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Music

Alice Bag (aka Alicia Armendáriz) presents 'Violence Girl' in SA

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


Once upon a time there was no punk rock. No Clash. No Ramones. Sid had yet to meet Nancy. Punk rock had yet to be invented. Little-known to most, one of the inventors of punk rock spoke Spanish, grew up listening to rancheras, and watched lucha libre.

She was born Alicia Armendáriz, daughter of Mexican immigrants. She grew up in Boyle Heights, East L.A. in the mid-1960s. She didn't learn English until elementary school, mainly by reading Archie comic books. In second grade, her teacher changed her name from Alicia to Alice. 

As described in her new memoir, Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage/A Chicana Punk Story, music was always a part of her life growing up.

"You could always tell who was at home by what was playing on the radio," she wrote. Her mom loved her novelas. Her sister was into Motown, and her father's thing was Mexican music.

But it was not an all-idyllic childhood. Her home life was violent. Her father, she wrote, was "a monster." Kind and gentle one day — he would call her "La Reina" (the Queen) — on another day he would beat up Alice's mother and end up in jail overnight. 

The one refuge in Alice's life was music. Not only the Pedro Infante songs she heard watching Mexican movies at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown L.A., but the pop songs her older sister Yolanda would play. An eclectic playlist that included rock en español pioneers Los Teen Tops' "Popotitos" (an Enrique Guzmán Spanish-language cover of "Boney Maroney"), and the Beatles. The first 45 RPM Alice bought was Freda Payne's "Band of Gold." She loved the Supremes and Aretha Franklin.

Music was her escape. And it changed her life.

She discovered Elton John. Glam. Ziggy Stardust. It all made sense. Up until then, compared to Alice's more "normal" classmates in high school, she was always the odd one out. Exploring the Hollywood glitter rock scene, Alice found fellow travelers, kids from Orange County, the Valley, Montebello, all just like her.

"I was," she said, "in the process of redefining myself." 

After she saw Patti Smith play the Roxy in 1976, she and her friends formed an all-girl band, Femme Fatale, and after high school she moved to Hollywood. Glitter rock turned to punk. Only a few miles from Boyle Heights, Hollywood was a different world entirely. The once shy and chubby girl from East L.A. had found a home. She moved into the infamous Canterbury Apartments, where every run-down floor was filled with fellow punks, a place she fondly describes as an "island of misfit toys." Among her running buddies was a pre Go Go's Belinda Carlisle, and she was close friends with Germs' frontman Darby Crash. Within a few short years, Alice was fronting a band herself, the Bags, one of the most important bands of the first wave of L.A. punk. 

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