Thursday, April 05, 2007

What Are They Teaching In School These Days?

I'm immobilized in bed, recuperating from a back injury and dictating this blog entry. Hopefully I will make a full recovery and not have to use a walker when I perform a few songs on May 5 at the Silver Lake Film Festival. That wouldn't be too much fun.

Here's an email interview I just completed. Thanks for allowing me to share this on my blog, Leah, and good luck with your work!

"Dear Alice Bag,

My name is Leah and I am a senior at Brookline High School in Massachusetts. I've been extremely passionate about early L.A. punk for as long as I can remember and have read about, listened to, and watched most of what I have been able to get my hands on. I decided to write my final senior thesis paper about the role of women in the early L.A. punk scene. Unfortunately (and obviously), I was not there. Because of this I have been doing endless reading and research in hope of depicting my opinions with well-supported information.
I have read all of the interviews with Women in L.A. Punk on your website and they have been endlessly helpful. You will be well-cited and I wanted to thank you for taking on the task of making those interviews public. I was also wondering if there is a chance I could convince you to do an email interview with me concerning the topic of my paper...."

I am always happy to answer questions, although it sometimes takes me months to respond. Here are Leah's questions and my answers:

Do you feel early L.A. punk changed the way women were thought of in society?

I think it changed the way women felt about themselves, which eventually changed the way society felt about them.

How do you feel the punk scene allowed you to escape from female gender roles?

I was too busy creating something new to worry about what my role as a female should be.

How did women in early L.A. punk redefine what it meant to be tough?

I don’t know that anyone was trying to be tough. I think they were just trying to be themselves, which requires strength of conviction and the will to act. If that is considered tough, then a woman’s toughness is measured by the same standard as a man’s.

Why do you think women felt so comfortable breaking out of their gender role and really letting loose?
Perhaps because the punk aesthetic didn’t require women to fit into a role. It was something new that had yet to be defined or stereotyped.

How did people think of females fronting early L.A. punk bands back then?

I’m not sure because I personally didn’t care much about how people were perceiving me as a female. Even though I thought of myself as an performer, it wasn’t like I went on stage to entertain. I went on stage to engage the audience. If people were not engaged by my performance, then they could leave. If they stayed and got engaged, that’s what I was after. But I didn’t think about what they thought of me personally.

What did you think of the Plunger Pit? Did you have any note-worthy experiences there?

It looked like a fun place to hang out but my impression was that it could have been overwhelming at times. I’m not sure, but I suspect they might have been around before the Canterbury. I didn’t go there that often. It was fun and chaotic.

In We Got the Neutron Bomb I read about an argument you got into with Darby Crash about the fundamentals of stage performers. You reportedly felt that musicians and audience members should all be on the same level (which I think is amazing by the way), while Darby felt singers should hold an almost God-like position. I read that this argument lead to a physical fight in which you kicked Darby’s ass. What’s the truth behind this and how do you justify your actions?

I didn’t really kick his ass and it wasn’t a very long fight. Darby enjoyed irritating me and he liked to see how far he could push people. He figured out that he couldn’t push me very far. We disagreed about a lot of things on a very fundamental level. Our differences went much deeper than just the proper role of audiences versus performers. But the arguments we had also left us with food for thought and we would both go home after an argument and then come back to the subject later to pick up the thread again.

Early on in the punk scene both Darby and I wanted to be leaders. I think Darby held onto that desire until the end and I reached a point where I wanted to form relationships where there was a give and take. This concept is discussed at length in a book called Pedagogy Of The Oppressed by Paolo Freire. Basically, it states that a leader’s thinking is authenticated only by the authenticity of the followers’ thinking. The leader cannot think for her followers.

I think too many people don’t understand that logical argument can be a healthy thing and arguments don’t always involve threats or conflict. It’s just that on this occasion, Darby pissed me off and I resorted to violence.

In early L.A. punk, it seems as though women started to get comfortable exerting their physical selves. Often this meant fighting each other or males. From what I’ve read, women were physically kicking a lot of ass. Why do you feel they suddenly felt so comfortable fighting?

I’m not sure that this assumption is correct. I can’t say that I saw an extraordinary amount of female violence in the punk scene, but I grew up in East L.A. and I certainly saw a lot more of it at Stevenson Jr. High. I think I was an anomaly because I was violent and I grew up around violence, so it was what I knew. Plus, punk music was aggressive and it may have fueled those emotions a bit more than, say, Donovan and the Beatles.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms.Bag,
What are they teaching in school these days indeed. Well all I can say is bravo to this girl and to the teachers (like yourself) who encourage them. Best wishes to you and yours and feel better.
- Andy Average

Anonymous said...

The violence of the early L.A. punk scene has always been greatly magnified. I was in and out of L. A. all the time during the '76 - '80 time frame, and real violence was almost nil - especially with the women! All those Masque/ Canterbury/ Whiskey girls, were all very sweet and friendly!

A good time was had by all....

Jenny Lens said...

Alice: take care, rest a lot, drink warm herbal teas, keep hydrated!

Plunger Pit: early-mid 1977? When did people start moving into Canterbury? Why won't Trudie and Pleasant get their diaries out there??

I hung with/shot at X's apt, which was next door to Plunger Pit. It was behind Circus Books, just west of the Starwood at Crescent Heights, south of Santa Monica Blvd.

Probably around April through Sept, 1977. Farrah went to England and X debuted at her good-bye party on 6th and Van Ness on Sept 17, 1977. I shot Joan wearing Cheap Trick tee in X's apt and they opened for Runaways April 1, 1977. My time frame references.

I never shot at the Plunger Pit, and I might have only been there once. I have vivid, vivid images of the bed seen in Jules Bates' photo, the kitchen and the fact my nude shot of Capt Sensible of the Damned, which I shot April 18, 1977 and was in Slash, but don't know that exact date, was taped above their toilet.

Secondly, it's fascinating to read about "justification" and "feeling women felt comfortable fighting." What, indeed, are they teaching not only in school, but in society?

We were, for the most part, teens and young adults. It's called "rites of passage." And as Alice stated, it was something we saw around us. We are influenced by our society.

I'm 9 years older than Alice, and already earned my MFA in Art before punk. My reaction to punk was due to being so disillusioned with "hippies" and their music. Bunch of hypocrites as we've seen them sell out their beliefs early on.

Hippies were rude and hard to get along with. At least in punk, the music and the environment was honest. As Alice said, if people didn't like her onstage personna, they could leave.

That's true punk attitude. I write about that all the time in emails/interviews.

What's important to remember is we didn't get into fights all the time. Well, Farrah did, but she got off on it and loved to provoke people.

But for the most part, if someone gave you a hard time, you don't have to put up with it. You don't go looking for fights, physical or verbal, but you don't let people get away with crap.

When Farrah gave me a really hard time, I went home. Not my fault the cops came afterwards cos someone called them after hearing me screaming for her to leave me alone. She wasn't hitting me, but just verbally beating me up. Ha ha, she got her come uppance! Wish I had been there to see that!

Punk always attracted people who were bored and loved to mess with people.

But we were not violent per se. We were wild and creative and bright and frustrated. We were amongst friends for the most part. It was part of defining who we were.

I love the line from Pat Smear in "Decline" wherein, and I am totally paraphrasing, the night was right to mess it up. Kids just looking for something to do, so well expressed by the Ramones.

Also, and I hope people don't think it's just my ego, but I hope your student credits and links to all of us. I'm constantly dismayed either reading something or seeing photos that aren't credited. We all put some time and energy into preserving this past that interests and fascinates people.

I too have been covered in various school papers/presentations, usually high school or college. It's always wonderful to get an email from students telling me they want to research and write about me.

I never ever dreamt people would write about me. Not only as an early punk, but there's far more interest in me as a photographer than I realized. So many photo students write me. I am delightfully shocked.

I'm involved in an interview about women in punk for an Italian magazine. Initially they asked for the usual crap about punk. But another woman, a current performer, is interviewing me. I wrote her and said let's write about our points of view. She's a friend of mine, in fact, we are mutual fans of each other's work, so I knew she'd not only go for it, but have fun with it.

Turns out she's writing for yet another fanzine about women in punk. Her focus is on being an early 30 something, the only female singer in her band. She looks to us in part as role models, and me very particualarly, cos she's also a photographer.

Lots of interest and yes, I am working on a book proposal. I already have book agents breathing down my neck. So it's great to get so many emails telling me to write and then read Alice's always right-on thoughts.

So validating to read Alice stating so many things I think were rather universal in LA Women in Punk. I have different stories, but we have similar takes.

Very interesting. Everyone expecting more photo books and I'm focused on women in LA punk and beyond that. More than history, not another Neutron Bomb. Something unlike other books, with history and analysis, covering the whole spectrum but focus on women and of course, my birth city of the angels. Ask the Angels!

Anonymous said...

I like your observation that punk changed the way women felt about themselves because that attitude certainly seems to be prevalent among females of that generation but I am curious to know your feelings about young women today. Do you feel that punk made a lasting impact on how women view themselves and each other and if not, why?

Anonymous said...

I remember, when punk hit, how liberating it was. I no longer had to wear, buy or listen to what corporate America said was "in". Of course, punk became "in" down the line, but during that initial flash - absolute liberation. I keep it going even now (no cell phones or tatoos for me) ... Louis Jacinto.
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