I love blues. And punk. I think these two types of music are organic. Both have heart. Blues comes from way down deep inside the soul. Punk, from the gut. I can feel blues and punk all the way to the bone. They make me feel so fucking great! In different ways, though. Blues gives me that moaning and groaning, oh, yeah, feel-so-fucking-good feeling; punk is a shot in the arm, pumps adrenaline into my veins, energizing me, making me feel powerful and so fucking glad to be alive!
I enjoy reading biographies, and especially autobiographies. Well, some. Depends on who’s life it is. I suppose I should say that I enjoy reading the life stories of people I find interesting.
In December, I read Neon Angel, a memoir by Cherie Currie, lead singer of the Runaways, an all-chick rock group from the mid to late seventies. A movie was made based on this book. Dakota Fanning played Cherie. I have only a vague memory of the Runaways. I vaguely recall my sister enthusiastically talk about them. (She’s five years younger than I am.) I heard about Patti Smith through her also, whose album Horses came out in 1976. It was already 1981 when I finally bought it and heard it for the first time. I put the album on the turntable and heard Patti sing the first line: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” My jaw dropped. Patti became my idol. In the seventies, my sister knew more about what was going on in rock than I did. She probably listened to FM radio, a new trend back then, and she read rock magazines.
I wasn’t hip. I still listened to A.M., and I read shit like True Confessions and True Story, magazines with sappy, romance stories about women overcoming personal struggles, always able to get rid of the bad husband or boyfriend, and finding true love ever after with a handsome, caring, responsible, capable, strong man. I got married in 1967, six weeks before I turned seventeen. Reading these stories helped me escape my own miserable reality. I was trying to live out what I thought was my “life sentence”, buried, I mean, married to someone I didn’t want to be married to. I was raised to believe marriage was for life, for better or worse. Divorce was a sin, according to my mother. She was divorced, but she said God forgave her because her husband was a very bad man. She’s a pathological narcissist. Naturally she would say this. Geeze, poor, pitiful, foolish me: for so many years I thought I was the only imperfect asshole in this world, and I tried so hard to be perfect, only to fall short, so very, very short. I’m wiser now. Now that I’m a sixty-one year old bag. I still struggle against my intolerance of being imperfect. It slows me down, makes me a hesitant, tentative, scared, little weenie.
My father had cut out when I was four, then reappeared in our lives when I was twelve. When my father showed up, my mother was in the process of divorcing her second husband. She kicked him to the curb eight months after their baby was born. But the marriage was over while she was still pregnant. She’d caught wind that he slept with his first wife. It was a short marriage, didn’t last two years, and it’d been over long before that. As if that weren’t enough, a few years after the divorce, she also learned that her second husband lived on the down-low.
Four (long) years after my father reappeared, my mother agrees to remarry him. I knew ugly was about to get uglier. I booked. It was an unconscious act on my part. I wanted to break up with my boyfriend, not marry him. I was bitter about this for a very long time, but now I believe that some things are meant to be. Everything that happens is supposed to happen, evidenced by the fact that it does. That fucking, fucked-up marriage lasted nearly fourteen long motherfucking years!
After a lot of years of therapy, I can make better sense of it all. I came to realize that I went into shock when my mother dropped this bomb on me. My father was an alcoholic. My mother was a madwoman. I didn’t yet know that there was a name for the way my mother was (is): narcissist. Life was hell, and I had to get the fuck out. So, I got pregnant so I had to get married. (That’s how it was once upon a time. Pregnancy isn’t a reason to get married anymore.) But like I said, I did this unconsciously.
A couple weeks after I finished reading Neon Angel, I learned that Alice Bag was reading her memoir, Violence Girl, at Modern Times bookstore. My son told me about it. I said, “And she’s?”
“She was involved in the early L.A. punk scene,” he told me.
“Oh! I think I’d like to go to that,” I said. Geezus, I’m glad I did. She’s fucking awesome!
She read a little, talked a little, and sang a little. She had a friend accompany her, a friend and former bandmate. Gosh, I forget what her name was, but I thought she looked a bit like Exene Cervenka, lead singer of X. Back in ’81, maybe ’82, I saw X perform at the Concord Pavilion. I was on summer break from the community college I was attending. I wanted to go see a band that wasn’t mainstream, some cool, new group that wasn’t yet widely known. By then, my son was maybe fourteen or fifteen, and he read rock magazines. I saw that X was playing, and I asked my son if he knew anything about them. He said X was an L.A. punk band and he’d heard they were really good. Since they weren’t a big, mainstream band, and punk wasn’t exactly big time in innocuous Concord, there were plenty of tickets available. I got a great seat, front and center. X blew me away. I was an instant fan. I fell in love with Exene.
I felt the same way about Alice Bag when I saw her. I actually became of a fan of hers only two years ago, after seeing her in a documentary on musicians from Los Angeles, but I didn’t catch her name. I saw this Chicana punk chick, and I was all eyes and ears! Punk! Yeah! They asked her if she ever wrote culturally self-reflexive material, and she said, “Why do I have to wear my culture on my shoulder.” Something to that effect. That’s how I feel about my poetry, my writing, and my painting. I thought, man, I wish I could someday see this chick in person. But she was much younger in this documentary, and maybe she wasn’t in a band anymore. Here I go again, I’m thinking, fucking Jane-Come-Late. And here she was in mid December, at Modern Times, four blocks away from where I live!
When Alice was performing, I noticed her guitar playing was a bit off, not perfect. I thought maybe she was rusty. Then, as if she’d read my mind, she tells the audience, “I don’t play the guitar very well. You might’ve noticed that. Maybe you think I must be having on an off-night. No, I’m not. I don’t play the guitar very well. But I don’t care. I play it anyway. I’m not a great writer either, but I don’t care. I still wrote a book.” She said something to that effect. I don’t have it down verbatim, but from memory.
After she read, I just had to talk with her. I went up to her, and I told her, “You are fucking awesome!” I shook her hand, and she held it as I spoke to her. I loved the feel of her hand in mine. I didn’t want to let it go. I didn’t want to ever let it go. I said, “I’m the opposite of you. I write poetry, but if I can’t be perfect, I can’t move forward.”
“Estela,” she says, “don’t try to be perfect.” She said she wanted to see my poetry, and I told her I was going to self-publish. I told the title of my book was For The Hell Of It. (I’m using my painting called La Muerte for the cover.) Alice wrote in my book, “Para Estela — Just for the hell of it!”
Will she ever see my work? I don’t know. Would she like it? I don’t know. Will our paths cross again? I don’t know. “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.”