The Plumage of Punk: Review of Violence Girl

I don’t know where I first heard of Alice Bag, but it must have been when doing a deep dive into Riot Grrrl.  What I heard stuck with me:  a woman my mother’s age hitting just as hard as any punk band in their prime.  I wanted to know more, but I only found bits and pieces here and there.  An interview of anglicizing names, mentions of her influence, nothing until I was looking for more books to review for SoundGirls.  Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage by Alice Bag is an action-packed cruise through the first part of the life of Alicia Armendariz (Alice Bag’s birth name).

Violence Girl is a memoir told in brief anecdotes, like memories, and arranged mostly chronologically detailing her life until her early thirties.  We are first introduced to her parents and in a way, East L.A.  Born to Mexican immigrants, Alice feels like an oddball not quite fitting in with her classmates or her Mexican cousins.  From an early age, Alice begins to realize the world is complicated when domestic abusers go free and police both protect and battle against innocents.  In describing her life in school, Alice documents her love affair with music.  While Alice does end up becoming a musician, it is by becoming a hardcore fan that sets her future in motion.  The combination of the outcast, the fighter for justice, and the crazed fan is an alloy of punk at its most concentrated.  By the time Alice Bag forms The Bags, she is ready to rip the world to shreds.  Alice and the rest of the L.A. Punk crew have formed a movement.

I see some of Alice Bag in me.  The self-directed anger and aimless wandering through life, the outcast, the mom, the straddling of multiple genres.  Her story resonates with me, by laying bare each facet of her life, she makes her life accessible.  Embarrassment and shame have long gone.  Her confidence in who she has become is contagious.  Regrets occur, but they do not stop her from her fight.  By her side is a who’s who of L.A. Punk, but L.A. Punk is its own character as well.  Through Alice Bag’s memories, the reader is a fly on the wall of the formation of the Go Go’s and the rise of Black Flag.  These bands are mere appendages to the pulsating mutant, centering around select locations in L.A. and even San Francisco and gorging on the actions of devoted fans.  As memories do, some sections blur through a string of concerts and events, and in doing so build upon the scene as its own entity.  This mutant is greater than the sum of its parts, and can only exist when everyone is doing their part.  Fans are there to support any and all bands, venues and derelict apartments host the orgies (both of music and not), the bands are not the only puzzle piece.  The cohesion fails when the fans are cast aside or the venues disappear, and the music cannot exist in a vacuum.

Punk is more than the Angry White Boy image that has taken hold of it.  It takes us all to make a scene rise from its seed.  The roots pull from the variety of individuals, and it cannot flourish without that variety.  Violence Girl is more than an autobiography, it is a study of Punk as a community from the eyes of its biggest fan.

Available at the SoundGirls Lending Library

More on and by Alice Bag

The Women of Rock Oral History Project

Alice Bag’s Women in L.A. Punk Archives

Turn it Up

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