posicion de decidir lo que se tocaba por la radio. No es ninguna sorpresa que lo que se tocaba por la radio era pura mierda. La canciones mas diluidas, sanas, y aburridas, imaginables. A esa musica le llamabamos Muzak para distinguilar de la musica verdadera o music.

    Fue por aversion a esa Muzak que muchos de nosotros apagamos nuestros radios y fuimos en busca de la musica real, viva, y hecha en casa. La ironia en esto es que muchos de nosotros no lo habiamos pensado bien. Queriamos despertar a las disqueras con una musica nueva. Esperabamos impressionarlas tanto con nuestras actuacciones en vivo y grabaciones que nos darian dinero para grabar mas y nos ayudarian a distribuir la musica a una audiencia mayor. Esto significaria que un artista se pudiera sostenerse con su labor artistica. Nos tomo dos o tres anos darnos cuenta que ibamos a tener que tomar control de los medios de produccion, pero en cuanto sucedio fue como una presa que se abrio. Las bandas empezaron a lanzar sus propias giras, a creear su propia mercancia y a grabar e imprimir sus propios discos. Las ganacias era pequenas comparadas con las de las grandes companias disqueras, pero para muchos eran suficientes

    Las cosas hoy no son muy diferentes. Los artistas jovenes aun tienen que hacer decisiones sobre su trabajo. Yo tengo tres hijas, cada una con su propio gusto en musica. Ven el canal Disney, o el programa American Idol y no comprenden cuando les digo que los jovenes en esos programas, aunque tengan mucho talento no son verdaderos artistas o musicos. Son mas bien pedacitos de barro o plastilina que seran formados por las manos de otros. Son los bonitos paquetes en que vienen envueltos los commerciales en la television. Son los productos que venden otros productos.

    30 years after the birth of punk, what things do you feel should be discarded and what things should be revisited by subsequent countercultures?

    After 30 years, rebellion has to be reinvented by the youth of a new generation. It’s ok to sing your parents’ songs but each generation has to write their own songs as well. The ideology of punk: the DIY ethic, the desire to challenge conventions of dress, social attitude, ethnic, gender bias, etc. has to be taken to the next level by today’s youth.

    I want the youth of today to challenge me. I don’t want their art or music to be so easy and familiar to me that I immediately like it. Nothing that has ever made me grow has ever been comfortable for me. Progressive ideas, like progressive art and music are sometimes an affront to the spectator because they are new and unfamiliar. If everyone in your group dresses like you and likes the same music as you and thinks like you then you may as well live in a vacuum. Life is most exciting when we’re put in the uncomfortable position of having to evaluate our beliefs and either having them be strengthened or having to toss them out.

    Despues de treinta anos la rebelion tiene que ser reinventada por la juventud de la nueva generacion. Esta bien cantar las canciones de sus padres pero tambien tienen que escribir sus propias canciones. La ideologia del punk, la etica DIY (hazlo tu mismo), el deseo de desafiar las convenciones sociales, de vestuario, de prejuicios sobre etnicidad o genero, etc. tiene que llevarse a la proxima etapa por la juventud de hoy. Me gustaria que la juventud me brinde un desafio, que no me ofrezcan lo familiar, lo que me guste immediatamente. Nada que me ha hecho creecer a sido comfortable o familiar. Las ideas progresivas, como el art progresivo, a veces afrenta al espectador precisamente porque son ideas nuevas, no familiares. Si todas tus amistades visten como tu, escuchan la misma musica que tu y piensan como tu seria como vivir en el vacio. La vida es mas emocionante cuando estamos en la posicion incomfortable de tener que evaluar nuestras creencias. Esto nos hace fortalezer nuestras creencias o deshacernos de ellas.

    Friday, August 24, 2007

    Destroyers of Mass Production

    A few weeks ago, I joined up with some fellow crafters in the Phoenix area who decided to get together to exchange ideas and work on projects. It was nice to connect with some other creative people from different backgrounds who all share an interest in making their own things. The deeper I get into crafting and sewing, the more I am finding that there is an alternate universe out there of people who are defying the mainstream consumer culture by making their own clothes, music, media and art. There's even a way for crafters to sell their creations online on a site called Etsy. It's kind of like Ebay but for buying and selling homemade goods. There are even some "superstars" of craft, like Twinkie Chan, whose incredibly cute crocheted creations are in big demand and Miss Oblivious, who honored me by adding me to her Payne Creations line of handmade dolls:

    Alice Sweet Alice by Payne Creations.

    After our group's first crafting session, we all decided to bring a homemade music CD to our next meetup; it was supposed to be a collection which would represent the "quintessential" us. It was intended to help us get to know each other better. I always feel you can learn a lot about a person by listening to the songs they like. It was a great idea but when it came down to selecting songs I struggled to narrow the choices down to a few that could fit on one disc. In the end, I selected the following songs, not because they are my absolute favorites, but because they represent styles or artists that I really like. Of course I second-guessed the set as soon as it was finished and I suspect that I erred on the side of safe choices because I didn't want to reveal myself completely. I actually thought it was a somewhat pedestrian mix and not eclectic enough but one member of the group reassured me that any mix with both Bessie Smith and the Dresden Dolls in it was not pedestrian. If you are acquainted with any of my previous music podcasts or "bagcasts," most of these choices will not surprise you, with (perhaps) the exceptions of Elvis Costello and Elton John. Shipbuilding is a great song musically and lyrically and First Episode is possibly my favorite Elton John song of all time. I was a huge Elton fan before I got into punk and this song is from his first record.

    Essential Alice Mix Volume 1

    1. Miss Otis Regrets - Ella Fitzgerald
    2. Ain't Goin' To Play No Second Fiddle - Bessie Smith
    3. The House That Jack Built - Aretha Franklin
    4. Sni Bong - Dengue Fever
    5. Swing Low - The Gossip
    6. Coin-Operated Boy - Dresden Dolls
    7. Knowing Me, Knowing You - Abba
    8. Timido - Flans
    9. Life on Mars - David Bowie
    10. Baby's On Fire - Brian Eno
    11. Irresistiblement - Syvlie Vartan
    12. I Don't Mind - Buzzcocks
    13. I Wanna Be Sedated - Ramones
    14. Supply & Demand - The Hives
    15. Shitlist - L7
    16. Orgasm Addict - Buzzcocks
    17. The Jeep Song - Dresden Dolls
    18. Magic 8 Ball - Cub
    19. Forbidden Fruit - Nina Simone
    20. Wicked Little Town (Hedwig Version) - Hedwig & The Angry Inch
    21. Shipbuilding - Elvis Costello
    22. First Episode at Hienton - Elton John

    I so much enjoyed the sense of community with the crafting group in Phoenix that I decided to create an online group for similarly inclined anti-mainstream crafters, musicians and creative types. I call it Destroyers of Mass Production and you can visit the group page here. As I write this, I'm still the only member, so come keep me company. I asked my talented daughter to design a group image for me to use and she did not disappoint.

    Destroyer of Mass Production - by Snow.

    The Destroyer Robot is clutching creative implements in each of its four hands and smashing into a sweatshop, scattering "free dresses" to the winds. Before I got into crafting, I never thought crocheting or sewing your own clothes could be subversive, but now I realize that it can be, because it takes the means of production (and consumer cash) out of the hands of big corporations that mass produce and mass market.

    There's a scene in the film "The Devil Wears Prada" where the fashion editor character played by Meryl Streep explains to a young intern that the frumpy blue sweater the intern is wearing is actually a shade called Cerulean Blue, chosen by a designer for a haute couture collection a couple of years prior which eventually made its way down the fashion food chain to the store where the intern bought it, thinking it was just a pretty shade of blue. Everything the intern thought she knew about fashion and even her own style of dressing was actually pre-determined by someone else, a tastemaker or a manufacturer, who decided which colors and styles would be deemed 'fashionable.' That's another reason why making your own clothes to suit your own taste is so damned subversive. That scene struck a chord with me and the memory of it helps me keep my head high when I'm about town in my homemade frocks.

    Another film that made me want to behave differently and which I heartily recommend is a documentary called The Corporation. It gave me more insight on the stranglehold big companies have on our way of life. Before I saw this movie, I made certain assumptions about corporations. I trusted in business ethics and the legal system to protect us from corporate greed. Boy, was I naive. I now see that a corporation is a legal entity which has all the rights and none of the responsibilities that keep greedy individuals in check. A corporation's only reason for existence is to create profits for the shareholders, so anything that cuts into corporate profits is subversive, by my estimation. Hence the idea for Destroyers of Mass Production. D.I.Y. does not have the Corporation Seal of Approval.

    Just because we can't all be out in the streets protesting in Germany at the G8 conference or in Canada at the SPP Conference doesn't mean we can't engage in some small subversive, fun, creative acts of rebellion everyday.

    Saturday, August 18, 2007

    Back To School

    School starts early in Phoenix, about a month earlier than in L.A. I'm not sure why this is. At first I thought it had something to do with the oppressive heat in summer. Phoenix finishes their school year in May instead of June, but going back in August hardly makes sense. Sure, the monsoon cools things down a little but it's still consistently above 100 degrees.

    If you've read my entries from earlier in the summer, you'll know that I'm not the type to let my kid just sit around and watch TV or play on the computer all day. I have to keep my daughter busy doing something creative or educational, anything besides just vegging out. Consequently, I've found that summer is a very busy time for a parent with these priorities, but now that she's back in school, I suddenly find that I have free time on my hands. So what have I been doing?

    I've been indulging myself in some old-lady-in-training activities like learning how to crochet. I never thought I'd be into crocheting granny squares but there you have it. As Jockohomo wrote in a comment to me, it's kind of like the Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi"; it gives me a kind of relaxing, meditative pleasure to be doing something simple and repetitive without worrying too much about the perfection of the end result. Wabi-sabi can be loosely defined as "nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." That's pretty punk rock. I also tried my hand at knitting but it's not as forgiving so I quickly gave it up. I prefer crafts where the basics are simple and easy to learn so I can go off on my own tangent sooner. That pretty much sums up my aesthetic when it comes to crafts, sewing, cooking and music. Show me the basics, then get out of my way. I prefer to put my own stamp on everything I do, even if it's not perfect.

    A person with a similar aesthetic is boy genius Andy Milonakis. I don't allow my daughter to watch very much TV but the Andy Milonakis Show is one that the whole family enjoys. His theme song has replaced Give Me The Food as the soundtrack in my head. I love his random, absurd sense of humor and the way his skits seem to be practically improvised with a great deal left to chance and I love that the people in his skits are varied in age and ethnicity. He pulls everyone into his twisted world without discrimination.

    It reminds me of my days in the Afro Sisters when we'd go onstage with the bare bones of an idea and let the show and audience take us in unexpected directions. Although Vaginal Davis claims that it wasn't improvised and was always thought out, she never gave us detailed lines or direction. Being onstage with Miss Davis was probably very much like being on TV with Andy. Like Miss Davis, Andy is anything but PG - there's Itchy and Scratchy type violence in some of his skits and plenty of potty mouth humor, so consider yourself warned.

    Greg and I have also been enjoying catching up on some old movies on TCM. I'm really into the Thin Man series right now with the classic pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy in the roles of Nick and Nora Charles, who have got to be one of the coolest screen couples of all time. Who else could order scotch with a champagne chaser and still look so glamorous? I love their witty banter and snappy exchanges. Add in the drinking, the fabulous outfits and their keen detective skills and you have the perfect couple.

    They've even inspired me to do a little day-drinking of my own. Of course, I justified it by reason of having a toothache; I figured the alcohol would kill any germs in my mouth. I hate going to the dentist. Somehow seeing Nick and Nora drink at all hours made it acceptable to sip my Chivas on the rocks at two in the afternoon. Besides, it makes me feel like I'm earning my Bad Housewife title.

    To paraphrase Nick Charles, I've got to go now. All this blogging is putting me way behind in my drinking.

    Just kidding, it's time to make lunch.

    Sunday, August 12, 2007

    Beyond Boundaries

    I took another long break from blogging but I'm not going to offer any excuses or apologies because I do this all the time. I write when the mood strikes me and when I have the time and when I get busy with something else, I take a little break. I think you have to allow yourself the option to step away from time to time, otherwise it just becomes a chore and more of an obligation than something fun. In fact, my husband recently told me that my blog had been linked by another, very widely read blog and suggested that I might want to write a new entry, so here I am snatching a few minutes of writing time while we drive back from Tucson, eating a lunch of (close your eyes, Jenny Lens!) Cheetos with a side order of salsa verde Doritos and washing it all down with a diet RockStar.

    While I'm on the subject of food, I'll relate this little anecdote. We stopped into a roadside cafe on the outskirts of Tucson called Lupe's Mexican Food. I noticed that the girl behind the counter had the word "FUCK" tattooed on the side of her hand. I asked her, "what's on the other hand - YOU or OFF?" She smiled a little timidly and said "off" and sort of started to apologize, but I smiled back and said it would be really cool to be able to put your knuckles together and tell someone to fuck off with your fists and then her face lit up and we struck up a conversation. So if you're around Tucson on the 79 and Oracle, stop in and say hi to the girl with Fuck Off on her hands.

    I got to spend time with my two stepdaughters who were visiting their grandmother in Tucson. We all drove down to Tubac, AZ to hear an old high school friend of mine perform a set of acoustic music. It was nice reconnecting with her and meeting her husband. Becky Reyes has a beautiful voice and her husband Scott plays a mean blues harmonica.

    My stepdaughters, who spend quite a bit of time on Myspace, were cracking up about the fact that my image appears in a video for a song called "Lean Like a Chola," which is making the rounds on Myspace and Youtube. I'm not sure how I ended up in this video but some of the lyrics are a bit questionable. I think it's meant to be tongue in cheek but I might be insulted by the words if I was a real Chola. Let's just say it perpetuates some negative stereotypes. I only dressed up as a Chola for a different video I made with El Vez many years ago, I never dressed this way in real life.

    Me dressed as a chola, video shoot for "En El Barrio" by El Vez.

    In truth, my costume is such an exaggerated version of what a Chola is supposed to look like that I thought it would be obvious that I'm not the real thing. But Chola style can be fierce - just ask Gwen Stefani, who incorporated elements of it at one time.

    Gwen Stefani, chola style.

    Growing up in East LA, I got to see the real thing and Cholas can pull off a strong, beautiful warrior style like no one else.

    I never had a chance to respond to the numerous comments on my blog about health care in the U.S. I am still firmly convinced that socialized medicine is the way to go. I'm sure that people can cite cases where socialized medicine has failed or provided less than optimal care but the vast majority of people who enjoy national health care would not trade it for privatized medicine like we have in the U.S. They consider health care (like education) a right, not an industry designed to create profits for drug manufacturers, insurers and their respective shareholders.

    There are those who will say that America offers the best health care in the world and that people come from all over to take advantage of our state of the art facilities and top notch specialists and that is true, but the people who can afford those facilities and physicians are far from the average individual. The fact that an oil-rich Arab sheik can fly his private jet to get treatment at Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills is meaningless when someone you know and love is denied access to a potentially life-saving course of treatment because his or her insurance won't cover it. The sheik doesn't need to worry about insurance because he's got endless amounts of money, but the average American citizen doesn't have access to that same quality of medical care. The irony is that even though top notch care is offered within that American's national boundaries, it is outside of his or her financial boundaries. Those boundaries are defined not by medical need nor the location of the best doctors or medical facilities, but by what an insurance company is willing to pay the providers of these services. And that is the heart of the matter. Access to quality medical care in the U.S. is restricted to those within certain financial boundaries and the vast majority of the population might as well be living in a different country.

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    Give Me The Food!

    I am a recovering MySpace addict who now visits the site occasionally rather than hourly like I used to. It’s strange, because I was visiting more often when I was living in Mount Washington where I had many more friends than I do now but I find that I'm much more active with my crafts here in Phoenix.

    I still feel connected to some of my MySpace friends and I peek in on my groups now and then to see what the members are discussing. A couple of weeks ago, I was looking in on Fuck Your Beauty Standards when one of the members mentioned Miss Platnum. I promptly checked out the link to find a woman after my own heart. As any of you who have read my blog before already know, I am a fan not only of big, beautiful, intelligent women, but of strong vocalists with spunk and charisma. Miss Platnum meets all those standards.

    Miss Platnum

    Minutes after listening to Give Me The Food, I was dancing around the kitchen singing the lyrics to the song. It’s been weeks now and I’m still singing. Strangely, I discovered that she and her back-up singers wear aprons on stage, like my old band Stay at Home Bomb used to do. I’ve been an avid apron collector for a while, so it was fun to see the girls doing their housewifey theme, wearing my favorite housewife accessory.

    From what I can gather, Miss Platnum is based in Berlin where an old friend and co-conspirator of mine, Vaginal Davis, has also taken up residence. She recently sent me an email keeping me abreast of her latest endeavors and it looks like she is doing just swell. Click on the photo to see what Ms. Davis is up to right now. She was always after those young ones.

    Vaginal Davis - Madonna of Laibachdorf

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    Summertime (and the Living is Uneasy)

    Summer always holds the promise of leisurely swims in the moonlight and tall, cool drinks sipped from Tiki mugs. There’s been little of that this summer. I don’t know how each year I manage to forget that - for parents - summer means the kids are home and you have to entertain them. I refuse to let the child rearing be done by the computer, PlayStation or the TV and that means I have to step up. Whiny as I may sound about having to put aside my personal projects for a few months, parenting does have its rewards. This summer we’ve managed to sew dolls and teddy bears and their respective accoutrements; we’ve learned to knit and crochet and even knitted squares for Knitty Gritty’s "A Square - Show You Care" drive which takes contributed squares and assembles them into blankets for the needy. It's a good thing they only asked for a square because that is about the extent of our knitting skills for now. We’ve created some stylish hats using the book Saturday Night Hat.

    Aside from crafting, we’ve enjoyed reading aloud a wonderful trilogy called His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

    It’s an older series but full of subversive, anti-authoritarian messages and well worth reading. Although there is a movie version coming out this year, I would highly recommend reading the books because it appears that New Line Cinema has bowed to fear of a religious backlash by toning down or eliminating any references to God or the Church. It seems that the book's message of courage in spite of overwhelming odds was lost on the producers. How ironic.

    Movie Version of Controversial Novel Being Toned Down
    Fans of the Philip Pullman novel His Dark Materials have expressed outrage over news that director-screenwriter Chris Weitz has removed references to God and the Catholic church in the movie. New Line Cinema, the company producing the film, has "expressed worry about the possibility of perceived anti-religiosity." The studio had told him that if the references remained, the project would become "unviable financially." He remarked that he had discussed the matter with Pullman, who had told him that the role of the Authority (God) in his book, could be transformed into "any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual." The religious villains in the film, he said, "may appear in more subtle guises." He added: "you will probably not hear of the 'Church.'" One fan posted a message on the website calling the changes a "blatant cop-out to the Bible Belt of America."

    Aside from mommy duties there are other friends and family that need care and attention. We went out to California to visit the in-laws for Father’s Day. Imagine my father-in-law’s surprise when he picked up his L.A.Times on Sunday morning to find his daughter-in-law scantily clad in an article about the very talented Jenny Lens. I wonder if he thought "my poor son married a strumpet," or "my clever son married a strumpet."

    August 1977, photo by Jenny Lens.
    Alice Bag, Dottie Danger (Belinda Carlisle), Hellin Killer and Pleasant Puss Gehman.

    For the 4th of July we did the patriotic thing and went to see Sicko. It made me want to move to Canada, but only for a minute. I felt better after I went online and sent an email to Senator John McCain using this link. It was bad enough thinking that people all over the world disliked us for being greedy and ethnocentric, but now I realize that they’re laughing at us for allowing our government to rip us off. As one woman in the movie put it (I’m paraphrasing here) "You Americans are afraid of your government; here (France) the government is afraid of the people." She’s right - when I was in France recently during their elections, the government was hurriedly putting up barricades because they were worried about how the people might react if they were displeased with the results of the elections. We need to make our government more afraid of us than of losing their corporate perks. Michael Moore is preaching to the choir here; I’ve been a proponent of socialized medicine forever. The movie was really good and if you haven’t seen it, you should. Be prepared to be pissed off.

    And speaking of getting pissed off, I received a letter from a friend on MySpace telling me about a place I’d never heard about before called the T. Don Hutto Residential Center. The place houses the children of people who are awaiting trial for violating immigration laws. The children are housed in prison-like conditions, with limited access to medical services and education. As a parent it made me sick to hear that these children are being torn away from their parents, relatives and friends to be housed as inmates in a detention center. As a former teacher, it made me angry to hear that these children are being deprived of an education. But as an American it made me wonder where the fuck our humanity has gone. What part of us has died that would make it ok to treat little children like criminals?

    Mini doc on Hutto by the ACLU.

    Just when things start to seem really bleak, something comes along to restore my faith. On 7/7/07, live concerts and gatherings were held around the world to raise consciousness about the issue of global warming and demand that our politicians take action now. Even though Live Earth didn't feature my favorite bands (except for Spinal Tap!!!) I could appreciate the message and was inspired to make some changes in my own life to help save our planet. Summertime is here and it's about time for things to really heat up.

    Tuesday, June 26, 2007

    From The Collection of Paul Problem

    I got an email this week from an old friend who used to go by the name of Paul Problem back in the early punk days. As a co-editor for Flipside, Paul was very involved in the scene from 1978-1981 and he kindly allowed me to share some of his personal collection of snapshots from those days.

    I've posted a few selections here along with his (and my) recollections. You can see more of his photos in a photo gallery on Flickr. Thanks a million, Paul!

    That's me as a blond in a photo booth on Hollywood Blvd., the Vive le Rock (t-shirt) is a Seditionaries that belonged to Steve Jones, my Flipside press photo card (is) below and the one taken of me by Pat when I roadied for The Bags at a club on Pico.

    New Year's party at the Other Masque- superstar band (The Monsters) - Nickey Beat, Stan Lee, Darby singing, Kira Roessler and Paul Roessler, photo by Al Flipside.

    Trudie munching on some popcorn at a punk picnic in Hollywood. Tomata and X8 in the background.

    Group photo at the Other Masque- guy with mustache is a friend of Brendan, Dave from Rhino 39 in Long Beach who died a short time later, Brendan, Girard from Whittier-loosely affiliated with Flipside crew- the very first deathrocker guy!, the blond was Nickey Beat's girlfriend at the time (Barbara James), the other girl was Sue from Long Beach and that's me on the right- photo taken by Al.

    Thursday, June 07, 2007

    Women In L.A. Punk - Part XXIV - Penelope Houston

    Penelope Houston has remained active in music for over 30 years now. Without a doubt, Penelope is one of the most respected performers to come out of the early West Coast punk rock scene and is considered an icon and role model by many. I can't recall when I first saw her with the Avengers, but I do recall being struck by her cool, tough girl image, so neatly captured in the Bev Davies photo of her and Brad Kent.

    Photo of Penelope Houston and Brad Kent (Avengers),
    Vancouver 1979 by Bev Davies.

    She had extremely short, blond hair, almost boyish, which contrasted with her pretty features. Back in 1977 and early 1978, she and her San Francisco based band were favorites with the L.A. punks, who adopted Penelope as an honorary Los Angeleno. To make matters more confusing, the Avengers recorded a classic single (We Are The One b/w Car Crash & I Believe In Me) on L.A. based Dangerhouse Records. According to the Wikipedia entry on Penelope, she was born in L.A., so that should settle any argument that she doesn't belong in this section!

    The Avengers were always warm towards the Hollywood punks. Penelope was a gracious hostess and allowed me and Nickey Beat to use her place as a crash pad when we visited San Francisco. I had a chance to reconnect with her a few years ago when she played with the Avengers in L.A. Penelope still performs with strength and conviction and her shows are definitely worth checking out. And so without further ado, Ms. Penelope Houston.

    Tuesday, June 05, 2007

    Never Mind The G8, Here's The Bollocks

    I recently received a very well-written and thought provoking email in response to my earlier blog about violence, a small excerpt of which I quote below:

    "It was important for me to know that fighting back was O.K. because it made it O.K. not to fight back too, and a choice - my choice. In "How Nonviolence Protects the State" (South End Press, 2007) Peter Genderloos makes a pretty convincing argument that not only is the cult of pacifism delusional but it is ineffective. On some deep level we knew that hippies were full of shit, and that even efficient nonviolence requires a confrontation with a violent opponent before the tactic can even be recognized, let alone taken seriously. Kind of a scary concept, but one that, as I said, seemed to be intuitive on our parts."

    To read her entire letter, click here.

    The writer chose not to post it as a comment, because she says she wasn't entirely sure that she agreed with one of the conclusions she reached. I'm not sure I agree with it either but it certainly is worth discussing, especially in light of this week's violent protests against the G8 summit taking place in Germany. Basically, the question is whether non-violent protest plays into the hands of those in control.

    After all, as we have seen time and time again, the authorities have no qualms about using force to disperse a lawfully assembled crowd, even going so far as to suggest that photo-journalists will not be allowed at future demonstrations to avoid documentation of their crowd control methods. Not that we need to worry about the U.S. media serving as watchdogs. They're too busy being lapdogs.

    A quick bit of history here: the G8 (Group of Eight) evolved from an informal gathering of senior financial officials from The U.S., U.K., West Germany and Japan that took place in 1974. They became known as the Library Group. Over the years, the heads of state of the participating nations have continued to meet to discuss issues of global significance. The number of participating countries has grown from the original to include France, Canada, Italy and Russia.

    The leaders of the 8 most powerful economies are meeting to discuss issues of vital importance to the planet, whether or not we realize it. The mainstream media in the U.S. seems to be doing their best to ensure that we don't. The top story on CNN yesterday? Paris Hilton going to jail. I feel like I'm watching a very bad magic show where the magician is attempting to distract me with a shiny object in one hand, while the real action is taking place in the other hand I'm not keeping an eye on. While we’re watching Paris Hilton pack her toiletries for her stay in the big house, an estimated 520 demonstrators have been reported injured and dozens of people have been imprisoned in what began as peaceful demonstrations to coincide with the G8 summit. The elite will meet behind a barbed wire barricade designed to keep the masses and the prying eyes of the rest of the world out.

    At stake here is our future, not just as Americans but as human beings. This year’s G8 summit is expected to attract demonstrators opposed to capitalism, globalization and the war on Iraq. This is stuff that concerns me. Another important topic to be discussed is global warming and the reduction of greenhouse gases. I want to know about this - don’t you?

    The real news dealing with issues that affect the whole world is being buried under infotainment. Are we really so stupid or so complacent that we can’t see what’s happening in the world? Do we want to live in our little gilded Eden in peaceful ignorance until the whole thing goes down the toilet?

    A friend of mine once joked that she didn’t care what was going on in the rest of the world as long as she could have her 500 cable TV channels. I think there’s a bit of truth to that and I think it's more common than we'd like to believe. But I also believe that there are things worth fighting for and this is where Tamara’s letter struck a chord with me. On some deep level, we have to question whether the hippies were naive in putting all their trust in peaceful demonstrations. Punks, on the other hand, did seem to intuit that confrontation - even violent confrontation - was sometimes necessary and even justified.

    I just want to clarify that I’m not advocating anyone throw rocks at police during a peaceful demonstration. That is a terrible idea that endangers innocent people and will probably lead to your being clobbered and arrested. Peaceful demonstrations can work and can accomplish much but they depend on public opinion and on being able to gather support by inviting the media to publicize your plight around the world. If our access to information is being curtailed, the success of peaceful demonstrations is being subverted. If the powers that be wish to subvert our ability to convey our wishes and demands in nonviolent ways then they are effectively pushing us towards more aggressive options.

    As poverty and hunger around the world and global warming threatens our very existence we can’t afford to be ignored.

    Penelope Houston of the Avengers once wrote:

    "Open your eyes, open your eyes
    You don't see what's going on
    Come on, open your eyes, open your eyes
    you watch TV to find out what's right and wrong, yeah
    Open your eyes well, they tell you lies and you sing along
    Open your eyes to what you respected
    Open your eyes and you can reject it."

    Postscript added by Alice on 6/7/07:

    This post elicited several responses. I'd like to share a couple more links for those of you who'd care to read some other views on the subject:

    Arms and the Movement by Peter Gelderloos

    Protest Is Dead. Long Live Protest by Joseph Hart

    Saturday, June 02, 2007

    On Censorship and Big, Bold, Beautiful Women

    You may or may not have noticed that some of the comments from a previous blog entry have been taken down. I want to clarify that this is not censorship on my part. The comments were removed at the request of the person who posted them, and the subsequent replies did not make sense once the original comment was taken down. The discussion had become very lengthy and personal and was moved off line.

    I appreciate that my readers are comfortable discussing their opinions and ideas in an open forum on my blog. I find the exchange of ideas stimulating and challenging. I don't always have to agree with the opinions expressed. In fact, I rather enjoy a well-stated argument that challenges my beliefs because it forces me to re-evaluate my thinking. Reevaluating our beliefs is something that we all need to do on a regular basis.

    On a different note, someone on Myspace wrote to ask my opinion of the latest cover of NME, where Beth Ditto of The Gossip appears in the nude.

    Beth is one of the sexiest women I know. I know that some people find rail-thin females attractive and that's fine but it doesn't do it for me. Women who are curvaceous are much more attractive to me. Aside from that, women who are curvaceous, intelligent, talented and self-confident have every right to flaunt their sexuality if they want to. I guess the short answer to the question is that I don't have a problem with any individual appearing naked on the cover of a magazine but I am thrilled to see Beth on this particular cover. She IS the Queen of Cool.

    Another super sexy, super talented and confident woman is Candye Kane.

    In the early 80's, Candye also posed nude for a magazine, but it wasn't a music magazine. Her photos were considered pornography and were the object of controversy. I'm one of those people who enjoys pornography, strong, talented women, and the female form. Anyway, the point is that both women were sending the same message, which is that they are unabashedly sexual with every part of their beings, from their big, beautiful voices to their big, beautiful bodies.

    It's no coincidence that both Candye and Beth are continuing the tradition of the great women blues singers like Bessie Smith. Bessie was just as free and forward with her own sexuality and she was not afraid to express it in her music.

    Women like Bessie, Candye and Beth are women's women. They inspire us to let go of the hang-ups of trying to achieve some phony, externally imposed ideal of physical perfection. They accept themselves and invite us to accept ourselves. They are bold sexual predators, much more exciting and dangerous than the countless little sex kittens that litter TV and radio.