Counter Punch: Frightwig: 1980s SF Punk Band Still Feminist & Sassy

by JONAH RASKIN

“California Über Alles,” Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys sang during the Golden Age of Punk. Across the Atlantic, The Sex Pistols screamed, “I am an anarchist.” At its best, Punk in the U.S. and in England expressed anti-racist and anti-authoritarian sentiments. Bands like the Ramones—who sang songs like “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “The KKK Took My Baby Away”—revived rock ‘n’ roll when rock needed reviving in the age of Thatcher/Reagan. Macho guys enjoyed successful careers, but the music industry often turned a deaf ear to the women singers and musicians. Sometimes male audiences weren’t much better.

Deanna Mitchell and Mia Simmans. Photo: Jeanne Hansen.

Frightwig, a San Francisco based all-women’s band, had to fight for time and space in a male dominated culture. With grit and determination, it carved out its own territory and made a name for itself. Then the group disbanded so the two mainstays could have kids and raise families. Now, just in time for the terrors of the Donald Trump/Theresa May era, the band is back and raring to take on the powers-that-be once again. I caught up with them recently and listened to them talk about their lives on the road, music and politics and the comeback plans.

In the 1980s—when punk began to flower in San Francisco—Deanna Mitchell and Mia Simmans—Frightwig’s founders— never wore fishnet stockings, stilettos or had panda-like eyes and spiky hair, though the name of the band suggests unkempt hair that stands straight up. Frightwig never fit the stereotype of the female punk band. Maybe there never was such a thing.

Still, Frightwig lived punk as thoroughly as any of the guy bands that grabbed headlines in Rolling Stone magazine. Deanna was 24 when she and Mia first shook up the clubs where guys leered and geared. Mia was 18 and learning how to defender herself when she was hassled. Deanna’s last name was Ashley. Mia’s was Levin. That was in San Francisco before the HIV/AIDs pandemic wasted whole communities.

“It was a wild time and a horrible time,” Deanna said. “We lost a whole community of beautiful young men, mostly, and we had to learn very quickly how to deal with death.”

Over the years, Frightwig has played with several women drummers who came and went. Cecilia Kuhn, who recently died of cancer, was the heart and soul of drums and vocals. “Yeah, we lost Cecilia physically,” Deanna said. “But we’re still here.” Mia added, “We go very deep. We used to joke that we should marry one another, but we found good men, married them and raised families. And here we are, together again.”

Band members have included Susan Miller, Lynn Perko, Bambi Nonymous, Rebecca Sevrin and Eric Drew Feldman, the only male, who plays Synthesizer.

In the largely male dominated world of 1980s Punk—that stared Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone and his brothers—Frightwig was often viewed as “a female freak show.”

Mia and Deanna toured the country and cut a few records, opening for Butthole Surfers, Redd Kross, DOA and many other bands. They performed in New York, L.A., Chicago, New Orleans and all across America, as well as in Canada and Europe. In the 1980s Mia and Deanna had jobs at movie theaters like the Strand and the Egyptian that paid $3.25 an hour.

“We did what we wanted to do,” Mia said. “We paid the rent, lived on burritos, went to Rainbow, picked up vegetables that were too ripe to sell and at home made soup.”

Deanna added, “A lot of the San Francisco punk bands didn’t want to go on the road. But we’d always said, ‘Get us outta here.’ We’d pile into a car, drive to New York and do our gigs. There were places where we had the support of male bands.”

On stage at The Fillmore, Tool & Die and Mabuhay Gardens, they played mean guitars, belted out their lyrics and couldn’t help but look sexy and sound like they belonged to the world of street protest.

“I can’t write a happy-go-lucky song,” Deanna said. “They

have to be political.” Mia explained, “Writing lyrics is my favorite thing in the world to do. I’m compelled to write. All the words belong to me.”

Deanna is now 60. Mia is on the cusp of 55. “We’re crones,”

Deanna says. They’re youthful crones who are outraged by the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots and shocked by the mushrooming detention centers along the U.S./Mexico border. They can’t not stay at home and not perform songs such as “Redistribution of Wealth.”

In fact, Frightwig is back by popular demand, as sassy as ever, and ready to take on the culture of misogyny all over again. “Smash the patriarchy is my hashtag,” Deanna said. “We need a woman in the White House to clean up the mess that men have made all over the planet.” She added, “I tell Trump to ‘Fuck off’ on his Twitter account and he can’t do anything to stop me.”

Deanna and Mia both remember that guys in the audience would look up at them on stage and shout, “Show us your tits.” They’d shout back, “Get up here and strip for us.”

Mia explained, “We weren’t into being offended. We didn’t want to play the victim.”

In some ways, Deanna and Mia were unlikely band mates. Deanna was born in Bakersfield and grew up in Fremont, California, where her mother raised her on country music, which she still loves. Mia grew up in New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Palo Alto, California. Her hippie mom gave her a musical education in Joan Baez and the Beatles. At 16, Mia moved to San Francisco on her own steam. Despite the cultural differences between them, both women have a keen sense of humor. They also both like to dress up and give the audience something to look at. 37-years after they first came together they still dress up and give audiences something to look at.

On Mother’s Day, May 12, the newly recreated Frightwig performs at Oasis, the legendary gay nightclub that features cabaret and drag shows. It’s a benefit for RAICES, a Texas non-profit that helps asylum seekers. “The audience will be very appreciative and also very demanding,” Deanna said.

The venue, the cause, and the Mother’s Day occasion promises to bring out the best Frightwig has to offer.

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

MIA FRIGHTWIG MAKES ART-DAMAGED-ROCK by Teenage News

cropped-tn11What is happening in San Francisco right now might be a snapshot of what is happening in America. The tech money that has come in here, and the way that San Francisco is handling it, is screwing a lot of poor people really hard and in a really bad way. It is ruining people’s lives. We are losing a really important part of San Francisco culture. I feel outnumbered as someone who came up here when I was 16, and as a working class person. I can’t afford to shop at these shops, or eat at these restaurants. If I didn’t have rent control, God forbid I should lose it, I couldn’t afford to stay here. None of my life would be possible… All I can do is write a song about it.

 

Click here to read the full interview.

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

Tom Tom Magazine: Q & A with Frightwig’s Cecilia Kuhn

Q & A with Frightwig’s Cecilia Kuhn

Posted  by 

By Jeanne Fury

Frightwig are the reigning mothers of feminist punk in America, whose wildly unrestrained performances heavily influenced everyone from Courtney Love to Kathleen Hanna. Formed by bassist/singer Deanna Mitchell (née Ashley) and guitarist/singer Mia d’Bruzzi (née Levin) in San Francisco in the early ’80s, Frightwig delivered two undisputed punk classics early in their career: 1984’s Cat Farm Faboo and 1986’s Faster, Frightwig, Kill! Kill!. Their music pounced on gender politics with gusto; songs like “My Crotch Does Not Say ‘Go’” and “A Man’s Gotta Do What A Man’s Gotta Do” were both deadly sinister and outrageously hilarious—two adjectives that, not coincidentally, describe Frightwig’s drummer/singer/instigator Cecilia Kuhn.

After a much too long break from stirring up shit, Mitchell, d’Bruzzi, Kuhn, and new addition Eric Drew Feldman (keyboardist/producer) recently reformed and delivered an EP, Hit Return, in December 2013, and are releasing a 45 this summer through Megaforce Records.

Here’s Kuhn on drumming, feminism, and the true definition of punk.

Stats

Full Name: Cecilia Benedicta Kuhn

Age: 58

Hometown: Sacramento, CA

Lives in: Downieville, CA

Past Bands: various garage bands

Current Band: Frightwig

Day Job: court clerk

Kit Setup: borrowed Rogers kit, snare, kick, 2 toms, 1 floor tom; 2 crash and 1 ride cymbal, plus hi-hat.

Tom Tom Magazine: What was it about the drums that you gravitated toward, and how did you first start drumming?

Cecilia Kuhn: It was something I never admitted, but I liked the sexual energy of a good beat. All of my favorite songs when I was growing up had a strong rhythm. I’m thinking of songs like “Wild Thing” by the Troggs, “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf, and “Amos Moses” by Jerry Reed. Those songs could just GET me. However, I came to drumming by sheer whim.

I was working at a crap job and feeling very disillusioned with my life. Thank Gods for discontent, because it can be a great motivator. I was sitting there, contemplating my boring life and flying into L.A. I looked out the window as we were landing, and I said, “Fuck this, I’m learning drums.” I started drum lessons soon after that. Playing drums just seemed like a good antidote to the stupid life I was leading. Little did I know what a major decision that was.

I feel like you’re one of those musicians that undergoes a transformation onstage. You tap into an otherworldly power source. Can you describe what that’s like?

Back in the old days, I was always angry. We have a song (“Punk Rock Jail Bait”/“I’ll Talk To You & Smile”) where I come out from behind the drums and sing out front. I basically melt down. Back in the day, when I blew up onstage, I was actually experiencing the anger. Frankly, I think I was trying too hard back then. Today, I am in a contented place, and I’m not angry like I used to be. When I blow up onstage now, I don’t have to try too hard. In fact, I’m not trying at all. I’m remembering what that energy feels like, and I draw it up and experience it.

As a drummer in a pioneering feminist band, how were you received by your (presumably mostly male) peers?

Back then, I definitely used to get guys “complimenting” me, saying that I played real well for a girl. Meaning, I didn’t play better than any of the guys. There seems to be an automatic comparison or competition going on, and some people feel like it’s real important that I understand my place in the hierarchy.

Going to music stores was very intimidating, as the sales clerks would ignore me or almost challenge me when I tried to buy equipment. It was a strange thing. I’m in there to spend money, but capitalism seemed to fade in importance. Making their point that I was just a girl became more important than making their sale. It made no sense. Apparently patriarchy overrules capitalism.

I remember one time, I went into a big chain (the name rhymes with Sitar Renter) and I needed to buy sticks for the gig that night. The sales clerk was talking to his friend, another drummer. They were doing some competitive dick-waving and talking about recordings they’d done. They talked like this for a LONG TIME while I stood there, waiting. I was completely ignored.

Finally, I said, “You know, whenever I want to FEEL LIKE SHIT, I know I can come here. I wanna buy some sticks ’cause I’M PLAYING TONIGHT.” They stared at me like dogs looking at a snake.

Were you ever discouraged, or was the punk scene supportive of you and your band?

Generally speaking, Frightwig was not always well-received by audiences, but other bands were supportive. When people loved us, oh man, they just loved us! When we toured with the Butthole Surfers, it was a dream come true. They and their audiences totally understood us. But when we opened for hardcore bands, it seems the kids just did not have a sense of humor. “PLAY FASTER!” That’s all we heard. I remember opening for TSOL in Santa Cruz. Everyone was standing around, sullen, with their arms crossed. In between songs, Deanna yelled, “Is everybody having FUN?!!??” Someone answered, “We will when you get off.”

Today, some people think that punk equals hardcore only, and their focus is narrow. There’s a lot of ghettoization of the music and not much cross-pollination like a long time ago. In the old days, punk was so many things. A night at the Mab [Mabuhay Gardens] would be a free-for-all. There was a lot of humor and fun. We had the philosophy of “IT’S PUNK BECAUSE WE SAY SO.” People could benefit from that philosophy today. My music is punk because I say so.

I saw you on a panel about female drummers at the Musicians for Equal Opportunities for Women conference, and you said, “I am not Omar Hakim. I am not the best drummer, but I’m the best drummer for Frightwig.” How did you cultivate that confidence and assuredness as a drummer?

It came out of experience. I don’t say it out of ego, I say it from knowledge of these complicated personalities in Frightwig. When I’m not there, it’s just different. When I wasn’t playing with Frightwig and they got other drummers, they missed me and felt the absence of my energy. Their recordings were great, really good, but there was a difference. When I play with Frightwig, it feels right, and I know there are certain things I contribute that no one else does. So yeah, I’m the best drummer for Frightwig. In addition, they’re the best for me. They know me. They have a certain humor and energy that I really like. I like playing with them, and I love to anticipate what they’ll do to make me laugh.

For me, the way to cultivate my confidence is through practice, studying theory, and writing music. I just hang in there. Don’t say no. Say yes.

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest


San Francisco Examiner : SF Garage Punk Pioneers Frightwig Back for More

SFExaminerSan Francisco Examiner  Oct. 11, 2013

SF Garage Punk Pioneers Frightwig Back for More

Tom Lanham

When she formed Frightwig three decades ago, Deanna Mitchell had no idea how crucial her all-girl garage-punk combo would become. But with two great albums —“Cat Farm Faboo” in 1982 and “Faster, Frightwig, Kill! Kill!” in 1983 — the band blazed a trail for female musicians and helped launch the riot grrrl movement. By 1994, after countless lineup changes (including a stint by Paula Frazer, of Tarnation renown), Mitchell and co-founders Mia d’Bruzzi and Cecelia Kuhn were so sick of touring they called it quits. Now Mitchell, who works part time for the San Francisco Department of Elections, feels it’s time for a Frightwig renaissance, which kicks off with a new EP, “Hit Return” (produced by latest member Eric Drew Feldman), and an upcoming album for Southern Records, which already reissued “Cat” and “Faster” as the two-disc “Wild Women Never Die.”

 

Looking back, can you sense the Frightwig legacy now? Well, we had L7 come to San Francisco for their very first show, to play our second record-release party. So what we did — and I know it now — is, we made it OK for those girls in all those bands. They saw us play and I think they probably felt like, “Wow! It’s OK, we can do this, too!” But it’s been interesting, sitting back and watching the rise of the girls, like Courtney Love. I feel like we set some bricks down in the past, so I’ve enjoyed seeing the women come up in the music business.

What’s your new single, “Crawford,” about? Well, technically, it’s not new. Mia and I wrote that back in ’82. There was this girl back then named Crawford who played in this band G.O.D., Girls On Drugs, and she used to get wasted on alcohol, drugs, whatever — I’m not sure. But she would be passed out at parties. And we were at this party one night, and she was passed out, and nobody really thought anything about it. But she was dead. So Mia and I wrote that song, but it was so depressing we just put it away.

How has the music business changed since you left? Record labels aren’t paying for people to record unless it’s somebody big, and there are a thousand times more bands now. So the only leg we have up is our history. I’ve spent this past year asking questions of people I respect — people in bands, people at labels. And I’m pretty realistic — there’s a set group of people who know of Frightwig, not a large audience. So we need to get our name out there, become more visible, and grow an audience all over again.

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

The Boulevard Ear 9/21/13: Raging in a Quiet Corner:

Where bands (and fans) from the past are concerned, one can count on a picturesque crowd. The question is always the music: do the players still have something to say, and can they bring it with gusto?  Frightwig was one of the SF punk scene’s most aggressive and eccentric bands. Barely acknowledged in their time, they are now credited with providing the spark for rriot girl and subsequent significant musical currents.

Before they played a note, their words of greeting made clear that the years have not dulled Frightwig’s edge. They bench-pressed their set, punching out their fluid mixture of garage punk, metal and art grunge with a relentless blend of joy, humor and rage…the explosive triumph of Frightwig…”

Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus
pinterest

1 2