Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Beautiful and The Damned - Ann Summa

My dear old friend Ann Summa has recently released a book of her photographs and recollections of the LA punk scene between the formative years of 1978 to 1984. It's called The Beautiful and The Damned. It also includes photographs of many of the early punk groups that toured Los Angeles from other cities, including such under-acknowledged but hugely influential groups as The Slits (one of my personal favorites.)

Ann Summa and Kristine McKenna will be discussing the book and signing copies at Skylight Books on 11/14. I've been a fan of Ann's work for many years and have had the good fortune to be her subject on a number of occasions. To help get the word out about the book, Ann - in conjunction with KCET - will be giving away a free print of the Bags at the Hong Kong Cafe.

I'm not sure what's happening in this photo. Most likely I'm gasping for breath and Patricia is giving me a pep talk. I have included a link to the contest page below in case any of you want to enter.

KCET Contest Page

If you're in L.A. on November 14th, I hope you'll stop by and say hello to Ann and Kristine. Tell 'em Alice sent you : )

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Women In LA Punk - Christina Bones

I always thought of Arthur J and the Gold Cups as the Masque’s unofficial house band. The band was propelled by the riveting stage antics of Spazz Attack, famous for being able to do a flip through the air, completing a full 360 degree revolution
in the middle of any given song. It was also endowed with the guitar virtuosity of Geza X, the steady beat of Brendan Mullen on drums and Hal Negro sending out elephant mating calls on his trumpet. The insanity and cacophony of their stage show teetered on the edge of dissonance and that is precisely where the sweet voices of the Cupcakes worked their magic on the band’s sound. In a stage show full of wild free-form musicianship the three pretty, unassuming backing vocalists, true to their name served up confections as pleasing to the eye as they were to the ears, providing a thread of melody on which the other band members performed their high wire acts of sound.

Christina Cupcake shares her memories of the Masque, Arthur J and her life with fellow musician Billy Bones of The Skulls in this latest Interview with Women in LA Punk. Read Christina's Women in LA Punk Interview and see more of her photos by clicking on the thumbnail below. Enjoy!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Women In LA Punk - Donna Santisi

In the summer of 1978, The Bags had just finished playing a show at the Whisky when a skinny, bespectacled young man walked over to me and struck up a conversation. He was kind of nervous and after complimenting the band, he seemed to have run out of things to say. I was about to walk away when he impulsively pulled out a little book from a canvas satchel and thrust it towards me.

"Have you seen this?" he asked. It was Donna Santisi's book, Ask The Angels. On the cover was a beautiful photograph of Trudie Arguelles and Hellin Killer, looking like they'd just been kicked out of Heaven for making trouble. I was immediately captivated as each page treated me to photos of the people who were steering rock music in a new direction. What set Donna's book apart was that these were not the usual preening and posing rock gods featured in national music publications. Donna was chronicling the underground, rebels who were upsetting the apple cart of the music business.

I was so engrossed in the images that I almost forgot about the young man who had been looking over my shoulder. "Thank you for letting me see your book," I smiled at him.

"Keep it," he said, "if you like it that much, keep it." And I did.

32 years later, I am honored that Donna Santisi has agreed to answer my Women In LA Punk interview questions. I am also very happy to announce that her seminal punk photography collection, Ask The Angels, has just been republished in an expanded version with even more great photos. Congratulations, Donna!

Ask The Angels captures a very special moment in time for me personally, but it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as Donna's photographic career is concerned. I encourage you to check out her website at to see more of her amazing work. Those of you in the LA area have the opportunity to meet Donna personally and have her sign your copy of Ask The Angels on August 12th at Book Soup in West Hollywood. More details can be found here.

Read Donna's Women in LA Punk Interview and see more of her photos by clicking on the thumbnail below. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Supreme Court and Racial Profiling, A Precedent for Prejudice

Ever since I first read Arizona SB1070, I’ve been telling myself that Arizona was alone in its desire to trample on my rights in the name of protecting our borders. I was surprised when I saw that polls showed that a majority of Americans supported the law. Perhaps people believe Jan Brewer when she says that she will not tolerate racial profiling and that the framework for the law is based on Federal guidelines, I was not so sure. I could see that there was a lot of room for abuse and hoped that eventually the Supreme Court would step in and ensure that I receive equal protection, under the 14th Amendment, from the discriminatory practice of racial profiling. Sadly, the more I read about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions dealing with racial profiling, the less confident I am that they’re looking out for my welfare.

The court has a history of permitting racial profiling. Let me take you back to 1944, one of the bleakest periods in American legal history, to Korematsu v. United States, the landmark decision which affirmed the constitutionality of stripping Japanese Americans of their belongings and sending them off to internment camps during World War II. This decision allowed racial discrimination in the name of protecting the nation from possible spies. Justice Frank Murphy in his dissenting opinion compared the rationale behind this decision to "the abhorrent and despicable treatment of minority groups by the dictatorial tyrannies which this nation is now pledged to destroy," i.e. Nazi Germany. I concur.

Let’s move forward to 1968, when the Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Terry v. Ohio. This decision allowed police officers to detain and search a person without a search warrant if the officer had a reasonable belief that the person was armed. The practice is now so common among law enforcement officers that the stop, frisk and search routine is known simply as a “Terry stop.” What does this have to do with racial profiling, you ask? Only that a disproportionately large number of Terry stops involved black and brown suspects. In the ABC network’s investigative piece, Driving While Black we see a group of three young black men pulled over for a Terry stop because they change lanes without signaling. They’re made to get out of the car, are frisked, separated and their car is thoroughly searched without their consent. The young men, who have all been pulled over before without provocation, claim it is a common experience among African Americans. In 1999, the New Jersey State Police admitted to stopping and detaining a disproportionately large number of black men using the Terry stop. The real infraction that these men committed is known as DWB - Driving While Black.

But back to what brought me here, specifically racial profiling as it relates to illegal immigration. In 1975 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the United States v. Brignoni-Ponce case that U.S. Border Patrol officers should be allowed to stop cars that were near the Mexican/U.S. border and question the occupants regarding their immigration status if the occupants appeared to be of Mexican ancestry and there existed articulable facts that warranted suspicion. Examples of these articulable facts include but are not limited to proximity to the border, the make of the car being driven, the dress and haircut of the driver. Talk about judging a book by its cover! So let me get this straight, if you have brown skin, drive an older car and don’t have expensive clothes prepare to stop?

Are these the federal precedents that SB 1070 is based on? If so what happened to “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."? That’s from the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, a document I treasure and respect. If SB1070 goes to the Supreme Court will the court acknowledge that racial profiling violates the 14th Amendment or will they continue to let fear of spies, of terrorists, of drug lords and illegal immigrants eat away at the very foundation upon which this nation is built? I suppose it’s more likely that SB 1070 will go down because the federal government rather than state government has the final word over immigration and naturalization laws but it would be a much sweeter victory if we could admit that racial profiling has been permitted for far too long.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Yellow Star Protest

As a symbol of my own little private protest against AZ SB1070, I've been wearing a big yellow star on my clothes since Sunday in hopes of reminding people of the terrible things that can happen as a result of racism and racial profiling. The message on the star is simple: "Profile This!" The choice of putting the message on a yellow star was deliberate. I wanted people who I met in everyday life to link the “show us your papers” mentality and the racial profiling allowed under the new Arizona state law with the most insidious example of racial profiling that once occurred under the Third Reich. I wanted them to make the connection and think about how these seemingly little things can lead to something awful.

Historical image courtesy of

Sunday morning, as I walked out the door wearing the yellow star in public for the first time, I had an overpowering feeling of sadness. A strong sense of dread came from the awareness that I was making myself a target and I had to remind myself that I had chosen to wear the star, whereas Jews in Nazi Germany had been forced to wear it. I felt empathetic and a little afraid so I put on the mental armor. I walked tall, purposefully, with a serious look on my face. I wore my protest star with self-righteous anger and an expression that said “Don't fuck with me.” The result was that no one came near me. I wore the star all day without incident.

The next day, I thought about what had happened and I decided that if I wanted the star to have any effect on people, they would have to get close enough to read it. I pinned my star on my tee shirt and tried on a friendly face as I headed out the door to walk my dog. Two neighbors stopped me. They didn't ask about the star right off, but glanced at it, trying to read its message discreetly as they talked about other things. One woman finally asked “what's that about?”

"I'm protesting racial profiling…" I replied, trying to open up a discussion without going on the offensive. She smiled, nodded her head up and down and said "yes" as if to say she understood or perhaps even agreed, but I couldn't qualify the nod because she immediately changed the subject. At the end of the second day, I was starting to feel ignored.

On the third day I was in full friendly mode. I went out of my way to say hello to neighbors, salespeople and strangers. I made sure I got close enough so that they could read my star and still no one would comment. At the market, a Hispanic man in the produce department wheeled over a cart of potatoes next to where I was standing and deliberately bent over to read my message. He looked at me and gave me a big grin but said nothing. That same day, a cashier at a Target store in Scottsdale smiled as she rang up my purchases, then politely and coolly handed me my things after reading the message on my star.

Last night, I was thinking that the whole star protest had been one big failed experiment and that the only one being affected by it was me. I had learned that to get people to even hear, or in this case, read what I have to say, I have to be non-threatening or they'd just ignore me, but I wondered if anyone had stopped to think about the message of the yellow star. I had no reason to think so.

I wore the star again this morning. I'm holding onto the hope that the people who read the star pinned on my chest are quietly, maybe even subconsciously digesting the message that racial profiling is wrong.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A Wake Up Call from M.I.A. - Born Free

Good morning! This is your 11th hour wake up call, courtesy of M.I.A. and director Romain Gavras. The banned on YouTube video for "Born Free."


M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

I Dare You


Reasonable suspicion? I wonder what that means. I wonder what an illegal immigrant does or says to cause reasonable suspicion. What are the guidelines that law enforcement would use to determine reasonable suspicion? I suspect that if no guidelines are in place, skin color and income level will provide all the suspicion necessary for potentially harrassing Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and other ethnicities who might fit the profile of a Mexican undocumented worker.

Last night when I got home I checked my Facebook and noticed that some of my friends had marched in the huge rally protesting Arizona's recently passed SB1070, a portion of which is shown above. The rally took place in L.A. but I'm in Arizona. I felt useless and frustrated at not being able to march side by side with them but as I set out to walk my dog, an idea came to me. A friend of my husband's, who happens to be a very prominent business owner in Arizona, was complaining about the new immigration law. The businessman, who is of Jewish ancestry, started talking about the similarities between the legitimization that this new law gives to racial profiling and the racial profiling done at the onset of the Nazis' persecution of Jews.

"They might as well pass out stars for people to wear on their clothes," he said. Of course, we don't have to wear stars because I'm sure law enforcement can figure out who is an illegal immigrant just by looking at us, right? I agree with the fellow who said that this law is not anti-immigrant, it's anti-Mexican, because if you have blue eyes and fair skin, you probably ain't getting pulled over by the sheriff; you European immigrants are safe in Arizona.

It must be the former teacher in me but I was all about the yellow stars. What if I were to wear a yellow star that said "Mexican" on my clothes? Would it remind people how dangerous racial profiling can be? Now, I'm not comparing this anti-illegal immigration law to the Holocaust. I certainly do not mean to trivialize the millions who died but I think it honors those whose lives were lost through inaction that we learn from the past. These are the little things that pave the way for tyrants. So, I thought to myself that I had to help people see the connection. I've cut out a star for myself which I plan to wear on my clothing when I go about my daily business.

It says simply: "Profile This."

It may seem like a quiet way to protest but I assure you in my mostly Republican, anti-immigrant community of Phoenix/Scottsdale, it's going to upset the apple cart and will take a lot more guts than walking with my friends in a march. So wish me luck and if you drive through Arizona or live here, feel free to make your own star and wear it on your lapel. I dare you!

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Medium Is The Message

“The Communist Creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

The Capitalist Creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”

Those are the closing lines in Joe Stack's suicide letter, the full version of which can be viewed on the Smoking Gun website, at least for now. If you don’t already know, Joe Stack was the man who intentionally crashed his airplane into the IRS building earlier this week in Austin, TX, killing not only himself but at least one other person and injuring several more. Aside from the too obvious comparisons to the 9/11 attacks, there was the grim realization that this was an American citizen who felt he had literally been pushed over the edge. This was a man who truly, completely lost it – much like the character of Howard Beale in the film Network. Only Joe Stack decided to lash out against those whom he saw as his tormentors - the IRS. His widely discussed online suicide note left me with several thought provoking questions and ideas; front and center would be how crashing a plane into a building advances the cause of freedom.

"It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom." I disagree with Stack on this point because we have people who believe they're doing just that in Afghanistan and elsewhere. He goes on to write that by adding his body to the count he is choosing to no longer ignore the hypocrisy of American government, but did he ever stop to think of the other innocent bodies he might be adding to the count? A while back, I wrote a blog entry about whether violence is necessary to bring about real change. I really struggled with the issue because I'd like to be able to answer “no” to that question and yet we see time and time again how newsworthy violence is. "If it bleeds, it leads," is just as true today as it ever was.

Would I be reading Joe Stack’s ideas if he had blogged quietly about his frustrations and then hanged himself in his closet, instead of piloting his plane into the side of a federal building? So does a message need to be wrapped in violence to be heard? Are we the apathetic "American zombies" Joe accuses us of being?

Joe and I have some common foes: he criticizes the government bailouts, the abuses of big business and the Republican legacy to name a few. I rant and rave about some of the same issues he voices in his letter on my own website. Sometimes, by virtue of being a musician, I get to do interviews and rant and rave in other public venues. People who don't have a public side but want to make a difference can vote or work for political or social causes, but are we really heard? Is anyone really even listening?

I'd like to think so, I'd like to think we can make small, consistent changes by plugging away, each of us moving a little grain of sand at a time until we've built a new shoreline. I believe we can change the world from the inside out. Corny, I know. I am corny, but I've seen my share of violence and I know how it taints and can destroy what it touches. I know that it would eat me alive if I let violence back in my life.

So, does it serve the cause of freedom to crash a plane and sacrifice oneself in the hope of being the spark that ignites a revolution? I don't know.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Freedom Isn't Free

"I'm not a hyphenated anything!" fumed my father-in-law. "I'm not a Mexican-American, I'm an American." The ardor with which he spoke these words made me wonder what was bringing on the sudden outburst. It surprised me, since my in-laws have for years taken a keen interest in their heritage which has revealed Mexican, Spanish and Apache ancestry. Maybe it had something to do with the t-shirt I noticed my father-in-law wearing a few days ago. It had the words "Freedom Is Not Free" written in small letters over his chest.

My father-in-law is a decorated Korean War veteran. He's an interesting man, smart, opinionated and with a dark side that he's managed to compartmentalize over time. Some of the most memorable conversations I've had with him concerned the nature of evil and questions of identity.

"Everyone's from somewhere," my mother-in-law chimes in.

"That's right, you don't hear of English-Americans or Greek-Americans," my suegro continues.

"I've heard of them," I'm tempted to say but decide that just this once I'll listen instead of talk.

Deep down, I already know what they're saying. Why do we qualify the word American with information about our heritage? Why don't I say I'm Vegetarian-American, or I'm Feminist-American? Those are bits of information about me that say something about who I am too. Hmmm, maybe he's got a point there.

What purpose does it serve to hyphenate our nationality? I don't know. I mean, doesn't it make it easier for people to make assumptions about us, perhaps even stereotype us? I recall an episode from my high school days when I was asked to paint a mural at school. I was excited at first and dreamed up a surreal image from my fevered imagination but I came crashing back to earth when I was told what I could paint - an Aztec pyramid with a eagle perched on a cactus in the foreground, something that would "be meaningful for the Mexican-American students." I couldn't figure it out. If anyone was Mexican-American, I certainly fit the bill but I didn't limit myself to the iconography of past generations.

I've been calling myself a Chicana for a many years now and before that I was Mexican-American, briefly Hispanic and for just a split second, Latina. When I lived in Los Angeles, if someone asked, I would say I was a Chicana and I felt pretty confident that the person knew what that meant, but maybe I was assuming too much.

Let me define my terms. I think of Chicanas/Chicanos as US born individuals who, although born and raised in the United States, retain an awareness of our Mexican heritage and find strength and hopefully wisdom in the balancing of our dual cultures, creating a powerful hybrid identity. People who define themselves as Chicana or Chicano oppose assimilating the values of the dominant culture and make a conscious decision to retain our duality and allow it to guide our personal and political decisions. Well, that's what it means to me anyway - I wouldn't mind if people assumed all those things about me when I say I'm a Chicana.

Here in Phoenix, it's different. First of all nobody ever asks, they're too darn polite, but there's also the fact that in Phoenix I have...let me that zero Chicano friends. I don't know very much about my friends' cultural backgrounds, but with names like Wass, Forsythe, Budzak, Peters and Mar I have a feeling they're not Chicanas. I don't even know if they know that I'm Chicana or what one is (unless they're reading this right now) but it just doesn't seem to matter. To them I am the crafter, the (hyphenated) dog-walker, the mom. They relate to the part of me that gels with the part of them which we have in common.

So when does nationality matter? I suppose it matters most when you're fighting a war or defending whatever you see as patriotic values (Freedom Isn't Free). I think my father-in-law probably fights that war every single day of his life.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Friends In My Bed

It's 5 am and I should be enjoying my last half hour of sleep but my body has other plans and I wake up sneezing. I think of getting up and going into the kitchen to bake some biscuits but I'm too lazy. The bed is warm and comfy, and it's still dark out.

I turn on my bedside lamp and reach over, feeling around on the bedspread. Scattered on the side of my bed where my husband used to sleep are my new companions, my faithful books. They keep me company, entertain me, instruct me and inspire me.

Let me introduce you to my friends. Today's pile includes a vintage cookbook that I scored for 99 cents at the Goodwill, bearing the lofty title Favorite Recipes of America - Vegetables. The garish colors of some of the dishes are almost repulsive, for some reason I think this is cool. I'm planning a vegetarian meal from this book where the bell peppers are the color of radiator fluid and the carrots remind me of a highlighter marker. I only hope my meal looks as vivid.

The cover of the little comic book next to it is just as loud. It's the Mahabharata, the great Sanskrit epic, Indian literature bastardized for my amusement. On the cover, Arjuna the skillful archer kneels before a hot looking Lord Krishna. The blue in Krishna's skin set against the gold in his outfit really pops. My husband and daughter bought the comic book for me when they saw me looking at it in the store. As much as I love comics, I can't recommend that you read the Mahabharata this way, mostly it reminds me that my family loves me.

I have three other gifts on my bed. Eat, Pray, Love, which my friend Angie gave me; Bend the Rules With Fabric, a present from Santy Claus and a copy of Everyday Food (thanks for my subscription, DW). I pick up Eat, Pray, Love and read a few pages. It's a memoir and the writer is at a soccer game in Italy. She decides to translate the cursing and ranting of an old man who's sitting behind her. It sounds dull but it's pretty funny. The expression "What a Casino!" (what a mess) cracks me up. Why is translated cursing funny and not shocking or insulting? The laughing wakes me up. I decide to stop procrastinating and get out of bed.

I walk into the kitchen ready to start breakfast when it occurs to me that I've stopped sneezing. I walk back into my bedroom and look at the bookshelves. A layer of dust is plainly visible. Guess I know what I'll be doing today. It just proves that every friendship needs a little work sometimes.

Now, what's for breakfast?