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Alice Bag: Challenging patriarchy through punk from the 1970s to today




The Bags on Hollywood Boulevard: Janet Koontz, Alice
The Bags on Hollywood Boulevard: Janet Koontz, Alice "Douche" Bag, Joe Nanini, Geza X and Pat "Trash" Bag.
Courtesy Alicia Velasquez via Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

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In the late 1970s, at the height of L.A.'s punk scene, a teenage Chicana from East L.A. named Alicia Armandariz found her voice in the burgeoning punk scene of Los Angeles. She became known as Alice Bag, fronting a band called The Bags with her powerful, in-your-face vocals.

Initially some people thought I was really angry or that I was going to beat them up or something. Someone reviewed a show of The Bags and compared me to a Babylonian Gorgon who could turn people to stone just by looking at them — like Medusa.

Naturally, The Bags wrote a song called "Babylonian Gorgon." When Alice Bag (now Alice Velasquez) was interviewed on The Frame by NPR's Mandalit del Barco, she said a grade school music teacher validated her singing as a kid, and even had her do voices for a bilingual cartoon. But punk was where she would find her community. Alice Bag was featured in the 1981 documentary, "Decline of Western Civilization," along with other L.A. punk icons such as Black Flag and X.

Courtesy Alicia Velasquez

She said her punk singing style evolved from growing up in "an abusive household, so I had rage that was probably coming out subconsciously. So I think I had a very assertive and in-your-face type of delivery that was associated with my performances."

The Bags had a signature look too. They'd wear paper bags over their heads with cut-out holes for their eyes and mouths. The idea came from the band's bassist after they attended a local punk show where a diverse group of bands played including The Weirdos, The Germs and The Zeroes. Bag says at that show she saw that anything and anybody was welcome. 

It just had so much diversity on the stage. It had women ... Chicanos ... people from all these different backgrounds and they were all playing this new punk music in very different ways.

Now, Alice Bag has a new solo self-titled album. It's her first in 40 years. It includes songs about immigration, rape and in the song, "He's So Sorry," she sings about domestic violence in a sort of 1950's girl-group style with fellow L.A. musician Lysa Flores.

On how punk gave her power:

Once I got involved with punk I was really shaped by it ... and it was that feeling of power that I never felt before. I was in a household where my father basically made all the decisions and the rest of us just had to go along. And I've always felt the oppressive feeling from situations that reinforce patriarchal values. My biggest moments of happiness would happen when someone — especially a woman — would challenge my father's authority. And in punk, I found my voice. I was able to get on stage and have a group of people listening to what I [was] saying, moving with me, feeling a connection with an audience. That's a huge sense of power.

On how she's still punk rock:

Punk rock, as I define it, has more to do with being creative, being inventive in the way that you change the world and the way you challenge whatever needs to be changed. And having that feeling of empowerment, feeling like, I may not have the tools, I may not have the resources, but I'm going to figure out a way to make my voice heard and to organize my community and mold the world to what I want to see.

Alice Bag will perform at Self-Help Graphics & Art for its annual Día de los Muertos celebration on Nov. 2. 

 



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