Friday, May 30, 2008

Women In L.A. Punk Part XXVI - Hudley Flipside

Hudley Flipside's interview came about completely by chance. My husband happened to notice a message on the Masque MySpace page that seemed to be directed to me. I should clarify that I have nothing to do with the MySpace Masque page. I conduct these interviews with women who were involved in the early LA Punk scene for my own website, but I haven't been in contact with most of the interview subjects in over 25 years and I don't usually try to track people down for interviews. They typically happen by chance, just like this one.

Hudley Flipside

Hudley's interview also differs from the norm in that she chose to completely disregard the question and answer format I sent to her. That's great, because I encourage all of my interview subjects to go off topic and write at length and Hudley took me at my word. Her expressed desire for total freedom is as close to the essence of what punk meant for many of us in the early L.A. scene.

Click on the Women In Punk thumbnail to read the interview with Hudley Flipside.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Road To (and From) Claremont

With the opening reception of the Vexing exhibit behind me, I'd like to say a little about the way in which this experience has changed and is continuing to change me. Colin Gunckel and Pilar Tompkins put on a very ambitious exhibition, both in scope and depth. It reached out with long arms to people whose relevance to the East LA music scene was not obvious and thus sparked controversy; it plunged deeply into virginal archives to illustrate the beauty and creativity of an under-appreciated music and art scene.

Points of Departure, an installation by Jessee V. and Colin Gunckel, currently on display at the Claremont Museum of Art.

The road to Claremont was a difficult one for me. On one side of the LA River, I was perceived by some as betraying the Hollywood scene. To quote part of a nasty email: "I think it's kind of creepy that you'd sell out the old scene just to be down with a couple of dink bands." On the other side of the LA River, there was much discussion about who should be included in the show and which participants were perceived as outsiders.

Detail from "Do The Math", a 10' x 50' paint on canvas installation by Diane Gamboa.

To top it all off, there was an undercurrent of denial of the racist and sexist landscape against which punk played out. My statement to the LA Times that by 1979, some Eastside musicians felt that the Hollywood punk scene was closed and unwelcoming was seen as an attack on the integrity of that scene, despite the fact that some of the individuals interviewed in the Women in Punk section of my website mentioned that they themselves had difficulty breaking into the LA punk scene in the late seventies. The fact that Eastsiders were making the same assertion was interpreted as an accusation of racism and I was accused of "playing the race card."

I found this very insulting, so I deliberately set out to get some answers by questioning some of my friends who had frequented the Vex. I wanted to find out who had and who hadn't experienced racism in the LA Punk scene. Not surprisingly, the results were mixed: some people had racism to report while others did not, which only seems to prove that racism was not more concentrated in the punk scene than it was in the general population; neither was it completely absent. Some people felt it and some didn't. Unfortunately, that was a bit of a myth buster for some, who wanted to believe the Hollywood scene was a utopia. Even though I frequently say that I didn't feel discriminated against, my experiences are my own. I will not deny anyone the right to point out discrimination by belittling their experiences with a dismissive phrase like "playing the race card." This response is insulting and only discourages people from shedding light on discrimination. Racism is not a game to be played, nor is there any real victory to be won by bringing it into an argument. If whatever argument you are trying to make is predicated on perceived racial favoritism or discrimination, it's legitimacy will be called into question, so most people I know will avoid bringing race into the discussion at all. Many Latinos I know would rather deal with racism in quieter ways, precisely because they don't want to be accused of playing the race card. And that is how accusing people of playing the race card effectively silences anyone from bringing up issues of racism and supports the status quo.

The fact that the Vexing show ignited this discussion is a great thing. That is what art is supposed to do: challenge people, provoke, and raise uncomfortable questions. A week after the show opened, there is a new article in the LA Times where the question of racism in the LA punk scene is still being explored. This Vexing show has been like a much needed enema, so let's get all the shit out of our systems and see what happens.

Lysa Flores, Alice Bag and Gaby Godhead live at Vexing opening show, 5/17/08, photo by fauxtografer.

Being involved with the show has made me realize that even though I wasn't a regular at the Vex, the East LA scene did not exist in a vacuum. Hollywood's punk scene preceded it and other music scenes preceded that one. Like Tenochtitlan, where each culture is built upon a previous one, each artist, whether or not he or she knows it, builds upon a foundation that stood before them. Thank you to the young artists who helped me understand that. Thank you to the curators, who believed in the validity of my place in East LA punk history before I did. Thank you to my friends, who shared their previously untold experiences of racism with me. Thank you to all of those who continue to challenge me, disagree and/or agree with me; you make the road to and from Claremont a fruitful one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cholita and Las Tres

In the aftermath of last Saturday's Vexing performance, a few videos of that night's show appeared on YouTube, one of which I posted in my previous blog entry. But as I was checking YouTube for updates, I came across a couple of rare videos of two of the projects I was involved in during the early 1990's, Cholita and Las Tres.

If you went to the Vexing show, you might have read about some of the various bands I've been involved with over the past 30 years, including Castration Squad, Cambridge Apostles, Stay at Home Bomb and of course, Las Tres and Cholita. I've usually been drawn towards projects that are female based or in some way different and challenging to the status quo. Las Tres and Cholita both fit those criteria.

Cholita was more of a performance art project than a real band and this video for "No Controles" was shot at MacArthur Park (just a few blocks away from where Fertile LaToya Jackson and I were teaching elementary school!) Cholita was more conceptual at this point, and we lip-synced to Flans' hit single. Later, we performed our own version of this song as well as Cholita originals such as Chinga Tu Madre, Beans Are Not Enough and Size (Has Nothing To Do With Performance). The lineup in this video is Vaginal Davis as Graciela, Fertile LaToya Jackson as Guadalupe, Alice Bag as Sad Girl and Annette (I'm drawing a blank on her stage name.)

No Controles video courtesy of Quasi. Thank you Quasi! Now Ms. Davis can't get mad at me for posting this!

The second video is of Las Tres performing the song "Nuevo Amanecer" at what looks like a college campus, probably in the early 1990's, roughly at the same time as I was in Cholita. The two couldn't be more different, but they both challenged societal expectations. The lineup for Las Tres in this video is Angela Vogel, Teresa Covarrubias, me, Paul Perez and Daoud.

Nuevo Amanecer video courtesy of Young American Video, thank you for posting it!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vexit, Stage Left

The opening reception for the Vexing show at the Claremont Museum of Art took place last night and there was a terrific turnout. Over 600 people were in attendance and the room got really hot, really fast. The gallery show was amazing, with more to look at than I can describe here. If you didn't make it last night, it is well worth a drive out to Claremont to experience it. If you are considering going, you might want to time your visit to coincide with one of their panel discussions or live performances, so check out their website.

A special thank you to my bandmates: Lysa Flores, Gaby Godhead, David Jones and Judy Cocuzza. It was an honor to be included in this show with so many talented artists. Another thank you to all of my old friends who made the long drive to one or both of the shows (we had a warm-up show the night before in Boyle Heights at Eastside Luv). It was great seeing you and even though I can't name you all, I'm sorry about the sweaty hugs and garlic and tequila kisses. Thank you to the Claremont Museum of Art team, who went out of their way to make us feel welcome and fed us garlicky hummus just before the show. And one more very important thank you to Diane Gamboa, who picked me up at the train station, drove me all over town and saved my ass on the air during a live interview at KPFK.

I read through the exhibit catalog today and there are lots of big words in there. It helped me to better understand the history of the East LA scene, though I still have lots of questions. I definitely have a greater appreciation for everything that went into it, came out of it and is still happening in relation to it. Maybe it's not such a bad thing that not all of my questions were answered, because this is a story that's still being written and my curiosity has been piqued.

Here's a clip from last night's performance, courtesy of MikaMakeout. Thank you to MikaMakeout for posting this on YouTube.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vexing Questions

This coming weekend, the Claremont Museum of Art will be holding an opening reception for a new exhibition called Vexing: Female Voices from East L.A. Punk. I am excited about having been invited to participate in the show because I'll have the honor of being in the company of some very talented artists, but that's not why I'm writing this entry. In the process of promoting this show, doing interviews and talking to people, I have encountered some confusion not only about the show, but about the East L.A. (ELA) punk scene itself and its relationship to the early L.A. punk scene, which I was a part of. I get asked all the time about the ELA punk scene and all I can say is, "Sorry, I wasn't part of that." So it's valid to ask why someone who only played the Vex once (as part of Castration Squad, not the Bags) is a featured artist in this exhibition. And yet, I have had young Chicanas tell me that just by being Latina and doing what I did, I am a part of the ELA punk scene. I understand that, but just as a disclaimer I want to say that I still do not consider myself part of the early 80's Vex scene.

Because of this confusion, I set about on my own to interview several people who were, in fact, part of the ELA scene to get their take on several of the assumptions that have arisen around the Vex and the ELA scene in general. I also spoke with one of the Vexing organizers to try to understand the aim of the show. I myself was interviewed for the LA Times and because that interview has now raised some questions about my own perspective, I feel compelled to explain my quotes. The interview in question ran for almost one and a half hours. From that, a few sentences were culled and used in a piece which condensed a three to four year timeline in the LA music scene into a short article. As I will discuss below, having accurate chronology is critical to any real understanding of the LA punk scene. It's important to note that I spoke at length with the interviewer and told him that my own experience in the early scene (1976-1979) was not one of exclusion or racism, but that other people who were part of the later scene (1980 and beyond) may have encountered racism and closed doors (and let's be honest in saying that there was a growing skinhead contingent in the early 1980's punk scene) and if that perception forced them to create their own scene to overcome this obstacle, then that was a blessing.

According to Colin Gunckel, who is curating the Vexing show along with Pilar Tompkins, the exhibition is meant to show the ELA punk scene as it intersects race, time, gender and location. "I didn't want the show to be based on ethnicity, because it didn't happen in a bubble" says Gunckel. He's right about that. Most of the people whom I've spoken to who were actually part of the ELA scene were going to Hollywood to see punk bands even before the Vex existed.

In order to understand the ELA scene in a broader sense, we have to have some sort of timeline to sharpen our perspective. In the Fall of 1977, The Masque opened its doors in Hollywood as a alternative cabaret. Although it was not the first venue for punks, it became the epicenter of the budding Hollywood scene. It was a place where creativity was nurtured and differences were accepted. Years later, in the Spring of 1980, The Vex would open its doors to a similar group of young artists. Like the Masque, it was not the first place to feature punk talent but it fulfilled a very special role. Like The Masque, it was a place that nurtured its artists and the ELA punk scene coalesced around it.

Here's a quote from an interview I completed in 2007:

When punk came along, it was just the perfect vehicle for me to express who I was an individual. It was new enough and open enough to allow itself to be defined by people like me. Just a couple of years later, that would change and people would have to fit into preconceived notions of what punk rock was or wasn’t. The early scene had no such limitations because we were the ones creating and defining it. If you had been at the Masque in 1977, you would have seen very eclectic shows, ranging from the Screamers to Arthur J. and the Goldcups, from Geza X and the Mommymen to The Controllers. There was no clearly defined punk sound, no dress code and all you had to do was show up and make your presence known. The movement was one of individuals and individual expression, each of us bringing our heritage and formative experiences with us in an organic and in my case, unplanned way."

What happened between the Fall of 1977 and the Spring of 1980 is perhaps at the heart of some of the confusion about the points of intersection of these two scenes. My band, The Bags, played the Masque in September of 1977. As I have repeatedly written and said in interviews countless times over the years, my own experience of the original Hollywood scene was that it was open, egalitarian, limitless and creative. As the years passed, the scene changed. As the scene expanded, new members brought in new value systems. A scene that had once valued diversity and originality became a place where white males in uniform-like jeans, boots and leather jackets became the norm. It's no surprise to me then, that in late 1979 and early 1980, just months prior to The Vex's opening, some Latinos were feeling unwelcome in the Hollywood scene. Of course, the perception of racism differs, depending on who you ask. We all perceive these things differently and react to them differently. When I asked Tracy Lee of Thee Undertakers if he'd ever experienced any racism in Hollywood, he replied that he hadn't except for someone once throwing a screwdriver at him at The Whisky A Go-Go.

It's also true that not all Eastside bands felt unwelcome or closed off from the Westside, and even if they did, many of them played there before, during and after the existence of the Vex. Teresa Covarrubias recalls that it was very difficult for her band, The Brat, to get shows on the Westside until the Vex opened and they had established a measure of popularity, although as Brendan Mullen points out, "Bookers back then and to the present day are generally concerned with assessing whether the band mean any bodies in their club space.' Ironically, the club which Brendan is most associated with, The Masque, did not follow this commercial policy and thus helped to foster a vibrant and creative scene, perhaps in much the same way the Vex did in East L.A.

When the Vex finally did open, it welcomed bands and artists from all over. It wasn't unusual to see the likes of X, The Blasters and Social Distortion on the east side of the L.A. River. I think that maybe this was one of the intersections Gunckel refers to. I'm sure there were many intersections, but it takes some work to find them. One could easily go back to the Gronk/Dreva Art Meets Punk show in 1978 to find an early example of a Hollywood punk band crossing over to the ELA art audience. The Chicano art collective ASCO pre-dated punk, but could certainly be considered kindred spirits of the early punks. I also know that I am not speaking about the many other artists who were involved in creating poetry as well visual and performance art which coincided and collided with the punk scene. I don't really know how those scenes intersected or if they did, but perhaps this exhibition will help shed some light on those questions.

Perhaps most importantly, the Vexing exhibition will also showcase younger artists alongside the OG punks. The connections between our generations may not be obvious at first glance. It could be that those of us who time travel through our music, art or poetry and defy boundaries touch the younger generation in subtle ways that even we are unaware of, just as so many women before paved the way for us.