Michelle Cruz Gonzales—once known as Todd Spitboy—played drums in all female punk bands Bitch Fight, Spitboy, and Instant Girl (and guitar in Kamala and the Karnivores). Her memoir of essays, The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band, discusses misogyny and sexism in the scene, as well as race, class, and the struggle to fit in to any one group. She’s a badass inspirational female, and you can read an excerpt of her book right here!
Chapter 8: Shut Up and Play
“You guys have really improved.”
People liked telling us that. They would use that word, too: “improved.” It was supposed to be a compliment.
“You’re a lot tighter now.”
I’d clench my jaw every time.
I had never heard anyone, especially a guy, saying that to another guy in a band. Imagine someone saying that to Neurosis or Econochrist.
But the comment Spitboy got more often outside of the Bay Area was “shut up and play.” It was only ever men who said it, and they’d shout it between songs when one of us was trying to say something, usually something about our lyrics. It was important to us to make sure our message wasn’t totally lost over the hard, fast music. Punk boys in the Bay Area knew better than to say this, but they were the ones who liked telling us how much we had improved or how much they loved girl bands.
The shut-up-and-play comment usually only happened outside of the Bay Area and always got a lecture by Adrienne or Karin, but a guy at a show in New Mexico improved on the insult, leaving us speechless.
We were on our first mini-tour, just the Southwest, and the show was in a garage in Albuquerque. Jesse, who rented the house with the garage had been putting on shows there for a while, but it was the kind of show that made us nervous to play: lots of drinking and violence in the pit. The garage had low ceilings, lined with pipes. Of course the crowd was made up of mostly men, and the majority of them in front of the stage were thrashing around, pushing each other, and not giving a shit about anything we had to say. After only the second song, Adrienne stopped us because one of the guys in the crowd had a bloody nose. When she asked if he was okay, he turned on her.
“We weren’t fighting,” he shouted and wiped at the blood streaming down his face. “You didn’t have to stop playing!”
The front of his shirt was stained with blood, and blood was still trickling out of his nose.
Just as we started playing again, the same guy walked up toward Adrienne with a beer in his hand. He must have shaken it because when he opened it, beer and foam sprayed all in her face. She somehow didn’t stop right then and beat his ass, which is what I might have done back then, given that I was the quickest to anger.
We continued playing, but the violent moshing continued, and after only one more song and partway through the song “Dysfunction,” Jesse stopped the show.
“Ah, come on,” someone yelled from the back,”just fucking play.”
Adrienne announced again that we would not play because people weren’t respecting the space or each other.
No one moved. Everyone seemed unsure what was really happening.
Then the voice from the back room rose up again.
“Hey, if you want to prove your womanhood, shut up and spread your legs or play.”
All the heads in the room turned toward the voice.
“What did you say?” I asked over my vocal mic.
“Shut up and spread your legs or play.”
The whole band was stunned. We had heard a lot of rude comments, been objectified, and shined on. We tried using humor, we tried to heckle back, and we tried educating people. But this comment, which was meant to humiliate us, set off a wildfire inside me.
I threw my sticks.
“Who said that? Who said that?” I screamed and I was on my feet, running into the crowd, shouting and waving my arms.
I only made it partway across the room before I was caught in a bear hug. It was Phil, the Paxston Quiggly guitar player, squeezing me as tight as he could so I couldn’t get away.
“Fuck you!” I screamed at the town fool, swiping at the air, still locked in Phil’s bear hug. We had met up with Paxston Quiggly for a couple of shows in New Mexico, the motherland of two of their members, because they knew a lot of people there and we thought it would be fun.
Neil, the bass player, my ex-boyfriend, was there now too, shouting in my ear over the commotion, “Todd, it’s not worth it. Just forget it. That guy’s dangerous. Phil heard he was on America’s Most Wanted.”
I went limp in Phil’s arms. It felt good to stop fighting, to be held right then. I reached up and put my arms around Neil’s neck and the rest of the Spitboy and Paxston Quiggly gathered around. The singer, Bronwyn, and Kevin, the drummer of Paxston Quiggly, were there now too creating a barrier between us and the crowd.
The show was definitely over.
Even if we had planned on playing more, we wouldn’t have been able to. All of our energy had been drained away. I could barely speak and Karin began to cry, which started the rest of the band crying along with her. Some people wandered away, not wanting to get involved, but others from the crowd stood around with concerned looks on their faces.
Once we all calmed down a bit, people who had come to see Spitboy play came up and offered to help us load our equipment or asked if they could buy a T-shirt. We probably sold more T-shirts that day than any other band playing a garage ever.
When the crowd thinned out a bit more, a woman approached us.
“We’re so sorry,” she said.
“We hope you don’t think everyone in New Mexico is like them,” said the woman’s boyfriend.
“No, we don’t,” Karin said, wiping at her nose with a tissue that someone had given her.
“Here,” the woman said, pulling a wad of cash from her pocket.
The boyfriend took money from his pocket too and piled it onto the wad in his girlfriend’s outstretched hand.
“It’s just money, we know,” said the woman, “but it’s what we can do. We want to do something.”
Someone else took money out of their pockets and handed it to Karin.
“Yeah, we want to do something,” the woman said, reaching in and giving Karin a hug too.
It was a strange but extraordinary act of compassion, and it may have been this act that caused us to rethink our approach to hecklers, to the blatant sexism and disrespect that was not uncommon at our shows. I knew that I didn’t want to ever get that angry again, even if it was deserved, and even after Jesse pulled us aside later and told us that in his six years of putting on shows in Albuquerque not one band ever stopped and confronted that particular group of guys who always came to shows to start trouble. We had been the first.
Still, we got tired of being called bitch and cunt. We knew that while we weren’t going to play while people beat each other up in the mosh pit, we had to find better ways of dealing with harassment.
A couple of years later at a show in a side-room of a pizza joint in Fresno, some goon thought he’d try to get a rise out of us, but thanks to Karin, we didn’t take the bait.
She had been trying to introduce a song when a faceless voice rose up out of the crowd.
“Ah, quit your bitching and play some music.” It was a male voice, of course, and it came from the cowardly back corner of the long, dark, narrow room.
I could see Dominique, who was in the band now, look at Adrienne.
I waited, sticks poised in the air, ready to count the song off because sometimes the song alone was enough of an answer. But Karin had thought fast.
“Hey, you know what you need to do?” she said into the microphone. “You need to go to the library and read a fucking book.”
The crowd erupted in cheers. I saw a couple of women in the front row laughing as I clicked my sticks together, one, two, three, four. We heard later that the clown who made the comment left before we finished playing the song.
Be sure to pick up a copy of The Spitboy Rule to read the rest!