By Arielle Burgdorf
I was probably 14 or 15 when I first discovered Spitboy on a mix from my cool older sister. The grungy, snarling vocals of “Seriously,” reminded me of The Gits and won me over almost immediately. The fact that they were an all-female band made them even cooler, and the way they defined themselves as feminists yet refused to be riot grrrls was refreshing in a certain sense.
Their drummer, Todd Spitboy, aka Michelle Cruz Gonzales, has produced an excellent memoir about her time in the band that’s enjoyable even if you’re not familiar with Spitboy. Todd avoids many of the pitfalls of the rock memoir genre by keeping things brief and mostly upbeat. She saves only the most interesting, funny, or heartwarming parts for her readers, and doesn’t try to use the kind of flowery language I hate so much. All of her stories are tied together by an overarching respect and love for her bandmates. More than a band, Spitboy was a tight knit family of women that prioritized each other. Wanting to prove women were just as capable as men, they booked their own tours, served as their own roadies, made their own merch, and even did all their own car maintenance. They dealt with all the sexism they experienced with grace and humor, winning over many of their critics and paving the way for great bands to come.
Todd grew up in California, in a tiny town called Tuolumne, raised by a single mother on welfare. Determined to have a better life, she quickly moved to the Bay area, noting “I already knew that although Tuolumne was dysfunctional, limiting, broken, but I was not.” Music unlocked a whole new world of opportunities and she toured Europe, Japan, and Australia, playing with bands like Citizen Fish and getting asked to open for Fugazi. But anyone hungering for tales of rock’n’roll hedonism, will be sorely disappointed; Todd rarely hooked up anyone on tour and there are more anecdotes about playing Scrabble than doing drugs.
Much of the book deals with Todd learning to navigate all the parts of her identity, in particular being Xicana and poor in a mostly white, middle class punk scene. The bay area in the 1990s was stumbling through identity politics, sometimes with painful consequences such as when (irony of all ironies) Spitboy was accused of cultural appropriation by a white girl for using the Spanish phrase Mi Cuerpo es Mió as their album title, despite the fact that Todd is Xicana. But Todd herself feels uncomfortable identifying with her heritage because she doesn’t speak any Spanish and has some internalized racism going on (refusing to date Latinxs, etc.). Eventually that starts to change through a friendship with the members of Los Crudos and a visit to Japan, where she’s treated much better than in the U.S. Todd starts taking Spanish classes and getting more vocal about her roots, which creates some tension with her bandmates in Spitboy, tension I got the sense was never fully resolved. The Spitboy Rule leaves many questions unanswered, but maybe that also creates room for a follow-up book?
Overall The Spitboy Rule is a fun, fast read in the same vein as Alice Bag’s Violence Girl– the story of a tough, talented Xicana carving out a space for herself in the punk scene and inspiring others to do the same.
PS: As someone who just spent a good chunk of time living in San Diego I am obligated to note that the Zeros are not an “LA area” band as she claims and are in fact from Chula Vista ( a common misconception).