“I don’t like to be a violent woman, but I know I have it in me.”
-The Gits, Here’s to Your Fuck
Mia Zapata was the frontwoman of Seattle punk outfit, the Gits. She has been a huge inspiration in my life, to the point where I feel like I have some kind of transcendent connection with her- lame, I know- but she’s sort of a rock’n’roll Frida Kahlo or Virginia Woolf for me.
I think the main thing I want people to remember about Mia is that she seemed to lack pretense in a way rarely seen in artists today. Mia had an old soul, in my opinion. She expressed raw emotion more like a Blues musician than a punk rocker. It’s not often that you find people with a reckless spirit, who are also authentic, inward and serious. (For real, when did being serious become such a bad thing?) Before I go on, yes, I know that romanticizing dead musicians is both dangerous and cliche, but it’s also one of my favorite pastimes. And Mia Zapata is not nearly as appreciated in the history of music as she should be, so just let me have this.
One of my favorite songs by the Gits is Spear and Magic Helmet. I think it’s a really good one to revisit before I talk about Mia’s death.
“You jump out from behind
Two against one
You said, “You’ve been a bad girl,”
Then you slapped her right across the face
What could be going through your mind?
It’s done no one good
I’ll take a pan to your head
Cause I’m full of rage.”
-The Gits, Spear and Magic Helmet
Mia directed these hard-hitting lyrics towards a man who had brutally raped a friend of hers. Less than two years after the release of Spear and Magic Helmet, Mia would be attacked in the street, raped, strangled with the drawstring from her own sweatshirt, and left for dead in an alley.
Today is the 20 year anniversary of her death. It was the early hours of the morning, on July 7th 1993, when a prostitute named Charity found her body, positioned Christ-like on the street. She was 27.
Call me morbid, but a tribute is absolutely necessary for me to process this today. The Gits were one of my all-time favorite punk bands, and Mia was unlike anyone else. When Seattle (and the rest of the nation) had grunge-fever, the Gits stayed true to their punk roots. On top of that, Mia completely defied the “riot grrrl” sound and image, despite being a woman in a punk band in early-’90s Seattle. I’ve always loved that she’s not a “flower-power-mini-skirt-hipster-micro-bangs” girly-girl with an “aggressive sensibility.” She was just a downright aggressive woman, who as it happened, wrote more songs about drinking than she did about feminism.
I’m actually someone who likes a lot of art-y, think-y punk music, especially from the late ’70s. The Gits were one of the first bands that I really loved for making unbridled, confrontational, hit-you-straight-in-the-gut music. The sincerity in Mia’s voice is what makes it so… not-cheesy. Writing songs that are emotional, aggressive, and not-cheesy is no easy feat, and when it’s done right, it’s fucking profound. But you know, not in a cute “revolution grrrl style” way.
Delegating Mia to the Seattle grunge scene, or worse, to the 27 Club, simply doesn’t do her justice. The absolute last thing she wanted was fame. She was a burning, punk-as-fuck poet who, 20 years later, is still challenging conventions of punk music and womanhood.
I suggest that anyone reading this post has a shot of whiskey in her honor tonight. Cheers, and rest in peace, Mia.
Oh, and hey, my last Ribbon Around a Bomb podcast appropriately devolves into a drunk tribute with a bunch of Gits songs at the end. That’s coming soon. In the meantime: THIS.