Sunday, February 18, 2007

Weird Fashion Sense Runs In The Family

My husband and I were cleaning out the garage this weekend and came across more boxes of old photos that were just stored in no particular order. One box had photos from 1950 to the recent past all lumped in together. In sorting through them, I first noticed the cool jacket and dress my Mom was wearing in this 1950's photo of her and my Dad in Mexico.

Then I found this photo of me wearing a blonde wig and another cool dress from when I was probably about 10-12 years old and going through my "phat and sassy" phase.

Next, I found this photo of myself in 1977, modeling my hand painted Weirdo's mini-skirt. Yes, those are paint smears from the skirt on my arms and face.

And last, I found this photo of my daughter, Snow, modeling her Betty Blowtorch tee and striking her rock star pose.

I think this is pretty conclusive evidence that weird fashion sense is somehow genetically pre-determined.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More Questions About Sex and Punk

Requests for interviews seem to come in waves. Here's an excerpt from another one I just completed. The interviewer's questions are in boldface type.

1. What did you feel the attitude toward women in general and you in particular was in the punk scene during your involvement?

In general, women in society were and still are discriminated against in all kinds of insidious and subtle ways. If you’re asking me what people thought of women in punk bands, I’d have to say that I didn’t and still don’t know what the attitude was. I never bothered to stop and ponder that question because I didn’t care. I wasn’t looking for external validation. I had been brought up to believe that I could do or be anything I wanted and the punk scene provided a setting where I could do just that. So there were no limits for me.

2. One of the things women have always had to deal with (in rock) is the sex/attraction factor of being a woman in a band... Punk women have taken a whole variety of different approaches to the sexuality factor – some openly scorning it, some embracing it, some playing with it in a mocking way (the shredded fishnet sort of thing). What was your attitude toward it?

Both men and women in bands are often seen as sex symbols. I suppose some people cultivate that image and as you say, others reject it. I wore many a shredded fishnet in my day, but I was a 17 year old girl in a band and I felt tremendously sexy and powerful. I was not about to suppress or tone down my sexuality. I have always broken with traditional feminism on this subject. If I was ever compelled to burn my bra, I might replace it with a corset. I could never embrace a brand of feminism that tries to make a woman deny part of who she is. So when I say I’m a feminist these days, it’s because I’ve claimed the word and created a definition of feminism that suits me - not because I’ve decided to conform.

I have not always considered myself a feminist. In the early punk scene, most of us rejected any labels. I liked to think that I was Alice, a human being free to be sexy or not, free to act aggressive or sweet without even considering what gender roles might dictate. The very early punk scene operated almost completely outside of mainstream society so we felt no need to rebel against or conform to expectations. I would never censor myself. Maybe that was naive and idealistic.

3. How much awareness do you have of later generations of punk women?

I still listen to new music but I haven’t closely followed the evolution of punk. If I know that there are women in a band, I will usually go out of my way to catch a show, buy a CD or be supportive in some way. Some of my younger female friends would make me tapes and CDs of their favorite bands, and that’s probably how I first heard Bikini Kill, Cub, Le Tigre and The Gossip. I still find new bands that I like on MySpace and via CDs that friends send to me but I don’t go out to see shows as often I used to, so it’s hard to keep up.

I guess the answer to your question is that I don’t think of women playing what sounds like punk (or punk inspired) to me as “later generations” because it is all one continuum and I either like what a musician is doing or I don’t. The only thing I’ve noted before is that female musicians seem to be much more comfortable onstage and are more willing to challenge audience expectations than the females I grew up seeing twenty or thirty years ago. Take, for example PJ Harvey and Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls. They have fun with their sexuality but it’s not central to what they do as artists.

Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls.

4. Why do you think it was that women seemed to mix so much more naturally in the early scene but all-women bands seemed to be treated as novelties and tagged with media labels like foxcore and riot grrrl (albeit, their own label) later on?

Treating all-woman bands as a novelty is a way to trivialize their contributions. Let’s talk about the Go-Gos. I think the Go-Gos are a really important band. They are the first all-woman band to compose and play their own songs and sell millions of records. Sure, there were a few other all-female bands before the Go-Gos, but those girls really took it to the next level. They were trivialized because they were young, cute and female as opposed to young, cute and male which is the gold standard. They were talented, hardworking trailblazers. So what if they were writing mostly love songs instead of wrestling with their dark demons. Do we put such demands on our male pop stars? I don’t think so! Those girls opened doors and inspired countless young girls.

In the early punk scene, most of us rejected any labels. In a series of interviews I’ve conducted with women in the Los Angeles punk scene, one of the questions I ask is “What was the role of women in the early punk scene?” and a recurring answer is that the women involved were too busy creating and doing, being active participants, to think about what their role as a woman should or could be. They just didn’t even stop to think about it. So, gender roles ceased to exist for us. We didn’t think of ourselves as boys and girls, each of us thought of ourselves and treated each other as individuals.

I’m much more willing to accept and embrace the Feminist and Chicana labels now because I know we’re not all on the same page and allowing myself to be categorized this way helps people who don’t know me to have a clue of where I’m coming from. After all, we define the universe by labeling and classifying its contents. I accept that some labels are handy for giving people a general idea of what something may be about, but we have to be careful not to be overly simplistic. Guidelines can turn into stereotypes and trying to get to know someone as an individual when you have preconceived notions about what he/she stands for can sometimes get in the way.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Interview Questions and FAQ's

I frequently get mail from readers of this blog - students, researchers and other interested parties - who ask me questions about the early L.A. punk scene. Although I know I have answered some of these questions elsewhere, I can’t always remember where and inevitably end up having to repeat myself. I thought it might be interesting to take some of the most Frequently Asked Questions and answer them here on my blog and so, without further ado - Me Interviewed by You.

FAQs for Alice

Why don’t you interview ____________ for your women in punk series?

I am interested in interviewing women who were active in the L.A. punk scene between 1977-1980. I don’t always have current email info and I don’t use the telephone but I try to follow up on leads. Many of the obvious choices have been given interviews but haven’t finished them or they have finished the interview but want to add pictures, or they want to change something or are in the middle of something else...

How can I get in touch with________________________?

Although I love to help old friends connect as well as introduce journalists, researchers and punk enthusiasts to new friends, I don’t have the time to go back and forth with messages. I never give out contact info without getting an O.K. from the person who is being sought. I hope to eventually compile an email address book where people who don't mind being contacted can be located but I haven’t had time to do it yet. The L.A. punk rock directory is on my to-do list. I'd venture a guess that many of the surviving Masque regulars are on MySpace and can be located by doing a little digging. A good place to start is on the MySpace Masque page.

Will The Bags ever do a reunion?

Never. Half the members are dead, one lives in England and we’re not on speaking terms and the other remaining member is busy working on his first book.

With so few recordings that The Bags made, what was your contribution to today’s music scene? Do you feel that you influenced any of today’s artists?

Although The Bags made very few studio recordings, the Dangerhouse recordings are a good example of what the band was like. The movie The Decline of Western Civilization depicts the band near its final break-up. It’s an accurate representation of some of the changes the band had gone through in personnel and in musical direction. It also captures the changes that were taking place in the L.A. punk scene as it moved from a young experimental phase into a more hardcore phase.

Ultimately, I think that the things that turned out to be most important and influential to others are not the things I thought were important at the time. I wanted to be appreciated as a singer, but I’d get all caught up in the moment and lose myself onstage. I was better known for high energy, aggressive, confrontational performances rather than my ability to stay on key. Some of those angry performances inspired other artists who also needed a different way to express their rage.

I also now know that being a Latina from East L.A. and fronting a punk band meant more to others at the time than it did to me. Both of those aspects (being an angry female and being from East L.A.) are things that people who got to see the band perform live could immediately relate to and which were never captured on sound or video recordings. Perhaps it’s for the best. So much of what artists do is significant because of when it is done and what is happening in the world at the time. I realize now that I could never in a million years be the type of singer who could deliver a controlled performance. My performances were chaotic, aggressive and therapeutic. In the many years since my days in the L.A. punk scene, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many young people and I’m convinced that being Latina and being a woman with a proto-hardcore attitude are the two things that left the biggest impression on others.

Why was Disco’s Dead not originally credited to the Bags?

Disco’s Dead was not written by anyone in the band. We were approached by an outside source and asked to record the song for a flat fee. I believe the song was used as a demo for the composer but it ended up on an obscure compilation under the name "S.G.A.B. from the Planet Zed." I have to confess that I was not a disco hater. The glitter scene which I was into before I got into punk had an active alternative disco scene. I never hated disco. In the late 70’s I just preferred punk.

What happened between you and Patricia?

This question is usually attached to the reunion question. I could probably write many pages about what happened between us. I thought the hard feelings about the break-up were all behind us, but I discovered through a recent interview that Patricia is still quite resentful at being kicked out of the band 30 years ago. I have a long response to this question, but I found in reading it back that it doesn’t make me feel any better to tell my side of the story and include nasty details. The long and short of it is that Patricia and I were close friends at one time and that is why we formed a band together. The reasons for the collapse of our friendship are numerous. Patricia has implied in interviews that I was jealous of her good looks. On the contrary, I think her striking looks were an asset. I have always been proud to have beautiful friends. When our friendship ended, our reasons for wanting to be in a band together disappeared. Although I would welcome reconciliation, I don’t really believe either of us will ever see the past in the same way and with the past unresolved, there is little hope of any renewed friendship. It is easier for me to put it all behind me because I’m not the one who got kicked out. I do have many fond memories of our adventures in high school and during the early band days and I’d like to hang onto those memories instead of focusing on what went wrong.

Who was in The Piranhas? Was Belinda really your girlfriend?

The Piranhas were started by me, Shannon Wilhelm and Sheila Edwards. We were bored one night and decided to dress up in wigs and fake blood-splattered clothes and take a walk on Hollywood Blvd., scaring tourists and causing trouble. Just good, clean fun.

Margot Olavarria (Go-Go's), Shannon Wilhelm and Sheila Edwards (Piranhas).

The lesbian part of the story has been greatly exaggerated. The women in the Piranhas were all good friends. Some of us were bisexual, some were just curious. There was no real stigma associated with being lesbians; in fact, I think we were thought of as a little edgier than our counterparts, the Poodles, who were more focused on being fashionable and attractive to men. We let the rumors run rampant because we enjoyed our bad girl reputations. As for Belinda and me, we were very close and cuddly, and we went through a brief period when we told people we were girlfriends. This had more to do with being there for each other during difficult times and filling in as a date when a guy had to be dumped. As for the rest of the details, I’ll never tell.

Was there much competition/rivalry in the early punk scene?

People in the early L.A. punk scene were pretty supportive of each other. I think we were each other’s first fans. Occasionally, squabbles would arise over petty things like billing or playing order, but for the most part there was a strange sense that seniority was important. It made sense to us that if you started a band because you’d seen an earlier band play, then naturally you’d want to open for them. That held true most of the time, but not always.

What’s happening with the skate deck?

The skateboard deck is being put out by a skateboard company. I don’t have any control over when it will be on sale. I love the artwork which was done by Zeroxed.

What’s happening with the Artifix release?

Artifix has been very good with keeping me in the loop about what they are planning with the Bags compilation CD. I understand that there will be some reissued studio tracks and some live material. The delay has been in getting authorization from all the proper sources.