Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story
September 27, 2011- Feral House
Written by: Alice Bag
Alice Bag’s memoir is less about the first wave LA punk scene that she was such an integral part of and more about family, growing up, finding yourself, and testing your limits. A discursive book written in short chapters, “Violence Girl” is a quick read, even though it’s more than 300 pages long. Alice’s voice shines through — a thoughtful, confrontational, sometimes confused, but rarely cowed woman. Alice goes from being an awkward teenager with an Elton John obsession to being the lead singer of the seminal punk band, The Bags. Along the way, she befriends and bemuses a bevy of LA scenesters like Kim Fowley; doomed, nihilistic Darby Crash of The Germs; the women who would become The Go-Go’s; Patricia Morrison, who co-founded The Bags and would go on to be in both The Gun Club and influential Goth act Sisters of Mercy; even Tom Waits makes a cameo. But the book is more than a name-dropping trek across the glittering landscape of late-70s Los Angeles. It’s about struggling with family and faith, it’s about reconciling ambition with reality, and it’s about how punk rock’s DIY ethos helped a young woman define herself and claim her place in the world. While many in the early punk scene burned bright and died young, Alice Bag seems made of sterner stuff. Near the end of the book, readers get a glimpse of her post-punk rock trajectory — she travels to Managua, Nicaragua at the height of US meddling in Nicaraguan affairs and finds a country stripped to the bone and surviving on little more than willpower and pride. I wish this section of the book had been longer, and I would have enjoyed hearing more of the tantalizing anecdotes she only hints at. That’s what I take from this book: Alice’s voice. Wise, wry, funny, bold, and honest, it’s a voice I wanted to spend more time with.
The proximity of the East L.A. barrio to Hollywood is as close as a short drive on the 101 freeway, but the cultural divide is enormous. Born to Mexican-born and American-naturalized parents, Alicia Armendariz migrated a few miles west to participate in the free-range birth of the 1970s punk movement. Alicia adopted the punk name Alice Bag and became lead singer for The Bags, early punk visionaries who starred in the Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.
Here is a life of many crossed boundaries, from East L.A.’s musica ranchera to Hollywood’s punk rock; from a violent male-dominated family to female-dominated transgressive rock bands. Alice’s feminist sympathies can be understood by the name of her satiric all-girl early Goth band Castration Squad.
Violence Girl takes us from a violent upbringing to an aggressive punk sensibility; this time, a difficult coming-of-age memoir culminates with a satisfying conclusion, complete with a happy marriage and children. Nearly a hundred excellent photographs energize the text in remarkable ways.
If you don’t have it, go buy it.
Rating: ** * two out of three stars
Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!: The True Story of Frank the Shank and L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang
November 10, 2015- Feral House
Written by: Heath Mattioli and David Spacone
The mind simply spins at the thought of “Disco’s Out… Murder’s In!” It isn’t hard to imagine the controversy it will create. The book is full of unsavory characters consisting of brutes of the lowest level, and the kicker is, they’re just kids! They inhabit the world where the sun refuses to shine. The authors’ ruthless account of these wretched lives is so brutally honest, it almost hurts to read. The prose has the immediacy of a screenplay. It’s uncomfortable.
Famous for its revolutionary aspects of musical, political, sexual identity and consumerist ideas, punk rock also has its lesser-known gangster ethos as well, explained here by players in the various punk gangs.
The Los Angeles, Orange County, and South Bay punk scenes, populated by blue-collar kids who responded to the violence and aggression of punk songs and shows. A number of them formed punk gangs that got into beatings, drug dealing, and murder. Among them, no gang was more notorious than La Mirada Punks, or LMP.
Says LMP chieftain Frank the Shank after getting arrested by police for murder: “After having my hands in so much bloodshed over the years, I most certainly had it coming. I deserved whatever I got.”
Unexpectedly Frank was bailed out of prison by his father’s friend, a mob gangster.
“Too many people died at the hands of punk rock violence,” said Frank. “I got lucky, some didn’t. As an ultra-violent punk rock gangster, I admit my part in ruining the scene. L.A. punk was a magical moment of youth expression like no other. And the gangs ruined punk rock. I still have people telling me today that they quit punk because of LMP. I dig graves at a small cemetery just outside Los Angeles. What else would you expect from Frank the Shank?”
If you get the chance, give this one a read, it’s a good book, go out and get it. It’s a great snapshot of an interesting time in music.
Rating: ** * two out of three stars
Misconceptions of Hell is available now: http://goo.gl/n9ofGb