BOOK REVIEW | "THE SPITBOY RULE: TALES OF A XICANA IN A FEMALE PUNK BAND" BY MICHELLE CRUZ GONZALES
photo & text by nacrowe
i remember when reading SARA MARCUS' GIRLS TO THE FRONT: THE TRUE STORY OF THE RIOT GRRRL REVOLUTION (review linked HERE) about the largely PACIFIC NORTHWEST-based RIOT GRRRL movement a few years back it was evident that there was much thought, intention and goodwill into initiating an arts scene that promoted and supported FEMALE MUSICANS by WOMEN and for WOMEN. specifically the scene at EVERGREEN COLLEGE STATE COLLEGE in OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON reminded me quite vividly of the people i met while attending a NEW ENGLAND boarding school during my high school years. these people were EDUCATED, EMPOWERED, SOCIALLY-CONSCIOUS and on the whole EMPATHETIC, but they all were quite NAIVE and had limited experience living or understanding people that were outside of the social groups they inhabited and were raised around, i.e. WHITE PEOPLE.
the RIOT GRRRL scene of the early 1990s lacked an understanding of what is now understood to be INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM. in other word they treated womanhood as a monolithic identity and didnt consider how RACE, CLASS, LGBTQ and other MINORITY statuses influence such. that particular scene, though WELL-INTENTIONED, was largely BLIND to the complexities and differences in hardships facing WOMEN of various INTERSECTIONAL IDENTITIES by PATRIARCHAL STRUCTURES. this miscalculation was rooted in their unknowing assumption of taking their own experiences as WHITE WOMEN to stand for that of ALL WOMEN everywhere.
all that being said, part of what makes THE SPITBOY RULE: TALES OF A XICANA IN A FEMALE PUNK BAND (PM PRESS, 2016) by MICHELLE CRUZ GONZALES (a.k.a TODD of SPITBOY) so interesting is how i knowingly provides a counter-narrative to the popular understanding of FEMALE bands of this period (undoubtedly influenced by the RIOT GRRRL scene). SPITBOY was an stridently political BAY AREA HARDCORE band from the same GILMAN STREET scene that brought about NEUROSIS, GREEN DAY, CRIMPSHINE and ECONOCHRIST among many others. being composed entirely of WOMEN, their music was AGGRESSIVELY CONFRONTATIONAL based on their experiences dealing with the bullshit brought on by AMERICAN PATRIARCHAL STRUCTURES. the band identified as a HARDCORE band and consciously did not associate SPITBOY with the CONCURRENT RIOT GRRRL scene.
GONZALES is a UNIQUE and COMPELLING figure given her status as the only non-white member of SPITBOY, rendering her essentially an OUTSIDER in a band of OUTSIDERS. PUNK ROCK had a way of blanketing and superseding all other forms of one's previous IDENTITY, which suited her just fine as an OUTSIDER both ETHNICALLY and GEOGRAPHICALLY in the BAY AREA scene. unlike her band members, she also grew up POOR with a single mother. music, first with BITCH FIGHT, later with SPITBOY, was a means of ESCAPE, EXPRESSION and TRANSFORMATION. as her career moved forward and she became recognized with the scene, and even internationally, there was a sense of tension within herself about her IDENTITY as a WOMAN OF COLOR in a scene where such was a novelty. feeling like an OUTSIDER in a band that identified itself as an OUTSIDER is quite the feat and makes this complicated book entirely fascinating. even ALICE BAG of THE BAGS in a previous generation, as written about in her memoir VIOLENCE GIRL: A CHICANA PUNK STORY (review linked HERE), had others within and outside her band and that original late 1970s LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene that identified and were proud of their LATIN heritage. some even incorporated such into their music explicitly, like THE ZEROS and THE PLUGZ. its interesting that such was not the case with the more arguably more influential HARDCORE scene that followed by and large.
just reading through GONZALES' experiences touring on the road really makes you consider how much being in a PUNK ROCK band requires an all-encompassing, OBJECTIVE-ORIENTED GROUP MENTALITY. its a machine that needs to work efficiently in order to function and survive in environments far from home. it makes total sense that one's sense of INDIVIDUALITY is COMPARTMENTALIZED and DISCARDED in such a seeming extreme situation. this memoir feels like a working through of such experiences and sheds light on the personal repercussions of such a complicated state of affairs, especially when there is an audience that projects so much of their sense of IDENTITY on to you. that is a veritable carnival house of mirrors level mindfuck to deal with that i cant imagine.
THE SPITBOY RULE is one of the more FASCINATING memoirs by an artist or musician i have come across in recent years. it is most definitely worth checking out.