Alice Bag

The official website of Alice Bag: musician, author, punk feminist, master troublemaker.

Patricia Vanian

Patricia Vanian interview, conducted April 2015.

Patricia, photo by John Nikolai. 

Patricia, photo by John Nikolai. 

When I first met Patricia, we were both still in high school and into Glam. We liked a lot of the same bands and would dress up to go see them in concert. We had a small circle of friends, most of us at different high schools around L.A. and we formed a network of fandom. Music was the glue that held our little world together. A few of us started taking guitar lessons and before long we had a band.

In 1975/76, Patricia and I formed an all-girl group called Femme Fatale which later morphed into Masque Era. Both incarnations were guided by glitter and glam, despite the fact that we were already enamored of punk. In April of 1977, Patricia and I went to a local music show that changed our trajectory. It was a concert at the Orpheum Theater which featured the Germs (playing their first show), the Zeros and my then boyfriend's band, the Weirdos. We knew that we had to be a part of this.

Patricia and I formed the Bags along with Patricia's friend, Janet Koontz, on guitar. The Bags moved through various line ups until it started to fall apart at the end of 1979. We had a nasty falling out and Patricia and I did not speak to each other for many, many years.

Decades later, a mutual friend on social media helped mediate a reconciliation. I was very nervous at first. I did not want to open up old wounds and I did my best - as did Patricia - to accept that we would probably always have a different view of what had happened over thirty years earlier. It was much easier than I could have imagined! Before long, we were laughing and reminiscing and I felt a complete fool for letting so much time go by without making up with a woman who had been my best friend for many years.

But enough sappy stuff, here's her interview:

On our way to see KISS in concert, circa 1974/75. Photographer unknown, collection of Alice Bag.

On our way to see KISS in concert, circa 1974/75. Photographer unknown, collection of Alice Bag.

1. What was your contribution to the punk scene/community? 

Patricia: I think I was bringing the presence of a strong woman, like your good self, to the scene. And also having that have-a-go attitude. Where you don't listen to anyone who tells you that you're not good enough or that you can't do it. It was an incredibly creative time.

2. Which artist, band, concert and/or show had the most impact on your life?

Well, that first punk show that we went to, where we saw The Weirdos. They just got us excited and we decided we wanted to do it. And of course, Queen!

I think the Weirdos were - not now, but for a long time - kind of forgotten a bit. But they were really very popular in the day. They were our punk band. They were the biggest band in L.A., it was them and Van Halen! Sometimes history mixes up who was actually 'the most popular/seminal'. It gets distorted by who was the most successful in the end. Those things are not the same. And wasn't one of their mothers in Bewitched?

Alice: You mean John and Dix's mother? She was in Willy Wonka. She was the mother of the little cowboy kid.

Patricia: Mike Teevee! Yes, DoDo Denney was Mrs. Teevee but I think she was also in the pilot of Bewitched. She played Mrs. Kravitz.

"We had a wide repertoire of weirdness."

The Bags, photographer unknown. Collection of Alice Bag.

The Bags, photographer unknown. Collection of Alice Bag.

Alice: Hey, at that Weirdos show, at the Orpheum, your future husband was in the audience.

Patricia: Yes, isn't that weird? I didn't know that, didn't realize it. I did know they were also at the Whisky the night we were there. I actually have a picture with Rat Scabies. It's him, Margot on one side and me on the other. Taken by the amazing Gilbert Leos. Rat grabbed our boobs and I ran off and David and I ran into each other, literally, on the stairs, but he (David) had a mask on and I kept running. When we met years later, we both remembered that incident on the stairs.

3. What was the role of women in the early L.A. Punk scene?

I wouldn't look at it as the role of women, it was a field of equality. Anyone could do it. It was shocking to a lot of people on the outside but within the scene it was fine, it was acceptable, it was as it should be. Do you remember our first band?

Alice: Femme Fatale?

Patricia: Yes, remember practicing in Montebello? We made up cards for that, Margot made up cards. We had our priorities. Business cards first, learning to play could follow. Boys at the time thought we were so darn cute. Didn't take us seriously at all. Still, they didn't try to stop us. We had friends in an all lesbian band called Hot Spice who supported us. I once filled in at a gig when they needed a bass player and we did Evergreen and some Stevie Wonder songs. There is more to that story but I will leave it for now!

Margo and Patricia rehearsing with Femme Fatale, 1975/76.

Margo and Patricia rehearsing with Femme Fatale, 1975/76.

Alice: I want to hear the details! But wait, we had business cards?

Patricia: Yes, I still have one. I have to find it. You wouldn't believe the stuff I have. I've tracked it all down. It was at my mom's for years! Remember that song "You are the Eggplant of My Dreams..."?

Alice: Oh, Eggplant of my Dreams, ha, ha, ha!  What prompted us to write about an eggplant?

Patricia: I think we had a plastic one.

Alice: Well that's a good reason!

Patricia: We had a wide repertoire of weirdness! We Love The Show - that was the stinker Michael Paul wrote. Margo wrote Eggplant and it was actually a good tune with silly words. The girl could write.

Alice: We wrote hits like Bag Bondage about tying up a paper bag! And while she was in the Bags, Janet Koontz wrote Fantasexing. She was ahead of her time! She could change that to Fantatexting and play it today.

Patricia: We were nothing if not diverse!

"Anything can happen or change, no matter how unlikely it feels at the time."

4. What is the legacy of punk in your life?

Patricia: In my life? The legacy? You mean like tattoos?

Alice: Ha! No!  I don't have tattoos, do you?

Patricia: No

Alice: We're old school!

Patricia: The legacy...Great memories first of all. An excitement and belief that anything can happen or change no matter how unlikely it feels at the time. Make the effort, give it a go! And a secret knowledge that no generation will have as much fun and adventures as we did.

The lovely Patricia in 1978, photo by Alice Bag.

The lovely Patricia in 1978, photo by Alice Bag.

Alice: Is there anything else that punk taught you that has stayed with you?

Patricia: Yes, to stand up for yourself and be strong. To create, not follow. 

5. What are you listening to now?

Patricia: I listen to a lot of classical music, we go to concerts at Handel House in London. I also listen to sixties music like the Left Banke and the Zombies. The same stuff I liked in the punk days. I like that band that does the Royals song. It is covered by Puddles the clown and is amazing. But I must say Weird Al's version of Tin Foil is also rather wonderful.

6. Do you have any funny or interesting stories to tell?

Patricia: One time, I don't know whose idea it was but we told you and Terry that it was "Dress Like a Hippie Day" (it was a Bags show), then we watched from the upstairs window at the Whisky as you strolled across the street in long fringe jackets. Then when you saw that we were dressed in regular clothes you were not impressed. You got angry but Terry saw the humor in it. But you were always late, do you remember you were always late?

Alice: No.

Patricia: You were, you were late all the time! And I would get the flack from the venue! 

Alice: So, I deserved it?

Patricia: I think that was my theory!

7. Are there any punk women from the early scene that you feel have not been adequately recognized?

Patricia: Probably most of them. There were loads of them. I don't know because I don't live in L.A. anymore. David pointed out I have lived in England longer than I lived in the US. Yikes. I always remember Suburban Lawns with Su Tissue, they would do well even now. That was so bizarre it was wonderful! I am sure you are doing everything you can to make sure they are remembered!

8. What is something that we don't know about you that you think we should know?

Patricia: I'm a lot goofier than people realize!

Alice: I'll say!