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alice bag, violence girl: east l.a. rage to hollywood stage, a chicana punk story (2011)

While Alice Bag is listed as the author of Violence Girl, the author’s name is arguably only applicable in the second half of the book. The selling point is the name ... there are people who know the name Alice Bag who don’t know her name at birth was Alicia Armendariz. But Violence Girl begins with the story of an East L.A. Chicana, and very gradually moves us through Alicia’s life until she adopts the Alice persona.

It’s not exactly two books in one, because Alicia’s memoir does a great job of showing how she became Alice. Still, those readers who come to Violence Girl hoping to read about the L.A. punk scene in the late-70s may be surprised to find it takes 140 pages before Alicia graduates from high school.

Those pages are vital, though, because we learn how Alicia’s childhood helped form the person she became as a punk grownup. Importantly, Bag’s background as Latina and woman automatically expands our vision of L.A. punk as a haven for suburban white boys playing hardcore punk. Alice Bag’s music was informed by the Mexican music she heard as a kid, as well as the glam rock she favored. But what dominated the sound of The Bags was the violence referred to in the title, for Alice Bag steamrollered her way through live performances, singing with an angry passion that made lyrics irrelevant. And the roots of that violence lay in her upbringing in a home with an abusive father. While there is clearly a social context for L.A. punk as a whole, and The Bags in particular, Violence Girl, in taking us through the transformation from Alicia to Alice, shows the personal aspect to Alice Bag’s stage presence.

It’s a sign of the quality of the book that, even if you are antsy to get to the punk stuff, the story of Alicia’s childhood is interesting and insightful enough that it works not just as a prelude to what is coming, but as a standalone memoir of growing up Chicana. Of course, once we get to punk, Bag’s I-was-there story telling draws us right in. Bag’s writing is more functional than elegant, but that is especially appropriate when she talks about forming bands and bonding with the community of local punks. That community forms the heart of the second half of the book, and when the community begins to struggle (drugs play a big part), we feel it because Bag has made us appreciate the liberatory experience that precedes the downfall.

An extended epilogue, where Bag goes to college and travels to Nicaragua as a teacher, is a believable continuation of the story we have been told. And Alice Bag has never gone away ... her memoir may end in the 80s, but Bag lives on, as activist and archivist. She is living proof of how the transformation that accompanied punk can influence throughout a person’s life.

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