Saturday, December 29, 2012

Back to Tenochtitlan

Many years ago, some friends and I had gone out to a club in Mexico City to see some of the local bands play in what looked like a big warehouse. The show was fun and we danced, drank and cheered on the bands. After the show we went to a restaurant called VIPs in the Zona Rosa (we later found out locals call it VIPs Gay).  We met two young men and a woman who were also waiting for a table and we all started entertaining ourselves by making snappy comments about passersby. Enjoying our little conspiracy, we quickly became friends with them.

The restaurant was very full  but the hostess informed us that there was a large table available for a bigger group if we were willing to share; we did and it was a really good thing. They introduced us to a dish none of us had ever tried: toasted bolillo rolls topped with refried beans and melted cheese. The dish was called molletes and it was the perfect thing to nibble on after a night of drinking.

After swapping lots of stories and laughs, our friends walked us back to our hotel which was only a few blocks away. We told them we were teachers so they decided to teach us some typical Mexican juegos infantiles. We skipped along the sidewalk of Paseo de la Reforma, a large street modeled after the Champs Élysées from the days when the French ruled Mexico. There was a large space on the sidewalk near some planters where we pulled over to play a game called Matarili-rile-ron.  In the game, we chanted a persons name and that person responded by calling out something he/she wanted, we gave the person a price they had to pay for the wish in the form of a dare (a kiss, a dance, etc) and sealed the deal by giving the wisher a new name. After that, the chant started over again until everyone had a wish, a completed dare and a new name.

I remember this game fondly because when it came time for the group to give me my new moniker, one of my new friends yelled out "Let's call her La Reina de Los Aztecas!" I was so thrilled with the new name that for about a year after that, I signed my name with the extra line La Reina de Los Aztecas. 

On that same trip my cousin gave me a couple of floor-length typical Mexican dresses, so I braided my hair, criss-crossed it above my head and went full metal Mexican. That same year I formed a band with two other Latinas in the style of traditional Mexican trios; we called ourselves Las Tres. We all came from punk rock backgrounds and eventually the traditional Mexican dress got more and more rasquache until we found our way back to punk.

That was one of my favorite trips to Mexico. Tomorrow, I'm going back to Tenochtitlan and I can hardly contain my excitement. I can't wait to see my family, get back in touch with my heritage and maybe grab some molletes at VIPs.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Moonage Daydream

I had been rehearsing for my upcoming shows in California when I decided to take a little break from my planned set and Moonage Daydream popped into my head, so I decided to record it for you. Here is the little story about how I got to audition for Kim Fowley from my book, Violence Girl. It goes with the song at the bottom of this post.

“I got your number from Rodney Bingenheimer,” the man on the phone began, my ears perking up immediately upon hearing Rodney’s name. “We are holding auditions for an all-girl group, and Rodney told me about your group.”

Yes! Oh Rodney, you wonderful man, you remembered me!

The man was still talking. There was something irritating about his voice; he was not as pleasant or warm as Rodney. I met his gruffness with my own. “Excuse me,” I interrupted. “Who are you?”

“My name is Kim Fowley, I’m a record producer.” I knew who he was. We hadn’t been listening to that Runaways record without doing a little research on them. Fowley was credited with not only helping to assemble the band and co-write the songs but with being a strong force in shaping and promoting
them. He started listing his accomplishments, and I assured him I knew who he was.

“So are you looking for an all-girl band?” I asked, getting a little nervous now that I knew who was on the other side of the phone.

“Not exactly... I’m looking to assemble an all-girl band, similar to the Runaways, and I want to invite you and your band members to the audition.” That didn’t sound as good as I’d hoped, because all of us would have to audition separately. “Rodney tells me you’re a singer,” he continued.


“Can you sing something for me now?”

Now? Damn it, I had just woken up and I was caught off guard. “What do you want me to sing?”

“Sing whatever you want,” Kim told me. I drew a blank. Which songs did I know the words to?

“I’m an alligator…” the song came out of my mouth before I had a chance to weigh my options. I sang halfway through David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” before Kim stopped me.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Come on down to the auditions so that I can see what you look like, and bring the other girls."

The Network Awesome Interview (Excerpt)

NAmag: How did you get started in music?
Alicia Velasquez: Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father's Mexican rancheras and my sister's soul music were the soundtrack of my childhood. In school, the music teacher Miss Yonkers noticed that I could sing and singled me out when she needed help. She assigned a portion of the class to follow me when teaching two-part harmony or when we sang in rounds. I was still in elementary school when I got my first job singing for bilingual cartoons, so I thought of myself as a singer from a very early age.
NAmag: Like probably a lot of people, I was introduced to your music when I saw The Decline of Western Civilization in the early 80s. Your music really stood out against the other bands in the film, being very iconoclastic and hard to pin down, at least for me, being a teenager growing up in Billings, Montana. What were your musical goals at the time? Do you have any specific memories regarding the film? I understand there are full-set recordings from the shoot-- is anyone trying to find/release them?
AV: The Bags' performance in The Decline of Western Civilization documents a time when the band itself was in decline. We were pulling in different directions and had just had a major falling out with founding member Patricia Morrison. It's no wonder that you have a hard time figuring out what we were going after, I think we were having the same issue. By the time the film was released, the band itself had broken up. I couldn't watch the Decline for many years because I didn't think it had captured the band at its best, but I'm over that now. I think despite the band's struggle, you can still see some of its good qualities and the film had a tremendously positive effect on many people. I ran into Penelope Spheeris a few years ago and she mentioned releasing a Decline DVD, possibly with additional footage but I haven't seen it.
NAmag: We are running a Bags performance from 1978 that is pretty fiery and aggressive-- do you remember this show specifically or why it was video taped? What was the general reaction to the band live? Were you supported in LA?
AV: This particular show is at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. It was the first time that the Troubadour, a club accustomed to hosting “soft rock” opened its doors to punk. Aside from that, the thing that sets this show apart is that it’s part of a bigger story which has come to be known as the “Trashing of the Troubadour.” It was during this show that my boyfriend (and our drummer at the time) got into a fight with the singer Tom Waits, who was in the audience. It’s a long story. The mayhem resulted in punk being banned from the Troubadour for a couple of years. It was a rough show but certainly not the rowdiest crowd or performance for the Bags. We had a reputation for wild shows and between us and the Germs, we probably had the most out of control audiences of the early punk scene. This particular show was videotaped for a student documentary about the LA punk scene. Clips from it surface from time to time but as far as I know, it has never been officially released.
I don't know if this answers your question. The Bags were very popular in L.A. We could play a club twice in one night and sell it out both times but aside from that we were all part of a growing yet intimate punk community. We all went to each other's shows and supported each other.
NAmag: Seeing as this is part of our "Women in Punk" week, what do you think the legacy of female artists from the first wave of punk is in 2011?
AV: You're having Women in Punk week? I think you need 52 of those!
The legacy of punk is not determined by gender. Any legacy that punk has left behind is as much due to women's contributions as it is to men's. The DIY ethic, the challenge to the status quo, the confidence to pick up an instrument, a paintbrush, a camera or any other tool that you have not been trained to use and to discover your power for yourself without feeling intimidated are all part of having a punk attitude. I see punk attitude in the women of Saudi Arabia who recently got in the driver’s seat of their cars to challenge that country’s restriction on women driving. I see the legacy of punk in hacker groups like Anonymous who target corrupt governments and corporations. The legacy of punk is not in its musical style, it’s having the audacity to actively participate in shaping our world.
NAmag: Indeed. The music industry has changed significantly in recent years, especially in terms of distribution-- do you see any emerging opportunities women should take advantage of? Do you think it is easier for young women to get started in music today?
AV: Yes, I do think it's easier in some ways but more difficult in others. It seems that anyone can produce a recording and sell it on the Internet but I think it's difficult to build an audience without first creating a community. A community is a powerful support system. Without it, an individual artist can get lost in a sea of talented individuals.
Excerpts from a 2011 interview, full interview published here:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

12 Questions

1. What is your hometown?
Los Angeles, East L.A.
2. With what fictional character do you most identify?
It would have to be a mashup of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace from Battlestar Galactica and Jane Eyre. Kara Thrace was a badass but seriously fucked up. Jane Eyre grew up poor and disenfranchised but she was never humbled; adversity made her strong and resilient. I love and can closely identify with both characters.
3. In the movie of your life, cast an actor to play you.
That’s a tough one because ideally I’d want to have a Latina play me but when I saw Charlize Theron in Monster, I thought I could see a bit of myself on the screen – there was real rage in her performance. I haven’t seen many performances like that, so a Latina who can bring that kind of believable rage to the screen would be perfect.
4. What work of art speaks to your soul?
Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. I know it’s a painting of a woman who had polio or something like that but I didn’t know that when I first saw it and to me, she just looked like a woman trying to crawl her way home. I sensed determination, longing and isolation in her and while I saw a long, labored path ahead of her, I could imagine her eventually making it home. 
5. What books are you currently reading or recommending?
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Cunt by Inga Muscio.
6. What song or album is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?
I haven’t been playing my ipod lately. I have a bunch of records, tapes and CDs that I’ve acquired on my travels. Now that I’m home, I’m catching up on the music of some of the local bands from the cities I’ve toured. Lately, I’ve been listening to a band from Tucson called Clusterfuck.
7. What’s the last movie that made you cry?
It’s a little embarrassing but it’s an animated Pixar movie called Brave. My daughter asked me to see it with her. The movie deals with a young woman’s struggle for independence from her parents, especially her mother. It’s about the evolution of the mother/daughter relationship. My daughter and I are in the midst of that journey and we’ve hit some major potholes along the way but when my kid reached over in the darkened movie theater and squeezed my hand, I went all weepy.
8. Cat person or dog person?
Dog person. I have a rescue mutt named Cinnamon and she’s a loving, loyal companion. I’m allergic to cats.
9. What is more important, truth or kindness?
In serious matters, truth; in trivial ones, kindness. Even in trivial matters I’m uncomfortable lying but I sometimes redirect to avoid needlessly hurting someone. I don’t lie to avoid responsibility, I think it’s cowardly to do so.
10. How do you define sin?
Since I see myself as part of God, I would say that violating my own integrity would be a sin. A sin is when my actions and beliefs are out of sync.
11. How do you define virtue?
Virtue is subjective; I define it as acting in accordance with your values but only if your values align with mine. I’ll take integrity over virtue any day. People who simply follow the rules determined by culture or society can be defined as virtuous without ever having to do any deep soul-searching as to what is right or wrong, whereas integrity requires you to live your life based on your own set of beliefs and the knowledge that you have available to you. Integrity requires you to take the driver’s seat, making choices about your life, shaping who you become and shaping the world around you.
12. Design your headstone: What does it say? What does it look like?
I don’t care about a headstone but when I was younger and enamored with all things Egyptian I wanted to be mummified and placed in a sarcophagus. I imagine that a sarcophagus with a large piece of glass resting on top would make a lovely coffee table. Then I could be in my family’s living room in the middle of all the action.
Bonus Question: Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Vaginal Davis – she can school you and make you laugh at the same time.

A repost of the  original 12 Questions with Alice Bag, which appeared here:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympians and Other Heroes

Now that the London Olympics have concluded and school is back in session, I find myself basking in the afterglow of the empowering bonding experience that the Games provided for me and my daughter. I also have time to ponder the significance of the increased participation of women.
For two weeks, my daughter and I made a daily habit of selecting a few events to watch from the hours and hours of Olympic programming we’d recorded. “What shall we watch today?” I asked one day, to which she responded, “I like watching the events with women in them.”  I smiled inwardly, thinking that I felt the very same way. My husband jokingly accused us of watching swimming events to ogle the scantily clad male swimmers but those events were really not the main attraction. It was much more interesting to watch women who had pursued their dreams and reached the height of excellence in their chosen sport. It was inspiring. 
I am not by any stretch of the imagination athletic but I know how to swim, I’ve played volleyball before and I can (or maybe could) do a pretty good cartwheel. Suddenly, I could imagine myself on the U.S volleyball team, or swimming a lap in a relay or doing cartwheels while twirling a ribbon around. I know my daughter had the same experience because on the days when rhythmic gymnastics were on TV,  I had to take a circuitous route through the den to avoid bumping into her as she worked her way across the room, hula-hooping, or throwing and catching a small ball in imitation of the gymnasts.
It was exciting to learn that this was the first year in which every country participating had sent females athletes to compete; we felt like we were witnessing history in the making and in fact, we were. We watched Sarah Attar of Saudi Arabia wear traditional Muslim head covering during her race.  She proudly represented her country; her presence there not only helped to dispel myths about women and Muslims, it also prompted the TV commentator to point out that Saudi Arabia is a country which still denies women the right to drive. Like many people who followed  #Women2Drive on Twitter, I was already aware of their struggle but for millions of TV watchers this was new information. Perhaps the dissemination of that information will gain Saudi women additional supporters and expedite their inevitable triumph. Maybe that’s why it took so long for Saudi Arabia to send female athletes. Perhaps it was this very thing they feared:  the Olympic spotlight can bring glory to a country but it can also attract scrutiny.
At the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government did not escape the scrutiny of human rights advocates. Although the IOC asks host countries to remedy human rights violations,  it is the public who must ultimately monitor and exert political and economic pressure on those who do not comply. I wonder how Russia will fare under that type of scrutiny as they prepare to welcome the world to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics? I wonder if Putin has given any thought to how his country and his administration will be perceived by the world if they choose to suppress dissenting views with trials that make the Russian judicial system the laughing stock of the rational world - why else would the judge in the Pussy Riot trial feel compelled to prohibit laughing? It would be funny if it weren’t so sad because these young women are being tried by what might as well be called the Russian Inquisition. 
Get ready for your close up, Mr. Putin.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Cosmo Girl - Helen Gurley Brown

“Are you a Good Lover?”
“Ten Raging Sexual Fantasies”
“What Real Orgasms Feel Like”
“Facts and Fallacies about Love-Making”

These are just a few of the articles that were featured in Cosmopolitan when I was growing up during the 1960's. This magazine and the views of its editor, Helen Gurley Brown, would profoundly shape my views on sexuality and the rights of women.

Even though the Catholic Church opposed any artificial method of birth control, thanks to the Pill, many Catholic women were enjoying sex without the worry of an undesired pregnancy. I hoped to one day be one of them; unfortunately, with my hormones raging and my thirst for sexual knowledge growing, I was living in an information desert. My mother couldn’t even name any body part below the waist and above the thighs. She simply used the expression "down there" as in, “Do you have cramps, down there?” The idea of my mom explaining anything about sex was unimaginable. At school, even the progressive nuns avoided the subject. All I had was my rock magazines, where rock stars sometimes mentioned a sexual escapade in passing, and Cosmo, where you could read a whole article written by what I imagined were sophisticated, sexually liberated women.

The more I read Cosmopolitan, the more I understood that everything I knew was wrong. I had grown up with the message from my community, church, television and movies that nice girls waited to have sex until after marriage. Despite the fact that my mother was eight months pregnant with me when she married my father, she had told me that virginity was important. It was different for her because she had been married before and had children from a previous marriage. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I gathered that sex was like smoking marijuana: once you tried it, you became addicted.

My mother sent out some confusing messages. When I decided that I wanted to switch from sanitary pads to tampons, she became alarmed. “Tampons are only for married women,” she warned, “you will damage yourself if you try to use them.” That scared me for a long time. Virginity, as my mother defined it, had everything to do with having an immaculate hymen. A girl without a hymen was simply not marriage material unless she was a widow, like my mom had been when she met my dad, and then — woo-hoo! — everything was okay.

Cosmo filled in the gaps in my sexual education. Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, had made her mark in a post-pill world as the author of the bestselling book, Sex and the Single Girl. Even the title was scandalous! The book’s main character is a sexually liberated, single woman who many people believed was based on Helen herself. If you were to pick this book up today, some of the passages might seem dated, but to appreciate a cultural phenomenon, you have to try to understand it in the context in which it occurred. Helen was a maverick who ensured that her readers had up-to-date information about the little-discussed subject of female sexuality, and she provided women with the inspiration to advocate for themselves in the bedroom as well as in the workplace.

It was from Cosmo that I first learned what an orgasm was, what oral sex was, and much, much more. It was from reading Cosmo that I finally came to understand that touching myself down there had a name; it was masturbation, and no, I wouldn’t go to hell for doing it; in fact it was common, normal and…hallelujah, I had permission to do it again! I guess Cosmopolitan may have also been responsible for my increased interest in sex and in losing my virginity. It had taught me that sex and marriage didn’t necessarily have to go together, and, if I understood correctly, that meant there was no reason to marry for a long, long time. It made me question the double standard which labels a sexually active man “a stud” and a sexually active woman “a whore.” I remember, later in life, one guy telling me, “I won’t think less of you if you sleep with me on the first date,” to which I replied, “I won’t think less of you, either.” The nerve, assuming that I needed his approval to do what I wanted to do.

I thought my definition of promiscuity around that time was very progressive. It had less to do with the number of sexual partners you had and everything to do with your reasons for sleeping with people. I don’t know if it had been influenced by a Cosmopolitan article, or if I finally just synthesized Cosmo’s values. In my book, a woman could have as many different sex partners as she wanted without necessarily being promiscuous, because women are different and have a wide range of sexual appetites; however, sleeping with someone as a means to get something other than sexual pleasure seemed like promiscuity to me, because it meant you were not motivated by an honest desire for sex but were having sex because you felt there was no better way to get what you were really after. This bothered me, mostly because I’d known so many girls who had been looking for a love relationship and thought they could get it by giving in to a sexual relationship that they didn’t want. That, to me, seemed promiscuous. I wished they’d read Cosmo.

Over the years, my views have changed but I think Helen Gurley Brown would still approve. I don’t label people “promiscuous” anymore, even if they want something other than sex from sexual encounters. I just think of the word as a term by which society tries to regulate and suppress human sexuality.

- An excerpt from Violence Girl, by Alice Bag

For Helen Gurley Brown 1922 – 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why Pussy Riot Matters

Since January of this year, I’ve been following with interest the evolving story of a group of young women on the other side of the world. The punk feminist group Pussy Riot immediately captured my attention and my heart with their bold “flash concerts” in public spaces, their unapologetically pro-feminist and anti-fascist politics and their brightly colored dresses and balaclavas. I’ve had some experience with performing anonymously and I loved the concept that these women embodied: Pussy Riot is, above all else, an idea. If one member is captured, another woman will don the balaclava and take her fallen comrade’s place in line.

That idea is now being put to the test. Pussy Riot dared to publicly challenge not only the established symbol of patriarchal power in Russia (the Russian Orthodox Church) but the seat of military and political power itself: the Putin government. And they did it in an audacious, thrilling, punk rock way. In doing so, they risked everything - perhaps more than they could have imagined at the time. Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 stand accused of participating in that performance and all three are now paying a huge price. They have been held in prison since March and are  awaiting trial on charges which could result in sentences of up to seven more years behind bars.

I’ve signed the
Amnesty International petition to protest the detention of these ladies. I’ve raised a few dollars to help support their legal defense team. I’ve performed a song I wrote for them and talked about their plight in various cities in the US and Canada where I’ve been on tour. I’ve Tweeted, Facebooked and Tumbled endlessly about Pussy Riot and yet part of me knows that the fate of these brave women is beyond my control. They are being made an example of what happens to anyone who dares to challenge authority in a repressive, authoritarian society. This is the real reason why Pussy Riot matters. If we truly support Pussy Riot, then we need to show the world that we absolutely refuse to learn from this particular example. Instead, we will pick up the colorful balaclava, put it on and take our place in line. We will not learn to give up and accept defeat!

Certain truths in life need to be screamed out loud. Not all superheroes wear masks and capes, some wear brightly colored balaclavas. The women are currently on a hunger strike and for that reason I urgently ask you to please help. Spread the word, sign the Amnesty International petition and show your support in any way you can.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Alice Bag Olympia Power and Light Interview

This article originally appeared in an abbreviated version in the Olympia Power and Light in October, 2011. This is a repost of the full interview, which appears here.

All B/W photos by Louis Jacinto.

Tuck Petertil: It seems that we live in interesting times, as the economy buckles and fascism is on the rise, are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future?

Alice: I am extremely optimistic. I’ve been following the protestors who are occupying Wall Street and I have a renewed faith in democracy. Americans have been complacent for a long time because a large number of us were comfortable. It wasn’t until huge numbers of people starting losing their jobs and homes that reality started to break through their placid stupor. Those people camping out at Liberty Square, they’re the true champions of democracy. I think the protests will continue to grow.

Tuck: Do you have advice to young people facing this uncertain future?

Alice: Uncertainty doesn’t have to be scary, it’s all a matter perception and adaptability. If your plans don’t work out, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The unknown can be exciting and full of opportunity but you have to be involved and you have to be able to evolve.

Tuck: I’ve only read excerpts of “Violence Girl”, but it’s an impressive life you’ve led. Up here in the Pacific NW we’re just entering the fall and winter months, a time that can be pretty depressing. No doubt you faced many obstacles in your life, what gave you the strength to keep on in the face of opposition?

Alice: If I lived in the Pacific NW full spectrum lighting would be my first investment. My body needs sunlight. When I was little my dad used to tell me, “You can be anything you want to be.” I believed him. Even when I learned that society expects very little from a poor girl from East L.A., I refused to accept the limits that other people tried to place on me. It’s not that I don’t have weaknesses. I’m better at some things than I am at others but I never let insecurity stop me from doing what I want do. I am not a perfectionist, I believe that my best is good enough. If you believe that your best is good enough, you will find happiness.


Tuck: How did The Bags all hook-up? Who was in the Bags and where are they now?

Alice: My friend Patricia and I wanted to have an all girl band when we were in high school but our efforts were constantly thwarted because at that time, there weren’t as many women musicians as there are today. We put an ad in the paper seeking female musicians and men answered. Eventually we ended up hiring guys to play with us. We decided to play while wearing brown paper market bags on our heads with the eyes, nose and mouth cut out. The bag masks were just for fun, they gave us a certain anonymity that was somewhat liberating. We also had the opportunity to decorate our masks in ways that helped us play with our stage personas. The first Bags lineup was Patricia Rainone (Morrison/Vanian), Geza X, Joe Nanini, Janet Koontz and me. Patricia is now married to Dave Vanian and lives in England, Geza X is a record producer, I have lost touch with Janet over the years so I don’t know what she is up to, Joe Nanini went on to Wall of Voodoo and later passed away and I live in Sedona with my husband and daughter. The Bags had a rotating lineup of musicians but the one most people know from our Dangerhouse record is Patricia, Craig Lee (RIP), Rob Ritter (RIP), Terry Graham (later with Gun Club) and me.

Tuck: What were some of your influences (literary, music etc..) that put you on the path you choose?

Alice: when I was very young my dad listened to a lot of Mexican music, specifically rancheras. My sister listened to soul music. Those two genres seeped into my blood. I have a deep connection to that music. Later, when I was a teen I started listening to glam/glitter rock, Bowie, Elton John, Roxy Music, Queen, stuff like that. Suddenly out of nowhere the Ramones appeared. The Ramones were in a class by themselves. When they came out people laughed at them. Rock with no solos, imagine that! But their influence was huge and Patti Smith, wow, she was the most amazing performer, she inspired me tremendously! As for literature I grew up with comic books: Hot Stuff, The Archies, Little Lotta, Richie Rich, Mexican comics and fotonovelas. I go to the library at least once a week, I have for years. I am not a picky reader but I do get in my moods where I favor one type of book over another. I’m a big fan of Dickens, Bukowski and I adore Ozamu Tezuka. There are too many wonderful authors for me to list here but I have a Goodreads account for anyone who wants to compare books with me.

Tuck: What music are you currently liking?

Alice: I like Girl in a Coma, Amanda Palmer (with or without the Dresden Dolls), Gossip, Lysa Flores and I enjoy watching Lady Gaga’s many transformations.

Tuck: Besides your new book and your great website and blog, what other cool things are going on in Alice Bag's world?

Alice: I’ve been keeping up with the exploits of Anonymous, I like their spirit! If you visited my world there would be lots of pastries there. I love to bake, I’m trying to master the French macaron but I can’t get the texture just right. I took a pastry series at a local culinary school and I don’t want to forget what I learned so I bake every chance I get.

Tuck: Have you been to Olympia before? If so any thoughts about our town? Where does this tour take you?

Alice: I have never been to Olympia. I love experiencing new places so I’m really looking forward to it! I am still booking the tour so I don’t know where I’ll end up. Hopefully Olympians will like me and invite me back. I’ve never been to Canada, I wouldn’t mind going to Vancouver next time I’m in the neighborhood.

Tuck: Tell me about your future plans; i.e. Any new recordings or books in the offing?

Alice: Artifix Records is planning to release a limited edition promotional EP to coincide with Violence Girl. It features one Bags song as well as a small sampling of some of my other bands, from Las Tres to Castration Squad and Cholita. My only plans right now are to promote the book and to enjoy the journey. I have to balance that with making time to nurture my family and my relationships, while at the same time keeping an eye on my government to make sure they start paying attention to my welfare instead of protecting corporate interests. Oh, and I have to work on my French Macaron! That’s all.

Tuck: Would you like to tell one story about the punk scene or Managua?

Alice: How about a page from my Nicaraguan diary?

Wednesday, 4-2-86 It’s 6:30 in the morning. This is my third day here in Nicaragua. On Monday night we arrived in Managua and yesterday we came here. This is truly a new experience for me. I suffered from serious culture shock on Monday night. The Nicaraguan lifestyle is hardly imaginable to us in the United States. You really have to experience it to be able to even begin to understand it. For example, sanitary facilities are minimal and there is scarcity in just about everything. On Monday night we stayed in the hospedaje (hostel). I was very surprised to find that there were only two glasses available for everyone in the hostel to drink water from and they were barely rinsed between users (I later found that one glass was for washing and not drinking). Water for showers in the particular area of Managua where we were staying is turned off two days a week (Mondays and Thursdays) in an effort to conserve it. There is no toilet paper to be found anywhere or at any price. Scraps of La Prensa, (the opposition newspaper) usually end up replacing it in the bathroom. Toilets are as I imagined (seatless or outhouses), as are showers (cold but bearable).

Despite these things and many other inconveniences of living with people at this level of poverty, I love being here. It’s not that big a deal to have to do without the luxuries (not necessities) we have back home. It’s been a while since I felt this alive, this involved. I met my family last night. My Nicaraguan mother is a former guerilla; a strong, well-informed, admirable woman. I talked for hours with her last night. Her life has been hard but she has been so much a part of her people’s history. Because my Nicaraguan family (mom and 5 daughters) been has been so integrated (as they say here) in the revolutionary and post-revolutionary movements they are a rich source of history and information. The house I am living in now was taken over by some important revolutionary heroes a few years back and used as a Sandinista headquarters as well as living quarters. My Nicaraguan mother has been interviewed extensively by reporters from all over the world because of her strong contributions to the revolution. She was a founding member of several important post revolutionary organizations including organizations which provide for those who have been injured in the war and organizations which support women’s struggles such as AMNLAE (Asociacion de Mujeres Nicaraguenses, Luisa Amanda Epinoza). My Nicaraguan sisters are beautiful, intelligent children whom I like very much already.

I am on an adventure and I love it!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The It Factor

Lately, there has been so much talk about having it all that I wonder exactly what "having it all" means. Having a roof overhead and enough to eat may be all one person desires while another person may want much more. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a brain surgeon, a pilot or the president of the United States, or possibly all of them while fronting an all-girl band. My idea of having it all has evolved radically since those days. Now, it has much more to do with being true to myself and having time for a creative outlet.

The recent debate about "having it all" was triggered by a story in the Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter, sensationally titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." The cover shot shows a woman toting a baby in a briefcase. I disagree with the title, not only because it should have read "and if they can't, then neither can men" but because the phrase "having it all" is so imprecise. How are we to know if we can or can't have it all, when we're not even really sure what "it" is? If the titular "It" refers to having a baby, what does that say about women who cannot or choose not to have children? Does that somehow make them incapable of having a complete life?  Indeed, having it all is a subjective measure of success that is as much shaped by an individual's interests and aptitude as it is by socio-economic level, ethnicity, culture and yes, gender. 

Slaughter's use of the term "having it all" really refers to a mythical state of being where one is fully dedicated to a career while at the same time being an available, nurturing and supportive family member. Although this often seems to be a predominantly female concern, some men also express concern over being able to balance the two, and while there are many things that our society could do to help people achieve these goals, like encouraging employers to provide better childcare options or allowing people to work from home, the goals themselves may be flawed.

Without Hermione Granger's magic charm which allowed her to be in two places at once, most of us find that there are times when you have to make a choice. But which choice to make? I have several friends who are perfectly happy and feel completely fulfilled without children. I'm currently a stay-at-home mom and although I worked as a teacher for many years, I am very happy to stay home and feel fortunate that at this point in my life, I can be available when my child needs me.

I suppose having had a job I loved while at the same time being a mom,  it may have appeared that I had it all - but I never really did. It was always a struggle to be a dedicated teacher, available to my students, parents and fellow teachers as much as I wanted to be, knowing that I also wanted to be a hands-on parent. I wanted to cook dinners, join the PTA and go to school events. There were always compromises and choices to be made and someone got short-changed from time to time. All the pots couldn't be on the front burner all the time; some had to be moved back, even if only temporarily. The thing is some dishes benefit from a slow simmer with an occasional stir and patience, while others require a hot flame for a brief time. I made choices on a day to day, case by case basis.  It was a difficult time. My most successful years were the ones when I took half-time leave and I was able to split my time between work and my toddler. Of course, there were also financial implications to that decision but I won't go into those here because the whole debate hinges on the assumption that one has a choice.

I agree with an important point that Slaughter makes when she urges us to redefine the arc of a successful career path by embracing its peaks, dips and plateaus. Maybe the secret to having it all is looking at your life and seeing that you have enough time to be many things, but excelling at something requires focus, time management and wherever possible, allies. Trying to do too many things at once is never advisable, but giving up on your dreams is just not an option. Having long term goals while simultaneously adopting a willingness to change and adapt to whatever comes your way will ultimately serve better than trying to follow a rigid career and child rearing trajectory.

Perhaps success is not about having it all but about making the most of what we have, here and now. I would like to propose a new definition of success: the ability to live life on one's own terms, free of externally imposed and arbitrary standards. I propose we reject media-created images of "having it all" as false and designed to enslave us in the pursuit of a mythical consumer happily-ever-after.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Violence Girl Review by Sam Lefebvre

"Violence Girl" Book Review / From MRR #345 and Degenerate #9. This article was originally posted here:

This review ran in the most recent issues of Degenerate and Maximumrocknroll. I also had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Alice for SF Weekly. - Sam Lefebvre

Punk literature is often given to tiresome romanticizing and rehashed clichés, but Alice Bag’s recent autobiography, Violence Girl, is written from the perspective of a poor Hispanic raised in East LA by a tyrannical father. She inherits an acute awareness of the duality of man, a Catholic-guilt complex, and the self-consciousness of an awkward girl who could not relate to her peers. Finding solace in the seething anger of punk, Bag’s story focuses on her time as the front woman for a pivotal early Hollywood punk band, The Bags. Immersed in the first wave of punk in California, her skeptical predisposition informs her writings and she carries the voice of an outsider. Punk reinforced the negativity of her violent childhood and ultimately forced her to reconcile and grapple with it as well. 

Although Alice Bag is best known as a punk musician, the book takes time to reach that point in her life; instead it focuses in candid detail on her childhood. Whether it’s the volatile experience of loving a father who encouraged her one day and beat her mother the next, the abject failure of East LA public school in the 1960s and 1970s or the enticing sexual ambiguity of glam rock, all facets of her childhood are analyzed in depth. She not only describes those experiences in a compelling way but shows us how those early obstacles endeared her to the extremism of punk rock. Bag’s depiction of Hollywood from the early days with no expectations, through the establishment of scenes in cities along the West Coast that allowed The Bags to achieve notoriety, and onwards to the explosion of hardcore punk in the suburbs is shown from the lens of a young girl as equally enamored of the eccentric liberation found in punk as she is critical of the tendencies towards excess and self-destruction. Of particular riveting significance is her tumultuous friendship of Darby Crash, as she watches the development of his nihilistic outlook and crypto-fascist treatment of his fans lead to his tragic suicide. 

The violent rage Alice Bag channeled into her confrontational live performance is explained as a reaction to her violent childhood. What she refers to as her father’s “duality,” his tendency to both abuse his wife and fawn endlessly over his daughter, is reflected in Bag’s combination of philosophical pontificating and willingness to violently engage with little provocation. In this sense, punk became an outlet for her rage that wasn’t entirely healthy, even reinforcing the negativity she grew up around, but eventually her peers’ self-destructive habits begin to take a lethal grip on her scene, and the fierce independence she learned in the punk scene becomes a tool for redirecting her life.

Bag’s story also details her membership in Castration Squad, an early, all-female gloomy punk band that had considerable influence on the proliferation of death rock and goth in 80’s LA. She was a reluctant member of the group, having retreated to her parent’s home to focus on school, but found some solace in joining the all-female band she had always desired. When The Bags were initially conceptualized, Bag and Patricia Morrison craved an all-female line-up, but when men repeatedly arrived to audition, they accepted the mixed gender dynamic. Later, when Bag witnessed her friends form The Go-Go’s, her reaction was bitter-sweet. She adored the concept of an empowered, all-female punk band, but her support was tempered by a longing to join. With Castration Squad, that dream materialized, but her life had already begun a new trajectory towards education and a global perspective.

After completing college, Bag travels to Nicaragua after the wake of a revolution, and upon returning to California, she becomes a teacher in the very school system which she depicts as a tragic failure during her own childhood. Of course, the story is not completed, since Bag is still continuing to create, inspire and educate today, but the largest conflict of her life seems to resolve in one of the final chapters. That dramatic and poignant reconciliation is with her dying father; the most profound enemy and inspiration of her entire life.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I have just finished curating my prints at Self Help Graphics (SHG). That's right - my prints. I can hardly believe it, I'm an artist! It seems so strange to refer to myself as an artist, but that is what I am and it's time to own it. When I was a young woman, it took me a long time to refer to myself as a musician. I always felt like I had to qualify it by saying that I was a "punk musician," as though I was somehow a less-worthy version of a "musician" but punk eventually taught me a valuable lesson: it's not technique but what you do with your creativity that matters most.

About a month ago, I received an email invitation from my friend Shizu Saldamando. She was curating an Atelier at SHG in East LA and wanted to know if I would like to be one of the 10 participating artists. My first reaction was "I'm not an artist," followed quickly by "what's an Atelier?" Shizu explained that this would be a sort of mini-apprenticeship with a master printer where I would receive one-on-one instruction in the fine art of Serigraphy, a form of silkscreening. "It's easy," she assured me and so, without having the vaguest notion of what a serigraph was or exactly how I would go about creating one, I accepted the challenge.

The next couple of weeks were filled with that creeping feeling of worry that you get when you have a deadline approaching but don't quite know where to begin. I started reading about serigraphy online but I still had no idea how I would create the color separations needed for the project, until one day when I was talking to my friend Martin Sorrondeguy and he mentioned that he taught graphic arts. I had a million questions for him and even called him late one night to ask him to talk me through creating color layers in Photoshop. Martin was a wonderfully patient teacher and before long, I felt like I had a good understanding of the techniques.

The concept for my design was an imaginary album cover for Castration Squad. It's a glimpse into the female experience through the punk aesthetic. I called my piece Inevitable.

When I got to SHG earlier this week, my colors were separated and I was ready for my time with master printmaker Jose Alpuche. There was a lot to do over the course of several days and the process took longer than I had anticipated but I learned so much and felt truly honored to have been selected. Today, as I was curating my prints, I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment.

Executive Director, Evonne Gallardo and Program Manager, Joel Garcia conveyed a strong spirit of community involvement. They made me feel like Self Help Graphics was there for me and I assured them that I was there for Self Help Graphics. It's such a positive place for artists, students and members of the community that my final day of curating was bittersweet. I am happy to be done with my print so that I can focus on my upcoming Violence Girl readings but I will miss my extended Self Help family. I left vowing to return soon. After all, I'm an artist now!

My print, Inevitable will be available for purchase at Self Help Graphics or through the Self Help Graphics website.

On Love/Hate Relationships and the Duality of Nature - The Rumpus Interview

Rumpus: The title of your book is from a Bags lyric, but you write about the idea of Violence Girl as something that precedes you (“the seeds of Violence Girl were sown long before I was born”), a transcendent force that overtakes you. The book also contains an emphasis on dualities, like in the passage where you describe your love of Bruce Lee movies and their well-defined roles of thugs and heroes. What do these doubles mean for you, the narrator?

Bag: There are several things that happen when, as a child, you see the adults in your life behaving in ways that seem inconsistent with how you have come to imagine them to be. Initially there’s confusion and maybe even a little bit of disbelief. We treat children to very simplistic explanations of humanity, we tell them people are either good or bad, so when people exhibit both traits and we all eventually do, it can be difficult to know what to do with that new information. It’s hard to figure out how to relate to someone who does good things one minute and bad things the next. In my book, my father is both a doting parent who showers me with unconditional love and the man who abuses my mother. I had to deal with conflicting emotions, I hated and loved my father equally. Experiencing these seemingly contradictory emotions forced me to have empathy for people because I could see the complexity of human nature.

I think it’s probably a feeling that victims of domestic abuse can relate to. Nobody marries thinking they’re going to get Mr. Hyde. I think we all expect our partner’s behavior to be consistent with what they’ve projected in the past. So when the abusive side shows up there’s an element of confusion and disbelief because that’s not the person you thought you were getting, but understanding that people can harbor both sides and that perhaps they are even two sides of the same coin can be another way of looking at that behavior. Sometimes the very thing that makes someone a passionate partner in one instance makes that same person a formidable foe in a different situation. I found a little bit of solace in understanding the duality of my father’s nature.

Read my entire May 2012 interview with Niina Pollari online at The Rumpus.

Monday, January 30, 2012

13 Questions With Susana Sepulveda

An interview conducted by Susana Sepulveda, student at UCSC, January 2012.

1.) Do you identify as Chicana and if so, how do you feel you embody this identity in punk?

Alice: I do now, but I didn't always. When I was younger I wrongly believed that there was something I had to do, a test I had to pass or a class I had to take to be able to call myself a Chicana. I know better now.

I identify as a Chicana punk. Punk is an attitude, it's a rebellious, unapologetic dig at the status quo. As Chicanos we've had to fight to carve our way into a narrow and bigoted definition of what it means to be an American in the US while at the same time refusing to be blanched and synthesized by assimilating into the American mainstream. Refusal to relinquish our ethnic identity is punk.

2.) How do you feel you created a space for yourself in punk?

Alice: I showed up and played, I was at the right place at the right time. I was in tune with what was happening in the music scene and wanted to be at the forefront of it, so I put myself there. It meant moving to Hollywood which was where the punk scene in Los Angeles took off first.

3.) Was it difficult to be recognized in punk as a woman of color?

Alice: My ethnicity was acknowledged in a casual way, I never felt like anyone tried to diminish or disparage my background. I always felt completely comfortable in my own skin being a woman of color in the early L.A. Punk scene. In some ways, I had an easier time being a Chicana Weirdo around other weirdoes than I had being a Chicana weirdo around other Chicanos.

4.) Do you separate your racial identity from the scene, or do you feel that you perform and/or represent it? Would you say that is performed/represented in an alternative way (from what it is dominantly known or seen as)?

Alice: My racial identity is always with me, as is my gender, my background, everything I am is represented in the work I do. Sometimes it's overt, sometimes it's not and it's not even always deliberate but what we create can only come from what we have within.

I think there is a dominant way to represent Chicano identity and I have no problem with it as long as it doesn't become the exclusive way to do it. The growth and success of the Chicano movement depends on its ability to be inclusive and represent a broad spectrum of Chicanos.

5.) Do you feel that the emergence of more Chican@/Latin@ youth in the punk scene has maybe altered punk from the dominant idea of what it is? If so, what changes have you encountered or noticed? Would you say that it is a completely new scene of punk?

Alice: There were Chicanos present in the early LA. Punk scene. The Masque was a beautifully diverse club where people from all of L.A. County's communities felt at home. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Latinos have always been there. The punk scene is a landscape and the people who document it choose what they focus on. We need to do more documenting, more validating; if we're not seeing Latinos then we need to redirect the focus.

6.) How do you feel the punk scene has embraced feminist ideas, if any? And how these ideas might be transforming punk itself? Have feminist ideas always been a part of punk (just not visible)?

Alice: I think feminist ideas have always been a part of punk. Women helped create the punk scene as equal partners and in equal numbers to men. Women empowered themselves to do everything that men had traditionally done. That's not feminist theory - it's feminism in action. Feminism was there at punk's inception. Over the years as punk has evolved we've made gains and we've had setbacks but those of us who were permanently changed by punk will never allow women's contributions to punk to be overlooked or diminished.

7.) Do you feel that "Chicana Punk" or punk with feminist attributes is a completely different punk scene?

Alice: No way, I refuse to be a faction. I want in on the big action, punk without pussy power, punk without ethnic diversity just supports the status quo, it doesn't subvert or challenge it, therefore it can't even be called punk.

8.) Do you feel punk can be thought of as a space to evade and contest social violence? Do you feel it can recreate violence within itself? How so?

Alice: If by social violence you mean social injustice such as unfair laws and practices, I'd say yes. I think punk is more about confrontation than evasion. Punk is the perfect medium for contesting social violence because it's about questioning authority.

9.) How do you feel about discussions of punk being incorporated into academic discussions? Does it lose a certain aesthetic or authenticity?

Alice: Academic discussions are often based on having read the same texts and being familiar with the same theories as other people involved in the discussion. Discussions between people who have different points of reference can be productive if the participants take time to understand and respect each others' experiences.

10.) Do you consider yourself a feminist? Do you feel that you embody feminism or feminist values in performance, music, and/or punk? How so?

Alice: Yes, I consider myself a feminist. I never set out to embody feminism onstage but being a woman in a band, playing music with other women, being assertive and somewhat androgynous in my performances are all consistent with my feminist values.

11.) How do you feel you have rebelled against dominant values of Latin@ culture, if any?

Alice: I don't think I have rebelled against Latin@ culture. I have rebelled against those who try to make me warm tortillas for my brothers when they can warm them for themselves, I have rebelled against a patriarchal religion. I rebel against small mindedness in all ways and in every situation but those things are not an intrinsic part of latin@ culture and I will fight tooth and nail against anyone who tries to make me feel like I'm less Chican@ for not embracing the small-mindedness.

12.) Has embracing punk transformed your identity as a Chicana or women of color? Would you say that you have created a new culture and/or space for yourself (balancing punk and Mexicanidad), in your own way?

Alice: Yes, embracing punk and knowing that I was participating in its creation and definition made me feel that I had the power define my Chicana identity in my own way. Both chican@ and punk ideology have to do with being true to yourself and asserting yourself ethnically, artistically, spiritually, in all ways.

13.) Do you feel that punk itself is a culture?

Alice: Yes, I think so. I know that punk is much more than a style of music, it's a way of looking at the world, a way of looking at yourself and empowering yourself. Punk is great at destroying the illusion of limits. It starts with the feeling that you can express yourself onstage and make an impact on music and ends with the certainty that you can express yourself in any arena and make an impact on the world.