Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Finding My Way Home

I have experienced many wonderful surprises during the past few days but perhaps the greatest of these was seeing my two older brothers, Jaime and Ramon, show up unexpectedly at my reading in Boyle Heights this past Sunday. I walked into ChimMaya Gallery and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw two white-haired versions of the guys who used to carry me around as a child. I hadn't seen them in many years so the fact that they were just standing there, smiling, next to one of my nieces made me gasp out loud. It's an odd sensation, seeing people from one part of your life appear in an altogether different setting but there they were. They had heard I was doing a book signing in their neck of the woods and they rushed out to greet me.

Photo by Angie Skull
My brother Ramon (Raymond) came prepared with an album including photos of me at various family functions through the years, which he happily shared with whomever was interested, sparking several conversations. It was funny, embarrassing and above all, touching. My bros stayed for my reading and even waited in line to have their books signed by me and to catch up on my life. I actually had to move them along because they were so eager to keep talking. I hinted that there were others in line waiting for me to sign their books. "We waited in line too," my niece replied. "I know, maybe we can talk after this," I offered.

At the end of the signing, my brother Jaime (Jimmy) exacted a promise that I would go over to his house for dinner sometime this week. I knew I already had a full schedule but I decided it was important to make time for family and I agreed to stop by for dinner on Wednesday.

When I showed up to dinner, I was greeted by my sister-in-law who insisted that I have some hot tacos that had just come off the stove. "They smell great," I said, "but shouldn't we wait for the others?" I knew that my niece had planned to come over, too.

"Oh no," my sister-in-law replied. "I've already prepared 120 tacos. They're all ready to go but I can't fry them all at once, so everyone will just eat as they arrive."

"120 tacos?? Are you planning to feed an army?" I thought she must be joking until I saw a giant sheet pan stacked with folded tacos ready for the fryer. A huge bowl of fresh salsa, a giant bowl of shredded cheese, another of grated lettuce and a pan full of enchiladas, plus rice, beans, chips and of course, cake.

Before I knew it, I had a big plate of food in front of me and my entire family started arriving at my brother's house. Brothers, cousins, nieces, nephews and family members for which I'm not even certain of the appropriate name (grandnieces and grandnephews?) filled the house until we were all bumping into each other. I got hugs and felicitations from everyone. They had all heard I had a book out and were happy for me.

My brother turned on the tv and had everyone gather around. Suddenly, I heard my voice reading and singing at ChimMaya Gallery. The room went silent as everyone watched. I was mortified. What would they think? In my youth, I always felt like the black sheep of my family. As an adult, I still feel like an odd duck but now I know that they are seeing me for who I am. And the best part? They were all there to support me.

At the end of the night, everyone wanted their picture taken with their Auntie Alice and I felt like I'd finally made it home.

Photo by Angie Skull

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Feminista! (A deleted scene from Violence Girl)

Another deleted scene from Violence Girl. Enjoy!
It seems like the whole time I was growing up, the world was teaching me the role of women. From the first time I saw my mother cowering at my father’s feet to the current state of insidious inequality, I’ve been confronted with the message that females are somehow weaker, less capable than men. I began questioning the validity of these messages early on, inspired by the women around me. My mother, my sisters, my friends, aunts and cousins - each one constantly refining the definitions of femininity, androgyny and the true nature of equality in small ways through their daily routines. Sometimes these women discarded antiquated cliches of lady-like behavior in favor an assertive, can-do attitude. At other times they tried to squeeze themselves into someone else’s idea of womanhood. Either way, they helped me figure out that the tidy stereotype that was labeled “femininity” had to stretch to catch up with an evolving female consciousness.

My mother had found herself by stepping up to help my father in the male-dominated construction business; my girlfriends were pushing the boundaries too. The L.A. punk scene was densely populated by female musicians, artists, writers, photographers, roadies and more. These were the modern suffragettes in my life who, without banners or demonstrations, quietly led by example. Not that I oppose banners and demonstrations; I’ve participated in my share of marches, but it was the tiny changes that the women around me made in their personal lives
that spoke the loudest.

Patricia and I learned early on from auditioning male musicians that every one of them thought they were the next Jimi Hendrix or another Keith Moon. While most of the women we auditioned apologized in advance for not being very good, all the males wielded their axes with a bravado that seemed like second nature to them. Even the lamest male guitarist would talk up his skills, acting cocky and confident while the women underplayed their experience. After a bit of this, Patricia and I learned to adapt. We figured that when people wrote reviews about the band, they mentioned the two of us more often than they mentioned the guys. This gave us confidence 
and after awhile, we learned to do away with the modesty. It felt great to be able to say, “I’m a musician” without feeling the need to tack on an apology.
Changing the way we spoke about ourselves as musicians and artists was like tossing tiny pebbles into a sea of conformity, making ripples, making waves, bringing about change that starts from within and spills out into the lives of those around us. The words were so powerful that the more often we said them, the truer they became. Now, when we stepped on the stage we weren’t asking for approval, we were flaunting our talent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sign Language

The visual language of the Occupy movement set to music. We are waking up.

Sign Language from socially_awkwrd on Vimeo.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beginning The World Over Again

My father used to justify his aversion to politics by saying that all leaders were corrupt, that no matter who won the election the poor people of the world would ultimately lose because politicians would always be in the pocket of the wealthy. He thought that big corporations were the secret hand that really pulled the strings behind the governments of the world.

In the early 1980’s, I went to Nicaragua to work with the people there and to learn about the changes that had taken place in that country after their revolution. Living there for a short time, I saw firsthand what my own government was doing to these impoverished people in the name of “defending our nation” against the threat of creeping communism. It really opened my eyes to the way our media and our government worked hand in hand to spoon feed the U.S. public the “official story.” I began to feel overwhelmed by the power of the invisible hand that my father had talked about.

I don’t know when it happened to me, but I slowly started to adopt my father’s hopeless and cynical view of politics. I still voted, signed petitions, and played my share of benefits, but for many years I had the feeling that any meaningful change was beyond what I could hope for. I can’t afford to have this attitude anymore. I won’t allow myself to go along with business as usual without kicking and screaming and raising a fuss.

Thomas Paine wrote, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” It has been a long time since I dared to hope that we could change the world. It’s time for involvement. Maybe we can’t change the world overnight, but if enough of us get involved, we can change the direction of this country and that’s a start.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Violence Girl Trailer

Goodreads review of Violence Girl by BitterOldPunk:

Alice Bag's memoir is less about the first-wave LA punk scene that she was such an integral part of and more about family, growing up, finding yourself, and testing your limits. A discursive book written in short chapters, "Violence Girl" is a quick read, even though it's more than 300 pages long. Alice's voice shines through -- a thoughtful, confrontational, sometimes confused but rarely cowed woman, Alice goes from being an awkward, overweight teenager with an Elton John obsession and crooked teeth to being the lead singer of the seminal proto-hardcore band, The Bags. Along the way, she befriends and bemuses a bevy of LA scenesters like creepy impressario Kim Fowley; doomed, nihilistic Darby Crash of The Germs; the women who would become The Go-Gos; Patricia Morrison, who co-founded The Bags and would go on to be in both The Gun Club and influential Goth act Sisters of Mercy; even Tom Waits makes a cameo. But the book is more than a name-dropping trek across the glittery landscape of late-70s Los Angeles. It's about struggling with family and faith, it's about reconciling ambition with reality, and it's about how punk rock's D.I.Y. ethos helped a young woman define herself and claim her place in the world. 
While many in the early punk scene burned bright and died young, Alice Bag seems made of sterner stuff. Near the end of the book, readers get a glimpse of her post-punk rock trajectory -- she travels to Managua, Nicaragua at the height of US meddling in Nicaraguan affairs and finds a country stripped to the bone and surviving on little more than willpower and pride. I wish this section of the book had been longer, and I would have enjoyed hearing more of the tantalizing anecdotes she only hints at. A love affair with a prisoner? Rebuffing an invitation to dinner with Oprah? Tell me more! And that's what I take from this book: Alice's voice. Wise, wry, funny, bold, and honest, it's a voice I wanted to spend more time with. Violence Girl and Babylonian Gorgon -- Alice Bag is an undeniable original, and you'll enjoy your time with her. Well worth reading."