Alice Bag: She Was a Punk Before You Were a Punk
One of the fascinating Angelenos featured in L.A. Weekly's People 2012 issue. Check out our entire People 2012 issue here.
Alice Bag busted up the punk-rock patriarchy in September 1977. At Hollywood's Masque, she and three female bandmates walked onstage wearing brown paper grocery bags over their heads, with slashes for eyeholes. This was their first headlining show, and they played extremely loud. They called themselves The Bags.
Sure, other L.A. punk bands like The Alleycats and The Eyes had female bassists who occasionally sang a lick or two, but The Bags were the first with a frontwoman -- and a bisexual Chicana frontwoman at that.
Although the group never recorded a full studio LP -- it broke up only a few years after the show -- Bag herself retains a long list of admirers.
"[S]he was in one of the bands that got the whole thing started," Henry Rollins wrote in his L.A. Weekly column last year. "She helped put a lot of females on the stage, where normally only men were allowed."
First-generation Mexican-American -- neither of her parents spoke English -- Bag was born Alicia Armendariz and raised in East Los Angeles. Today a 53-year-old punk-rock mom whose intensity remains reminiscent of the girl wearing thin fishnets and thick eyeliner more than three decades ago, she splits her time between Mount Washington and Sedona, Ariz.
Over raw vegan coconut ice cream in Pasadena, she would like to set a few things straight. "Women were co-creators of the scene," Bag says of the American punk movement. "It was ours, and we happily shared it."
After The Bags, she was in a number of other bands whose names reflect her feminist leanings, including The Castration Squad, Cholita and Stay at Home Bomb. With the Alice Bag band, she appeared in Penelope Spheeris' seminal 1981 Los Angeles punk film, The Decline of Western Civilization. The group's performance of "Gluttony" serves as a touchstone for her fans, a rare document of her shows from the era.
Three years after The Bags broke up in 1984, she settled in teaching nonnative elementary-school English students with a bilingual emphasis. "I've got a B.A. in philosophy and a Ph.D. in troublemaking," she says with a laugh.
She reemerged in 2011 with her memoir, Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story, about her childhood and punk days; it received great reviews. Taking a break from her day job, Bag toured the country doing readings and performing acoustic sets of her most popular songs, like her rendition of Mexican folk tune "No Soy Monedita de Oro," which means "I Am Not a Little Gold Coin."
She continues seeking new creative outlets, and in her spare time blogs about everything from politics to parenting to sewing. Baking also has become a great passion; Bag is working to re-create Julia Child's sophisticated Queen of Sheba cake (think: chocolate with almonds) and even contemplates opening her own bakery. "A pastry shop with books is the dream," she says. "I would call it Feed Your Head."
*Bag reads from Violence Girl at Beauty Is Pain Boutique on Thursday. May 24 at 8pm
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