Women's Lib: Alice Bag Talks the Original Women of Punk Rock
The OG punk women ran the OG punk show, says Alice.
Alice Bag is not ready to surrender being cooler than practically anyone else you’ve ever met. She basically founded the late ‘70s punk rock scene in Hollywood with her band, the Bags. You can verify that slight overstatement by viewing Bag's performance in Penelope Spheeris's 1981 documentary, a film that launched 20,000 punk bands, The Decline of Western Civilization. A self-evident and early iconoclast by nature, Alice has never stopped being an amazing singer/songwriter, musician, artist, educator, and feminist.
She’s published two books, Violence Girl and Pipe Bomb for the Soul. And, in June, she released a self-titled solo album that features original Alice Bag songs and guest appearances from some of her favorite L.A.-based musicians.
Alice Bag has never been afraid to express herself, and she shows up to talk to The KIND with candor, passion, and insight.
The KIND: After all this time, how did the debut album come together?
Alice Bag: A series of strange events led up to making this record. The first was writing my memoir, Violence Girl, in 2011. When I started doing readings to promote Violence Girl, I realized that I was capable of organizing an entire book tour by myself. I had always worked in band situations where jobs are split up and people work cooperatively. Having to do everything myself was a little scary at first, but it was also an opportunity for me to challenge myself. Successfully accomplishing it left me feeling self-confident.
At the time my first book came out, I was living in Arizona on the outskirts of Phoenix in a somewhat remote area called Cave Creek. I felt pretty isolated, but the solitude gave me opportunity to write. I wrote quite a few of the songs that ended up on the record during the time I was there, and I kept up the habit of songwriting when I moved back to L.A.
As a follow up to Violence Girl, I decided to self-publish a second book, Pipe Bomb for the Soul, about my time in post-revolutionary Nicaragua. Making decisions about everything from paper stock to cover design, from distribution channels to promotion, gave me a new appreciation for the work of publishers and DIY zinemakers. I saw that shepherding a creative project from start to finish was a lot of work, but could also be immensely satisfying.
I think the thing that finally pushed me over the edge was that some friends of mine asked me to produce a few songs they were recording. I was flattered and surprised when FEA asked me to work with them on their new LP. The trust that they put in me and my experience working with them helped me realize that I could produce my own record.
All these things made me see myself in a new light, and that's where it all starts for me. Once I decide I want to do something, I'm pretty good about seeing it through to the end.
The KIND: What do you mean by No Soy Monedita de Oro?
Alice Bag: "Monedita de Oro" is the name of a ranchera song that my father used to play when I was growing up. I learned the words as a child and used to sing them at the top of my lungs. The words mean I'm Not a Little Gold Coin. The lyrics are about liking yourself and knowing that you don't have to appeal to everyone. The message of the song is that a little gold coin is something everyone likes but I'm not that—everyone doesn't have to like me. I like myself just fine, and I don't care if you don't like me. I've always seen this song as an expression of self-empowerment and affirmation. It's about having the confidence to swim against the current.
Really, I'm not all that nostalgic. I'm happy living in the present.
The KIND: What do you hope for going forward?
Alice Bag: I hope to continue to grow and create. It's nice to have an audience. I feel very supported right now, and I hope I will always feel that support, yet having made music for so many years I know that as artists we have to be resilient and validate our own work. That's where remembering the lyrics to "Monedita de Oro" comes in handy. My music, my painting, my writing—I do all of it because it's intrinsically rewarding. I do it to please myself, and if others like it, that's great. I'm my harshest critic. If I like it, like I like my new record, then I'm happy.
The KIND: What are you making happen with your Women in L.A. Punk archives?
Alice Bag: My husband is revamping my website. We had over 30 interviews up on the old version of alicebag.com, and we're putting them back up on the new site a little at a time. By we, I mean my husband. I do the interviews and write the introductions. He actually does all the website work. I'm constantly running into old friends who need to be interviewed for those archives. I'd like to continue to expand it so people can see the sheer number of women who helped shape and define L.A.'s punk scene. It's my hope that I can provide a resource for people to learn about the equal involvement of women in creating the early L.A. punk scene, which I still feel is overlooked.
The KIND: Is there anything you'd like to bring back that's gone from 1977?
Alice Bag: There are people I miss, a few friends I wish were around to grow old with me. You know Phranc's song "Life Lover"? It speaks to me. I really appreciate the journey. It's fun to catch up with people to see what they're doing, see how their lives have changed. But the friends we've lost over the years? I can't bring them back.
Maybe I can bring back the Pogo. I like pogoing; it never went out of style for me. I still pogo at shows. I only wish I still had my 18 year-old knees!
Really, I'm not all that nostalgic. I'm happy living in the present. I think the world is better today than when I was young.