Viva Zapata

So I went to go see The Gits Movie at Two Boots’ Pioneer Cinema and I would definitely recommend going to see it. I have some small quibbles with the film but overall its a very moving portrait of a very vibrant and talented young lady, Mia Zapata, and the small circle of friends that moved to Seattle, made music and mayhem, and suffered enormously when Mia was killed.

I was only tangentially involved with the whole Antioch scene in Seattle. I mean, within days of moving there in 1990 I had made The Comet my home away from home so I basically met all those people there. Back then the comet didn’t have live music and they didn’t have hard liquor, just beer and Sandeman’s port, the filthiest bathrooms in the world and really awesome people. If you want to get a sense of what it was like, listen to Alison Murchie’s poem “Another Beer Soaked Night At The Comet Tavern“. (Murchie, where are you? And Bertolo? Jesse? All the Martha’s Vineyard crew?)

If nothing else, go see the movie because The Gits rock. Mia was a great singer and a riveting performer – it is still rare to see someone put it all out there like that. Not canned and phony but totally real. The film does a great job – mostly through showing video footage in its entirety and really good sound quality – of conveying the energy, excitment and urgency of The Gits music and what Mia brought to it.

Also, the footage of The Gits and their early gigs really captures what Seattle was like. The film follows the Gits from Antioch University in Ohio to Seattle and while the movie is specifically about the band, that story – a bunch of friends leaving college and moving to Seattle to make art – was pretty much the story of every young person who landed in Seattle between 1988-1992.

Sometimes it seems like Seattle in the early 90’s is subject to the same revisionism as the 60’s. I know it sounds like b.s. but Seattle was really special at that time. It was just a really amazing, magical, intense moment where a whole bunch of people came to one place at one time to try and just do things differently and have a good time and really make things happen in a DIY, anti-corporate way. Being there, for just this very brief moment, felt really different. Maybe it was just that cultural moment, maybe it was being in your 20s, I don’t know, but it felt different.

And I think that’s another strong point of the film – that it captures how totally devastating it was to the entire scene when Mia was killed. Obviously the biggest impact was on the other Gits and Mia’s immediate friends in the Antioch scene, but her death reverberated throughout the community in a big way. Brutal reality had intruded on this safe, magic little bubble and ripped its heart out, taking everyone’s innocence. This wasn’t an O.D. or a car accident, this was rape and murder.

If I have any complaints about the movie its that, at the end of the day, you don’t really learn a lot about Mia as a person – what she liked, what she studied, what her interests were, her intimate relationships, her struggles and aspirations. They go over her lyrics at different times and there’s a few moments were bandmates and friends talk about knowing what she was going through, but the film never really gives her complete depth, complexity and contradiction. I understand the impulse to say “here was this beautiful person who was cruelly and callously extinguished” – but from the perspective of making a documentary it seems like the filmmakers could have gone a little further in exploring and explaining who this person was and how that affected the people around her.IN

Consistent with that, I think, film in general does not extrapolate enough to encompass the other things going on. They sort of conflate riot grrls with 7 Year Bitch and The Gits and those were pretty separate things. Also the impact of 7 Year Bitch, L7, Mia – all these women in rock – really changed things in a pretty serious way. And the movie kind of avoids the fact that politics – the first Gulf War, feminism, anarchism, etc. – were pretty front and center. I mean, the music maybe wasn’t overtly political, but it definitely was coming from a position of anger and rebellion and anti-establishment. Yeah, the band was stoked to get a record deal, but Joe Spleen (guitarist) repeatedly calls the band “a band of the people” – and that communal outlook was central to the music. You can tell they weren’t doing it just to be rock stars or get a record deal, they were doing it because it was who they were, it was expression of their friendship and the specific community of which they were a part. And that specific sense of community – the Antioch crowd – could be extrapolated to the larger (but still pretty small) community of young people making art in Seattle at the time.

Also, when Mia died and Val, Gretta and the other women created Home Alive, it was a collective. It was an authentic expression of “the personal is political” – and it wasn’t just a trendy thing. Raising awareness, offering sliding scale self-defense classes to the community, educating people and getting people involved. Those women created real change, they influenced the national discussion on a very real problem – violence against women and the whole notion of a “culture of violence”.

I think that the music is Mia’s creative legacy and testament to her creativity and spirit. We’re lucky to have so much music to remember her.

But also her legacy is also Home Alive, the project that her friends started after her death. In some ways it is a living legacy, since it still exists and I’m sure the young women who make that project happen to this day are committed to making real social change, making a difference and reaching out to people in need, continuing values that were exemplified in Mia’s life and music.

A lot of time has passed and the idea of DIY and alternative and punk rock – all somehow aligned with social justice and political activism – has waned and been appropriated by consumerism, advertising and corporations. But it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t real or that it couldn’t happen again.

And sometimes just seeing a film about a bunch of young people having fun, playing music filled with passion and urgency (and remembering when you were one of them, there with with them) is inspiring, even with such an unhappy ending.

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