1978 expired with a bang as The Bags headlined a New Year’s Eve show with a band called Fear at Brendan Mullen’s new incarnation of the Masque (cleverly named the New Masque), located just kitty corner from Nickey Beat’s old apartment on Santa Monica Blvd. By January of 1979, I was living at home although I was still rehearsing, playing and hanging out in Hollywood. New bands were now entering the scene constantly as the LA punk scene had long outgrown the geographical boundaries of Hollywood to encompass the suburbs: two of my favorites were Middle Class from Orange County and Rhino 39 from Long Beach.
Rhino 39 had the distinction of bringing a positive twist to punk music. Their singer, Dave Dacron was a tall, fresh faced kid who actually smiled onstage. To the delight of their frenzied audiences, their music was clocking in ahead of most of the established punk bands. Music that was once considered fast by older standards now seemed to plod along. Rhino 39, along with Middle Class pushed the speed of punk to previously unheard tempos, setting the dance floor on fire. The new crop of bands were too fast to pogo to and their rise in popularity coincided with an aggressive new style of dancing called slam dancing. Outlying venues like The Rock Corporation in Van Nuys had opened their doors to punk in the latter half of 1978 and Chinatown was doing a bustling business in punk rock and new wave at Madame Wong’s and the Hong Kong Cafe.
Middle Class live, photo by Alice Bag
At this point in our development, The Bags were still playing out of control gigs. We turned every club we played into a wild west saloon where bar fights, spilled drinks, flying furniture and general pandemonium were commonplace. The newer, speedy bands seemed like a good complement to our style so we booked a show with Middle Class in San Diego. I don’t remember all the details of the show except for the fact that it was well received. I do remember that after the show, a bunch of us decided to pitch in money to rent a motel room and go to Tijuana the next day. Jeff Atta, Mike Atta, Bruce Atta, Mike Patton, Black Randy, Joanie, Rick Jaffee and me, all without a change of clothes, slept in what we’d been wearing all day and then wore our stinky, sweaty clothes on our little sightseeing expedition down Mexico way.
Joanie was a good friend of mine from my front desk days at the Canterbury. She hung out with me, Shannon and Sheila quite often. She had started dating Black Randy and the two seemed to bring the best out in each other. Joanie had a regular job and a car. As far as I’d knew she was drug-free, level-headed and didn’t carry around a lot of emotional baggage. Randy, on the other hand, was legally insane. He rented a little office suite where he sometimes slept because the rent was less expensive than an actual apartment. He told me and Joanie that he received monthly checks from SSI because he was considered mentally unable to hold down a job. He said that on the day he’d gone in to meet the case worker who would determine whether to grant him the monthly stipend or not he’d stopped on his walk to the bus stop and filled his jacket pockets with dog shit he found along the way. “When I walked in she immediately smelled it and started to gag,” Randy laughed as he remembered the incident. “I thought she was gonna puke all over her desk!” The case worker quickly assessed Randy’s mental condition, confirming that he was indeed mentally unfit to hold a job. “As I was leaving, I took the dog shit out of my pockets and left it on her desk!” laughed Randy, obviously quite proud of his performance.
Black Randy was an interesting character who’d been around since the early days of the LA scene with his band The Metrosquad. I’d been an occasional backup singer and dancer in various incarnations of the Blackettes/Randettes, including a featured guest spot singing my old favorite “Popotitos” (the Spanish version of Boney Maroney) with Mexican Randy. Randy always insisted on calling me Alice Bag, even in casual conversation: “Alice Bag, would you like another drink?” One time at a party, Randy made the mistake of passing out before me and I drew all over his face with eyeliner, then I hightailed it out of there before he woke up as he could be quite vicious in extracting his revenge. But that night in San Diego we were all on best behavior, drinking rum and Dr. Pepper and having fun. Randy treated us all to his impersonation of John Denney from the Weirdos with the aid of some clear plastic and a lampshade.
Black Randy pretending to be John Denny from the Weirdos, San Diego CA. Photo by Alice Bag.
The following morning on our way to Tijuana we broke off into smaller groups. Sixteen year-old Middle Class drummer Bruce Atta and I had embarked on a drunken romance the night before; now we were still feeling cuddly, so Joanie asked me and Bruce to join her in her compact car. Bruce and I climbed in the back seat and Joanie and Black Randy rode in front as we crossed the international border ready for a little vacation. That’s what I thought, anyway.
The caravan split up to find parking and we agreed to meet on Avenida Revolucion, the main drag in Tijuana. Joanie found a parking spot quickly and we got out to admire the colorful ceramics, pinatas, sarapes, jewelry and other tourist attractions that lined the street but the one attraction that most interested Randy was one he called “The Donkey Show.” I had been to Tijuana many times but had never heard of The Donkey Show. Standing there on Avenida Revolucion, Randy pointed to a crudely rendered mural above the entrance to a bar. It showed a scantily clad woman standing next to a donkey.
"That’s where they have the donkey show…" Randy pointed at the mural.
"What exactly happens in there?" I asked, not wanting to assume the worst.
"What do you think, Alice Bag? She fucks the donkey!" Randy replied, laughing.
"No way!" I was shocked for the first time in a very long time.
"Let’s go see the show, I’ll prove it to you."
"No fucking way," I said, disgusted with the picture that my imagination instantly concocted.
"Why don’t we meet up with you later?" Bruce suggested. Joanie gave me a pained look. I knew she wanted to be rescued from having to go explore the donkey show but she was Randy’s girl and she knew that meant hanging out with a certified loony. "She knows what she’s getting into," I thought to myself, a little guilty for not saving her. "We’ll meet you at the car at five o’clock," I said. I’d leave it to Joanie to speak up if she didn’t want to be part of Randy’s sick little adventure.
Bruce and I explored the city and at 5:00 pm we waited at the designated spot. Randy and Joanie were late. When they finally arrived, Joanie looked a little perturbed but she gave me a forced smile and assured me everything was ok. We got back in the car and joined the long line of cars waiting to go through the customs inspection checkpoint to get back into the U.S. Randy seemed exhausted from the day’s adventures and a little out of it. He kept falling asleep.
"What’s up with Randy?" I asked Joanie.
"He bought some heroin and shot it up in the car just before we met you guys."
"Is that what you guys have been doing?" I felt bad for my friend. I was sure her idea of fun did not include buying drugs in foreign countries. Then came the clincher.
"He stuffed the rest of it in the glove compartment."
"WHAT?" I was furious. By now, we were just three or four cars away from the immigration booth and I could see a drug sniffing German Shepherd patrolling up and down a neighboring lane. The last place on earth I wanted to be was in a car that was smuggling heroin across the international border in the fucking glove compartment. I kicked the back of Randy’s seat, hard.
"Wake up, you asshole! What the fuck were you thinking?" But Randy couldn’t keep his eyes open. Joanie looked worried. Bruce was silent. There was nothing we could do. The cars continued their inexorable advance towards the border and the dozens of cars behind had us hemmed in. There was no way to get out and dump the heroin, we were too close and would surely be spotted. I was nervous and scared and most of all angry.
"We’ll just say he’s sleeping," Joanie said, trying to calm me down. We advanced to the booth where the immigration officer asked our nationality. "We’re US citizens," Joanie told the officer. Then he looked at me.
"Where are you from?"
"Los Angeles." I was sure I could feel sweat starting to bead down my temples. My heart was pounding in my ears.
"What part?" He was still staring at me, suspiciously.
"East L.A." It started to dawn on me that he was more concerned about illegal immigrants than illegal narcotics.
"What’s wrong with your friend?" he turned back to Joanie.
"Too much tequila!" Joanie smiled at the officer, who waved us through. He’d been more concerned with what part of L.A. I was from than with the guy passed out on heroin in the front seat. I breathed a sigh of relief and vowed to never go anywhere with Randy again.
An excerpt from Violence Girl.
When I attended Sacred Heart of Mary HS, the Sisters took us to see Jesus Christ Superstar the Original Motion Picture. I blame them. Happy Easter!
It’s time to Roll Away the Stone. My cover of the Mott the Hoople Easter classic.
"The Hollywood punk scene predated the East L.A. punk scene; they were not concurrent." Pick up issue #79 of @Razorcake. WE WERE THERE. Voices from L.A. Punk’s First Wave. An Oral History Hosted by Alice Bag
Photo: The Bags performing at the Dreva/Gronk Art Meets Punk Show, 1978. Photograph by Louis Jacinto
I moderate a conversation with Tito Larriva of The Plugz; Trudie Arguelles of The Plungers; Robert Lopez of The Zeros; Margot Olavarria of The Go-Go’s; Juan Gomez of Human Hands; Hector Peñalosa of The Zeros; Javier Escovedo of The Zeros; Kid Congo Powers of the Gun Club and The Cramps; Hellin Killer of The Plungers; Mike Ochoa of Nervous Gender; Seal Sanchez, Roadie; X-8, FlipSide writer; and artists Sean Carrillo and Margaret Guzman. The great layout by Todd Taylor is accompanied by photographs of these artists by Dawn Wirth, Lynda Burdick, Pete Landswick and Louis Jacinto. GET IT!
Friday night @MOLAA, Lysa and I discuss our work and share stories about the role that Frida Kahlo played in influencing our creative expression.
Screening Room MOLAA members are free, $9 for non-members
Space is limited. Reservations are strongly recommended, call 562.437.1689. More info on the exhibition here.
Attention students/faculty of Loyola Marymount University, I will be participating in a symposium next Wednesday, March 19. I’m not sure if this event will be open to the public but if you happen to be at LMU next Wednesday, please stop by.
Friday, March 21st I will be reading and performing at the Simi Valley Public Library. Free admission, all ages.
Over the past two years, I feel fortunate to have been invited to several universities 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.
THE PUNK SINGER DOCUMENTARY: BENEFIT SCREENING
Peace Over Violence
$15 / $20 day of event, (presale link below)
This is the kick off event for Denim Day in LA & USA! Join us for a screening of The Punk Singer and Q&A panel at the LA Derby Dolls Doll Factory!
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Derby Dolls Doll Factory-1910 W Temple Street, Los Angeles
6PM doors open
7PM Derby Dolls Program & Intro
8:35-9:15PM Q&A panel moderated by Martha Gonzalez (Scripps College) featuring Director Sini Anderson, Jack Halberstam (USC), Alice Bag (The Bags) and Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile)!
Mohawk Bend will be serving beer and food trucks will be on site.
Parking is available for $10 at the Silverlake Medical Center, 1711 West Temple, (near the intersection of Temple and Union), one block east of the Doll Factory.
* Your receipt will be your ticket to the show.