A Documentary by Sarah Price (Blue Hats Creative)
To be published in Punk Globe, April ’17.
This most famous song title by LZ also informs the title of this Sarah Price-directed (“American Movie,” “The Yes Men Save the World”) documentary.
To think that when I first heard the name “L7,” I thought it stood for a Lagangian Point, that is, a point of space between two large gravitational bodies that is relatively stable; a parking space, if you will.
L7 is a 50s term, meaning a “square” – a kind of person–not a smoke. If you put one of your hand’s thumb and forefinger to form an “L,” and the ones, on the other hand, to make a “7,” put them together– and you’ve got a “square.”
Well, L7 has been called far from square—but it can also mean “odd-“ – and this doco delightfully proves it.
Beginning with a scene in a van where shadowy figures are bouncing up and down and a decidedly urgent voice is screaming, “Just shut up and fuck me, dammit, just shut up and fuck me!”
Ha ha. It was just a ruse. These women are pretty funny!
The film moves to scenes of tour and concert scenes. According to the Guardian UK newspaper, “Pretend We’re Dead” picked out footage from ’85- ’01 over 100 hours of Sparks’s personal assortment from her archives. “We documented ourselves pretty well because we thought no one else would care,” says Sparks. “It will be evocative of an era that doesn’t exist any longer.”
In front of a Peterbilt truck, the band members announce themselves:
“I am Donita Sparks, guitar, vocals. . .Dee Plaka, drums. . .Suzi Gardner, guitar, vocals . . .Jennifer Finch, bass, vocals.”
Then the film explodes into “Fast and Frightening” —
“The film includes the band’s never-before-seen home flicks, performances, talking heads, and meer-poppins.”
L7-We hear from one of their biggest fans, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic (also Foo Fighters and Flipper; director of “L7 – The Beauty Process”)—“They had the riffs, the rhythm—they just rocked!”
An L7 concert was such an unpredictable barrage of sound and mayhem, within such primal thrash, that they were first classified as heavy metal. But as time wore on, it was obvious they were nothing like the misogynistic, intolerant or violent heavy metal bands of the day.
Shirley Manson opines about the band in a snippet: “”They were openly, brazenly, feminist, and I really responded to that.” Garbage bandmate and the producer of L7’s album “Bricks Are Heavy” Butch Vig and Veruca Salt’s Louise Post, Joan Jett, X’s Exene Cervenka, and others are highlighted in the film. Look at L7’s visit dates here.”
Donita Sparks was born in Chicago, grew up in a suburb — Oak Lawn–made the ‘scene’ in Chicago (at such seminal clubs like O’Banion’s, the Lucky Number and Neo) as a teenager but soon after graduation from high school moved to LA.
L7 co-founder Suzi Gardner (who later became famous for being the first woman to be “tit cast” by Cynthia Plaster Caster), lived in the Silverlake neighborhood where “all the art punks lived.” She had developed a reputation for being a poet and writer (LA Weekly), which pissed her off because she wanted to be known as a ROCKER [emphasis added].
Another Chicago native, Dee Plakas joined L7 in 1987. After running through a number of drummers L7 welcomed Dee to the band in 1987.
Jennifer Finch, even though she played with Courtney Love in S.F. band Sugar Baby Doll/Babylon and with the LA band the Pandoras, was not a very accomplished bass player at the time she met Donita and Suzi, but her connectedness with the LA punk scene impressed the members of the band and so she joined, making up for her lack of technical virtuosity with attitude. She was responsible for taking the band to the next level but departed in 1996.
Courtney Love kept in touch with the band and convinced them to come to Seattle, which was like the difference between night (LA) and day. They were treated like a real rock band, not a novelty–and their performance led to a signing by SubPop, a leading alternative label; and which led to a tour of Europe. “Smell The Magic” their second album followed (1990).
In 1992 they were signed to Warner Brothers/Slash/Elektra. Grunge had become everywhere, thanks largely to the massive success of Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” Bands like Sonic Youth were being played on MTV and underground bands were being featured on “Nightflight.”
Their album, “Bricks Are Heavy” produced by Nivana producer Butch Vig, was a dip in the sea of heavy metal while still on the beach of grunge. It received generally positive reviews and was their best-selling album to date. “Pretend We’re Dead,” written and sung by Donita Sparks, was one of the eleven tracks on the album, and it received significant airplay not only in the US but in many other countries as well.
(Some have noted that the riffs on “Pretend You’re Dead” sound like a speeded-up version of a Suicidal Tendencies song. As far as I can tell the bands are friends, and no offense was taken. A similar charge was levied against Puddle of Mudd’s “She Hates Me,” but that’s another story.)
Around this time, In 1991 L7, along with the music editor of LA Weekly, started Rock 4 Choice, a series of concerts to benefit women’s pro-choice groups. They went on for a decade and provided a venue for artists Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Melissa Etheridge, Siste Double Happiness, Foo Fighters, Hole, Joan Jett, the Offspring, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Pearl Jam, and many others.
There is footage of L7 in 1991-92 at Smart Studio, Butch Vig’s audio workshop in Madison, Wisconsin, where Butch Fig recorded “Bricks. . . .”
Their European Tour, “Hungry for Stink,” their fourth album did fairly well, especially in the UK where one of their singles from the album, “Andres” made it to #34 on their music charts. They did not make a “stink” at Lollapalooza ’94, where they were booked in the daytime. not as controversial as their Reading ’92 one, where Donita Spark pulled out a tampon out of her vagina and tossed it into a crowd, riotous and angry, due to an equipment delay.
Most of the time they spent offstage partying and getting to know the other bands– George Clinton, Smashing Pumpkins, The Breeders, Beastie Boys, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Japan tour. Selling their panties to fans. Concert in London. Warner Bros. dropped them while they played with KISS and Rage Against the Machine.
Frank Zappa once said, “When you go on the road, it makes you crazy.”
Back to where they started: DIY. “All we have is us—us, and a booking agent. So they started their own label: Wax Tadpole, and put out their sixth and final album done in a studio, “Slap-Happy.” In collaboration with Bong Load Records.
LZ was reduced to a trio, as Gail Greenwood, the most recent bassist left the band. before recording it.
Bong Load would have major success with a single “Loser,” by Beck in 2001, but not this one album. Lagging sales were bleak, critics were divided. Eventually, the unsold copies at a distributor went into a landfill.
It was, therefore, no surprise that the band went in hiatus 2001
All in all, besides the ones already mentioned, director Price interviewed CSS, Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile), Exene Cervenka, Lydia Lunch, Joan Jett, 7 Year Bitch, Louise Post (Veruca Salt), the Donnas’ Allison Robertson, and Distillers founder Brody Dalle.
Much more to tell. Just go see it. It was crowd funded by a Kickstarter campaign.