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.