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Liberation Land: Spitboy in the Daily Iowan

Michelle Cruz 4

By Tessa Solomon
Daily Iowan
June 23rd, 2016

The camera shakes, capturing in its grainy frame four women on a dimly lit stage. 

Their bodies are pierced, heads shaven, and demeanor unapologetic. They’re playing in a church basement, the dust and smoke in the air is tinted by the golden and crimson lights that hang above the stage. 

Some people in the thick crowd bang their heads. Others thrash limbs, as if gripped by the raw, gloriously dissident, hard-core punk. A timestamp denotes: Toronto, Ontario. 1993. It is the first major tour of Spitboy, a pioneering group of the Bay Area’s ’90s hard-core scene. 

Until now, the band members have lived mostly in the memories of those who attended their raucous shows, but with the recent release of The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band, they are on the cusp of immortality.

Author Michelle Cruz Gonzales, the drummer and a founding member of Spitboy, will read from her memoir at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St.

Her collection of essays delves into Spitboy’s conception and rise in San Francisco, a journey that entangles her numerous identities: punk, feminist, and Mexican-American. Loosely chronological, it begins with her childhood in a small California town plagued with racism and classism, an upbringing and environment that — despite longstanding cultural barricades — eventually led Gonzales to hard-core.

“The punk boys kept saying they were going to start a band, but they never did,” Gonzales said. “They would tell us, ‘Girls can’t play music.’ Well, we were doing it, and they weren’t.”

Hard-core is a genre defined by rhythm over melody; discord over harmony. Practitioners viewed Southern California’s post-punk sound as “poseur,” so hard-core guitars were distorted and amplified, while songwriting disregarded the typical verse-chorus structure. Their fuel was a furious desire to be authentic, to be heard, to always play louder, faster and, yes, harder.

“I had wished there was a female hard-core band,” said Gonzales. “I was trying to find a band like that, but then I realized I should form that band. I wanted to fill that void, to be the band we wanted to hear.”

After graduating from high school, Gonzales’ newly formed band, Spitboy, found that audience in the Bay Area. A variety of punk subgenres thrived there, finding a home in the Alternative Music Foundation, a music venue known in the crowd simply as “Gilman.” But despite the openness of the Gilman Street scene, hard-core was dominated by all-male bands such as Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. 

“We were playing hard-core music, but we were women, singing about women’s issues,” said Gonzales. “And I was this female, Xicana punk drummer trying to find my way and not always feeling like I fit in.”

It was a chip on her shoulder that took years to shake.  

“I always had a feeling of shame growing up poor. I had to prove that I didn’t fit into the stereotype of Mexicans,” Gonzales said. “But you put on your punk uniform and conform to this aesthetic, and when you do that, your cultural identity can fall away.”

While Gonzalez struggled to discover a happy intersection of personal identities, Spitboy combated an unwelcome association: the contemporaneous riot-grrrl movement.

“We didn’t want to be called girls,” she said. “Women in the ’90s Bay Area were very strong about being called women, to be looked at as an equal. Being called a girl seemed like going backwards.”

With respect to riot grrrl, the hard-core culture Spitboy embraced was different, both in sound and in attitude. This was a distinction Gonzales continued to emphasize years later. 

“When all these riot-grrrl and rock memoirs started coming out, I realized if I didn’t try to publish my stories in a book, they would be lost in history,” Gonzales said.

It became a mission for her to document the countries Spitboy had toured, the people the music had affected, and the unusual schooling she experienced along the way.

“Punk was a great education,” Gonzales said. “We were writing these treatises on feminist issues and using it as a vehicle to get these messages out — that you don’t need to be a man or be white to play punk.”

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 

Revisiting Spitboy and Talking Punk Memoirs With Michelle Cruz Gonzales

By Tobias Carroll
Vol. 1 Brooklyn
June 16th, 2016

I never got a chance to see Spitboy, the band in which Michelle Cruz Gonzales played drums in the early and mid-1990s. They were a band that was spoken about reverently by friends of mine who were familiar with them; the fact that they’d released a split LP with the equally great Los Crudos also played a part. So when news emerged last year that The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band was set to be released this spring, I kept track of the date, and picked up a copy as soon as I was able to do so. The result is a terrific collection of stories from the road, measured thoughts on the dynamics of class, gender, and race that existed both within the band and the punk scene of the time. I talked with Gonzales over email about the process of writing the book, her other literary projects, and more. She’ll be touring the Midwest beginning on June 20th in Minneapolis.

The Spitboy Rule isn’t structured like a traditional music memoir — you focus more on individual moments and scenes rather than a straightforward chronological progression. When did you arrive on this as the best way to tell this story?

I didn’t want the pieces to be organized totally linear, and straightforward, and chronological would have been nearly impossible to write because memory doesn’t work that way. After writing the first six or so pieces and posting them on my blog, I realized it should be a book, so I looked at what I had, and made a list of all the other topics that I wanted to cover. I also knew that there were some themes that I had to address: women in music/punk, being the only person of color in the band, sexism in the scene, and so on. After working from the list I reviewed what I had and looked at where there might be gaps. Since Spitboy toured so much, and overseas, I also knew that I wanted to write a bit about each tour too.

How long after Spitboy’s breakup was it before you began writing about your time in the band? Was there one moment that prompted you to do so?

Spitboy broke up in 1995, and I posted my first piece “The Spitboy Rule” on my blog in March of 2013, so 13 years later. That same year I wrote a piece that mentions Spitboy for a stage show of readings about motherhood called “Does Your Mom Play Drums?” I’ve said this before, but for years, I didn’t want to be another boring adult talking about her glory days — back when I was cool, that sort of thing, so I didn’t talk about Spitboy that much at all, let alone write about it. I was in my online Wayward Writers writing community class when I first started writing about Spitboy specifically. One of the prompts that Ariel Gore assigned got me on the topic of Spitboy, opened the flood gates.

Have you found that most readers of the book so far have been familiar with Spitboy, or are more interested in the larger themes that you deal with in the book?

It seems like much of the audiences has been familiar so far because people tag me in photos on Instagram and Facebook, people who are Spitboy fans, whether they just discovered the band or whether we were their favorite band in high school. I’ve heard that a lot. One woman just told me that in high school that she made her girlfriend a handmade Spitboy t-shirt. The book, however, does seem to appeal to non-Spitboy fans too. Some of colleagues at the college where I teach have started teaching the book or pieces from it, and there’s a bookstore in Minneapolis, Moon Palace Books, that has a rock and roll book club. They’re reading it this month, and they just read Michelle Leon’s I Live Inside — she played bass guitar in Babes in Toyland. I doubt everyone taking part knew about Spitboy in the 90s.

You’ve written about music memoirs on your blog. Do you have a favorite? Are there any musicians whose as-yet-unwritten memoirs you’d like to read?

I think that my favorites so far are Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, and Boys, Boys Boys by Viv Albertine. It’s beautifully written and super soulful. And I loved Violence Girl by Alice Bag — we are total punk rock sisters, and I love how she writes so much about growing up Xicana in East LA and in the punk scene, and Dreadnaught by DH Peligro, which I love even more now after doing a reading with him and learning more about his process for writing it after growing up with dyslexia and being labeled and tracked in school.
My friend Nicole Thomas who played drums in Fireparty and now plays in Hard Left is writing her memoir, and I’m super eager to read it because I know it will offer another much needed perspective and voice on the topic and she will do it justice. I’m also excited to read Nicole’s book because more drummers should write their memoirs.

Your author bio mentions that you’re at work on a novel. How close to completion would you say that you are with that?

I’ve got a ways to go on the novel. It’s called The Republic of California, and it’s a satirical novel about a futuristic California that secedes from the US and kicks out all the people of color except for the Mexicans, and intermarriage of whites and Mexicans is forced for the purpose of creating a race of beautiful, hard working people. I wrote about 200 pages, and now I’m rewriting because it started off way too slow. Plotting is so hard! At the moment, I’m working toward getting another memoir published — Pretty Bold for a Mexican Girl: Growing Up Xicana in a Hick Town. It was written before The Spitboy Rule. I won’t likely have the novel finished until after next summer.

I’m guessing you’ve been asked this a few times now, but I’m curious: does the release of this book mean that some of Spitboy’s music might be reissued before long?

Not so many people have actually asked me this, but I do have possession of nearly all the original reels if anyone wants to make an offer. I’d make sure the rest of the band was compensated on any sales, but don’t ask if we’ll have a reunion show because I doubt that would ever happen. I did start having this recurring dream where we decide to play and we show up to the venue and realize that not only did we not ever practice but that we don’t remember how to play the songs. I wake up super relieved it’s a dream every time.
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Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 

Wolves, Gates, & Radical Faith

by Jared Bias
Pete ends
April 6th, 2016

The first time Mark Van Steenwyk and I (Jared) met, I was picking him and a group of mutual friends up from a Conference in Phoenix, where I was living and teaching at the time. Our destination: the closest karaoke bar we could find. Our mission: sing our hearts out to the 7 locals that were there until late into the night. Here it is, 4 years later, and his highly reviewed first children’s book, A Wolf at the Gate, is now being re-published by PM Press. So, I asked him a few questions about it.

1. Your first two books are That Holy Anarchist and The Unkingdom of God. Not really kids lit. What was going on in your life that inspired you to take a crack at writing a children’s book?

When I started writing it, I had a 6 year old who found books about war and fighting and knights and pirates thrilling. Since I wanted to stir a love for justice and peace in my son, I started looking for kid books about nonviolence. Most of the ones I found weren’t very exciting. Since I’ve been a fan of kid lit my entire life, I thought I’d tackle writing an exciting book that promotes peace.

At the same time, I was at a low point in my life as an activist and writer. I think I was burnt out on trying to convince adults to take Jesus’ radical message seriously. It takes an imagination to consider alternative ways of seeing the world, which is essential if we’re going to work for liberation. If an adult is unimaginative, it is extremely difficult to reach them with a message of liberation. That led me to consider focusing my creative energy on younger people. Not exclusively–I still plan on doing some of the stuff I’ve been doing the past 15 years–but I think writing for younger audiences is something I’m going to take much more seriously.

2. As a Dad to 4 little ones, I know there’s a million children’s books out there. Why this one? What’s unique about A Wolf at the Gate?

A few things. First of all, it tackles issues that rarely get addressed in children’s books: economic injustice, violence, and ecology. Secondly, it tackles them with a story that, while timely, feels timeless. A lot of reviewers have told me it feels like a classic. Finally, the illustrations by Joel Hedstrom are amazing. Absolutely wonderful. His images are bold…inspired by woodcuts and tattoo art. The combination of theme, writing style, and art make it the sort of book that a parent could read to their grade-schooler or give to their middle grade students to read on their own. And adults have enjoyed it too.

3. I have friends who grew up conservative but don’t want to raise their children with the same views about the Christian faith but aren’t sure how to go about it. Did writing this book shape how you present the Christian faith to your kid? If so, how?

Yes. The story is based off of a legend about Saint Francis, but isn’t overtly religious in content. It shows faith in action, relying on the narrative to challenge one’s faith rather than building an argument. Because of that, it has been picked up by a secular leftist publisher (PM Press out of Oakland) while still being celebrated by deeply religious folks (like the Catholic school in Florida that used it for their school retreat).

4. What is your favorite part of the book and why?

There are three parts that I love the most…when the three parental figures in the book (the wolf mother, the wolf father, and the Beggar King) go on a walk with the red wolf and try to help her understand some fundamental truth about the world. Her father teaches her about the cruelty of humanity. Her mother teaches her about the importance of being a neighbor. But it is the third vignette that is the most interesting to me. At this point, she is talking to the Beggar King as a peer. He teaches her a bit about the selfishness of humanity, but (as we see later in the book) she refuses to accept it.

5. Was A Wolf at the Gate a break from what you’ve written in the past or do you see it as part of the same themes and trajectory?

It is certainly a different genre, but entirely in keeping with themes I’ve worked with before–violence and nonviolence, hospitality and alienation, poverty and wealth. It is, I believe, my most important book. And it is a signal of things to come. I’m finding myself less constrained by genre. I no longer feel a need to write or do the sorts of things someone like me (a pastor and activist) is “supposed” to write or do. But, while I am giving myself permission to experiment with the shape of my work, the underlying themes will continue to stay the same.

Buy A Wolf at the Gate | Buy the e-Book of A Wolf at the Gate | Back to Mark Van Steenwyk's Author Page

Legal Worker, Social Justice Activist Kris Hermes Honored With May Patriot Award

By Susan Gaissetrt
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
April 30th, 2016

BORDC/DDF is proud to present Kris Hermes with the May 2016 Patriot Award. Kris is a legal worker who recently served on the board and staff of the National Lawyers Guild. He has been a social justice activist since the 1980s, when he worked on the issues of global hunger and poverty.  In the late 1990s, he became a member of ACT UP Philadelphia, a group that works to advance social change on health care issues for people with HIV/AIDS. ACT UP Philadelphia describes itself as “a group of individuals united in anger and committed to ending the AIDS crisis through direct action.”

Direct action means just that: actively doing something that is directly related to communicating the message about the change you want to see in the world. Direct action means striking, demonstrating, and being involved in acts of civil disobedience, and those things often lead to getting arrested. At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, thousands of protesters engaged in direct action, including members of ACT UP, and hundreds were arrested. Kris and others got to work defending them. He co-founded R2K Legal, a defendant-led collective composed of activists, legal workers, and law students to support those arrested during the GOP Convention in 2000.

Kris spent several years working on the R2K Legal cases, developing and  refining a set of tactics and strategies for pushing back against the inequities of the justice system and using court solidarity techniques. These techniques include having large groups of defendants collectively refuse plea bargains and demand trials; they forced the legal process to become political.

In 2004, Kris began research on a book about the 2000 Republican Convention. He spent years writing it, and it was published in 2015: Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000. In Crashing the Party, Kris details the experiences protestors had with law enforcement in Philadelphia and describes the gamut of coercive techniques used by law enforcement to suppress political dissent. They include:
    •    Denial of protest permits, to thwart protest planning
    •    Sweeping exclusionary zones
    •    Interrogation of activists
    •    Unlawful stop and search of activists
    •    Preemptive raids
    •    Widespread violence
    •    Mass arrest, with long detention, high bail, overcharging, and denying access to legal counsel

Kris has been to every Republican National Convention since 2000, providing legal support to protesters, and he’ll be in Philadelphia for the 2016 Democratic convention and in Cleveland for the corresponding GOP convention. In an interview for this article, he shared the following thoughts about why dissent matters and why both law enforcement and the media must protect and understand dissenting viewpoints.

On effective protest: “For effective protest to happen,” Kris says, there would need to be “a different approach to policing the event” than he’s seen in the past 16 years. Kris has “rarely seen police stand down and not use excessive force, indiscriminate violence, or a massive show of police force.” Protesters should have the right to  “be within sight and sound of the convention and be able to voice their grievances without being silenced by law enforcement.”

“The ability for people to be heard,” he says, “is crucial to advancing social change movements.” Ideally, the media would hear and understand the issues being voiced by activists and share those issues with the public. Ideally, the media would treat the message with respect.

What usually happens instead: In 2000, Kris says that law enforcement conducted preemptive raids and confiscated protesters’ signs, banners, etc. When the protesters had to march without their carefully planned communication props, the media reported that they looked aimless.

Another common theme that arises at events where protesters are present is that law enforcement uses the pretext of securing the event and its participants against terrorism. This pretext “conflates the perceived threat of terrorism with political activism,” Kris says, and this happens “consistently.” “The media does not question this conflation,” he says. So, protesters become associated with terrorists and, since a convention is a National Special Security Event involving the Department of Homeland Security, police departments receive extra funding to keep potential terrorists (read protesters) at bay. Kris says it’s a system that goes back a long way, but government continues to discredit protesters by using the terms “violent anarchists” and “outside agitators” to described people with differing viewpoints who might not necessarily be violent or dangerous.

“Not only is law enforcement acutely focused on suppressing dissent, the media is attracted to the ‘cat and mouse’ dynamic between protesters and police” and ignores the issues at the heart of the protest movement, Kris says.  And the suppression applies not just to the international media spotlight of a political convention, but to social change movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter as well.

“Suppression happens in waves,” Kris says. We are certainly experiencing a tsunami of suppression right now, and we are lucky to have Kris Hermes on hand to help us ride the waves as we all try to swim together toward social justice.

Buy Crashing the Party now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Kris Herme's page

E. Ethelbert Miller, 2016 George Garrett Award Recipient

by Associations of Writers and Writing Programs

On Thursday, March 31, at this year’s Annual Conference & Bookfair, AWP awarded its George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature to E. Ethelbert Miller. The award recognizes individuals who have made notable donations of care, time, labor, and money to support writers and their literary accomplishments. The award is named for George Garrett (1929–2008), who made exceptional contributions to his writers as a teacher, mentor, editor, friend, board member, and good spirit. Garrett served for many years as the editor of Intro, an annual anthology of work by emerging writers; he served as one of the founding members of the AWP Board of Directors; he taught creative writing and literature for more than forty years; and he was the author of more than thirty books. As a writer, teacher, mentor, editor, or inspiration, Garrett helped many young writers who are now major contributors to contemporary letters. The award includes a $2,000 honorarium in addition to travel, accommodations, and registration to attend AWP’s annual conference, where the award is publicly announced and conferred.

AWP Board Chair Bonnie Culver served as MC for the ceremony, and in her introductory remarks, said of Miller, “As writer, editor, educator, public speaker, arts administrator, board member, and mentor, Ethelbert’s commitment to cultivate Martin Luther King’s ‘beloved community’ is decades long and all-encompassing, blurring the lines of artist and activist, intellectual and administrator.”

Culver detailed Miller’s many accomplishments. “Ethelbert brought scores of gifted writers to the university not only as readers, but as seekers and as students. And he’s mentored many younger writers beyond Howard’s campus—as a core faculty member, Writer- or scholar-in-residence, visiting professor, among other appointments worldwide. Yet Ethelbert’s influence has never been limited to the academic world; he has also worked to shape the literary field at large by influencing cultural policy and institutional infrastructures from positions of governance. He is the long-serving board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank in Washington, DC. He founded and chaired the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, served on the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, was a board member of PEN American Center, Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, Provisions Learning Library, Capitol Letters Writing Center, Split This Rock, the Edmund Burke School, and AWP.

"E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer who was empowered by the Black Arts Movement to examine—and interrogate—the values and beliefs of his own life. His literary achievement includes eleven books of poetry and memoir as well as groundbreaking anthologies such as Beyond the Frontier African American Poetry for the 21st Century (2002), In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of African American Poetry (1994), Through the chorus of voices he has gathered in these books, his passionate editorial spirit reckons with our complex cultural moment.

"The same could be said for his coeditorship of Poet Lore magazine, a position he has held since 2002. As an editor, he reads thousands of yearly submissions and curates the biannual journal with an eye for presenting the most powerful work of emerging writers alongside that of established poets who count Poet Lore as a literary home—for some, their first home—as an advisory or contributing editor, past and present, he has also helped guide African American Review, The Black Scholar, Arts & Letters: Journal of Contemporary Culture, Callaloo, and Black Issues Book Review.

"In these many ways, he has become the face and voice of poetry and literary inquiry for writers and readers in Washington, across America, and beyond those borders.

"AWP’s George Garrett Award recognizes Ethelbert Miller’s extraordinary contribution as a literary activist—the identity he holds dearest—and as an artist whose creativity, decade after decade, continues to find clear and compelling expression through service.”

After receiving the award, Miller addressed the crowd at the reception. The following remarks have been adapted from his acceptance speech.

E. Ethelbert Miller: I’m deeply honored to be awarded the 2016 George Garrett Award. …

I never saw myself as simply being a writer. I define myself as a literary activist, a person concerned not only with the creation of literature but also its promotion and preservation. To be a literary activist is to embrace the marathon and not the sprint. It is important to be a long distance runner.

Our literary community consists not only of writers, but everyone who loves language, books and the art of storytelling. Our community embraces librarians, independent bookstore owners, as well as people struggling to write behind bars.

Writers must continue to create things that are useful—even if it’s only beauty. There is too much ugliness in the world. We must see our words as vessels for the imagination.
When we speak of community—let us speak loudly.

It is not enough to simply build—we must sustain institutions, we must cherish and protect them. Today there is still much heavy lifting we need to undertake. There is still the ongoing task to fight against the erasing of culture in different parts of the world as well as the censorship of ideas. If we write poems in private let us always protect our privacy.

There is always a need to uphold our sacred traditions while we continue experimenting with the new.

I believe writers reside in deep space, the space of depth where words matter. A place where we hold them close. Our space is wide and full of gratitude and love.

The greatest service an individual can make is to undertake the journey to reach another person’s heart. Too often this path is filled with obstacles and there is a tendency to stop, turn away and turn back.…

My dear AWP, You are my community, my Beloved Community. This award gives me the strength to rise early tomorrow and work long into the night.

A night filled with many stars and the glitter of promise and possibility.


Each year, AWP welcomes nominations for the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature. Consult our award guidelines for more information. Award recipients are selected by AWP's Board of Trustees.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to E. Ethelbert Miller's Author Page

The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day in the Socialist Review

by Mark Krantz
Socialist Review
May 2016

This is a collection of eleven essays on the history of May Day written by Marxist historian Peter Linebaugh “during the decades of conservative repression” in the US when celebrations of workers’ struggles of the past “were few and far between”.

Some of the historical details Linebaugh uncovers are fascinating and the links to contemporary events are inspiring. For example, he recalls how when the black activist W E B Du Bois heard that the Irish who led the Easter Rising in 1916 were being called “fools” by some on the left, he appealed to the heavens, “Would to God some of us had the sense enough to be fools!”
Linebaugh takes us right back to the early colonisation of America. Thomas Morton arrived in America in 1642. He wanted “to work, trade, and enjoy life with the natives”. Three years later he erected a giant Maypole at Merry Mount, under which recent immigrants like himself joined with Native Americans in a celebration of May Day.

William Bradford also landed in America in 1642. He sailed on the Mayflower. As a Puritan he was opposed to everything that Morton stood for. Puritans believed Native Americans to be “the anti-Christ”. They demolished the Maypole and had Morton deported back to England. His crime had been to celebrate what Linebaugh calls Green May Day. “May Day is very old, and nearly universal. It is a festival of planting, fertility, of germination. It is a community rite of social reproduction.”

Linebaugh describes well the Green side of the story of May Day — longing for “land once held in common” taken from the people during the enclosures in England and with the displacement of Native Americans from their common land. This fascinating book also traces the origins of Red May Day, commemorating the great struggle of workers for the eight-hour day that reached a climax in Chicago at the Haymarket. In 1886 the ironworkers of the Molders’ Union struck at the McCormick Works in Chicago. Someone threw a bomb, and four workers were convicted and hanged.

One of those hanged for the Haymarket bombings was Albert Parsons. He had been a Confederate soldier, but his consciousness was awakened by the reality of the American Civil War. He switched sides to join forces with the “former slaves and present wage slaves”. Expecting that he would himself one day be captured, Parsons foretold of “when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today”. Parsons was part of the massive working class rebellion in Chicago. He described all those assembled at the Haymarket as “representatives of the disinherited”.

Since that day at the Haymarket the voices and actions of the “disinherited” have been heard around the world every year on May Day.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Peter Linebaugh's Author Page

The Spitboy Rule Mixtape

by Nancy David-Kho
Midlife Mixtape
May 12th, 2016

Michelle Gonzales and I met when we were castmates in the 2013 Listen To Your Mother show in San Francisco. Sure, her sexy boob tattoos hypnotized the audience, but it was her story about joining her son in his elementary school talent show that hooked them (and me) for life. Michelle’s got a new memoir out about her life as a Xicana punk drummer for the punk band Spitboy and I asked her to make us a mixtape inspired by her book, The Spitboy Rules

The Spitboy Rule Mixtape
by Michelle Gonzales

Like everybody else, Perimeno punk rockers probably do get stuck in a rut. Many listen to music from their youth, not bothering to seek out new music. Some refuse to listen to new music produced by their old favorite artists because they’re afraid it won’t live up to the music they were making when you first discovered them. For these reasons, I am thrilled to get this guest spot on Midlife Mixtape – to play some of my old favorite songs and some of my new ones.

Like us mid-lifers, a lot of old music holds up really well and deserves being discovered over and over again, but that shouldn’t stop of us from continuing to discover new music, new sounds, and new ideas. Many of the songs on my playlist are only on vinyl, some are only on CD, some are only on youtube, and all feature Latinos. You probably know this already, but not all Latinos play mariachi music or sing in Spanish – some say Latinos invented punk. I’ll let you all debate that. In the meantime, I’ve got a mix tape for you to listen to that includes some of my music and music made by friends.
“Take”  The Shhh

The video depicts a closeted trans woman attempting to steal a skirt from a small boutique run by Garlika Stanx and Alice Bag. Let’s just say the punishment does not fit the crime and the whole thing will warm your heart.

The Shhh is a side project of the legendary Alice Bag and Martin Sorrondeguy (Garlika Stanx). I could watch this video everyday, and if they ever go on tour, I am going to beg to be their drummer. If you don’t know, Alice Bag is the most famous punk rock Latina in the world, and the author of Violence Girl: From East LA Rage, To LA Stage, a Punk Chicana Story. Her band The Bags formed in the late 1970s, in the early days of punk. She inspired so many of us. Martin Sorrondeguy is the singer of Los Crudos and Limp Wrist. I’ve been friends with Martin since the Spitboy days. You can read all about our friendship in the book.
“Curiosidad” Los Crudos

Since I just mentioned Martin Sorrondeguy, I have to play a Los Crudos song, my favorite, “Curisosidad.” Turn your speakers down if you’re not used to pure hardcore punk, but don’t worry, like all Los Crudos songs, this one is short — just 50 seconds long.  It’s about rejecting shame and gendered racial stereotypes, accessing our curiosity, and questioning everything, and it has a great guitar lick.

“Babylonian Gorgon,” The Bags

This song is a near perfect punk song. In 1979, if someone asked you what punk sounded like, you would describe this song: fast, loud, with a driving beat, and defiant lyrics about a woman who owns her anti-social behavior, who refuses to live up to anyone’s standards. The singer, Alice Bag, is a true punk pioneer for all women in punk and for Latinas everywhere.

“In Your Face,” Spitboy

I often think of “In Your Face” as one of Spitboy’s signature songs, but that might just be because I wrote it. It’s about the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies to sell products. The lyrics are particularly succinct, and I still can’t believe I wrote it in my early twenties. If you watch the video closely, you’ll see that I break a stick and barely miss a beat when I have to reach out and grab a new one.

“Love Like Murder,” Kamala and the Karnivores

I play guitar and sing back up on this track from the three song 7” Kamala and the Karnivores release, “Girl Band,” 1989. Kamala and the Karnivores was a pop punk band that, at the time, was loved by nerdy dudes who fetishisized female musicians, and just about no one else. I was asked to join Kamala and the Karnivores after my first band broke up and before I formed Spitboy. Ivy, the singer/song writer, painstakingly taught me to play each guitar part, which I’d forget easily, so she’d have to teach them to me all over again. I said “yes” to playing rhythm guitar player because I was already hooked on being in a band, all female bands. Kamala was the drummer, so I couldn’t have taken over on drums for the person the band was named for.

I’ve noticed that in recent writing about Lookout bands that Kamala and Karnivores are finally getting the respect they always deserved, and when you hear “Love Like Murder,” you’ll get what I mean.

“Seriously,” I Object

There are actually no Latinas in the female fronted hardcore band, I Object, but “Seriously” is a Spitboy song, our first song, a song that I wrote. It’s a simple three chord song (it actually may have four or so) that I wrote in advance of Spitboy’s very first practice. It’s a song about sexual harassment, and I Object ’s version is so great. There’s nothing like hearing your own song covered the first time and hearing a band improve on it too.

“Xicanista,” Bombon Band

“Xicanista” is the newest release on my playlist, and the latest by Bombon Band, a surf rock trio of Xicanas from San Pedro, California. It’s a surf rock meditation whose only lyrics are “Somos Xicanistas. Somos Feministas!”

We are Xicanas. We are feminists!
“Gothic Summer,” Prayers

When fellow writer Tomas Moniz told me about cholo goth group, Prayers, I was all in without even hearing a single song. This song “Gothic Summer” sealed the deal, and then I heard singer Lefar Seyer/Rafael Reyes discuss the importance of self-love and how loving his band mate was a form of that love. I think I’ll be a fan forever.

You can see evidence of the affection he talks about it in the beautifully shot video. And who doesn’t love a video shot in a cemetery with black and Latino kids of various ages running around having the happiest water balloon fight ever? Prayers’ forthcoming EP is called Baptism of Thieves. The song “Gothic Summer” came out in 2014, but I’ll be rocking it all summer 2016. I hope you will too!


Want to read more? Michelle is giving away a copy of The Spitboy Rules to a lucky Midlife Mixtape reader! To enter for your chance to win, leave a comment below…we’ll use to select a winner on Wednesday, May 18 at 5 pm PST!

Want to see Michelle’s fancy tattoos in action? Join us on Thursday, May 19 at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland at 7 pm where she’ll read and dish about life as a Xicana punk rock drummer!

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 

Michelle Gonzales's New Memoir Details Punk History Through a Xicana Feminist Perspective

by Sara Century
Bitch Magazine
May 10th, 2016

Gonzales’s new memoir illuminates that seldom-spoken time in punk history when Nirvana was not yet a household name and punk was still just another four-letter word to most people. The book also offers an important perspective on the narrative of feminist musicians of the ‘90s, a history which is often told only via white women and female-fronted punk bands are all labeled as riot grrrl. In the memoir, Gonzales describes how she felt like an outsider as a Xicana feminist in the mostly white, mostly male music scene of hardcore punk but also felt similarly estranged from the major feminist movement in punk at the time. Spitboy wasn’t riot grrrl or grunge; their music was harder, faster, more technical. Lyrically the band was tackling similar subject matter as their riot grrrl contemporaries, but their music and their politics were different. Much of this friction was a result of what she refers to as her "coming out as a person of color" in the willfully colorblind 90s punk scene.

Gonzales’s insistence that her genre was hardcore rather than riot grrrl was met with pushback from all sides. She says that her presence as a radical, feminist of color in the punk scene was discomforting to many. Status quo is still status quo even in a subculture that prides itself on rebellion and resistance. In mapping out her identity both musically and personally in uncharted territory, Gonzales chronicles a critical moment of change in the Bay Area punk scene and we are lucky to have access to it now.

Gonzales is an excellent storyteller and tour guide through this lesser-known territory of 90s music history. Her resilient love and affection for her Spitboy bandmates are one of my favorite things about the book, emphasizing their egalitarian tour dynamic well above any gossip or arguments. Stories of epic road trips, high-intensity punk shows, and dealing with sexist fans are told with phenomenal good humor and the wisdom of hindsight inserted wryly into the narrative. While Gonzales’s life and history are singular, her story is infinitely relatable to those of us that have felt outside of our own culture, or subculture.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 

Birth Work as Care Work: A Review

Alana Apfelby Holly Scudero
May 13th, 2016

These days, more and more pregnant people are starting to spend time researching birth before actually giving birth. They’re researching where they’ll give birth, who their care providers will be, who their support team will consist of.

And yet, as a society we still have a long way to go. A long, long way.

It’s easy for those of us who benefit from societal privileges to be completely blind to the advantages we have. It’s easy to forget that some birth givers don’t have access to the “good” hospitals because of location, insurance, or financial means. For some pregnant people, a higher risk of unwanted interventions or unnecessary surgery is unavoidable. For some, home birth is not an option. For some, hiring a doula is either impractical or impossible. For some, prejudice is faced at every turn due to skin color or gender identity.

For some, it’s a blessing simply to be able to give birth without being chained to the bed.

There are many issues that those who perform birth work need to be concerned with. Midwives, doulas, and childbirth educators are always learning, always reading. A new book to add to the “to read” pile is Alana Apfel‘s Birth Work as Care Work: Stories from Activist Birth Communities.

This anthology delves into a lot of sensitive ideas that are not often discussed in more mainstream birth communities, although there are certainly individuals and groups out there that are working in these areas.

“Ultimately the anthology is conceived as a platform through which to honor birth–in all its forms–as itself a profoundly radical act that holds the potential for deep transformative change.”

For example, many sections discuss the idea of white privilege with regards to birth, although those aren’t the exact words used. But there are discussions about how birth is experienced by racial minorities, and how marginalized groups have less options and less choice, and often face a certain amount of judgment simply for who they are. In addition, these people must sometimes deal with more affluent birth workers–because birth work often tends to draw in white, wealthier women–and the stigma of being “saved.”

“One such problematic narrative relates to the language of ‘choice’ within modern maternity care. The danger of celebrating the rise of choice within transactional birthing environments lies in masking ongoing forms of coercion that result in a denial of choice for marginalized communities and those with less access to the kinds of choice-making power enjoyed by more privileged counterparts.”

Also discussed is how birth is shaped by a person’s gender identity. Sure, plenty of white, hetero, cisgendered women give birth every day, but that doesn’t mean that birth is restricted only to straight women or even to those who identify as women. This book is sure to get readers thinking about ideas that some may have never encountered before.

And of course, Birth Work as Care Work talks about some of the issues that are widely known about among birth workers of all stripes, such as how the institutionalized medical model of care affects birth outcomes, the value of midwives, our society’s implicit (but not always well-deserved) trust in medical professionals.

“People see their doctors as authorities with complete control over their bodies and their babies–to the extent that they expect to be raped. The word rape might sound extreme, but I am quick to point out that when someone does something to your genitals without your consent, that is rape.”

Readers will get an overview of some basic herbal medicine–just a discussion of herbs, but no recipes–because of the importance of reclaiming medicine for ourselves. There is also a wonderful, straightforward glossary: the “Political Dictionary.” This gives readers an easy understanding of some terms they may be less familiar with, which makes this book even more accessible to everyone.

There are discussions of how doulas can serve different kinds of pregnant people, and readers will learn about groups they may not have heard about before: volunteer doulas, prison doulas, doula training programs, doulas that work in areas of reproductive health not normally associated with doulas at all (like abortion or adoption).

There are also a number of birth stories, which readers will love. Birth is beautiful, and these stories celebrate it in all of its messy, myriad forms. This is the kind of birth the author and others are fighting for, and readers will enjoy getting to experience it up close.

Overall, Birth Work as Care Work is a book that will leave readers thinking and questioning, and perhaps wanting to get involved (if they’re not already). This is a fascinating and thoughtful collection of stories, questions, and essays, and a book that any birth worker would benefit from picking up.

“Transformation happens when we come together and meet each other where we actually are, not where others perceive us to be.”


Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to the Author's Page

How to Understand Mother as a Verb This Mother’s Day and Always

By Dani McClain
The Nation
May 7th, 2016

 A new book reminds us that mothers are voices from the front lines that we all need to hear.

In February, Illinois lawmakers introduced a bill that would bar a woman from receiving state aid for her child if she refused to list the father or another financially responsible family member on the birth certificate. Unless she agreed to this intrusion into her family’s privacy, she’d be denied both public assistance and a birth certificate for her child.

News reports such as the one that brought this legislation to national attention often describe the problems mothers on the margins face, but it’s rare that we hear women who fall outside idealized notions of motherhood speak for themselves. The book Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, published earlier this year by PM Press, sets out to change that. It showcases the parenting experiences of people in poverty, teenagers, women with children in the court system, unmarried women, women committed to radical politics, and others too often overlooked in public discourse on parenting. The contributors to the anthology, edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams, are not victims acted upon by policies or pushed into ill-fitting categories by politicians. Instead, they are experts on their own lives, presenting solutions for the challenges they face and stories of the transformations they’ve experienced through mothering or being mothered.

The focus throughout the book is on the verb rather than the noun. While we may make assumptions about the sex and gender of someone called a mother, the activity of mothering is less limiting. Early on, Gumbs describes it as “the practice of creating, nurturing, affirming and supporting life.” In an effort to separate notions of mothering from traditional ideas about who does it, Gumbs writes: “The practice of mothering that inspired us to create this book is older than feminism; it is older and more futuristic than the category ‘woman.’”

Still, the book is firmly in the tradition of earlier feminist works that presented the testimonies of women of color. In her preface, Loretta J. Ross, co-founder of the reproductive-justice organization SisterSong, describes how in the 1970s and ’80s Cherríe Moraga, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Toni Cade Bambara, and others articulated an evolving feminism that was relevant to and led by women of color. Ross writes of feeling as if books such as Moraga and Anzaldúa’s This Bridge Called My Back and hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman spoke directly to her as a black feminist in her 20s. Revolutionary Mothering attempts to do something similar for a new generation grappling with how race, ethnicity, sexuality, and other aspects of identity affect the way they love.

In the book, Mai’a Wiliams addresses the stigma attached to midwifery, particularly among members of the black middle class who consider out-of-hospital birth backward, a remnant of the Jim Crow days when the medical establishment left black women to fend for themselves during pregnancy and childbirth. Her short essay highlights the absence of black midwives, particularly the granny midwives that Williams writes were historically central to black communities, from today’s boom in the use of largely white midwives and doulas.

Claire Barrera writes about parenting with chronic pain and points out how the current fascination with so-called natural or attachment parenting can be exclusive. “One is expected to breastfeed, babywear, make all your baby food from scratch, unschool AND work, etc. etc. with a smile on one’s face,” Barrera writes. “I find this discouraging, not radical at all, and I don’t see myself, as a mama with a disability, reflected in that reality.”

Norma Angelica Marrun describes being 12 years old and separated from her mother by immigration policies that allowed her to stay in the United States but forced her mother to return to Mexico. Victoria Law explains in detail how she learned to mother while maintaining and deepening her commitments to organizing and activism. Lisa Factora-Borchers tells the story of giving birth, as she puts it, “to two things: a 9 lb. 7 oz. son and a new feminism.” While healing from a cesarean section, she decides that there are two kinds of feminism, what she calls “the feminism of issues and the feminism of our lives.” The former is concerned with whether people call themselves feminists and whether feminism is dying. The latter is concerned with whether women themselves are dying and the complexities of their experiences while they live.

The testimonies in Revolutionary Mothering offer readers a deep dive into the feminism of its contributors’ lives. The book is a necessary reminder that beyond the headlines, position papers, and generalizations made about mothers are voices from the front lines that we all need to hear. 

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Mai’a Williams Author Page | Back to Alexis Pauline Gumbs's Author Page | Back to China Marten's Author Page


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