The 57-year-old punk lifer explains how David Bowie, traditional Mexican songs, and the Disney movie Mulan helped her learn to love herself.
English-speaking elementary school teacher who couldn’t pronounce her given name, Alicia Armendariz. The second half came when she fronted the the Bags, a pioneering band that offers a jolt of Chicana feminism to the archetypal idea of punk in 1977. The Bags really did cover their heads with paper bags at their earliest gigs while donning neon from head-to-toe—a style that might look familiar to fans of Pussy Riot.
Though the Bags only released one single—1978’s searing, hardboiled “Survive”—during their lifetime, the band’s collected recordings were later compiled as All Bagged Up, including classics like the L.A. scene anthem “We Don’t Need the English” and the ruthless fight song “We Will Bury You.” Over the last 35 years, Bag also played in the deathrock band Castration Squad, collaborated with genderqueer revolutionary Vaginal Davis in Cholita, and formed a post-punk trio called Las Tres.
In her 2011 memoir, Violence Girl, Bag revisits her days growing up in a traditional Mexican household in East L.A., from the chili-sprinkled fruit and singing street vendors she loved on family trips to Juarez to the disturbing abuse she regularly witnessed her father inflict upon her mom. Those experiences charged Bag’s enraged and self-empowered persona in punk. For proof of just how resilient she remains, check out the pink-haired 57-year-old kicking a Donald Trump piñata in the head in a recent Instagram post. And her influence is likely to bloom further with the release of her new self-titled debut solo LP.
Four years ago, in fact, Alice Bag changed my life. I was watching her perform on a Sunday afternoon at Ladyfest Boston, where she said something deceptively simple: “It’s important to validate the culture you want to see around you.” Bag has a way of encouraging support among women and, like an incisive punk song, her statement slashed through me. I don’t think I’ve ever been the same.
Below, Bag talks about the artists, songs, and albums that meant the most to her throughout her life, five years at a time.
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