The Classics – 09

Thursday, 28 June 2012

If one were to only study the mountain of tattered and yellowing newsprint which has buil up around the Seattle rock scene of the Nineties over the last twenty years, it would be very easy to assume that the scene was an enormous sausage factory. Everyone can instantly recall images of Kurt Cobain spinning on his head while playing guitar and Eddie Vedder climbing up into the rafters of some venue during the bridge of “Even Flow” and Chris Cornell striking a “Jesus Christ Pose” while Layne Staley pounded on the “Man In The Box,” but where were all the girls during that time? Courtney Love wasn't the only female musician on the scene in Seattle but, especially during the late Eighties and earliest Nineties, finding coverage of them in a magazine took some looking. While anyone around Seattle would sing the praises of bands like Babes In Toyland, L7 and Bikini Kill if they were asked about the fairer sex singing around the proverbial neighborhood one needed to know already in order to ask. Not only that but, in retrospect, those names haven't aged so well compared to the likes of Sleater-Kinney, but that group really only got legs under it later; after the first wave of Pacific Northwest grunge crested and receded – so what else was there in he early going? If one digs deep enough eventually, prospectors in the rock mine will find The Gits; the great band who got cut down before they even got a chance, and the only band on the Seattle scene who had a female singer with a voice big enough to play with the boys.

The first heartbreaker in The Gits' story is that there's little doubt the band's last studio album would have been the one which made them stars. From the moment “Bob” rolls in on a rolling and rotund bass line pushed by bright and spry drums, listeners knows that something awesome is coming their way; those who are already familiar with the band will recognize the sharp punk edge which first gleamed on Frenching The Bully [The Gits' debut album, released in 1992) and be excited that it appears even sharper and better honed than it was before here. There's an unmistakable clarity present even as “Bob” warms up and guitarist Joe Spleen and singer Mia Zapata both seem compelled to push it harder, further and closer to the brink now; it's vicious and mean but playful and instantly infectious as Zapata pushes the blues and soul in her vocal to the forefront. Those good, hard feelings keep pushing as “Guilt Within Your Head” grinds its way into turgid oblivion while “Italian Song” bounces its way along on some gloriously fluffy drunk gunk punk changes. As emotionally disparate as those songs are from each other (and it gets even further for the half-cover of “A Change Is Gonna Come” as well as on “Precious Blood,” “Beauty Of The Rose” and “Drunks,” which each attack the blues, punk, rock n' roll and even folk from decidedly innovative angles totally unique to The Gits' own sensibility), there's no mistaking where the center of each song lies and just how appropriate it is that each song on Enter: The Conquering Chicken appears on the record; on this album, Mia Zapata really showcases her broken soul tone and the band makes sure to give her all the room they can to make that stamp on rock which says they've arrived.

As much as Enter: The Conquering Chicken succeeded in declaring the arrival of The Gits, the second heartbreaker in the story of the album is that it came too late for the band to enjoy. On the night of July 7, 1993 – while work on the album was still being done – Mia Zapata was brutally raped and strangled to death on her way home from a bar. The event caused work to (understandably) grind to a halt but, when the band was able, they completed the songs for which Zapata had already done vocals and released the album on March 22, 1994 before breaking up out of love and respect for their friend.

The events surrounding the recording and release of Enter: The Conquering Chicken were tragic, certainly, but they did not pass in vain. Zapata's death pushed the Seattle music community into action, and several relief and social action initiatives including Home Alive were formed [Home Alive was an anti-violence initiative which offered self-defense classes and public education in order to reduce and prevent violence which operated until June, 2010 –ed] to serve the clearly established public need. At the same time, the surviving members of The Gits never stopped working to find justice for their singer. Drummer Steve Moriarty, guitarist Joe Spleen and bassist Matt Dresdner worked tirelessly to raise money (including a tour and album done under the name Evil Stig – Gits Live spelled backwards – which saw Joan Jett take the mic in front of the band) and keep the case open in hopes of finding Zapata's murderer, and eventually they found success; in 2003, Cuban-American fisherman Jesus Mezquia was arrested on an unrelated charge in Florida and, when police added his DNA to the national database, it flagged Zapata's case – which had since run cold after seven years. In order to raise money for legal fees in the ensuing trial, The Gits reissued both Frenching The Bully and Enter: The Conquering Chicken with additional bonus tracks on Broken Rekids. Finally, on March 25, 2004, a jury convicted Mezquia of Zapata's murder and he was later sentenced to thirty-six years in prison, the maximum allowed in the case under Washington state law.

Since the closure of the case eight years ago, the story of The Gits has been re-told through films including Kerri O'Kane's The Gits – which was first screened in 2005 and saw wider release in 2007 when it appeared on screens at South By Southwest, before being released theatrically in over twenty North American cities on July 7, 2008. As well, Enter: The Conquering Chicken was reissued again on vinyl by Broken Rekids, further fueling interest. That interest will once again see re-examination on July 7, 2012, when the band will re-launch their website as a public archive to honor Mia Zapata’s life with new and formerly unreleased content including music, lost photographs, film, video, lyrics, art and links to related projects of the band members.

Looking at all of the initiatives which have been undertaken since the tragic passing of Mia Zapata as a whole, one will be struck by the lengths that the surviving members of The Gits have gone to in order to make sure their friend and bandmate is remembered. Such diligence to the memory of a lost friend should absolutely be commended and, of course, anyone who follows that thread backward will eventually reach Enter: The Conquering Chicken – the album which could have been The Gits' breakthrough, but ended up being their swansong. It deserves to be qualified as classic album for the songs alone, but the fact that it has lived on and inspired belief in so many people as well as inspiring so many other projects and endeavors in its name substantiates that claim, easily.



Enter: The Conquering Chicken
was reissued by the surviving members of The Gits in 2003. Buy it here via The Gits' web site.

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