photo & text by nacrowe
in the past few years there have been a number of books published to address the critical void in PUNK ROCK history surrounding the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that emerged in the late 1970s and transitioned into the more aggressive, militant and arguably influential 1980s HARDCORE scene made up of bands from the SOUTH BAY and nearby outlying counties (ORANGE, VENTURA, SANTA BARBARA and SAN DIEGO). this includes X guitarist JOHN DOE'S UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK (DA CAPO, 2016), MASQUE venue owner BRENDAN MULLEN's WE GOT THE NEUTRON BOMB: THE UNTOLD STORY OF L.A. PUNK (THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2001) and LEXICON DEVIL: THE FAST TIMES AND SHORT LIFE OF DARBY CRASH AND THE GERMS (FERAL HOUSE, 2002) and STEVEN BLUSHES's AMERICAN HARDCORE: A TRIBAL HISTORY (FERAL HOUSE, 2001) among many other notable titles.
what makes VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY (FERAL HOUSE, 2011) by ALICE BAG of THE BAGS a compelling memoir is not only her unique perspective on the initial scene, which she was an active participant in, and its notable participants (THE GERMS, THE WIERDOS, X, THE MIDDLE CLASS etc.), but also how her upbringing as a LATINA in EAST L.A. affected her worldview. in my estimation, that distinct perspective is what is missing in other recent books on the subject and makes this autobiography a particularly noteworthy and vital addition.
regarding that perspective, BAG presents a scene made up of misfits and artistically-inclined eccentrics with varied interests and backgrounds who created an anarchic, underground and ultimately inclusive community of like-minded individuals. in her description of this early scene there is very much a sense of FREEDOM at play, where PUNK ROCK had opened the doors to personal expression with no expectations. and the initial community, which was quite INTIMATE and SELF-SUSTAINING, supported such. much like other scenes that blew up, its success was its downfall as it transitioned into the HARDCORE scene. audiences from the suburbs flooded in and transformed the scene into something quite different entirely, arguably a more REGIMENTED, VIOLENT and ultimately CONSERVATIVE affair.
much of this book is focused on that of her family and the aggression and rage inherited from her father, who on occasion mercilessly beat her mother in public view of her neighbors. you really get the sense of the generational TRAUMA of such TOXIC MASCULINITY and how it affects and inhibits your ability to interact and navigate relationships and the wold in general. lucky for BAG, her music and the support of her community allowed her a unique avenue for sublimating such for position change, but it is interesting how she feels somewhat culpable for the transition the scene ultimately took towards a more orthodox and less inclusive community that seemed NIHILISTIC in its almost ritual celebration and fetishization of VIOLENCE. her music was violence and aggression as a catharsis and means of deeper communicating and engagement with her audience. what later emerged was music as a background soundtrack to sanctioned random AGGRESSION.
an aspect i really appreciated about this memoir was how it was written and structured. BAG has a real gift for being direct and concise while providing intimate details of what it was like being an adorable music-obsessed dork growing up in the 1970s complete with loving descriptions of her clothing, hair and that of her peers, especially with regards to her fandom and emulation of ELTON JOHN. the book is structured as a series of short chapters that almost serve as small vignettes, each one providing a glimpse into a wide narrative without making it to fragmented in the process. it is a remarkable narrative strategy that more than mirrors the ethos of her music, which likewise is VISCERAL, MEMORABLE, CONCISE and ultimately quite IMPACTFUL.
i feel that VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY is an effective introduction to the story of the LOS ANGELES PUNK scene and its transformation. given her perspective as a minority and a woman it is really interest a treat to explore her experience in the scene. it makes me wonder why more of these books do not exist regarding PUNK ROCK in general as the community is far more diverse than the literature would suggest. after this i am definitely primed to seek out THE SPITBOY RULE: TALES OF A XICANA IN A FEMALE PUNK BAND (PM PRESS, 2016) by SPITBOY drummer MICHELLE CRUZ GONZALEZ.
if anyone is aware of other titles hitherto not reviewed in this forum, please let me know.