When it comes to rock music, as with most genres, many unsung heroes exist. Certainly, in discussing the theme women of rock, a huge share of untold stories exist.
Somewhere in the middle of such a topic lies Alicia Velasquez, who is better known to her loyal cult following as Alice Bag. The public first came to know Bag in the late 1970s as the co-founder of the seminal L.A. punk outfit, the Bags. Her wild and often-violent exploits were even documented in Penelope Spheeris’s groundbreaking documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. During her time in the L.A punk scene she ran around with the likes of the Germs, X, Catholic Discipline, and Black Flag.
In the early days of the scene she forged a lasting friendship with the legendary all female quartet, the Go-Go’s. At one point, she was asked by the bands original bassist and close friend Margot Olivarria to join the band as its vocalist but declined.
“I think there was a time when I’d look at them and see how popular they’d been and just thought they would be nowhere near as popular if I was in that band,” Bag told Enclave. “Because I don’t usually perform that way. I tend to be aggressive. I tend to go crazy and sing off key. I’m kind of a hot mess. I don’t necessarily fit in to the mainstream. And they’re friends. I probably would’ve ruined them. So, I’m glad I didn’t get involved with them.”
Bag was smack in the middle of a movement that was just as vibrant and colorful as its counterparts in New York City and London. Los Angeles in those days, just as with the two storied cities, was full of uncertainty, high crime and despair. These were the combustible elements which drew the youth of this era together. It was a time and place where Bag, who came from an abusive and chaotic home, could connect with others like her. She found her place amongst her many contemporaries. Bag began to shape her social, spiritual and political ideologies while hanging out in L.A.’s notorious Canterbury Apartments. It was there that many like her created their own opportunities.
“DIY really to me was an opportunity to play,” reflected Bag about her time in the L.A. punk subculture. “It’s an opportunity to experiment with creative media whether it’s writing, playing music, making posters or creating art. It’s really an opportunity to be playful and not feel restricted. Politically it’s also a means of taking control of production.”
As influential as the Bags were, their time in the limelight was short-lived. The band, as with many throughout the history of rock music, had its fair share of dysfunctional moments ultimately leading to its demise in 1980. Bag herself would drift in and out of the punk and post-punk scenes over the time. She would go on to create more music with other bands. Bag formed Castration Squad, Cholita and Las Tres. Along the way, she would endear herself to LGBTQ audiences due to her collaboration with Vaginal Davis.
In between her musical stops Bag pursued another passion: teaching. She spent a considerable amount of time in the 1980s as a bilingual educator not only in her native Los Angeles but in post-revolutionary Nicaragua. Also during this time Bag would marry and start a family of her own. In the end, her thoughts would still lead back to her first band and the trauma of the physical abuse she witnessed inflicted on her mother at the hands of her father. Bag would eventually document her memories of these experiences in her critically acclaimed autobiography Violence Girl which was released in 2011. Four years later she would go further into detail of her time teaching in Nicaragua with the self-published Pipe Bomb for the Soul.
These days you can find Bag trekking across the country performing and reading at venues in cities big and small. She’s still politically active, as she also took time to participate in the Women’s March while on a recent tour stop in Washington, D.C. in support of her self-titled debut solo LP. Bag still doesn’t shy away from speaking out on education and the rights of those who have been marginalized.
Of her participation in the march, Bag, who is was in New York as part of her northeast tour, offered the following:
You know I didn’t think of it as a duty [to be there]. I thought of it as a privilege. I felt really excited at the thought of being a part of a group of women that wanted to create change. That wanted to talk back. That wanted to stand up for themselves. And it was thrilling to see how many women wanted to do that. And not only women but how many people who were just disenfranchised by the administration. Suddenly we are all allies. I know that we’ve all been allies. We’ve been in the same boat from the beginning.
The punk priestess echoed the need for those who marched on that day to continue to keep the spirit of it going. Ever the survivor she believes that those who mobilized need to harness that energy and channel it via the polls, be it on the local, state or federal levels. Bag expresses that this kind of movement needs to be enacted immediately and that we shouldn’t wait for 2018 or 2020. Bag urges people to keep the flame burning, remain politically informed and show a measure of discipline in their battles. She has voiced concern regarding where individuals obtain their news sources in a time where “alternative facts” are being pushed on citizens as the norm.
Yet in addition to this it should come as no shock that Bag’s chief worry in the first one hundred days of Donald Trump’s presidency centers around public education. The choice of Betsy DeVos has come under an extreme amount of scrutiny and has been the subject of an enormous amount of fodder in the news and on the internet.
“First of all, we need to be committed to public education, Bag asserts:
If there’s something that needs to be fixed, then we need to fix it. We don’t want to just walk away and abandon it. We can’t say we don’t like this direction that public education is going in. Let’s just pull our kids out and go to private schools.
I think we need to teach children to have conversations with each other. We need to teach dialogue. We need to teach reasoning. We need to have exercises that help them become critical thinkers instead of filling them with facts and figures. Facts do matter. We do need to teach facts. We need to teach certain dates. But we need to have different perspectives when it comes to history. We need to hear different voices.
Suffice it to say one of Bag’s many hallmarks is her dedication to keeping communication lines open as a guardian of oral tradition. This is key for someone who not only has a cult following but still isn’t considered a household name. While many may snark over who she is, Bag is just fine with the line she walks between her loyal following and often not being noticed on a larger scale.
When I was touring for Violence Girl, I used to do a little bit of acoustic music to just kind of put a sound track to the book. One of the songs I used to sing is called “Monedita de Oro” which is a ranchera song. The sentiment of that song is I’m not for everyone. And I know that. And it doesn’t bother me. I’m okay with not being hugely popular. I’m okay with just the people who know me and appreciate me.
As required a taste as Bag is one cannot ignore that she has been the beneficiary of a second wind to her career since the onset of this decade. Her LP is proof that the squall has not died in her sails. Each of the eleven tracks housed in it are original recordings. The single “Weigh About You” is a song she only played once with Castration Squad but has laid dormant for years per Bag. It’s a solid effort at documenting her music, a lone regret of hers when speaking of her past musical efforts.
Yet when it comes to capturing her legacy in perpetuity, one piece remains. Perhaps a film based on her life may be in order. It’s something Bag admits she’s open to.
“I do imagine the book as a film. And I did when I was writing it,” Bag enthusiastically confessed. “I could visualize certain scenes. If there’s someone out there who wants to do it, please contact me. Because I would love to have it made into a feature film. I think it will reach a lot more people.”
When it comes to the matter of who portrays her, it is anyone’s guess. The punk icon is not opposed to a decorated actress like Gina Rodriguez attempting to step into the possible role. Bag even humorously added, “I imagine it would have to be some unknown Chicana with some anger management issues.”
Featured image: @artdrunkpunk