I never got a chance to see Spitboy, the band in which Michelle Cruz Gonzales played drums in the early and mid-1990s. They were a band that was spoken about reverently by friends of mine who were familiar with them; the fact that they’d released a split LP with the equally great Los Crudos also played a part. So when news emerged last year that The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band was set to be released this spring, I kept track of the date, and picked up a copy as soon as I was able to do so. The result is a terrific collection of stories from the road, measured thoughts on the dynamics of class, gender, and race that existed both within the band and the punk scene of the time. I talked with Gonzales over email about the process of writing the book, her other literary projects, and more. She’ll be touring the Midwest beginning on June 20th in Minneapolis.
The Spitboy Rule isn’t structured like a traditional music memoir — you focus more on individual moments and scenes rather than a straightforward chronological progression. When did you arrive on this as the best way to tell this story?
I didn’t want the pieces to be organized totally linear, and straightforward, and chronological would have been nearly impossible to write because memory doesn’t work that way. After writing the first six or so pieces and posting them on my blog, I realized it should be a book, so I looked at what I had, and made a list of all the other topics that I wanted to cover. I also knew that there were some themes that I had to address: women in music/punk, being the only person of color in the band, sexism in the scene, and so on. After working from the list I reviewed what I had and looked at where there might be gaps. Since Spitboy toured so much, and overseas, I also knew that I wanted to write a bit about each tour too.
How long after Spitboy’s breakup was it before you began writing about your time in the band? Was there one moment that prompted you to do so?
Spitboy broke up in 1995, and I posted my first piece “The Spitboy Rule” on my blog in March of 2013, so 13 years later. That same year I wrote a piece that mentions Spitboy for a stage show of readings about motherhood called “Does Your Mom Play Drums?” I’ve said this before, but for years, I didn’t want to be another boring adult talking about her glory days — back when I was cool, that sort of thing, so I didn’t talk about Spitboy that much at all, let alone write about it. I was in my online Wayward Writers writing community class when I first started writing about Spitboy specifically. One of the prompts that Ariel Gore assigned got me on the topic of Spitboy, opened the flood gates.
Have you found that most readers of the book so far have been familiar with Spitboy, or are more interested in the larger themes that you deal with in the book?
It seems like much of the audiences has been familiar so far because people tag me in photos on Instagram and Facebook, people who are Spitboy fans, whether they just discovered the band or whether we were their favorite band in high school. I’ve heard that a lot. One woman just told me that in high school that she made her girlfriend a handmade Spitboy t-shirt. The book, however, does seem to appeal to non-Spitboy fans too. Some of colleagues at the college where I teach have started teaching the book or pieces from it, and there’s a bookstore in Minneapolis, Moon Palace Books, that has a rock and roll book club. They’re reading it this month, and they just read Michelle Leon’s I Live Inside — she played bass guitar in Babes in Toyland. I doubt everyone taking part knew about Spitboy in the 90s.
You’ve written about music memoirs on your blog. Do you have a favorite? Are there any musicians whose as-yet-unwritten memoirs you’d like to read?
I think that my favorites so far are Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, and Boys, Boys Boys by Viv Albertine. It’s beautifully written and super soulful. And I loved Violence Girl by Alice Bag — we are total punk rock sisters, and I love how she writes so much about growing up Xicana in East LA and in the punk scene, and Dreadnaught by DH Peligro, which I love even more now after doing a reading with him and learning more about his process for writing it after growing up with dyslexia and being labeled and tracked in school.
My friend Nicole Thomas who played drums in Fireparty and now plays in Hard Left is writing her memoir, and I’m super eager to read it because I know it will offer another much needed perspective and voice on the topic and she will do it justice. I’m also excited to read Nicole’s book because more drummers should write their memoirs.
Your author bio mentions that you’re at work on a novel. How close to completion would you say that you are with that?
I’ve got a ways to go on the novel. It’s called The Republic of California, and it’s a satirical novel about a futuristic California that secedes from the US and kicks out all the people of color except for the Mexicans, and intermarriage of whites and Mexicans is forced for the purpose of creating a race of beautiful, hard working people. I wrote about 200 pages, and now I’m rewriting because it started off way too slow. Plotting is so hard! At the moment, I’m working toward getting another memoir published — Pretty Bold for a Mexican Girl: Growing Up Xicana in a Hick Town. It was written before The Spitboy Rule. I won’t likely have the novel finished until after next summer.
I’m guessing you’ve been asked this a few times now, but I’m curious: does the release of this book mean that some of Spitboy’s music might be reissued before long?
Not so many people have actually asked me this, but I do have possession of nearly all the original reels if anyone wants to make an offer. I’d make sure the rest of the band was compensated on any sales, but don’t ask if we’ll have a reunion show because I doubt that would ever happen. I did start having this recurring dream where we decide to play and we show up to the venue and realize that not only did we not ever practice but that we don’t remember how to play the songs. I wake up super relieved it’s a dream every time.
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