Sally Margaret Joy


THEY look tough. Maybe it's the hotel's ostentatious chandeliers and marble floors that make them want to swagger extra mean. They sit at the table opposite and give me the once over. They are a blur of beat-up leather, denium cut-offs and straggly, multi-hued goat's-tail hair. They are L7, LA's heaviest clit-rockers.

It's taken them seven years to get to have lunch in this expensive restaurant, and boy, are they going to enjoy it. One of them says, "Wow, this horseradish is hot! I love it when vegetables make me cry." After a while they start to whisper among themselves. This makes me feel great.

But all is not lost! I have an offering for rock's toughest she-gods. I reach into my bag and fish out four Toffee Crisps.


They are pleased! They growl with pleasure, snatch the bars off the table and stow them in their handbags. "We like to store them for later," explains Dee, reshuffling her black fringe in her hand mirror.

Now that the situation's been defrosted slightly, we settle down to a chit-chat-free lunch. It's a trial. The reason for this is that they put the sniffer dogs on every single question. Not only that, but they have these policies.


AN innocent enquiry like, "How did they get to meet Babes In Toyland and Hole?" is greeted by slow deliberation and weary sighs over the rump steaks. Donita Sparks, the lead singer and guitarist, glances around at the other members and replies rather pointedly, "It's not like there's this girl band scene. We're all family and it's not just by gender. We're family with Nirvana, Helmet and Love Battery as well as the Babes. The press tries to create competition between the girl bands."

Ah, like when Inger Nymph said, "I think I'd be taken a lot more seriously if I looked like Janis Joplin, Patti Smith or Courtney Love, but, but I can't help the way I was born," perhaps?

This raises a snigger among the other L7s, but Donita seizes up and says, "Whoa! We're openin' up a can of worms here. We'd better get off the subject."

Backtracking a bit, I wonder if it's all that bad for the public to think that there is a girl band scene. Aside from the off bit of sniping that goes on, wouldn't it be a postitive thing for kids to know that , a long time ago, Courtney Love, Kat Bjelland and Jennifer Finch,L7's flame-haired bassist, were in a band together? Wouldn't it be great for some fifth-form girl rockers to see that their role models didn't hit the headlines fully formed. But that they started somewhere? Seeing a picture of the aforesaid band in a recent MM gossip column might encourage them to think that, maybe, in a decade's time, their musical forays might bear fruit, too?

All this earnestness makes Jennifer wince. She squints at me suspiciously and snaps, "Did you steal that photo from my bedroom?" Sure. I'm a cat burglar on the quiet. One who flies over to LA to nick photographs.

You see, I've run up against one of their polices here. The one about not allowing any individual member, in this case Jennifer, to be pushed into the limelight. It's fair, and it's helped them stay together through "the lean years", as Donita puts it, without too much bitter squabbling. but it's a difficult democracy, slow and tedious.

Moving on to what I pray is safer territory, I ask what they think of the young, female and, strangely, predominantly British pop stars who have declared themselves either post-feminists or non-feminists. Uh-oh.

Jennifer rattles off the ready reply. "We-make-it-our-policy-not-to-pass-judgement-on-anybody-male-or- female-in-the-music-business-and-how-they-operate."

Donita, however, is more forthcuming. "We happen to be feminist, but that's not the basis of the band. I think any woman who is in the work place is lying to herself if she doesn't call herself a feminist. It's kinda like a black person saying they're not in to black power."


SO having policies help the band survive the hard slag to their present position way up here in the Top40 ("Brics Are Heavy"). "We feel camaraderie with all the bands who have roots and who have struggled,"says Donita. "It's tough to get on, you know?"

In Britain, the music press can guarantee any band its 10 minutes of fame on the basis of its first crummy demo. In the US, bands can spend a year-and-a-half working the college circuit and still be nowhere when they get home. Consequently, you'll find that most American bands are never younger than their mid-twenties by the time they've passed through Seattle --"the gateway to Europe" -- and filtered over here. L7 only gave up their jobs six months ago.

"We were all prostitutes," says Donita, matter of factly. She relents. "Nah. I worked on an LA newspaper."

Suzy Gardner, the blonde guitar queen who's surprisingly wispy voiced considering she sings like an all-in wrestler, sits slumped in her chair feeling ill. A crane fell on her head a few months ago and she's been told that she might not be able to move one side of her face for months, years even. She animates herself briefly to whisper, "I worked for an ad agency," then falls back, exhausted.

"I worked in a store that imported DocMartens," says Dee, brightly.

"And I was a stripper!" yells Jennifer. "The other guys lost their jobs and we all met when they came to work at my place!"


L7 are much given to shouting "Poontang!" (slang for girls' things) in public places, and yelling, "Future husband material!" at any old leering roadworker that happens to stray acorss their paths. So it's with some trepidation that I set off in a cab with them to Hamburg's sex district, the Reeperbahn.

"At this point in the tour I just wanna be touched," sighs Jennifer, longingly. "I got one of Milk, the support group, to kiss me cos I forgot what it felt like. We have a hands-off policy as far as the roadies go, but when we're feeling low, we hang out with the youngest member of the crew. He puts his arms around us and we soak up his vibes," she chortles, gleefully. "He doesn't know any better!"

Neither do I. Jennifer has taken a liking to my jacket and has "borrowed" it. She's snuggling deep in its collar and her expression is saying, "Suits me, doesn't it?" Perhaps because I make no attempt to get it back off her, she grows bored with it and decides to take the sweatshirt of the photographer's back instead.

The Reeperbahn is full of curious onlookers. We're six girls and one guy with camera equipment. Passers-by smirk at us knowingly. L7 march ahead looking tough.

They pose outside a "sexbar" in an alley. They worry that they might be putting off prospective clients for the "Crazy Sexy Center" next door. Four sex workers in fluorescent, candy-colored thongs clatter out on six-inch heels to inspect the goings-on. They don't smile back at us. Eventually, a white-haired old fella trundles up the alley with his shopping. The sex workers shoo us away and, in a shiver of sunbed-bronzed buttock wobbling, clip-clop back into the building to service the old dodderer. L7 look saddened by this.

We move on to a sex shop which has a window full of penis-shaped lipsticks, two-feet-long faust massifs (massive fists) and impractical lingerie. Suzy and Dee are enchanted.

"Oh, loooooook!" sighs Suzy, much taken with a frothy, peach teddy. "Isn't that great?" Meanwhile, Donita's fretting about her more-hole-than-trouser jeans. "I gotta get someone to sew these up," she groans. "My face is real greasy, isn't it?" She looks in to my eyes as if her life depends on the answer. A self-confessed "hot head", she begins to look impatient whe Jennifer and I bicker senselessly over whether Reeperbahn means "Grim Reaper's Road" (Jennifer) or "Road of the rats"(me)>


NOW that they're a little more relaxed, it's time for a dumb question. Do they get a kick out of the little boys finding them sexy?

"And girls," reminds Jennifer. "Don't exclude the ladies!"

"Shoot!" growls Suzy, "I swing both ways!"

Donita looks bothered. She swings her head from side to side searching for her press officer. Here we go again. "I haven't heard reports of us being sexy," she frowns. "Have you?"

The press officer makes some pleasantry to the effect that, well she finds them very sexy. But Donita wants evidence, a sworn affidavit. She's not going to let it pass. "Who thinks we're sexy, exactly?"

I ransack my head for possibilities. Well, the guys in my office think you're sexy, I mumble shiftily. Meanwhile, Jennifer's rolling her eyes heavenwards and licking her lips, "Just thinking about them makes me..."

I can't bear to look.


THAT night they play a gig that has 1,000 well'ard-looking Germans leaping around, grinning and tearing up their throats braying for more. L7 have that bedrock of granite-hard sound that Led Zep had and Helmet have. They've got this superb number called "Shittlist", only it isn't merely a song, it's a whole way of life.

"'Sweaty Betty' by the Macc Lads," groans Dee, offering up her contender for the list. "Ugh. That line, 'I couldn't believe the size of her bum!' Jesus! You know, when our roadies want to insult us they put on the Macc Lads. We throw our tampons at them. Box and all."

"But we'll take 'Sweaty Betty' over 'One Less Hole' any day," says Donita. "AT least the guy likes Sweaty Betty! At least he's not gonna kill her!"

"I heard a tape by the Geto Boys that made me cry," says Jennifer. "I had to phone Donita cos I was so upset. We don't like rape rap. Also, I hate it when artist take their personal lives up there. Like, what a tired theme. 'I broke up with blah blah blah'. Come on, get on with your life!"

"People can get off our shitlist," says Donita, peacefully, "By grovelling!"

"Yeah," agrees Dee. "And by giving us candy, vibrators and rump steaks!"

I've met coppers who are more sentimental than L7. You see, unlike most bands, L7 are deeply concerned with serious problems. So you can guess who else is on the shitlist, can't you?

"George (and the supreme court get outa my) Bush!" cries Suzy.


THE one time they look vulnerable is when they talk about their ambitions. It seems like they ought to be more thrusting, confident and gobby. But they've take too many knocks for that.

"We make it a policy not to discuss our future plans and dreams cos that leads to disappointments. We've always tried to be modest and set realistic goals. We were happy to have formed ROCK FOR CHOICE. Now we're not in the US, we worry about what's been happening to it."

L7 formed Rock For Choice to support the national constitutional right (since 1973) of all American women to have abortions. "Right now, the Moral Majority are trying to make it a state by state thing," explains Donita. "So if a woman in Louisiana gets knocked up and want an abortion, she has to travel to another state. If she can't afford to, she has to get one illegally. So rich women will get safe abortions and poor women are gonna get screwed."

"We've had co-operation from Nirvana, Hole, Pearl Jam, Lunachicks and Fugazi, who all played really cool gigs in support," continues Jennifer. "We're just waiting for Spinal Tap to come through for the sisters!"


L7 are so hard they like to beat people up and then boast about it

"We were in Liverpool and we came across these eight-year-old guys who had this B-Boy thing going. They were rappin' in the road, 'If you want E,then come to me!' So we beat up on them. I had one of them on the ground with my knees on his chest, and you know how mad eight-year-old boys get! I turned around and I could see this other little kid frisking Suzy by the tour bus. It was gettin' kinda serious. In the end we had to throw the boys in this dump-yard."

L7's new single, "Everglade", is a vigorous aural assault on folks that "Bum them out" in the mosh pit. Legendary for their own stage-diving activites, they hate it when big, heavy guys go in boot-first and spoil the fun, "because girls are physically weaker,' says Donita.

"But you know," says Jennifer, "I saw the first episode of the new Barbie cartoons and she gets to change her own tires. So, you see, times they are a changin'!"

From WSWS: Arts review