Category Archives: Punk Rock

guitar therapy

I try to hang out with my guitar a little bit every day because nothing really takes your mind off shit like noodling around on the strings until your fingertips are numb.  I put a lot of work into writing my own material, but no matter how much time and energy I expend on creating my own stuff, the songs I always end up coming back to and playing over and over again were written by other people.  I’m hardly a musician, but I guess I do have a little bit of a knack for deconstructing punk rock songs down to their bare bones — that’s what I do in Cunt Sparrer, and it’s what I’ve been doing lately when I get frustrated with my inability to come up with my own tunes.

So, for lack of anything else to post about, here are a couple of my super-rudimentary punk rock covers, which I record periodically and upload to my Youtube account, saraplayspunksongs:

“All This & More” (with apologies to the Dead Boys):

“Adult Books” (with apologies to X):

“Don’t Mess With Cupid” (with apologies to the New York Dolls):

As you can probably tell, I can only play a handful of chords, but I make do with what I got.  And what I got (as one of my original songs says) has got me to the gettin’ place.

My buddy Kevin Seconds liked my New York Dolls cover enough to ask if I want to record it and include it on a new comp he’s putting out for his upcoming Arms Aloft Musical Roadshow tour, so that’s pretty cool.  (Actually, it’s really cool…like, a-little-bit-beside-myself cool.  I’ve known Kevin for a couple of years now and he’s watched me make a complete drunken fool of myself in more than one southwestern state, but I don’t think I’ll ever fully get over being able to collaborate with someone who has been a huge icon to me for, like, my entire punk rock career.)

A comment I hear pretty often from girls, both here on this blog and out at my shows, is that they’d like to be playing music but they think it’s “too late” to learn or that they don’t have the innate ability they think is necessary to get the hang of an instrument.  I really get this.  I used to feel like this too.  I didn’t start teaching myself to play guitar until I was 20, and I was almost 25 by the time that Cunt Sparrer started performing.  I still don’t feel like I have much more musical skill than I did back on the day I took my old Daisy Rock acoustic out of the packaging, but the point is that over the years I’ve managed, somehow, to fake it.  Listen — I really don’t have any illusions about my talent or lack thereof, but I used to not know how to strum a lick, and now I can get a guitar to do pretty much what I want it to do.  And it feels good!

It’ll probably be several more years (if ever) before I stop correcting people when they refer to me as a musician, but I’m at least starting to get used to the idea that talent is what you make of it.  There are detractors — there will always be detractors! — but having the confidence to put your shit out there is seriously way more than half the battle, and you never know, it could end up dumping some cool opportunities in your lap.

I think it would be cool to hear from female musicians (and aspiring female musicians!) in the comments.  What are you guys doing and playing and creating and covering and recording?  What projects do you have in mind for the future?  Show and tell!

Advertisements

l.a. zine fest!


On Sunday my best friend Jennie and I took our new music/art zine, Library Sciences, to show at the first annual L.A. Zine Fest!  We’re new to the zine world and we weren’t totally sure what to expect from the fest, but it ended up being the greatest DIY event either of us have ever had the pleasure of attending.  We were so happy to be a part of it, and the organizers really turned it out when it came to putting the whole thing together.  There were almost a hundred exhibitors from all around the country, and as you can see from the L.A. Zine Fest Flickr pool, the place was packed all day long.

What was really great about the event was the huge variety of incredibly talented people represented — everyone from Ayun Holliday of The East Village Inky and the trio behind Henry & Glenn Forever to local artists selling their print-and-staple comics — and how amazingly cool everyone was.  When Jennie and I walked in and saw all the girls setting up in their candy-colored tights and killer accessories, we felt like we had finally found our people.  The DIY spirit and sense of community was seriously inspiring.

Speaking of seriously inspiring, I can’t even tell you what a treat for the eyes this event was — everyone was dressed in cartoon style, looking effortless and completely delicious, and I was in total heaven.


Above are the really fabulous Emi of Pygmy Hippo and Marie of Agent Lover, whose ensembles I basically killed myself over from the second I saw Emi’s polka-dot headscarf and Marie’s hot pink knee socks.


Sheika of OMGcow.com was there with a ton of incredible comics and was basically a total beacon of adorability in her bright yellow dress — you couldn’t help but be drawn to her table!  And she drew a really cute portrait of me in about two seconds flat:


So cute!


Grissel, above, was at the fest with Never Press, and I loved her retro printed dress, nude fishnets and cute little flats, not to mention that hair (and her super sweet personality)!


Sylvia of The Doktor Is In was one of the first people I saw when I walked into the fest, and I was immediately drawn to her amazing tone-on-tone outfit, which reminded me a little bit of Velma from Scooby-Doo (a style icon if I’ve ever seen one).  I got to pick up a couple of her zines and I really love her self-deprecating sense of humor and straight talk.


And how cute is Sarah, above, who was at the fest with No More Geeks?  Girl is serving some modern indie Mia Farrow and I like it.

Thanks to our friend Emilio of Aperture Priority for the fisheye photos!

To our huge surprise, we sold out of the entire first run of Library Sciences Issue One!  We listed more on Etsy today and are really looking forward to putting out our second issue and participating in a lot more events like L.A. Zine Fest.

Not too shabby!

hello 2012

My new year got off to a pretty auspicious start, seeing X perform at Slim’s in San Francisco along with my friends Sean & Zander and the Black Tibetans!

I’ve gotta say, it’s kind of hard not to feel optimistic about 2012 when you’re watching one of your all-time favorite bands perform “Auld Lang Syne” with balloons flying everywhere and the floor all sticky with cheap champagne.  After the show I somehow worked up the drunken nerve to approach Exene and tell her how amazing she is.  She was nice about it and squeezed my hand and said “thank you” and “happy new year” before wandering off in her adorable purple cowboy boots and rhinestone tiara.

So — it’s a new year!  A fresh start!  A clean slate and all that.  My friend Jennie says New Year’s is her favorite holiday because, as she says, “the only things you have to do are party and set some goals.”  In the past I’ve been inclined to think of the whole new year’s resolutions thing as kind of trite, but this year, whether it’s because 2011 was pretty transitional for me or just because I’m getting older, I’m on board and ready to move forward and create some positive change in my life.  So, as self-serving as this type of post may be, here are my goals for 2012:

 

I’m going to utilize my strange little menagerie of musical instruments (currently in my stable: two guitars, my beloved Magnus Diamond chord organ, an accordion, a glockenspiel, a couple of analog synthesizers, a harmonica and a shiny new white mother-of-pearl lap steel guitar) to their utmost this year.  I’m going to get better at playing all of them, I’m going to expand my ability to play other instruments, and I’m going to try to write a song a week, no matter how much it sucks (both the songwriting process and the resultant song itself).

I’m going to write more.  I’m going to fucking finish the goddamn novel I’ve been working on since I was 21.  I’m going to explore direct publishing on Amazon as a way to try and sell some of the shorter fiction I’ve written over the years via the Kindle store.  I’m going to put out some small zines (Jennie and I will actually be at L.A. Zine Fest in February, promoting and selling our first issue of Library Sciences!).  And — most relevant to you, my readers — I’m hereby pledging to update Cartoon Heart at least once a week.  Feel free to get on my ass about this if I slack off.

I’m going to be good to my family, my friends, and myself.  Every year it becomes clearer to me that there are very few close relationships that are sustainable in one’s life — the ones that you have are worth protecting til death.  I’m fortunate to have an incredible group of people surrounding me and this year I resolve to be as proactive as possible about letting the people who are important to me know that they’re important to me.

I have other goals that are smaller or more private or more complicated just silly, but those are the big three for me this year.

What are your resolutions for 2012?  Think about it — tomorrow I’ve got a special giveaway that’s going to depend on hearing some good ones!

Happy 2012!

on the road again

I’m going to be gone for a couple of days playing a handful of shows with my band Cunt Sparrer and the incomparable Kevin Seconds of 7 Seconds.  I’ll be back on Wednesday.  If you’re in any of the following locations you should come out!

Tonight (Sunday 11/13) at the Bunkhouse in Las Vegas:

Tomorrow night (Monday 11/14) at the Yucca Tap Room in Tempe, AZ:

Tuesday night (Tuesday 11/15) at the Slidebar in Fullerton, CA:

The shows are going to be a rowdy good time and Jennie and I have matching stage outfits that we love to wear, so come out if you can!  I’ll be back to posting when I get home on Wednesday.

my leather, my love

If I could be said to have a signature piece in my wardrobe, it would definitely be my cropped motorcycle jacket, an item I reach for so often that I simply refer to it as “my leather.”

A quick perusal of my tagged photos on Facebook turns up more pictures of me in my leather than not.  Clearly, I love this thing.

Full disclosure: my leather is not actually leather.  It’s a leatherette motorcycle jacket from H&M Divided — not very punk rock, but I don’t care.  I got it on sale for $19.99 about four years ago.  It was the only one on the rack, it was my size, and it is perfect in every way.  (I like to think it was fate.)  I’ve come close to losing it a few times and every time I do I have heart palpitations.  Without my leather I’d be lost.

A standby leather motorcycle jacket is nothing original, especially if you hang around with people who have punk in their past, but what I appreciate about people and their leathers is how they get personalized over the years with studs and paint and patches and pins.  Personally, mine is dripping with flair, and it makes me laugh because most of the buttons and shit on my leather are pretty silly.  From afar it might look like anyone’s pinned-up leather jacket, but when you get close up it’s totally completely me.

A guide to my leather in ten easy steps:

1. Cunt Sparrer badge.  Nothing wrong with a little self-promotion.  I guess it’s kind of lame to wear your own band’s pin but I’m proud of my band and I’ma sport it.

2. Cramps pin.  One of my favorite bands of all time and like the only pin on my leather that would actually be at home on anyone else’s.

3. Vintage Slayer “War Eagle” tack pin.  My friend Katy stole this from a metalhead ex-boyfriend she had long ago and gave it to me as a gift (attached to a sick ’80s dress) a couple of years ago.  It’s heavy duty and badass and people try to steal it from me all the time.  Back off and get your own, dudes.

 

4. “Too Much Politics” button.  I got this at Paxton Gate in San Francisco (a seriously fucking rad shop) when I was up there with the band earlier this year.  I love the little dude in his coffin because this is basically how I feel whenever people start going off on political tirades.

 

5. “Fuck Harry Nemer Week” political badge.  I found this at the Cypress College swapmeet along with a handful of other weird treasures.  Who is Harry Nemer and why was there a whole week dedicated to telling him to fuck off?  I Googled him, but nothing comes up.  This is such a weird little piece of history that I will never understand, but it’s an awesome fabric-covered pin and people always want to talk about it.  I wish I knew what it was all about.

6. All Of Me lenticular pin.  OK THIS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST THINGS I OWN.  I got it at the same swapmeet table where I found the “Fuck Harry Nemer Week” pin and when I saw it I pretty much lost my fucking shit.  All Of Me starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin is one of my favorite movies and when I found this pin I had just watched it a couple of days before.  When it’s turned one way it shows Steve Martin’s face and it says “Why Not Take…” and when you turn it the other way it’s Lily Tomlin and it says “All Of Me.”  SO CUTE.  It always confuses people.  A few months ago when I was on tour with the band my drummer Jen turned to me and said “Dude, that pin is weird.  Sometimes that chick looks like Steve Martin.”

 

7. JonBenet Baphomet pin.  People always think I am creepy because of this pin but I don’t care.  It marries two of my weirder obsessions — the occult and freaky child pageants.  It was made by Less Than Zero, a really sick Etsy shop based out of Sacto.

 

 

8. FabuLisa pin.  This is my friend Lisa Nguyen, a seriously incredible and vibrant woman who passed away far too soon last winter.  She had the greatest style of anyone I’ve ever met in my life and I love having this little piece of her with me every day.

9. Black Fag pin.  Black Fag is an “Absolutely Fabulous” Black Flag tribute band that Cunt Sparrer plays with a lot.  They are fucking amazing and hilarious and I am desperately in love with all of them.

10. Red sunglasses.  A band of cute boys gave us these at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas.  What else do you need?

In summary, I love you, leather.  Never leave me.

seattle soundfest

I had such a killer time at Seattle Soundfest!  Four nights of playing shows, drinking beers, seeing bands, meeting amazing new people, and nonstop partying!  I rented a house with my band (Cunt Sparrer) and my friends in Bad Cop/Bad Cop, and it was definitely a weekend to remember.

Cunt Sparrer played at the Funhouse on Friday night (the following four photos by Shawn with the Sunbreak):



The Cro-Mags fucking killed it.  One of the most brutal shows I’ve ever seen in my life.

It will take me several days to recover.

what I’ve learned from being in an all-girl band


I’m in a band called Cunt Sparrer with my best friend Jennie.  We cover songs by Cock Sparrer, an old-school British oi band with a fanbase largely consisting of big, burly, intimidating skinhead dudes.

Even though Jennie and I both consider ourselves proud feminists and the word “Cunt” was right there in our name from go, we didn’t initially think of Cunt Sparrer as a feminist project.  However, we’d always been aggressive about our femininity as a band — not in a Pussycat Dolls way or even a Spice Girls way, but just in a way that’s like, “Yes, we’re girls, and we’re happy that we’re girls, and the fact that we’re girls informs the way our music sounds.”  Cock Sparrer’s songs are intrinsically male, and our renditions strip them of their testosterone and give them new context.  Still, the idea that this was somehow a feminist act didn’t really occur to us at the time.

Then we started experiencing some sexist ‘tudes from folks in the scene, and that rankled me to the point where I now absolutely think of the band as a feminist project.  I feel like I’ve become really finely attuned to misogyny in the scene — in fact, these days I might actually cry “sexist” too much about punk rock.  I can’t help it, though.  My understanding of punk has always been that it’s about solidarity and equality and autonomy and standing up against discrimination, so experiencing the level of sexism that we have in the scene is ugly and hypocritical to me, and I want to talk about it.

With that in mind, this post will be self-serving and probably more than a little rambling, but these are some things I’ve had on my mind for a while, and I want to share my experiences with my readers and get your opinions and feedback.  Excuse me if I come off a little bitter at times — I don’t mean to, and I try to be light-hearted about this stuff, but this subject is really close to my heart.  I never would have learned these things about punk rock had I not started my own band.

1.) No musical talent is required to start a band, but balls help.
My lack of experience playing music kept me from starting a band for years, even though it’s always been a fantasy of mine.  I can sing and arrange harmonies, but when it comes to playing an instrument, I had barely any discernible musical ability when Cunt Sparrer started up in January of 2010.  Childhood piano lessons and the most rudimentary grasp of country guitar chords were all I was working with.  But you know what?  I decided to say “to hell with it, I’m going to try it anyway,” and I faked it, and I made it work, and now I actually kinda know what I’m doing.

What I learned over the course of my first months with Cunt Sparrer is what boys have known all along — the only thing you have to have in order to start a band is confidence.  Seriously.  Half the dude bands that you see playing at your local venue on any given night?  They had no idea what they were doing when they started, and chances are good that they still kinda don’t.  But boys are born with confidence and raised to believe they can do whatever they want, while girls are trained by society to second-guess themselves and not to get overambitious.  Having learned that just having balls and pretending you know what you’re doing is all it takes to start actually figuring out what you’re doing, I now really think this is the main reason there are so many more men in music than women — not because men are more talented or more driven, but simply because they have the cockiness to believe they can.

2. How you look is more important than how you play.
Cunt Sparrer started out by putting our practice videos on Youtube, and word of mouth got us to where we are now.  I should have realized that as women, by putting our music out there on the Internet for people to judge, our appearances were bound to go on the chopping block as well, but I guess, naively, I just didn’t think about it.  After all, why would our looks matter?

Then the comments started.  Several band crushes were formally declared, and Jennie fielded a volley of marriage proposals, but there was also a lot of surprising cruelty.  When I would Google the band, the discussions popping up about us on punk message boards seemed to be focusing not on our interpretations of Cock Sparrer’s songs, but on our appearance.  I mean, whole threads, three pages long, about what we looked like, how they’d like to date Jennie and, conversely, how I was horsey-looking and needed to be “replaced.”  One commenter suggested I be “taken out to pasture and shot.”

The most off-putting comments, though, were vulgar sexual ones about what people wanted to do to us.  It disgusted me that because we were women who had taken the risk of putting our work on the internet, we had unwittingly opened ourselves up to this level of sexual harassment and close-minded, solely gender-based cruelty.  These men seemed to  be under the impression that because we had put our music out in the world for public scrutiny that our bodies were also being offered up as part of the deal.

We’ve had drunk guys holler at us to take our tops off at shows.  When we performed with the U.S. Bombs last summer a (male) show promoter incorrectly and rudely inferred that we were only on the lineup because Duane Peters wanted to fuck us.  People have told us that we should welcome the attention we get for our looks — both positive and negative — because it also draws attention to the band.  I have a hard time imagining any of these statements being directed at male musicians.  Yet people seem to think that because Cunt Sparrer is an aggressively all-girl band in a male-dominated scene we’ve somehow waived our right not to have our physical appearances picked apart along with our music.  We’re told we should “expect” this, that we’re “asking for it” (doesn’t that sound familiar?), even that we should be grateful — but I refuse to accept sexism in any form.  I grew up with the understanding that punks fought oppression in all its forms, and this kind of behavior is oppressive to women.

3. How you dress is even more important than how you look.
What’s been even more surprising for me than the chauvinism is the amount of people who are really, really pissed off that girls who don’t look traditionally “punk” have the audacity to cover punk rock songs.  People threaten to beat us up if we ever come through their towns (this has never happened), people tell us that Colin, Sparrer’s singer, would hang himself if he ever heard our covers (he has heard them, and he’s still very much alive), people telling us to throw ourselves under trains (not going to happen) or to “get out of oi forever!” (also not going to happen, though it does make for a funny t-shirt).  It’s one thing if people don’t like our interpretations of the songs — hell, to each his or her own — but the vitriol tends to be aimed more often at our haircuts and wardrobes.

See, Jennie and I don’t look “punk” or “skin” enough for some people.  We have long hair instead of Chelsea cuts, and we tend to wear silly dresses and cardigan sweaters rather than Fred Perrys and bullet belts.  But we both grew up punk, and we’ve both been there, and we both truly love Cock Sparrer and everything the scene is meant to represent.

At 25 years old, I thought I had finally escaped that whole high-school mentality involving looking a very specific way in order to prove something.  My experience in Cunt Sparrer has taught me that some people really never grow out of that phase.  There are plenty of grown-ass, fully adult men out there who have absolutely no qualms about wishing violence upon women they have never met merely because we don’t look like their idea of what a punk is.  I feel confident that it’s not our twee sound that gets people pissed off about our covers — if we were a couple of skinbyrds, I’m certain we wouldn’t be getting so many bilious comments.  Rather, it’s that people still get so hung up on outer appearances that it’s nearly impossible for them to readjust their opinions, even when their opinions run against what they supposedly stand for.

Punk was born on the concept of going against the grain, which is why I find it so strange that all these punks and skins should be so mad that two girls who don’t look traditionally punk rock should still love the music and be active in the scene.  People almost can’t believe that there’s any way we could (because if we did, wouldn’t we dress a certain way?) — on Youtube we get told all the time to leave oi to “the real fans,” and we’ve even had commenters claim we’re “making fun of” or “taking the piss” out of Cock Sparrer with our covers when this is clearly, clearly not the case.  We’ve even had people in the industryexpress skepticism about our motives, saying that we don’t look like punks and suggesting we do our research.  Why on earth would we be in a Cock Sparrer tribute band if we weren’t real fans?  It’s not as if covering a band that’s hardly known outside the oi scene would be giving us any hipstery indie cred.

In my opinion, it all comes back to sexism again.  The same people that have told us we “don’t look punk” and to read up on Cock Sparrer’s history would never say the same thing to three dudes in jeans and t-shirts.  Why are men in punk rock bands allowed to dress like regular joes but females are expected to conform to some kind of male fantasy of what the punk rock girl looks like?  My days of leopard miniskirts, four-rows, Creepers and thigh-highs are over, but that doesn’t mean my days as a punk are or will ever be.  I’ve just learned as I’ve gotten older that how you dress doesn’t define you so much as it serves to refine you, and I think it’s kind of sad that so many punks — you know, that subculture that claims to reject the status quo — are so quick to judge us rudely because we don’t fit some kind of cookie-cutter punk image.  Hasn’t listening to the Angelic Upstarts taught these people anything?  And at this point isn’t it actually more punk to do something unexpected?

4. But there are a million things that make it all worth it.
Like meeting other amazing women who are forging their own way in the scene, like Christine “Cece” Sherman and Lisa Howe of Black Fag.  Like having girls come up to you after shows and tell you that you’ve inspired them to start their own bands.  Like seeing the look of surprise on door guys’ faces when you tell them you’re in the band.  Like having huge middle-aged skinhead dudes tell you they haven’t been to a show in ten years and that you were what made them come back out.  Like seeing a bunch of 14-year-old punks circle-pitting to your set.  Like inspiring the awesome Cheri Love Affair, a G.G. Allin tribute.  Like changing people’s minds about what is and isn’t punk.  Like realizing that for every anonymous asshole on the internet there are three people who can’t wait to sing along to every word of your set.  Like learning that there truly is still a spirit of solidarity in punk rock, if you look for it.  And, most importantly, being able to be involved in something bigger than you.  Being a part of Cunt Sparrer has given me more of a sense of purpose than anything else in my life: I get to spend time with my best friends, I get to play music, I get to meet incredible people and take part in some really fun shows, I get to have a voice and a platform, and most importantly, I get to be part of a catalyst for change within the scene.  That’s something that’s true of all women in punk rock, and that’s why every girl needs to go out immediately and start a fucking band.

If it sounds like I’m just bitching here, that’s not my intention.  There are a lot of things about the punk scene that make me feel angry and othered, but there are plenty of other things about it that give me joy and a feeling of unity.  I think being involved with the scene has been a huge part of my continued growth both as a feminist and as a person.  I wouldn’t trade my experiences in punk rock for anything — I just want girls and women to be able to be a part of it without feeling lesser than, which is why I think it’s so important for us to keep screaming until our voices are heard.