AGONY SHORTHAND TALKS
    ELECTRONICALLY WITH ALICE BAG....


    I've been intermittently in contact with ALICE
    BAG over the past few months and figured, hey,
    let's get an interview going. Ms.
    Bag/Velasquez/Armendariz has long been a
    heroine of mine, thanks to her lead role in one of
    the world's Top 5 original recipe punk bands of
    all time, THE BAGS. Their quartet of scathing,
    raw and poundingly melodic original recordings
    ("Survive", "We Don't Need The English",
    "Babylonian Gorgon" and "We Will Bury You")
    stand proud next to any 1977-78 group you can
    throw up against them, and it's high time the
    historical record began capturing this
    unambiguous fact. For years I'd been wondering
    where Alice stood in relation to her legacy,
    before finding out that she'd been keeping the
    flame alight through various under-my-radar
    musical projects all these years. Moreover, her
    website is an absolute monster treasure trove of
    original Los Angeles punk items, including
    fantastic Bags and WEIRDOS videos, audio
    recordings, flyers, stories, tales and whatnot. It's
    worth a few hours of poking around all by itself.
    Alice was kind enough to put fingers to keys to
    answer Agony Shorthand's questions, only mere
    days after her most recent band STAY AT HOME
    BOMB called it a day. Thanks very much to Alice
    for taking the time -- here it is:

    Agony Shorthand: You're now, through your web
    site, one of the true keepers of the original LA
    punk flame. Did you feel that it wasn't being
    portrayed correctly in books & in articles, or did
    you just have a lot of cool ephemera to share?

    Alice Bag: Both. Everyone has their perspective
    and their own reasons for trying to document the
    early L.A. scene. I certainly have my own
    agenda, one of the items being to shed light on
    the overlooked contributions of women. I once
    heard history described as "the distillation of
    rumor," and I saw that happening with some of
    the accounts of the early L.A. punk scene, many
    written by people who weren't even there at the
    time. The L.A. punk scene did not begin and end
    with Darby Crash, though one might think so by
    reading some of the accounts out there - not to
    take anything away from Darby and the Germs;
    they inspired me to get onstage and I considered
    Darby a friend. I still think the Weirdos have not
    been given their due - the scene really
    coalesced around that particular band. More
    than anything, I'm hoping that the website will
    spark people's imagination and inspire them to
    start their own movements. That would make me
    very happy.

    If it had been left entirely up to me, the website
    would not exist. It was my husband's insistence
    that we build a web archive and make available
    to punk fans the considerable collection of
    photos, flyers and newspaper clippings that my
    mother had secretly kept after I had tossed them
    in the trash twenty five years ago. After my
    mother passed away, we discovered boxes and
    boxes of things she had squirreled away in a
    shed and in the garage. She was a pack rat and
    never threw anything away. I'm very grateful for
    that, now.

    Agony Shorthand: What, if anything, do you
    regret most about The Bags' brief life?

    Alice Bag: It's a difficult question to answer
    because I did what I thought was right at the time
    and I've never been one to second guess my
    decisions. Whether that's a good or bad trait is
    debatable, but I've tried to stay true to my own
    vision. I suppose I most regret not recording a
    full album's worth of material when the Bags
    were at their prime, with the lineup that recorded
    the Dangerhouse sessions. Listening to those
    songs now, many of them hold up. I'm sure that's
    a very common regret among my peers from the
    L.A. punk scene. I'm grateful that we had the
    chance to record the little we did because many
    of my contemporaries never had that opportunity.

    Agony Shorthand: At the time, did you think of
    Los Angeles as just another punk scene among
    many (SF, New York, UK, etc.), or did you
    feel/know that LA had something special?

    Alice Bag: My opinion is that punk started in and
    came from New York. That's because my first
    exposure to punk was through reading Creem,
    Circus and Punk magazines and because the
    Dolls and Ramones were from NY. Certain British
    bands I grew to love over time, but I was already
    listening to the Ramones before I'd ever heard
    the Sex Pistols or the Buzzcocks. When I saw the
    Weirdos for the first time, that was what did it for
    me. They were instantly the greatest band in the
    world and no one could convince me otherwise.
    So yes, I felt that Los Angeles had the greatest
    band in the world, so that naturally meant we
    were the best. That's where "We Don't Need The
    English" on the "Yes L.A." comp came from, the
    confidence that we were not a pale imitation of
    some other, better scene somewhere else, but
    that we had our own distinct sound and style
    which was the equal of any other punk scene.
    You have to understand that what people think
    of as the early L.A. scene literally consisted of
    no more than 50-100 misfits who all congregated
    within a one-mile radius of the Masque and
    Canterbury Apartments. In a city as sprawling as
    Los Angeles, ours was highly concentrated and
    very tight-knit community. We all knew each
    other. We did pretty much nothing aside from
    party, work on our bands, art, writing, fashion...
    my Canterbury roommate Sheila and I worked at
    an Arby's Roast Beef for about two weeks before
    we got fired but that was as serious as we got
    about employment. I never compared our scene
    to San Francisco's, but they had their share of
    good bands and there was a lot of cross-
    pollination. In fact, Jello Biafra was a good friend
    of the Bags and he often hung out with us on
    tours. I remember crashing on Penelope
    Houston's floor when we were in SF.

    Agony Shorthand: You told me that there's very
    little material to put together to make a Bags CD.
    What is out there that you know of?

    Alice Bag: New stuff pops up from time to time. I
    recently received a copy of two live sets from a
    show in 1979, recorded in their entirety. I'm not
    sure if we'll be able to release any of it, but I'm
    working on it. The other stuff I know of consists
    of the four Dangerhouse songs, the Elks Lodge
    live set, the live set (video) from the infamous
    Troubadour show, various and sundry live
    bootlegs, Disco's Dead (which was not our
    song), an early recording of a song called "Bag
    Bondage," and a studio recording which the
    remaining members did after Pat's departure.
    This last recording has yet to be seen, but we
    are told it exists and Artifix is working with the
    owners. Also, I suspect that someone has the
    entire live set which was filmed for the Decline
    movie, but that footage does not "officially" exist.

    Agony Shorthand: Everything I've read about
    Craig Lee makes me think he was an unheralded
    prime mover in LA punk, as well as one of the
    true driving forces behind The Bags' music. Can
    you say a few words about what he meant to the
    band (beyond what's on your web site)?

    Alice Bag: I'm glad you surmised Craig's
    importance to the LA scene. He was not only the
    driving force behind the Bags, being chief
    songwriter and business manager, but he was
    actively involved in several other punk and post-
    punk bands, Catholic Discipline being the most
    infamous. He was a working "industry" writer
    before he joined the Bags, having actually
    penned scripts for 70's television shows like
    Room 222 and The Mod Squad. So he brought
    his writing talent to the Bags and his songs were
    so much better than what we had written, he
    naturally assumed that role. He was very much a
    take-charge personality and he would book our
    shows, collect the money, handle publicity, all
    the dirty work. Craig went on to become a music
    journalist and championed the L.A. scene in the
    LA Weekly and later, the LA Times. He co-
    authored and edited what is still widely
    considered the definitive book on the West
    Coast scene, "Hardcore California." He was very
    involved in the art punk scene that arose in the
    mid-1980's and is sorely missed by those who
    had the pleasure of knowing him.

    Agony Shorthand: Tell me a little bit about how
    the band came to be known as "The Alice Bag
    Band" for the Decline of Western Civilization film.

    Alice Bag: The short version is that after Patricia
    and the band parted ways, Patricia owned the
    name The Bags and we toyed with various
    names, but couldn't decide on one. When the
    Decline movie came up, we were labeled the
    Alice Bag Band for purposes of the film by the
    film's producers. We tried to keep it going under
    that name for a few months but the wind had
    gone out of our sails.

    Agony Shorthand: You said something on your
    web site that I'd like to know more about: "Once
    we started trying to be "label worthy," we lost the
    energy that made the Bags and punk rock
    unique". Was there a really time when The Bags
    were being courted by labels, and how did your
    sound change as a result?

    Alice Bag: The Bags were never seriously
    courted by any record labels, as far as I know.
    A&R people would periodically show up at punk
    gigs. The bands were getting press and filling
    clubs, so they must have sensed there was
    something there, but big record companies were
    cowardly then and they still are. There was
    absolutely no way that bands like the Bags,
    Germs or Screamers would have been signed to
    a major label. I still don't hear anything quite as
    confrontational as "We Will Bury You" or "Richie
    Dagger's Crime" on the radio, no matter what
    people say about punk being mainstream
    nowadays. One thing that will never come into
    fashion is challenging the expectations of the
    typical consumer.

    Getting back to your question, the Bags' music
    did change fairly rapidly over time. Having
    recently listened to recordings spanning the
    short life of the band, I can hear how we
    progressed over the roughly two and a half
    years of our existence. Some of the changes
    were good. We practiced a lot and were pretty
    tight musically, but my live vocals were always
    inconsistent. I'd get excited and dance all over
    the stage and lose breath and pitch control. If we
    played a club with bad sound it was always tough
    because I needed to hear myself in order to stay
    on key. Anyway, I felt a lot of pressure to sing on
    key, so I tried to focus more on pitch and
    subsequently became more self-conscious. In
    doing so, I gave up the very thing that had made
    me different, which was the ability to lose myself
    on stage.

    Agony Shorthand: How have you enjoyed going
    through the majority of your life with "Bag" as
    your known surname?

    Alice Bag: Most days I just go by "Mrs.
    Velasquez" or just "Miss" because my students
    don't know me as Alice Bag, and that suits me
    just fine.

    Agony Shorthand: There was that strange period
    in the early 80s where so much of LA punk
    seemed influenced by "horror" and the goths.
    Did Castration Squad see themselves as part of
    the Christian Death/45 Grave crowd, or were you
    something else entirely?

    Alice Bag: Patricia Rainone (Pat Bag) and I used
    to have sleepovers in high school and I
    remember staying up late with her, watching
    vampire movies. I remember her wrapping a
    knee high sock around her neck before bedtime
    to ward off vampire bites. I'm sure she took that
    sock off in fairly short order, and she cultivated a
    beautiful vampire look long before the word
    "Goth" appeared. Mary Bat-Thing (Dinah
    Cancer), Shannon and Sheila (who were both in
    the Piranhas) were all similarly inclined towards
    the darker side. Shannon and Patricia came up
    with the idea for Castration Squad and that band
    pre-dated Christian Death and 45 Grave. In fact,
    Castration Squad gave Christian Death their
    very first opening slot and gave 45 Grave their
    lead singer.

    Agony Shorthand: I may have missed something,
    but is Castration Squad happening again?

    Alice Bag: We are writing again but there are
    time constraints. We're all moms now, except for
    Shannon, obviously, who is dearly departed.

    Agony Shorthand: Does your daughter
    appreciate the irony in your (recently disbanded)
    group Stay At Home Bomb, and understand her
    role in the band's creation?

    Alice Bag: No, and perhaps that's for the best.
    She might take offense. Maybe when she's
    older, if she has her own children, she will be
    able to appreciate the inspiration for Stay At
    Home Bomb.

    (This article was originally
    posted on Wikipedia)

    The Bags was formed by Alice
    Armendariz and Patricia
    Rainone, who had met at an
    audition for Venus and the
    Razorblades, Kim Fowley's next
    attempt at creating a band after
    The Runaways had left him.
    Alice and Pat decided to form
    their own band and from this
    The Bags were born. They took
    the band's name and their stage
    names "Alice Bag" and "Pat
    Bag" from a gimmick that the
    band used during early
    performances where they would
    perform with grocery bags over
    their heads (the practice didn't
    last, in part due to an incident
    where Darby Crash of The
    Germs ran up on stage and
    ripped the bag off of Alice's
    head). Alice Bag was the
    vocalist and Pat Bag played
    bass. The band was rounded
    out by guitar players Craig Lee
    and Rob Ritter, and Terry
    Graham played drums.

    The Bags played their first show
    at The Masque on September
    10, 1977. The band's live shows
    soon became legendary. The
    concerts were riotous affairs
    including altercations with
    celebrities, such as one between
    singer Tom Waits and drummer
    Nicky Beat at The Troubadour.

    By 1979, they had released their
    first record, a single called
    "Survive", backed with
    "Babylonian Gorgon", released
    by independent record label
    Dangerhouse Records. "We
    Don't Need The English" was
    included on the Yes L.A. punk
    compilation released by the
    same label.

    After this, Pat left the band. In
    1980 the group, minus Pat, was
    filmed by Penelope Spheeris for
    the seminal punk rock
    documentary film, The Decline
    of Western Civilization, which
    also featured The Germs, Black
    Flag, Catholic Discipline, X and
    other prominent L.A. punk
    bands. However, at the release
    of the film in 1981 the producers
    billed the group as Alice Bag
    Band to avoid any conflict with
    ex-member Pat. By then,
    however, the band had broken
    up.

    Craig Lee also played with
    Catholic Discipline, and he and
    co-member Phranc would
    perform together occasionally
    when she embarked on her
    subsequent solo career.
    However, Craig is best known as
    a writer and critic for
    publications such as Flipside
    fanzine, among many others,
    and as co-author of the book
    Hardcore California: A History Of
    Punk And New Wave. He died,
    as a result of AIDS, in the 1980s.

    Terry Graham went on to play
    drums for The Gun Club. Pat,
    now known as Patricia Morrison,
    also joined The Gun Club soon
    after. Once she left The Gun
    Club Pat joined The Sisters of
    Mercy and then The Damned,
    one of the original British punk
    bands (and the one that was
    often credited with sparking the
    LA scene), for which she plays
    bass. She would also go on to
    marry the Damned's lead singer,
    Dave Vanian.

    Rob Ritter also joined The Gun
    Club, and appears on their first
    LP Fire Of Love, but left to
    change his name to Rob Graves
    and form the seminal death rock
    band 45 Grave, with Dinah
    Cancer, Don Bolles, previously
    of The Germs and Nervous
    Gender, Paul Roessler of The
    Screamers and Nervous Gender
    and Paul Cutler. 45 Grave was
    influential in the creation of goth
    rock. Rob Graves died in 1991
    of a heroin overdose.

    Alice Bag went on to join
    Castration Squad, which
    included Phranc and Dinah
    Cancer among its many
    members. In the 1990's she
    would form Cholita! with punk
    rock drag queen Vaginal Davis
    and the band released several
    videos. After this, she performed
    with Las Tres and then formed
    Stay At Home Bomb, her most
    recent musical project.
    According to her official website,
    since the deaths of Lee and
    Ritter and her estrangement
    from Morrison, she considers
    the Bags to be permanently
    disbanded.


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