“The Decline of Western Civilization” 1980. Slash Records. Today, November 7th, is Alice Bag’s birthday (b. Alicia Armendariz, 1958) and the only recording we have of her and her band, The Bags/Alice Bag Band, is on this soundtrack from the film directed by Penelope Spheeris which documented the ‘79-’80 LA punk scene. Quite recently I read Alice Bag’s autobiography Violence Girl (from Feral House publishing) and it was a can’t-put-it-down read. She was an integral part of the LA music scene, starting off as a super-fan of David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Elton John before starting her own band and hanging out with members of the Germs, The Weirdos, etc. She spends a short chapter describing her experience with the recording of the track (“Gluttony”) for Decline of Western Civilization: “The filming of the performance was an ordeal. It was supposed to be a live show, but because several bands were being filmed and there were five bands on the bill, it became a marathon. Fights broke out backstage as people tried to change the order of performance. In a small are overflowing with testosterone, I was the only woman and nobody was fucking with me…We were nearly out of steam even before we went on. The show had gone on far too long. The film crew was packing up equipment, members of the audience looked spent and it was hard to get excited about playing, but we went out and tried to revive the night. I knew it wasn’t our best show, but it wasn’t our worst, either.”
The soundtrack features several other prominent LA punk bands (all filmed at various locations and dates from December 1979 through May 1980). There’s a great version of “White Minority” by Black Flag, a messy version of “Manimal” by the Germs (are there any versions of any Germs live songs that aren’t messy?) and X play a really excellent set that includes “Beyond and Back,” “Johny Hit and Run Paulene” and “We’re Desperate.” Circle Jerks have four songs (the best “Back Against the Wall”) and Fear have three including “I Don’t Care About You,” “I Love Livin’ In the City” and “Fear Anthem.” There’s also a song by Catholic Discipline (“Underground Babylon”) but I never really heard much by them beyond this record and don’t care for that track.