Tuesday, November 10, 2015

An Interview with Alice Bag On Her L.A. Punk Autobiography Violence Girl

This article first appeared in 2011

By Rebecca G. Wilson

I recently caught up with Alice Bag, singer from legendary Los Angeles punk band the Bags, during her book tour for Violence Girl. Violence Girl - From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage is Alice's explicit memoir of her life from her Mexican American roots to her glam rock days to her punk days in late 70s Los Angeles. It was published by Adam Parfrey's Feral House in 2011.

Any chance of a Bags reunion?

Alice Bag:
Craig Lee and Rob Ritter are dearly departed and Patricia lives in England. I don't think a reunion is likely but I won't say never because I would love to jam with Terry and Patricia if we all happened to be in the same place some day.

You mention the ups and downs of punk friendships in your book. Are you still close with any of your friends from back in the day? Which ones and why?

Alice Bag:
I keep in touch with most of them off and on, mostly online these days because I live in Arizona. I think we'll always have a special bond because we went through such a special time together.

You mentioned to me in Oakland that you enjoy writing and want to continue with it. What are your future writing plans?

Alice Bag:
I enjoy writing when I make time to do it. Lately it's been difficult to find time to sit down in front of a computer without life interrupting me. I don't mind. I love being busy especially since much of my work is related to the book. I am often reluctant to start writing but it's like exercising, I feel so good after I do it!

How do you feel about the book banning law in Arizona which has resulted in writing by Native American and Latino authors being banned in schools in Tucson?

Alice Bag:
I think it's un-American! Fuckers! I heard that in Tucson they even banned Shakespeare's The Tempest and any book that deals with race, ethnicity or oppression is at risk of being banned. History has always been biased, I think it's just more obvious now because we live in an age when information is so readily available. It just makes the one-sided history advocates look bigoted. I always think that people who are afraid of different points of view must have a very tenuous grasp on their own beliefs.

What are your thoughts on the drug war tragedy affecting Mexican towns like Juarez where you visited relatives as a child?

Alice Bag:
It makes me really sad. I can't look at that photo in my book, the one that I labeled Don't mess with the little girls of Juarez. I can't look at it without thinking that it could be one of them or one of their daughters that has gone missing. I wish I could fight back with them like I did when we were children.

You discuss your friendship with Darby Crash in the book. Did you see the Germs film and what did you think of it?

Alice Bag:
I did not see the film. I moved out to a somewhat remote part of Arizona when the film was first released and then I just never got around to seeing it.

Is punk dead?

Alice Bag:
Not at all. I think at some point in my life I might have answered that question differently but I was just looking in the wrong place for it. It's generally not found at the mall or on top 40 radio. The spirit of punk is very much alive. I see punk as iconoclastic and rebellious, so it takes many forms. I can detect punk in innovative teaching, creative cooking, subversive hacktivism, defiant protest and of course in music that is challenging, unpretentious, and daring!

Your eye for detail and description of color and style gave your book a magical realism feel. Do you enjoy any Latin American authors such as Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez who are known for this and have they been an influence?

Alice Bag:
Thank you, I love Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. House of the Spirits and Love in the Time of Cholera are two of my favorite books. If you detect even a shred of their influence in my writing I would consider it an enormous compliment. I'm just a fan.

Do the fortune telling birds still exist anywhere? Where?

Alice Bag:
Yes, I think they still do exist. You'll just have to take an adventurous journey south to find them but perhaps they'll reward you with something you need to hear.

I was surprised you didn't mention Darby Crash being gay but mention him having girlfriends. Do you think his sexual orientation contributed to his depression and confusion? Were you and Darby ever more than friends? I couldn't help but wonder because you were both attractive punk rockers and so close!

Alice Bag:
When I met him I think he was still exploring his sexuality. Darby and I exchanged a few drunken sloppy kisses one night. I don't think it felt right for either of us. We had grown apart by the time his depression set in so I can't really say what caused it.

Are you still a Cosmo girl?

Alice Bag:
No, but whenever I see one of my daughters reading Cosmo I have to smile inwardly. I think I've been very open with my girls about sexuality in ways that would make my mother blush. Sometimes I preface my talks with "tell me if this makes you uncomfortable or if it's too much information."

I loved your exploration of your Catholic religious upbringing, Mexican folk magic influences and existential philosophy debates with Darby Crash. It was refreshing to see that your punk world view was not nihilistic. How has your spirituality changed? How do you see God?

Alice Bag:
I see God everywhere, I see all humanity and nature connected. I don't believe in inanimate objects. I think everything has a life force. I think my welfare and the welfare of every other being are interdependent. We are God.

Any plans of resurrecting Elton Jane?

Alice Bag:
Not quite, but I have been covering an Elton John song during my recent readings.

I love your Cholita band project with Vaginal Creme Davis and Fertile Latoya Jackson. Does Cholita have any recordings out or shows coming up? What do you think of Vag Davis' success as an art star in Berlin?

Alice Bag:
Ms. Davis is mega-talented, as is Fertile LaToyah Jackson. Fertile was my TA in my early years as a teacher. It was through Fertile that I met Ms. Davis. Fertile (whose real name is Greg) and I had gone to a faculty party, where we started drinking. Greg told me he had to leave early because he was performing that night with the Afro Sisters and he invited me to the show. When we got to the venue,
Ms. Davis stuck an Afro wig on my head and invited me up on stage. After that, I was hooked.

Which Rocky Horror character did you dress up as?

Alice Bag:
I was a Columbia but I think I would have made a better Eddie. I still tend to sing and act out "my" parts when I catch the movie on TV now and then. I used to know all the dialogue, I don't anymore.

Did you ever meet Cherry Vanilla and have you read her book "Lick Me" ? That was nice of you to devote a couple pages to her in Violence Girl. Her correspondence must have really had an impact on your friend and you. Any more thoughts on the fabulous Cherry Vanilla?

Alice Bag:
I've never met her in person but her letters and poetry were so honest and wise that they made a big impression on me. I didn't know that Cherry has a new book. I can't wait to read it, if it's Cherry Vanilla, I'll take two scoops!

Your book deals a lot with violence, both the domestic violence in your parents' marriage inflicted by your father on your mother and also in the punk scene. What are your views on violence today? How do you think women should handle domestic violence? Do you think your mother should have left? Can violent men be rehabilitated?

Alice Bag:
Violence takes so many shapes. I think of it as a destructive force, I think of it as a dangerous yet powerful act that can be offensive or defensive. It's not always physical either, it can be psychological, emotional, financial. Anyone involved in a situation where domestic abuse is happening needs to get out and get help as soon as possible. My mother should have left, it would have been better for all of us.

I'm going to be very honest with you and tell you that if anyone hits me, they can expect to be hit back, and harder. I never turn the other cheek because in my experience that doesn't work. We are animals and some of us are more predatory than others. If you're near a predator, they can smell weakness, they can spot their prey coming a mile away. It's not a rational process for me - you hit me and my fists start flying, it's automatic. I think all women should take some type of self defense training. Violence, when directed at an attacker can be a very positive thing. I do think violent men can be rehabilitated, did you see the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? She's got a great success rate!
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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Coffee, Tea and Dave Davies in NYC Coffee, Tea and Dave Davies - interview and photos by Rebecca G. Wilson June 2013

This article first appeared in 2013 when Dave and I first got together.

I caught up with Dave Davies from the Kinks in NYC during his weeklong stay here playing at the City Winery.  His current U.S. tour backed by members of the Jigsaw Seen is a triumphant return to the stage to support his new album "I Will Be Me" on Cleopatra Records.  His shows became progressively more amazing starting with his reading lyrics from a music stand that disappeared as he got his groove back after the first shows.  Some highlights were his performances of tracks like 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' and 'Living On a Thin Line' that seemed to warm up to a seamless smokin' performance at June 4th's outdoor show.  Songs like 'Healing Boy' from the new record sounded great also.  He brought many crowd members up to the microphone throughout his shows to sing with him.  It was quite a thrill when I got to gogo dance onstage to his wild guitar during 'You Really Got Me' on his last evening gig.

DD in Soho photo by Rebecca G. Wilson

Jonathan Lea, Dave Davies and Tom Currier May 2013 photo by Rebecca G. Wilson

While in NYC I met up with him for an impromptu interview, photo shoot and discussion of a book project we had been working on for a while.  We walked around and got lost in Soho (since neither of us knew our way around once we wandered below Canal Street).  People did double takes at him and one guy walked by with a female companion and exclaimed, "That's Ray Davies!"  Ever the gentleman, Dave ignored or didn't hear the comment.  

He may be 66 years old but he has the energy of a teenager. It is hard to believe that he suffered a massive stroke in 2004.  He seemed a bit anxious about his upcoming first gig. At one point he turned and looked at me with those dandy bluegreen eyes and asked,"Can I cut it?"  I realized no matter how famous and respected the star, anyone can get performance anxiety.  We stared in shop windows and ogled Chinatown doodads while I muttered, "where are we?" and he queried an existential, "who am I?"  It made sense that his new album is titled "I Will Be Me".

photo by Rebecca G. Wilson

me and DD lost in Chinatown . . .
After finding a cafe he ordered a cappucinno, "one coffee a day," he said was his limit.  I had a cuppa tea.  Dave is a vegetarian and we split a mushroom cheese quiche and a chocolate rugelah pastry.  "Too sweet," he remarked.  We talked about all sorts of subjects including the internet.  His nickname for facebook is fakebook.  I noticed how much attention he receives online and asked him if he worried about over zealous fans and he replied simply, "They don't know where I live." 

Jonathan Lea, Tom Currier, Dave Davies May 2013 photo by Rebecca G. Wilson

Jonathan Lea, Teddy Freese, Dave Davies at City Winery 6/4/13 photo by RGW
We also discussed random questions that are part of an upcoming book project.  Here is an excerpt from those conversations from the past year.

RGW - I think there's something magical about appearance, you know, putting an outfit together, it's like an artform -

DD - Well of course it is!  But also, what were we trying to dress up as?  I think the hardest thing is to realize that we really need to address what we are inside first and then we can wear anything - we can wear a tree on our head!  You know, or wear, trousers, shoes, I don't know, it's like that's what we have to really find out - who the hell we are (laughs) and then we can wear anything!

RGW - Yeah

DD - I mean, that was the idea behind the punk thing in the late 70s
in England anyway.

RGW - Is that you in drag in the blonde wig in the film for the Kinks' song Dead End Street?

DD - Yeah, (laughs) but that’s different.  That's kinda like acting
out, trying to act out a role - that's not quite the same thing.

RGW - Tell us about your new album "I Will Be Me". Is it a return to your blues and rock sound?

DD - Well, yes, It's kind of a mixture of everything.  It's like um, There's some hard rock, there's some little bluesy tracks, but I tried to keep it, the subjects in line with how I think now.  There's a track I've written called Little Green Amp and it's about the little green amp.  It always makes me smile so it's a good idea.  I find that things that make me amused, they have longevity.

RGW -  Do you still have that little green Elpico amp?

DD - no, Ray pinched it. 

RGW - Okay, I have some questions from your fans.

DD - Oh good! 

RGW -  Mick Kiff asked -

DD - oh sweet guy, hi Mick!  

RGW - when is the new lp out in the U.K. and what do you think of Think Visual, his Top 40 show?

DD - I think it's fabulous, it's wonderful to have people like Mick who are so dedicated and so infused and inspired by our music - and I've got a personal love of that album Think Visual.  I thought it was a great record and Ray was going through a good writing sound at that time.  I love that.  I wrote some songs that I like that didn't get on it.  Close to Wire or something, I can't remember, Mick Kiff could tell you.  But that's great, I think he's doing a good job, a great job.  

Everybody's looking back because they're scared to look forward and that's why there's so much nostalgia but if it's good nostalgia, it's like a painting and a great painting's still great if it's great whether it was painted five hundred years ago or last week so good art deserves to stay in people's minds and hearts because it teaches us things good art always is a good teacher, the best teacher probably apart from nature?  So you get more organic teaching. Mick Kiff, I like his stuff.

RGW - Geordi Mitchell asks is your health okay?

DD - well, I seem ok - been doing concerts at the satsangs, I've just made an album, I got to finish it off yet, tidying up process of songs and tracks working it for nearly a year, and I'm very excited about it because, um, it feels right, you know, that sounds corny, sometimes if you don't feel right about something you can't do it, I can't, I'm a very feeling oriented or focused person, if it don't feel right I can't do it or I find it difficult, if you get in tune with the right kind of feeling, it becomes inspiring and you can ride the wave as it goes, so I feel good yeah I’m healthy I go for walks and, um, I work and write, I work all the time, I play, don't practice much.

to be continued . . .

DD says ciao - photo by RGW