Most punk fans know Alicia Armendariz as Alice Bag, the lead singer of The Bags, the group featured copiously in 1981 punk doc The Decline of Western Civilization.
But Armendariz has another story to tell, and her new book Violence Girl- East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage- A Chicana Punk Story (Feral House), compiles her recollections from throughout her life. It's a bold and engaging memoir that offers not only a glimpse into Los Angeles' early hardcore scene, but also tells a tale of growing up in a close-knit Latino family in East L.A. in the '60s and '70s.
At her Saturday book signing party at La De Jesus Gallery at Soap Plant/Wacko, Bag offered both, reading excerpts from the book and performing songs reflecting them.
Accompanied by Lisa Flores and Lee Joseph, Bag started off with a ranchera classic, “Monedita de Oro,” and told a childhood tale about using Barbie dolls to do “coochie-coochie” to herself, “down there.”
Then she read about a legendary Orpheum punk show where The Germs, The Zeros and The Weirdos took the stage for the first time. (Her boyfriend at the time, Nickey Beat, was The Weirdos' drummer.) She followed that up with a classic Bags tune, “Babylonian Gorgon.” A bit about the formation of The Bags was followed by a wild ditty from one of her post-Bags projects (with famed performance artist Vaginal Creme Davis) called Cholita. The song: “Beans Are Not Enough,” inspired a sing-along.
Fans in attendance included older, seasoned punks and fresh-faced youngsters in old-school punk gear — leather jackets and colored hair.
Clearly, Bag's influence on new punkettes endures. Decline is pretty much standard viewing for disenfranchised youth and Penelope Spheeris' choice to spotlight Bag and Exene Cervenka surely encouraged future generations of girl punks to give music a go. It also set the stage for the scene's biggest band — The Go-Go's — to break through. (Belinda Carlisle, in fact, makes an appearance in Violence Girl.)
Bag is now a teacher in Arizona with three grown daughters. She says a section of her “Women In L.A. Punk” blog — in which she interviews women pioneers on the scene — has helped put her in touch with young female fans.
“My blog is read by a lot of kids,” she tells us. “I really needed to give a voice to the women. It was an incredible time in history.” It has helped some “claim their space on the dance floor,” she goes on. “If they do that, they might claim their space in other areas as well.”
Bag says her Latino background was never a big deal in the diverse Hollywood music scene, but her heritage is surely inspiring to Latino punks of today who know her story. Regardless, East LA still seems to be fertile ground for ferocious music makers.
“The scene was more inclusive back then,” says Bag, who also played with Castration Squad and later El Vez. “We all felt like outcasts, regardless of our ethnicities. I didn't even consider the color of my skin.”
Initially, the Bags wore, well, bags over their heads, as an expression of anonymous liberation. But that idea was scrapped after a few shows. Why?
“I blame [The Germs'] Darby Crash,” says Bag. “He would always stand in the front of the stage and try to rip off my bag. He was fixated and I spent most of the show trying keep my bag away from him. I finally stopped. ”
Alice Bag will read and perform again on Sat., Oct. 22, 7 p.m., at Antebellum Gallery, 1643 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood. The event is a “Bag Head Party.” Guests are encouraged to wear bags and the best ones will get a special prize from Alice. Facebook invite here.