Saturday, June 23, 2018

We Were Going To Change The World: Interviews With women from The 1970s & 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene by Stacy Russo with a Foreword by Mike Watt.

I enjoyed reading everyone’s take on the early punk rock scene. For someone who wasn’t there the stories give a big glimpse of how it was, the good, the bad and the ugly, and for someone who was there, we are reliving some experiences we haven’t thought about in years. Stacy Russo put her heart and soul into this project and I give her credit as it’s not an easy thing to accomplish. I loved the honestly and the true-life moments that was shared, uninhibited. People did not hold back and that’s what I liked most. And of course, the photos were an added bonus. 


The punk rock scene of the 1970s and ’80s in Southern California is widely acknowledged as one of the most vibrant, creative periods in all of rock and roll history. And while many books have covered the artists who contributed to the music of that era, none have exclusively focused on the vitality and influence of the women who played such a crucial role in this incredibly dynamic and instrumental movement. 

We Were Going to Change the World captures the stories of women who were active in the SoCal punk rock scene during this historic time, adding an important voice to its cultural and musical record. Through exclusive interviews with musicians, journalists, photographers, and fans, Stacy Russo has captured the essence of why these women were drawn to punk rock, what they witnessed, and how their involvement in this empowering scene ended up influencing the rest of their lives. 

From such hugely influential musicians and performers as Exene Cervenka, Alice Bag, Kira, Phranc, Johanna Went, Teresa Covarrubias, and Jennifer Precious Finch, to such highly regarded journalists, DJs, and photographers as Ann Summa, Jenny Lens, Kristine McKenna, Pleasant Gehman, and Stella, to  the fans and scenesters who supported the bands and added so much color and energy to the scene, We Were Going to Change the World is an important oral history of the crucial contributions women injected into the Southern California punk rock scene of the 1970s and ’80s. Empowering, touching, and informative, Stacy Russo’s collection of interviews adds a whole new dimension to the literature of both punk rock and women’s studies.

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“Punk gave people permission to express themselves without necessarily having the technical ability to do it. It taught me that I don’t have to wait until I’m perfect at anything to do something, whether it’s creative or political or any other aspect of my life. If I see something that needs to be done, I feel empowered to do it, even if I do it in a way that’s not traditional or in a way that someone else would not have done it. Punk forced me to hold myself responsible for taking control of my life and not waiting for somebody else to solve my problems...”

~ Alice Bag

“My dad, in his post-World War II slang, kind of endeared himself in the most uncool way to my friends. We’d go to a shoe and I’d install him at the bar. He would watch the shoe from the background. He would have a beer and try to be cool, talking to the bands and using his “Big Daddy-O” type talk. He was so funny. He saw a lot of things that I think opened his mind. He was kind of a right-wing reactionary guy. He met people who were gay. He met people who had blue hair. He met musicians. He met junkies. He met all kinds of people that he had absolutely no exposure to. It kind of opened his mind that these people that look weird are actually really nice people and you can’t look at them at face value. He really grew by becoming part of the scene.”

~ Alison Braun

“There were always fights, but I don’t recall ever having to run from a show. You’d see people get into fights and stuff. There were riots, but a lot of them I think were caused by the police being there. It was the same with the Ramones at the Hollywood Palladium. They closed Sunset down and the police came on their horses. I’m thinking their presence made it more of a challenge for everybody.”

~ Angelita Figueroa Salas

“In the beginning of the punk rock scene, women were welcome. When it got more hardcore, it became less welcoming. I remember being at the Anti-Club with a girlfriend, and she was pogoing in ballet shoes. Later you had to wear jack boots or you would never get anywhere by the stage. Her feet would have been mauled. In terms of being female or male, the men were a lot more aggressive, but I never felt anything against me personally. One night a bottle almost hit me in the head onstage, but I don’t know who threw it. It was almost more anti-photographer than anti-women.”

Ana Summa

“... I had to transition between high-society women and punk rock. I found it easy to go back and forth between the two. Women can be pushed around in society quite a bit, and they’re told to be seen and not heard like a little house mouse. I could stomach that for so long, and then I would go down to the Cathay and let out my aggression. Punk rock was a good release. It’s the freedom that women in mainstream society don’t really get. I could relate to people singing songs about oppression and wanting to get somewhere...”

~ Candace D’Andrea AKA Lolly Pop

“I remember I would walk down the street and be harassed because of the way I looked. I’d have bottles thrown at me. You could be curing cancer or Mother Theresa in a wig and they’d still hate you. I found some of the punkers to be far more passive people than people would have expected. Even though they loved to physically engage in the pit and all that crazy stuff, it didn’t mean they were necessarily aggressive human beings. People really will just hate you for the way you look and have no inkling who you are...”

~ Cate Garcia

“I fell in love with punk rock at a show. It was 7 Seconds, the Abandoned, and Suicidal Tendencies. There were a whole bunch of other bands playing, too. I think I was thirteen. I was on the edge of the pit and I was watching the crowd slamming. A guy came around and he just socked me in the arm. It didn’t matter if I was a girl or a guy or anything. I was one of her crowd. He didn’t do it to hurt me. He did it, because he was dancing. And he wasn’t saying, ‘Oh, you’re a girl, I’m going to be careful with you.’ At that point, I felt a part of it. That’s when I realized, this is my home.”

~ Cecily Desmond

“There have been negative and positive influences from being a punk in that scene. One negative influence was the sexuality that was accepted in that time period.

Women were made to feel like they had to put out to get something in return or be accepted...”

~ D.D. Wood (Grisham)

“I think punk was about not being part of a traditional society. It was about inventing your own voice and your own persona.”

“I never thought about what it meant to be a woman in punk. That’s not a way I would think, but it was an exciting time to be a person that was making stuff and having a voice...”

~ Ewa Wojciak 

I think the thing that we didn’t realize, that I realize now, is the power of youth that we had. We were a bunch of kids tearing up the whole town and everything we did was starting to make news. People looked at us with a mixture of fear and awe and respect. At that time, you didn’t have blue hair. If you did, you couldn’t even go out in public or you'd get killed. You couldn’t have straight-leg jeans in public. You couldn’t have anything. There weren’t tattoos. It was before tattoos. It was before piercings. It was before everything. There were bikers and there were punks and everything else was normal and we were just hated. It was pretty tough. There were as many girls as boys. Nobody knew if anybody was gay or straight. Nobody cared, nobody talked. Back then, we were just human beings and we were young.”

~ Exene Cervenka 

‘“On a personal level, there have been a lot of choices, good and bad, that stemmed from ink rock. I used to always say, “There’s punk rocker in the best way and punk rock in the worst way.” We’ve lost so many people, because part of their identification process with punk rock was the drugs, and it was self-sabotaging. I’ve been there. I’ve been in that state and made those choices, but I’ve always thought that punk rock in the best way is that you’re actually working within the system, but against the system. You have to be part of it to fight it. That goes back to my punk rock upbringing. Here I am at forty-seven with blue hair.”’
~ Heather L. Griffin

“I got into punk ‘cause I was a weirdo and I didn’t relate to the normal people at school. Punk rockers were always really friendly and welcoming. You could be different and it was okay. All the outcasts fit into the punk rock scene, and then everybody just kind of accepted you. Nobody gave me a hard time because I was a girl. If I wanted to go into the pit, I went into the pit. If I wanted to stage dive, I did a stage dive. Everybody was cool about it. Because I was small, I used to go up to big guys and ask them to put me on their shoulders, so I could see. People would give us rides home. We didn’t know any of those people. I don’t know if they were trying to hook up with my friends or if they were just being nice, but we always got rides home.”

~ Jamie Lurtz

“As I got older, my experiences with punk rock music and all that it entailed influenced me in different ways. I think it left an imprint, as far as how I think politically. I definitely feel that people should live their own lives, be independent and free to make their own decisions and choices, and not have government dictate every aspect of their lives. I’m glad that I’ve had the experiences I’ve had. I have great memories of the past and all the people I met along the way. I’m glad that I at least feel like I could fit in somewhere.”

~ Janis Olson

“I was always encouraged to do everything that I could do, and that’s what I think that the biggest influence that punk rock had is. I think that there’s a certain time in a woman’s life, when she’s like fourteen to twenty-one, where she thinks she can do anything. She can do anything, and ink rock and hardcore encouraged that mentality. It was that DIY-you-can-do-anything-in-this-scene.”

~ Jennifer Precious Finch

“My involvement in the scene was definitely good. I had to put myself out there in front of a lot of people all the time and entertain and perform, and I had to overcome a lot of issues of self-esteem or shyness and just do it. I do it every day. I do it all the time. I don’t know how to be a mom or design a mobile app. I just do it. That spirit of that time was “just do it,” and that didn’t exist before then. You didn’t need a contract for a record label to be in a band. You didn’t need a publisher to start a magazine...”

~ Jennifer Schwartz 

“There would not be a scene without the women. Anybody who says differently needs to look at photos, fanzines, and magazines—Back Door Man, Slash, Flipside, and smaller fanzines. Strip out the women, and there is not much left in L.A. I love early punk. Hardcore punk is a whole different animal. Hardcore punk was not female-friendly.”

~ Jenny Lens

“You can’t walk through life as a women without experiencing sexism.
What women doesn’t experience that? But I got to tell you, there were so many inspirational women back then! There were so many voices, and they were so powerful. And they kept coming. It wasn’t just a short period of time. I was just unbelievably inspired by the women in the scene.”

~ Johanna Went

“Out of all the distributors I worked with, I can only recall one woman out of twenty-two distributors. Even the buyers were mostly men. I don’t recall any women buyers at record stores, unless it was a mom and pop shop. Very strange. That’s when I realized how lucky I was that they had given that job. It didn’t dawn on me that women didn’t do that. That they didn’t do a lot of what I was doing.”

~ Kara Nicks

“Punk rock influenced me. It’s in the decision I made, probably against my parents’ wishes, to go off to art school and pursue things that probably weren’t going to make me a lot of money. The same with photography. I think it influenced me to do a lot of things. I lived in London when I was seventeen. I don’t think I would have done that if it weren’t for punk rock. I think it influenced me to do whatever I wanted to do. I was already thinking on my own. It was definitely the beginning of a change in my personality to go from a very, very quiet kid. After listening to punk rock, I started to understand about the bite and bark thing. I understood that I needed to start speaking up for myself and defending myself.”

~ Kathy Rodgers

“Of course the scene influenced me, because everything we experience influences us. In some ways it may have skewed my ego, because I was given some attention and level of importance that a lot of young people aren’t. That often comes with a backlash of realizing you’re just not important in the world. That’s part of just growing up and maturing, but it may have been a little harder adjustment.”

~ Kira

“ I know punk rock influenced my life. I think it formed the basis of my personality. It definitely sparked my creativity and ambition, and it led me down an academic path and taught me to question everything and seek out answers to things I don’t know, rather than to hold on to one-sided opinions and beliefs. I still constantly buck the system when I think it is wrong! It has taught me to live life and not to be afraid of trying things, even if the attempt leads to failure.”

~ Kirsten (Bruce) Meekins 

“One of the things that was great about the early punk scene was that it had very peculiar politics. Women were really on equal footing with men, and gender wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t like, “Oh, a woman singer.” It was just a person, and those issues really weren’t on the table. I always found the early punk scene very non-sexual. It was about something else. It was about people being individuals, and I don’t think women presented themselves in traditional ways to please men. It was very different in that way. There were really amazing women musicians in the scene that weren’t categorized as women musicians. They were just musicians.”

~ Kristine McKenna 

“There is an infinite number of ways to be a teenager in this world. My personal experience with being a teenager was I really didn’t believe that I fit in with the majority of people that I encountered in high school. There was something about punk rock. I discovered the music through a handful of people, and then discovered the whole culture subsequent to the music. I think the music spoke to me because I was troubled. I was lost. I didn’t feel connected to anything or anybody. There were lots of things I could have connected to, but none of that fit.”

~ Laura Beth Bachman

“A lot of the time, I couldn’t get into shoes because I was underage. It was also very difficult to get the buses out to Hollywood at that time, before they built the subway/Red Line. I would just hang out with my friends outside, and that was just as important as actually going in. Physically hearing the bands play in inside, knowing I couldn’t get in because I was so young, but still hanging out and hearing the bands was totally as important as going in.”

~ Linda Ziggy Daniels

“I think there was violence, but I think there was always respect towards women. The guys were always there to watch out and protect women, whether they knew them or not. I never felt unsafe at a shoe from the punks that were there. It was the outside influence. At Fender’s, for example, people coming in and trying to start fights with punks. But I always felt completely safe surrounded by punks. They always watched out for the girls. They were happy to have women in the scene.”

~ Liz Saba Rayon 

‘“The scene was kind of rough, and it wasn’t welcoming to women. You had to have thick skin. One thing I did like about it it that you didn’t need to be a Barbie in spandex to fit in. Any girl was welcome, no matter what. When I was eighteen, I got my first tattoo. Back then, I didn’t know any other girls who had a tattoo. I felt like it was a punk rock, feisty thing to do. For me, punk rock was liberating and my view of many things changed. Girls got more sexually aggressive. They could act like a dude, point to someone, and say, “Come here” or “Get lost.”’

~ Lori Westover

“I enjoyed going to shows, because it was a great way for me to relieve stress from my parents. I had the time of my life. I remember when I was in the pit, how people would pick you up when you fell down. I liked that. Sometimes I would fall down on purpose to just get picked up by one of the big guys. It showed there was some compassion out there. It was like a bond with people.”

~ Melanie B.

“The scene started out really fun . . .  the music, energy, and anarchy of it all. 

Through the scene, I developed confidence. It brought me out of my shell. It’s not so much that I was a real shy person. It just allowed me to not be as scared of things and not care what others thought of me. It allowed me to say what’s on my mind and be more carefree in my thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, the scene got progressively violent. Violence, drugs, and alcohol became the focus, so I stopped going to shows after a few years.”

~ Monica Carapello

“All of a sudden, there was this whole punk rock world. When I found punk rock, it wasn’t just about politics and passion. There were people who were my peers. They were my age. They were angry. They were creative. They were making some noise. They were my people. I didn’t know anybody, but I went down to L.A., got my stuff, and moved up to San Francisco. I lived there until right about when Elvis died.”

~ Phranc 

“The main way that I think punk rock influenced my life was that it showed me that you didn’t have to entirely conform to societal rules. You didn’t necessarily have to go against them, but you could find your way around them and that you could do really whatever you wanted. I made my own opportunities. I would just send my writing to anywhere, and o think a lot of people don’t do that. I think a lot of people sort of live in fear or doubt. I’m not saying I’m special, but punk rock showed me that you don’t need to have fear or doubt. You do it and if it doesn’t work out, at least you did it. You tried, you know?”

~ Pleasant Gehman 

“There were a lot of women involved with fanzines and other stuff. Everyone pretty much did their own thing, but we all were there for the same purpose: to convey a message, and for the music. I felt men were very encouraging and accepting, and were really enthusiastic about whatever activity you were taking part in. Everybody was just so supportive of each other and whatever everybody did. It’s cool, because back then, you could hold a conversation. You started getting into a dialogue and it was exciting, because it was a collaboration of creativity. I loved it.”

~ Renie 

“I think our whole walk through life, no matter how big or small the steps are, is carried with us the whole way through, weather we know it or not. I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m still really strong in animal rights, punk rock made me strong.”

~ Shareeeeeek AKA Sharee M. Moore

“It was a natural progression for me to get into punk rock, since I had already been interested in music. KROQ used to be a great radio station. It was free form. They had an AM station, too, so you could listen to it in your car on your AM radio. From there, I started hearing stuff on the air. I listed to Rodney [Bingenheimer’s] show. That was great, because that’s how you got exposed to everything. You started meeting people...”

~ Stella

“I didn’t have the best childhood. A lot of us didn’t, and I think that’s what our draw to punk rock was. I already felt different, so then I found my clan, my tribe of other misfits, and a place where I could fit in. It was a place of belonging, a family of sorts, a chosen family.”

~ Tammy Talbot

“I think the punk experience helped me to legitimize this feeling of being opposed or standing up. Even though you may be the only person or you’re on the outskirts of something, I realized that’s not a bad place to be. I think that experience helped me see that it is not necessarily bad to be marginalized. There’s actually a sort of a power to be able to look at something from the outside and not blend in or be something mainstream. I think I’ve always been that person that’s looking at something from the outside, whether it’s by choice or that circumstances pushed me out there. I think I used to feel really uncomfortable being an outsider, or being on the fringe. Now I embrace it. I’m actually proud of it.”

~ Teresa Covarrubias 

‘“If it wasn’t for punk rock, I don’t think anybody would have listened to me, because it was punk rockers that totally tolerated my style and let me play solos and everything. Punk rock made it possible for people like me to go out into the daylight with our blackness and crawl out into life. It was totally a good thing. Still, after a while, you have to put on your big girl pants and just say, “Well, it is what it is.”’

~ Texacala Jones 

“We were so different back then, and really stood out. It was truly shocking. I got fired from my job for having colored hair. We got chased and beat and hassled constantly. The music at the time was long rock jams and disco. It was unheard of to have a song lasting one minute, and played so fast. We paved the way for kids now—that is, it’s pretty normal and accepted to look like a punker now.”

~ Zizi “Carrot Woman” Howell

Stacy Russo, a librarian and professor at Santa Ana College in Santa Ana, California, is a poet, writer, and artist. She believes in libraries as community spaces; lifelong learning; poetry; public education; peaceful living; feminism; and the power of personal story. Stacy's books are Love Activism (Litwin Books); We Were Going to Change the World: Interviews with Women from the 1970s and 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene (Santa Monica Press); Life as Activism: June Jordan’s Writings from The Progressive (Litwin Books); and The Library as Place in California (McFarland). 

Stacy's articles, poetry, and reviews have appeared in Feminist Teacher, Feminist Collections, American Libraries, Counterpoise, Library Journal, Chaffey Review, Serials Review, and the anthology Open Doors: An Invitation to Poetry (Chaparral Canyon Press). Her poetry zines include Poems a Librarian Wrote on Her Lunch Break; Young and Hungry in Paradise; and California Wine: Poems for Everybody.