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Punk Icon Alice Bag on the LA Punk Scene, ‘Violence Girl,’ and Feminism

Photo by Martin Sorrondeguy

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Punk Icon Alice Bag on the LA Punk Scene, ‘Violence Girl,’ and Feminism

When punk rock emerged in the late 70’s, it was that in your face, anti-establishment, rebellious form of expression that any teen with an ounce of angst lived for. It was riotous and unapologetic, an outcast driven movement that challenged societal norms and laughed in the face of authority. And at the forefront was the Bags, led by co-founder and vocalist Alice Bag. The Bags performed their first concert at the Masque on September 10, 1977, and became one of the first bands in the early L.A. punk scene. Their concerts were loud, fearless, and just about as punk as you could get. The Bags blazed a trail and set the stage for other women with a voice and a microphone to follow.

Beyond the Bags, Alice successfully launched a solo career with the June 2016 release of her debut self- titled solo album Alice Bag. She also penned two books, including her critically acclaimed memoir Violence Girl, From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage. From the abuse she experienced at a young age, Alice was able to channel her pain and frustration to create art with a message. Forty years after walking out onto the stage at the Masque with a grocery bag on her head, Alice still carries the torch as an activist, feminist, and all around badass. She empowers others to use their voice and push back against the very stereotypes she’s spent a lifetime shattering.

Alice Bag in Highland Park. Photo by @artdrunkpunk

You were at the forefront of the punk scene in Los Angeles. What attracted you to punk music?

It was new and completely different from anything I’d ever heard! It felt a little out of control, untamed and not completely defined. It also felt welcoming to anyone who was willing to take a chance and do something innovative.

What was the L.A. punk scene like when you were performing with the Bags?

It was exciting. People were experimenting with music, fashion, relationships, with everything. It felt like the doors were wide open. The scene was like a ball of clay waiting to be shaped.

Were there challenges you faced as a Latina in the punk scene?

The early L.A. punk scene was co-created by people of color and women. It was made up of people from all backgrounds, so my challenges came not from within the scene but from the outside world which saw us as freaks. In those days, many people had no idea what punk rock was, and they were afraid that the strange kids with funny-colored hair and bright thrift store clothes were part of a gang or religious sect. Some punks were insulted and laughed at by strangers, others were beaten or incarcerated just for being different.

What inspired you to share your life story and write Violence Girl, From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage?

I have never thought of myself as a writer so it still surprises me that I am now an author. A few years ago, some friends of mine were writing a play and they asked me to tell them a little about what it was like growing up in East L.A. in the ’60s and ’70s. We were sitting in a bar, drinking and laughing when one of my friends turned to me and commented that I should gather the stories and write a book. I went home that evening and talked to my husband, who had in fact been telling me the same thing for a long time. I tried to laugh off the comment but he persisted. I told him I couldn’t do it and he asked me why I thought I couldn’t do it. I told him that I wasn’t a writer and he reminded me that I had been blogging for years. The next morning when my husband left for work, he left our laptop open on the kitchen table. He had created a new blog site for me called The True Life Adventures of Violence Girl. I poured myself a cup of coffee and blogged the first page of my book.

Alice Bag at the Hong Kong Cafe, 1978 (Photo by Louis Jacinto)

And you also started Stay at Home Bomb.

Stay at Home Bomb was a band that I created when I was a new mom and I was starting to feel disconnected from my music. I was in the process of discovering how important music is to my sanity and general well-being. I loved my baby, and I wanted to give her everything she needed but I started to feel like I was drying up. I felt like I was dying – quite literally I was getting sick a lot and thinking about death. I believe it all stemmed from being deprived of nourishment, not food but creativity. I needed the fuel that creativity provided in order to survive.

The band and I decided to play with typical housewife/mother tropes. We wore aprons on stage. We hung a little clothesline with baby clothes as our backdrop. Our lead guitarist, Lysa Flores did a solo using an electric mixer while I played a washboard and occasionally menaced the audience with a spatula (but only if they were naughty.) We also baked cookies for audiences to encourage good behavior. We were trying to depict the many stereotypical images that form our ideas of what housewives and mothers do, but at the same time we were challenging those stereotypes by being badass rockers. I think our goal was to show that our lives as women can sometimes embrace, sometimes contradict, and ultimately redefine what it means to be a mother and a working musician.

I attended the Women’s March earlier this year, and I truly feel like women are joining forces now (maybe more than ever). Why is it important for women to support each other?

I was there too. I marched in Washington. It was tremendous! We can be a powerful force when we work together. We have the numbers. We have the skill and intelligence. Our time is now, the world needs saving and it’s up to us.

So many women are afraid to speak up and stand up for themselves. What words of inspiration do you have for women who feel like they don’t have a voice?

I think what those women need more than a pep talk is a society that is supportive of women’s rights and a society that refuses to tolerate abuse, sexual harassment or gender inequality. We also need to be able to see ourselves in strong female role models, both real and fictional. People need to be able to imagine what they want to be before they can become it. I want to challenge all of us to make this world a place where women don’t have to feel afraid for themselves, for their friends or for their families.

If you could go back in time and tell the younger you one thing, what would it be?

Love yourself as you grow into the person you want to be. Also, on a less philosophical note, don’t be afraid to bleach your hair!

What does music mean to you in your life?

Music is the way I process the world and delve deeper into problems or subjects that interest me. Music can be a form of expression that is intrinsically rewarding or it can be the way I communicate with others.

What’s one of the most important things you want people to know about you?

People don’t really need to know much about me. I hope my music or my story speaks to them and is of some value to their lives.

What’s next for you?

I just recorded a new album that will be out in spring 2018. It will be called Blueprint, and it’s going to be released on the Don Giovanni label. I hope you’ll take a listen!

Follow Alice Bag on Twitter @alicebag.

 

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Keldine Hull is a Los Angeles based entertainment writer, author, and (self proclaimed) poet. The common thread in all her written work is her love of music, television, and film. Her sense of direction is literally non- existent, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have a clear goal in life, which is to share the stories that need to be told and (hopefully) brighten up someone's day. She's also a pool shark; she will literally annihilate you in pool and not think twice about it.

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