The Bags

A great band the Bags were, hard and fast and smart and totally L.A. They didn’t need the English, not the Bags. This was home grown, our own town sound. Actually, there never was an Alice Bag Band as they call them in the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization…legal reasons meant they couldn’t be listed as the Bags (there was  a law suit, ugliness). It’s a shame when a band gets their shot at posterity and finds out they can’t use their own name. Oh well. I still have their lone single, on Dangerhouse, I bought it back then. Its B-side was their best tune, I always thought, Babylonian Gorgon:

Don’t need no false reasons for why I’m out of place,
I don’t goose step for the master race.
I don’t scream and twist just for the fun of it.
I’m poison blood when I’m pissed! *

And oh yeah, Alice was hot. Dangerously hot…

Alice Bag gun

(Great shot, that I believe was sliced from a larger photo. I wish I could credit the photographer but I have no clue.)

This clip of the Bags playing “Gluttony” (see below) is from The Decline of Western Civilization. We even knew back then that it was a classic flick. Director Penelope Spheeris nailed it. If only she could have filmed twenty bands, there were so many great bands in town back then. Spheeris and her camera people really captured the feel, sound, smell, and energy of those shows. The exhilaration and the scariness. It was cool, that music scene, it was happening. We went opening night. You’ve never seen so many cop cars. Hollywood Blvd looked like a black’n’white parking lot. Fuck the pigs we said. Not long afterward like Lee Ving I spent a night in the Wilcox Hotel, aka the Hollywood jail, where I took on eight cops. They won. Later I became a well behaved intellectual.

Everybody had the soundtrack album, I still do, and most of us can recite extended passages from memory. I even quoted this movie a few times while writing all those Brick’s Picks columns, and the jazz fans never knew. I wonder if they wondered who Lee Ving was. One of those session cats, maybe. Or a bebop disc jockey from Hong Kong. I never explained.

Wow, going back,way back…that scene was thirty five years ago almost. A swell time was had by all, though a bunch died. In fact two of the Bags did. It happens. Though listening to this cut, about a minute in, when the tune explodes out of a dirge into pure, electrifying L.A. punk rock, you’d think nobody is gonna die, ever.

Oh yeah, check out Alice Bag’s well crafted memoir, Violence Girl. Saw her do a reading a few months back at a hip hang in Los Feliz. She read a chapter, talked some, and then did a remarkable little take on “Babylonian Gorgon”. Glad I went.

And lastly there’s a memorial page for guitarist Craig Lee, who had become the quintessential LA Weekly music critic. AIDS killed him in 1991. People took it hard. The next day someone spray painted “We Miss You Craig!” all along Hyperion Avenue in big broken hearted punk rock letters.

“Gluttony” by the Alice Bag Band from The Decline of Western Civilization:


* “Babylonian Gorgon”….I think Craig Lee wrote both song and lyrics. I assume he was talking about what they used to call the Huntington Beach scene in 1979, the year this single was released. Though maybe he was alluding to Darby Crash (of the Germs) as well, who seemed a little fascinated with the dark side. That Bowie thing that people have forgotten about. Neither of them meant it, it just shocked the hippies. That went all the way back to the Velvets, with Lou Reed going on about shiny boots of leather…that weird place where bondage and leather and Nazi look and fashion meet. I think that theme has exhausted itself here in the States, maybe so many of the devotees died during the AIDS epidemic, and most bikers you see now are lawyers and stockbrokers. Europe seems as fascinated as ever, though. Then again they invented both kinky leather bondage and fascism, not to mention nice uniforms. We’re just dumb,sloppy Americans. Even as the Third Reich met its cataclysmic end in fire and ruins and annihilation, you have to admit their soldiers looked better.

But I think Craig Lee was also over reacting to the demographic change then taking place in the L.A. punk scene. By 1979 kids were pouring in from the suburbs. They’d listen to Rodney on the Roq spinning all this amazing music and get their high school outcast buddies and head to the Hong Kong and Madame Wongs and raise holy hell and scare the bejesus out of the jaded old–almost twenty five, some of them–Hollywood scenesters. And the English music press–which is what we all read then, Zig Zag and Sounds–was full of frightening fascist punks and the Rock Against Racism response, and I think Craig saw those white surfer kids here with their close cropped hair from “the Beach” (Huntington to Hermosa, inclusive) and assumed they were all big scary nazis. But this wasn’t England, and these kids weren’t nazis, they were bored surfer kids exploding with testosterone and energy. And as the Hollywood scene sank into heroin the best new stuff began coming out of Fullerton and San Pedro and Hermosa Beach anyway. But that was still in the future a bit. The Bags were part of the first wave of Los Angeles punk bands who played the Masque–that demented bashed up little hole off Hollywood Blvd–and  helped changed rock’n’roll forever. For a couple years there, from 1977 to maybe 1980, the Hollywood punk scene–all the Dangerhouse bands–made some of the best rock music of its time. There was so much creativity in the clubs back then, all this spontaneous brilliance and inspiration, and rock’n’roll–our rock’n’roll, raw and new and uncompromising–seemed like the most important thing in the world.

Now that was a footnote.