Against Nostalgia

It's the morning after the big event. Last night I was on a panel with folks connected to Jabberjaw. It was the opening keynote panel for the Los Angeles edition of the Experience Music Project conference that usually happens every year in Seattle. I submitted the panel proposal late last year when I saw that the call for papers had a distinctly Los Angeles bent centered on locality, organic musical community formations, identity and overall clique-y scenester-ness. I hit up Michelle Carr, co-proprietor of Jabberjaw slash archivist on Jabberjaw emphemera and now editor of the upcoming anthology It All Dies Anyway: LA, Jabberjaw, and the End of an Era because the book project was creating a flutter of excitement from previous patrons and members of the old Jabberjaw community. It seemed like a great way for all of us on the Jabberjaw Facebook group to take our communications, creative exchanges, tensions and other healthy beefs into the public.

I drove down from the Bay yesterday morning. I arrived to my parents' house in Huntington Park to basically put together a 100+ slide slow for the event. I arrived early enough to set up my tech stuff while greeting the who-was-who of Jabberjaw past. Time has been kind to us.

This was my first EMP contribution ever and the combination of caffeine and nerves was one thing but the feedback on the mics took me off balance and I probably didn't say as much as would have liked to. I was really happy to be on a panel with some of Jabberjaw's brightest stars, to be amongst friends from back then who I'd stand next to and be the most present I've ever been in my young life. Sure brightness can sometimes blind and as someone told me after the panel, this was the nicest and restraint I've ever been when it comes to discussing issues of race-class-gender-privilege. I woke up thinking about it this morning. I felt like I was trying to reference the teenage person inside of me that was a frequent patron and sometime performer at Jabberjaw and that person wasn't articulating the burden of identity during that period in the early 90s. The young person inside me saw the way Riot Grrl polarized people in the Jabberjaw community, the micro-aggressive iterations against feminists taking the space back, even if it was only psychic space, and it haunted me. If gender spooked folks into acting like their dads, I was not about to bring up race or ethnicity. Jabberjaw, for as much as it gave us all permission to imagine living our lives creatively and not starve, it was still kind of a nihilistic space. And that was the allure. It was so many things at once--dystopic and hopeful crawling with innocent Peter Pans and  intense addictive personalities.

Spot the little identitarian-in-process with the black cherry lips in front.

Spot the little identitarian-in-process with the black cherry lips in front.

Did it scare me? Maybe it did. Was it worth it to me to speak up even when deep down I knew Jabberjaw was as diverse space a space as it was ever going to get if I wanted to see bands I gave a shit about? I mean, even if Jeffrey, Sajay, Sisi, Adam, Jessie, or Gabe or any number of my friends of color didn't want to talk about it, make a big deal about being the brown and black faces in this sometimes sea of white, it was our prerogative. Were we all politicized? I surely wasn't at 17. I could barely swallow calling myself a feminist. It is hard dressing for battle. But even now it's not like I'm a very good at being a person of color, whatever that means. I'm reminded every day about structural racism and fall back all the things I had to do to be a good cockroach and survive all that symbolic ontological annihilation, even when it's coming from supposed allies. All I knew back then was that I loved shows and that sometimes things got awkward for brown kids. 

We do bring it up, however. We do it behind closed doors. Over telephone conversations. In a 'zine that will be distributed to maybe 5 people. And sometimes in documentaries like Martin Sorrendeguy's Mas Alla De Los Gritos/Beyond The Screams: A U.S. Latino Hardcore Punk Documentary or Kerri Koch's Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl or James Spooner's Afro Punk...the other black experience.

And even then those documents aren't enough. When you have three narratives, they become the GO-TO narrative for all things brown and punk, or female and punk and so on, so forth. Riot Grrrl gets cast time and time again as this white, privileged, educated space, when my time in Riot Grrrl was spent with bad ass Chicanas and Filipinas into punk and fucking shit up and being way too much for the white girls around us too conveniently clueless about their varying forms of privilege. The elision of Los Angeles Riot Grrrl is annoying mostly because I feel like this is the Riot Grrrl narrative you've been waiting and hoped to find in Sara Marcus' love letter to Bikini Kill otherwise known as Girls To The Front. But that elision just underscores the quandary of having a conversation about race in those circles--no one was ready. But those tensions gave way mostly because they had no choice and explode into new and exciting forms of identity-based spatial awareness. Like I said last night, if it weren't for Jabberjaw I'd not know the brilliant, liberatory genius of Vaginal Davis. Vag went on to create some of the most exciting performance venues for gender outlaws in Los Angeles, spaces where you could engage with the collision of sex, identity, practice and radical self-formation.

Now twenty years after these creative movements, communities and eras there we are seeing the emergence of curators, editors, archivists and librarians coming forth with the ephemera they held onto carefully and sharing it with the rest of us. That's exciting to me because it is an opportunity to create new and counter-narratives to what we know about punk/indie/DIY culture. My main impetus in sending in the panel proposal was to bring attention to the care that Michelle Carr has taken with all of these historical materials and the vision she has to find a receptacle for these materials in the form of a coffee table book. She took care of Jabberjaw when it was a living space and continued to take care of Jabberjaw in its living death.

I am a fan, a champion of the organic archivist--those with personal libraries containing important ephemera like flyers, photographs, 'zines, cassette demos, compilation records and Xeroxed writings about DIY culture, 3rd wave feminism, hardcore post-punk, rock posters, Riot Grrrl, and all things Los Angeles in the 1990s. A few weeks ago I finally gave Lucretia Tye Jasmyne my Riot Grrrl Los Angeles oral history. I had been asked to give my oral history by a few other curators and scholars working on the Riot Grrrl movement and I either didn't have time to or just hadn't undone the knot of anxiety that kept me from wanting to relive that time in my life. Props to Chelsea Starr for being tenacious in broadening the dearth of voices of color in the RG discourse and to Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss who're busy working on curating an extensive exhibit on Riot Grrrl culture nationally. Astria has gone so deep into the archive she's unearthed my fanzine Soda Jerk (copies that Lucretia Tye still has and has promised to mail to me) and compilation cassette I put together called Fountain Of Youth. For more insight to Astria and Ceci's work, check out: http://riotgrrrlcensus.tumblr.com/

This is the work that is really thrilling to me. People not asking for permission to get our stories told, no matter how fraught and complicated and drowning in nostalgia they may be...

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I wish we could've talked about how in the photos of the audience, nary a cell phone was visible. No one was looking down at the wretched pager going off in their jean pockets or busy capturing themselves by way of an Instagram selfie. I can't imagine a band like Low performing to utter quietude today.

Okay, I smell nostagia so I'll stop here.

* A note about the photographs: from the Jabberjaw Facebook Group Postings. My apologies that I don't have the photo credit, but please feel free to post who the photographers are. I believe the Bratmobile photo is by Ben Clark, but I am not entirely certain.