Thursday, February 21, 2013

Rolling Crones and Old Bags

It's been a few days since the L.A. Zine Fest and the panel discussion I did with Allison Wolfe and Drew Denny,  but I'm still feeling a little giddy about the whole thing. A big part of the fun was having the opportunity to meet these ladies I'd never met before and collaborate with them, even if it was only briefly and on just one song. It was still meaningful and memorable for me. It's always exciting and rejuvenating to work with new people who have fresh ideas and approach creativity from a different perspective, and it's especially thrilling if the new people happen to be smart and talented women.

After reflecting on the experience, I realize that there are a few points I'd like to clarify. During the introduction, the moderator (who did an absolutely wonderful job, by the way) described Allison Wolfe as one of the mothers of the Riot Grrl movement, then started to introduce me in a similar fashion as one of the 'mothers of punk' but stopped herself, perhaps noticing the age difference between me and Allison. She suggested that maybe she should say a 'grandmother of punk,' but I objected. I want to clarify why I object to that label. It's not because of age. I'm 54 years old, I have gray hair and I'm comfortable with my age. I am perfectly happy if you call me a punk rock vieja, an old bag, or a crone (I even wanted to form a band or have a mentoring program for and by older female musicians called 'The Rolling Crones' at one point) but I object to being called a grandmother because I'm not a grandmother.

I have three daughters who are all in school. They're all young women who are very responsible, they behave in a way that I am very proud of, they've taken charge of their sexuality and the fact that they're not mothers is something that I'm happy about. My daughters have chosen to put their studies first at this point in their lives and they're waiting to have children until they're ready. They are exercising their choice, a choice that many of us have been fighting for years to be able to offer them. Another thing is that when I was young, it was quite common for relatives to harass young women about when we would get married and have children. I don't ever want my daughters to feel that pressure. They can marry or stay single for as long as they want, they can have children, adopt, or do neither. And for those reasons I ask you to please feel free to call me old, but please don't call me a granny.

By the way, I want to reiterate that I think K did a great job as moderator and this is in no way meant as a criticism of her!

Another point that needs clarification is that a recent article mentions that when I was in the Bags, I wore a paper bag on my head to escape stereotypes. This is only slightly different from what I said, but it's a significant difference because it deals with intention. In my early L.A. punk band, the Bags, we wore paper bags on our heads primarily for fun, to hide our identities and challenge the audience. They were not worn in a conscious attempt to avoid stereotypes, although that was an unintentional bonus. Creating the bag characters forced our audiences to focus on the music, the bag masks, the performance. We felt like we went in with a clean slate. People didn't know what to expect from us and that was fun and liberating. We also had punk names which were associated with our band; this was something we borrowed from the Ramones. Having a band last name also blurred ethnic identities. Torn thrift store clothing and safety pins were worn by rich and poor alike, further helping to blur class distinctions. Finally, the music was raw and unpolished, which opened the door for many novice musicians.

Part of what made the LA. scene so diverse and open to new ideas was that we focused on what we had in common: the creativity, the desire for innovation. That isn't to say that we didn't value our backgrounds or that we tried to hide them - we did not. We approached our creative community as individuals who didn't feel valued by the mainstream, in many cases we didn't even feel at home in our own hometowns, where many of us were seen as weirdos. We found our tribe in the punk community who valued originality.

During those early years, that was what suited me. Later, I found that in order to continue to fuel my personal growth and creativity, I wanted to dig deeper into my heritage and identity. Other elements of my personal story started to surface in my work and I think I've become a better artist and a more effective communicator because of it.

But I don't want to babble, babble on. Back to the panel. I found the conversation about how each of us had dealt with gropers in the past enlightening. Allison told a story of having a male audience member cup her butt during a performance, only to have the dude checked by the mostly female audience members at her show. I punched a guy who grabbed my crotch. Unfortunately for him, he happened to be wearing glasses that shattered under my fist and sliced his face open. Drew said she tried to deal with sexual intimidation with a sense of humor. I found her reply a little scary but after she explained it, I could see that what she meant is that the ultimate goal of gropers is to intimidate and her approach was to turn the tables. She said she knew it was not for everyone, but I think I'll try it. I'll see if I can come up with a joke while they're taking the groper out on a stretcher!