Saturday, April 18, 2015

It Just Has To Be Good Enough For You

“I often say that I don’t consider myself a writer, because when I read authors that I like, I think ‘oh, I could never do that,’ you know... they’re artists. They do something that I feel I can’t do. But at the same time, I realize that what I’m doing is something that’s important for a lot of people. People need to understand that they don’t have to be the best writer to write, and it’s the same sort of attitude that I had when I decided to be in a punk band. Like, I don’t have to be the best musician to get up there and sing or play the guitar. I’ve always felt that I don’t have to master a particular instrument to make it say what I want it to say. It’s the same with writing. It doesn’t have to meet any superior standard, it just has to be good enough for you. If I let perfectionism stymie me, I would never do anything.”

Alice Bag, interview with PUNK GLOBE MAGAZINE​. Photo by Gregg Segal

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Nica Diaries - Excerpt

We’re still in Managua, the charla with the economist fell through, so a bunch of us just went out for frescos instead. Vick, one of the guys in our group, started feeling sick. I’m one of the more fluent members of our group so I and another NICA student who is studying medicine but doesn’t speak much Spanish took him to the hospital. Turns out Vick was suffering from acute dehydration and was having some medical complications because of it. The service at the hospital was ridiculously fast and efficient, despite the obvious lack of medical equipment or adequate facilities, not to mention medication which is also scarce here. Vick had to stay at the hospital for observation so we left him there and we’ll send someone else from the school to pick him up in a few hours.

Last night at Lobo Jacks I talked to a lot of people. Many of us have reached a point in this journey where we are understanding that it’s time to move past learning the truth, it’s time to start acting on it. I believe that truth compels us to act.
I’m so much more in tune with human beings down here. Talking to the internationalists, hearing about their work, I realize that I spend a lot of time in my head exploring ideas, looking for black and white truths instead of acting. Just communicating with other people can teach us as much about life as great philosophy books - not to diminish those great works but ideas should be utilized, they shouldn’t just rot in your head like uneaten fruit on a vine. I need to find a way to actualize my beliefs and I feel an urgency to do it now. I have to stop being stupid, thinking that planting tomatoes on an agricultural cooperative is going to make any great change in people’s lives. It probably only made a difference in mine.
I’ve been offered a teaching job in the mountains just north of Esteli. It’s dangerous territory because the closer you get to Honduras, the closer you get to the fighting but the children there have been in desperate need of a teacher for a while; there is a shortage of teachers, too. I’m considering it. I could be happy here. I’ve fallen in love with this country and these people despite the poverty and the hardship.

I still remember my first night, scooping newspaper out of a filthy toilet with my hand for fear of clogging up the whole neighborhood’s plumbing. Hearing the roosters crow in the middle of the night, being exposed to third world living conditions for the first time in my life, finding out that it wasn’t uncommon for people to live in shacks poorly boarded up with little or no plumbing. I remember my first week, getting used to the unexpected water shortages, seeing people riding horses down the streets right next to cars, getting used to not having a refrigerator or washing machine, learning to use a scrub board, learning to take cold water bucket baths, learning to tuck mosquito netting so the little suckers couldn’t sneak in under the net, learning what it means to be Nicaraguan. God, I love this place.
I love my own country too, and I miss home - my mom and dad, Bruce, my friends, my band… and there are things to be done there, too. I could also make a difference there, it’s just not as easy to see what needs to be done. There are children who need a bilingual teacher like me in Los Angeles and there is a shortage of them, but I can’t abandon Nicaragua. I don’t know what to do…

Monday, January 05, 2015

Bionic Legs

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, I'm a procrastinator. Every year, come January, I go through the reasons why making a list of resolutions is a big waste of time but this year, I'm going to try it.

So far the only things on my list are to make time to write at least once a week and to eat more fruits and vegetables. I might add a light workout to my list but I want to wait until after I get my new knee.

Oh yeah, I'm getting a new knee! I am so excited about it. I've had problems with both of my knees for several years and despite physical therapy and cortisone shots and insanely painful aspirations of the fluid that collects around my inflamed joints, I've had little relief. So I'm happy about the upcoming surgery. In my imagination, I'll be getting a bionic knee. I fantasize about all the special features it could have. Like a James Bond or Inspector Gadget gizmo, I picture myself pushing a button and a flask of whisky emerging from my robotic patella which doubles as a bar, or a tool kit, or whatever I happen to need at the moment.

I wish I could have both knees done at once but my doctor is suggesting one at a time. I will have them both done eventually and maybe when I finally have both my knees replaced, I'll be able to run as fast as a cheetah or at least as fast as the Bionic Woman. I'll be happy if I'm able to walk my dog up and down these hills and enjoy the scenery, pain free.

Last night I watched a crazy video of a surveillance robot that can run and gallop and bounce, all while taking photos of its surroundings. They are designed for policing and military use, if only we could use that technology to help old arthritic viejitas like me.

The other day I was driving with Greg and the Rambo's taco truck was next to us. I love the artwork on the side of the truck. It shows a bare breasted Rambo holding a fistful of tacos in his hand while a Viet Cong helicopter shoots a hole right through his soda cup.

I was telling my husband about how fun it would be to make a little home movie based on Rambo but featuring a homicidal, renegade grandmother in the lead role. We could call it Grambo. I know that's a pretty cool idea all by itself, but now imagine how much better it would be if granny had those robot drone legs. I can picture her, literally kicking butt with those cool robotic limbs! Of course Grambo would be reacting to completely different situations than Rambo and she might not wear camouflage or the trademark head band, but I digress...

Anyway, yeah, I'm going to write more about whatever dumb things pop into my head because that's what I've been preaching. Don't censor yourself - just write if you want to write.

Now let me at that bowl of apples.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Stripping It Down to Creativity

Q: Did being a woman of color impact you when you were younger? I mean, people focus on it a lot now.
Alice: I think it matters to me now, but not so much then. I was just me getting on stage! We interacted at a level of creativity - race, gender and your (economic) background didn’t matter. What happened was that years later, people would say to me, “I saw you and I had never seen a Chicana on stage and it inspired me” or “You were a strong woman and it affected me”, you know? There was meaning (to my presence) that I was not aware of. Now I am aware of it. It’s so easy for women and people of color for our histories not to be told. It’s important for me to tell my story because it’s a first hand account of punk rock in L.A. in 1977 and it happens to be told by a woman of color and our histories are generally not there.


I did Ladyfest this year and it was such a pleasant shock to me. Group after group of women or that have strong women in them. People of color, people of all communities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer people are represented. For me, that was what the early L.A. punk scene was like, a sampling from everybody. My guitarist Craig Lee, his family was pretty much rich. His mother was a producer and they lived in Beverly Hills. How he got into a band with a Mexican girl from East L.A., you know?! It was the music! It was just creativity that we had in common. You were stripped down to your ideas and it’s not about the other stuff. We bring that other stuff with us, but it’s not what we are exchanging.”

From my interview with Mish Way, read the full interview here:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Found in the Supermarket

Soundtrack- John Lennon’s Imagine and Stiff Little Fingers’ Alternative Ulster. I find myself singing about change and hope, about having the audacity to dream of a better future and following it up with the courage to take action. I think we can all imagine how the world should be, the hard part is believing that we can really make it happen. Some say that the journey begins with something as simple as sharing these dreams with others, through our art or our music or on the internet via blogging, through social media. I once read in a self-help book that “thoughts become things” and I would add that words also become things. In every age, the brave share their ideas despite the fear of ridicule or personal danger. Ideas, dreams and hopes beget action. To speak a dream aloud is to cast a magic spell.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Women in L.A. Punk Interview with Marina del Rey of Backstage Pass

As this Fourth of July weekend draws to a close, I'd like to offer you a post that celebrates our own punk independence, an interview with one of the Masque's Founding Mothers, Marina del Rey, who along with her bandmates (Backstage Pass) literally helped build the rehearsal studios that would become the cradle of Hollywood punk. I am grateful for Marina's participation. She, along with her Backstage Pass mates (Genny Body and Joanna "Spock" Dean) have helped us understand that women were there even before the first concert happened at the Masque. These ladies were co-creators of the west coast punk movement and one of the most vital physical spaces that supported it. In his book, Live at the Masque, Brendan Mullen's concert list shows Backstage Pass' playing their first Masque show in October of 1977, but these ladies were filling the basement (and other venues) with music before most of us knew what was to come.
 - Alice Bag, 7/6/14

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Meeting the Comandante

Working on my second book, here’s an excerpt.
Today started off a lazy day, playing cards at a neighbor’s house. When I got home, I found that Francie had company. She had a friend over, Comandante Gladys Baez of the Sandinista armed forces, a short woman with indigenous features who wore her hair in braids. She looked more like someone getting ready to bake a batch of cookies than lead an army. She was really warm and friendly and kissed me on the cheek when she met me.
Comandante Baez insisted that I call her Gladys and seemed surprised when Francie said I was American. Gladys complimented me on my Spanish and Francie agreed, saying I acted, looked and spoke like a Nica which I know she meant as a big compliment. I took it as one. We sat down in the living room to talk. Gladys asked me about life in the United States and what people in the U.S. thought of the war between the Contras and Sandinistas. I sadly confirmed the things she already knew, that Reagan was on a campaign to change public opinion of the counterrevolutionary Contras by talking them up as patriots who are protecting us from the spread of communism and by refusing to use the word Contra and employing instead the sympathetic sounding name “Freedom Fighters” when referring to them. I told her that it was working, furthermore, they were now being described as advisors rather than combatants, something that the Nicaraguans knew was a blatant lie.
Gladys moved on from the topic of Reagan and asked me about women in my country. That was hard for me to talk about, it seems that the death of the Equal Rights Amendment has stalled any progress for the women’s movement. I don’t understand what happened with the ERA and I can’t explain it to her, I guess I’m just too far removed from the mainstream. I told her I was involved in music and that my musician friends were generally open-minded about politics and women’s rights. I said that the kind of music I play has been liberating for women because it’s more about having something to say than being a great musician, so women, even those who were novice musicians, were not intimidated or shut out due to lack of experience. She was happy to hear that more women were playing music and writing songs and encouraged me to write a song about Nicaragua and share the experiences I was having here with my friends back home. She didn’t seem much older than me but she took on a motherly tone as she reminded me that there is no revolution without equality for women. I’d never heard anyone say this before, despite the fact that it seemed like such a simple and obvious truth.

Later, when Gladys had left, I had to ask Francie again if I had heard correctly. Was Gladys really a Comandante? I guess if I tried hard I could imagine her as a guerrilla but a Comandante? She didn’t look or act like a warrior, much less a Commander. I couldn’t imagine her bossing the men around. She looked like so many women in East L.A., ordinary working class moms and tias. My Nicaraguan mother assured me that Gladys was one of the first and most respected Sandinista Comandantes. She laughed at me and asked why I doubted her. I said that I didn’t think Gladys looked strong enough to be taken seriously as a comandante.
"Why don’t you think she’s strong?" Francie asked.
I was too ashamed to say it was because I expected muscles and a snazzy uniform; inwardly, I had to admit that I expected a man. I had never seen a woman who looked like Gladys have any power. In my world, women who looked like Gladys took care of kids, did housework, warmed up tortillas. I glimpsed myself, just for a second in all my sexist, racist and colorist ugliness and I quickly stepped away from the mirror.
"Oh, I don’t know," I lied.
Francie knows what I’m thinking, I thought. Please don’t let her call me out…please don’t let her call me out. She didn’t. She cocked her head, looked up at me and gave me a quizzical smirk.
"Es MUY fuerte," my Nicaraguan mother assured me. "She fought alongside (FSLN founder) Carlos Fonseca."
Francie went on to tell me a little about what she and Gladys had done together. They were pioneers in AMNLAE (Association de Mujeres Nicarag├╝enses, Luisa Amanda Espinoza) an organization which is named after the first female casualty in the war against Somoza. Espinoza escaped a life of poverty and abuse to become a revolutionary. Originally the organization was to uphold the needs and concerns of women who were fighting to overthrow Somoza, now it is dedicated to increasing the political participation of women in post-revolutionary Nicaragua. Francie and Gladys were not only active members, they were founding members.
"Gladys herself was tortured by Somoza’s Guardia," Francie continued. "She was captured by Somoza and held prisoner, where she was subjected to torture and interrogation, spending over two months in solitary confinement, she never broke down."
I imagine this braided woman in an interrogation room, bright lights shining in her face, electrodes shocking her as she refuses to talk. Sweat runs down her lovely weather-worn face, where a look of strength and resolve are carved deeper than Mt. Rushmore. Unexpectedly, a man and some snotty nosed kids look into the interrogation room.
"Gladys, we need some warm tortillas," they call to her.
"Heat your own damn tortillas!" she replies. "Can’t you see I’m busy?"

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


I feel fortunate to have been invited to several universities over the past two years where Violence Girl - East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story is being used in courses with topics ranging from Literature to Music, to Chicano/a Studies, Gender Studies and beyond. One question I am frequently asked is how I see my Chicana identity. It's a question that doesn't lend itself to a short answer and I feel that it's important enough for me to take time explaining.

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in social justice but I got off to a rocky start on my road to forming a Chicana identity when I perceived negativity towards my odd, unpolished glam-rock style from members of the Chicano organization at my high school. All during my late teens and early twenties, I called myself a Mexican-American rather than a Chicana because I believed that term was reserved for people in Chicano organizations like MeCHa and I believed those organizations were biased against people who looked like weirdos. Punk empowered me in all kinds of ways: it gave me the confidence to claim my Chicana identity, to define it in my own terms and to refuse anyone the power to exclude me.

I never took any Chicano Studies classes until I was in college. My Chicana identity was formed primarily from experiencing events where I felt that Mexicans and/or Mexican-Americans were included and represented, events like the Chicano Moratorium which I attended as a child, the grape boycott and the walk-outs at local schools in East L.A. These historic events all affected me and made an impression on me. I was just a kid but I knew in a very simplistic way that it was people like me standing up for people like me. I was attracted to the cause but I didn't feel welcome in the club, so I have never been part of any Chicano organization but that doesn't mean I'm not a Chicana.

I see my Chicana identity as a celebration of both my Mexican and American heritages as well as an honest appraisal of the sociopolitical practices of these two societies and their influence on Chican@ society. Both sides of my heritage have values and traditions which are beautiful but sometimes flawed. Mexican and American societies are both guilty of sexism, classism, racism, and homophobia and they both need fixing. I refuse to romanticize them or choose one culture over another.

Ethnicity is not all that forges identity, my personal identity can stretch to be large and inclusive or shrink to be small, focused and specific. In my broader identity I am a component and an active member of the living organism that is the universe and in my smaller, more refined identity, I function as a Chicana, feminist, bisexual, punk rocker. My personal identity is rich and multifaceted - different aspects surface in different situations. When I'm discriminated against as a woman, my feminist identity rushes to the forefront; when people try to negate the place of Mexicans while teaching or discussing American history, the Chicana side of me will raise an indignant voice and demand to be included and when anyone, anywhere in the world is mistreated, the punk side of me that feels empowered to shape my world is ready to stand as an ally. Most of the time I'm just me: an individual, a human being only partially conscious of the ways in which people see me or the expectations they might place upon this particular configuration of atoms.

I see myself as limitless, so the labels are strictly to facilitate specific functions for a limited amount of time. When I first started performing, I remember looking out into the audience. Usually, there were lights near the front of the stage illuminating me and the other band members. As my gaze moved further back into the audience, the room darkened. I could make out the people in the front rows clearly enough to read their faces and feel their energy but beyond that, the room faded to infinite blackness and in my mind, that blackness might as well have been a view of the vast reaches of the universe. From my perch on the stage, I felt incredibly powerful as my performance elicited dancing, jumping and bursts of emotion from the concert goers. We were exchanging energy, refueling, tapping into something much bigger than any one person. I felt fully connected not just to the people in the room but to the entire universe.

Punk rock as religious experience; go ahead and laugh, I know it sounds crazy. Connecting with others on that level made me understand my power not just as an individual but as part of a community. So while it's important to know who we are, it's also important to know that we are so much more than labels can convey. We are conduits for ideas, we are agents of change.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Little Seeds of Strength

My sister-in-law Mary passed away this week. I hadn't seen her in some time, since I moved out of state for several years. Still, the news of her death made me sad and I started to reflect on my memories of her.

Even though we didn't spend a lot of time together when I was growing up, my sister-in-law was a positive influence on me at an early age. She always spoke her mind and knew how to be assertive and self-possessed. On the few occasions when I was being bratty and insubordinate in her presence, she would wink at me conspiratorially, as if saying she understood how I felt. Other times she just laughed at me, at herself, at my father. She was good at laughing, at telling people what she thought, and best of all she was good at standing tall and filling a room with her presence. She was a strong woman who planted a little seed of strength in me at a time when I needed it most.

Oftentimes, we look to celebrities as role models but if we stop to look around, we can find people who provide everyday examples of strength and integrity. Mary was that for me. I will miss her.

Below is a chapter from my book, Violence Girl where I talk a little bit about her.

Mary and her son Charlie, June 1967

Friends and Baptisms

I wonder if I can find a way to blame my parents for my lack of friends. After all, my mom never had any friends. She kept busy by meddling in her children's lives, not that anyone ever complained. My mom was a sweetheart who would give you the clothes off her back if she thought you needed them. She liked nothing better than checking in on her kids to make sure we were doing well. My father had business friends but he only saw them when he was at work and he certainly never brought anyone over to our house. We were an isolated family unit.

My mother's meddling took a bold turn when my brother Raymond married a Protestant woman named Mary. When my mother found out that their child was not going to be baptized, she conjured a successful plot to kidnap the baby and baptize him in secret. Of course, the plot was later revealed and my brother and his wife were very upset that my mother hadn't respected their wishes. My mother was unrepentant, she insisted that she had to baptize the baby so that he wouldn't end up in Limbo, which is a place between Heaven and Hell where infants are trapped if they die in a state of original sin. In my mother's Catholic world, we are all born in a state of original sin, passed down to us from Adam and Eve's transgression in the Garden of Eden. The Catholic sacrament of baptism basically gives a clean slate to children who are too young to atone for their sins. My mom's description of Limbo made me imagine a place in the sky with millions of babies and toddlers crawling around on the tops of clouds, never knowing true happiness. I could see them standing on fat, wobbly baby legs holding onto the locked pearly gates, never able to enter the kingdom of Heaven. The thought made me sick. I wasn't disgusted by the babies or the parents who didn't have them baptized; I was disgusted that god wouldn't allow them into the kingdom of Heaven.

My brother and sister-in-law eventually got over my mother's kidnapping and started coming around again. I loved my sister-in-law Mary because she would talk back to my dad and she could hold her own in an argument. She never backed down. Their arguing made others uncomfortable but they seemed to enjoy their heated discussions. I liked to listen to them even though neither ever changed their point of view. It was fun witnessing their verbal sparring but I would later learn that engaging in passionate debates was not everyone's idea of fun.

My parents friends were all family. My brothers and sisters were all grown up and while my mother filled her days with housework, visits to the sobadora and finding ways to help her children, my father read incessantly and kept to himself.

My mom didn't have much faith in American doctors. Whenever she or any of her children got sick, she'd subject us to the ancient cures passed down by healers and sobadores. If I had a stomachache, out came the yerba buena or lemon grass tea. I didn't mind the minty taste of yerba buena or the subtle citrusy hint of flavor in lemon grass or the hot lemonade I had to drink if I was catching a cold but she had a large variety of other, more bitter herbs to choose from. Sometimes she'd come home with little brown bags of dried leaves that I was told would cure my ailment. From them, she would concoct vile tasting medicinal drinks whose chief benefit was that they would induce nausea and vomiting.

I used to make fun of my mother for favoring what I considered to be superstitious folk cures. It didn't boost my confidence when she'd pass an egg or a tomato over someone with a fever so that the foods would draw off some of the heat from the afflicted or that she'd frequent a sobador, a sort of massage therapist whose brusque jerking and tugging could untangle your intestines or align your body for maximum health. Often, these cures were combined with prayer, incense, candles or oils. I called her methods brujeria (witchcraft) which made her pretty angry but she suffered my ignorance. I thought myself so much smarter than her; it was only much later that I would come around to questioning the supremacy of western medicine and admit that maybe my mom's herbal cures and aromatherapy were helpful.

Not all her beliefs grew on me though. I had been raised as a Catholic but as I said before, my mother's brand of Catholicism incorporated elements of Mexican folk beliefs and superstition. On previous trips to Mexico, I had seen people walking on bloody knees, making their way up to the Basilica de Guadalupe to pay off a debt to La Virgen. My own aunt told me that she had promised god to make the journey from her house to the Basilica on her knees when one of her kids was sick. Her faith impressed me but the logic of it all eluded me. My mother told me stories of people she knew who had spent their childhood dressed in a Saint's vestments as a sort of payment for the saint's intervention. Still others were known to place a statue of San Martin de Porres in a headstand position until the saint would find them a suitor. The idea of bargaining with god or holding a saint hostage made no sense to me at all and doubt chipped away at my religious beliefs.

I identified more with my father than with my mom. I too enjoyed reading incessantly and I was comfortable being alone most of the time. At our Bonnie Beach house we had a proper dining table and although we rarely ate meals together, when we did, my dad and I just ignored each other and read our own books while eating. My father read his life away. He always had his paperback westerns with him in the car, the bathroom, at the dinner table, even while watching TV he'd shift back and forth between the screen and his book. My mother never ate with us, she was always busy warming up tortillas or doing something else in the kitchen.

I used to watch Leave It To Beaver and there was a part of me that longed to be like the Cleaver Family, who sat around eating meals together, discussing the day's events. June Cleaver would never kidnap a baby, put a tomato on Beaver's forehead if he had a fever or spend all her time in the kitchen warming tortillas. I bet Beaver would have turned out much differently if she had.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Remembering Clifton's Cafeteria

Q: You briefly mention Clifton's Cafeteria in your book, Violence Girl. I've heard other interviews with you where you go into more detail about this unique place of LA's restaurant history. Why didn't you write more about it in your memoir?

Alice: I actually thought I wrote much more about Clifton's. It's possible that I did in an early draft, but I had to cut out some scenes that didn't advance the overall story. It may have ended up as a deleted scene.

Q: Why was Clifton's so memorable for you as child?

Alice: It was a total sensory experience. For me, atmosphere is really important in a restaurant. Clifton's definitely had atmosphere. You could tell you were getting close because you could hear the tambourines going and the preaching and singing. The "Hallelujahs" were out front preaching The Word. I was a little kid. I thought they were there to entertain the customers going into Clifton's. My parents just wanted to get through them and not have to give them any money.

Q: Describe the interior of Clifton's for us.

Alice: It had a forest theme with lots of trees, taxidermied woodland creatures, bears, giant boulders. I think it was four floors. You walked in on the ground level and there were curved staircases leading up on either side to different dining terraces. Each of the rooms was decorated differently. My favorite room was at the very top. I think it was called the Red Room because it had red painted walls, flocked red wallpaper and red carpet. I thought it was very elegant. Come to think of it, I have used the same deep red color in my own house for years now. My daughter calls it the "Welcome to Hell" look.

Q: So what did you like to eat at Clifton's?

Alice: Well, it was kind of tricky because of the cafeteria style. If you walked by and picked up the first tasty thing you saw, the dishes would accumulate. You wanted to take the tasty thing, but if you took it too early, you would load up before you got to the main courses. I tried to get either mashed potatoes, or the mac and cheese. Not both (laughs). Although I wanted both. I would usually get peas, although I also liked the carrot raisin salad. Really good...and then they had Waldorf Salad too, that was really good. And it sounded fancy cause it was from The Waldorf. My main course was always Salisbury Steak!

Q: Salisbury Steak? Isn't that just a hamburger patty with gravy?

Alice: No, Salisbury Steak is made from wild, organic Salisbury. Free Range Salisbury Steak - it's really good. You should try it sometime. I think they carry it at Whole Foods.