On its surface, the idea or memory of the Gits carries with it an undertone of urban darkness and human waste, but the story would be unfairly abbreviated if the killing of vocalist Mia Zapata exclusively defined the group. That is in part because the Gits in life and action helped define something themselves, if not a movement, then a place and time. A very particular brand of punk with a distinct perspective was emanating out of the American northwest during the early '90s, and the Gits were instrumental contributors to this new scene. Perhaps inspired by the honesty and iconoclastic sentiment purveyed by some early (mostly male) grunge bands, certain female artists and musicians began to explore new angles and ideals in the sonic and physical expression of their anger, hope, and existence. Although these riot grrrls as they were often called, generally got lumped into the grunge category, their music often lacked the fat '70s retro guitar riffs and mid- to slow-tempo bombast of the more Black Sabbath-influenced male grunge artists. While many of these groups played the same clubs in Seattle and surrounding areas, and although they often expressed similar political (even feminist) ideals in their lyrics, there was a punk aggression, a palpable and uncompromising commitment that amounted to a way of life for many of the female groups. Being 75 percent male, the Gits hardly qualify as a girl group, but Mia Zapata embodied the group in the eyes of many of their fans. Zapata was an extraordinary example (and ultimately the unofficial patron saint) of riot grrrl intensity, talent, and humanity.
After coming together in Ohio in 1986, the Gits (Zapata, guitarist Joe Spleen, drummer Steve Moriarty, and bassist Matt Dresdner) moved to Seattle a few years later to immerse themselves in the city's burgeoning music scene. It wasn't very long before the Gits had developed a solid following in their adopted home and a strong position in the city's underground punk movement. The word spread as the Gits embarked on successful domestic and international tours in the early '90s (all without the support of a record label.) In 1992, the debut Frenching the Bully was independently released, and the reviews were almost unanimously positive. Zapata's ballistic on-stage persona and aggressive vocals were almost legendary by this time and it seemed inevitable that the Gits and Zapata were going to grow out of the regional success they enjoyed and bask in the national music spotlight.
Before the group could finish their second release, Enter the Conquering Chicken, Zapata was raped and murdered while on her way home from a Seattle pub July 7, 1993. This event sensitized many female artists (especially musicians in Seattle, the West Coast, and all of America) to the paradoxical twists inherent in their expressions of this new philosophy and lifestyle of empowerment. Unfortunately, no amount of rage, street smarts, or outwardly "unfeminine" physicality could dissuade evil men from imposing their will upon even the strongest women within their own ranks. Living a nightlife, working as equals with men, sharing and being rewarded for their alternative ideas about sexual politics and gender roles, it is no doubt that a large group of young female musicians and artists became emboldened (possibly to a degree dangerous to their own safety). While emotionally empowering, this riot grrrl ethos carried no exemption from the physical dangers women have tragically encountered and endured throughout history. The loss of Zapata was symbolic in that it reminded many just how far they still had to go before their own gender would cease to be a weapon, with ultimate potential, that could be used against their own invaluable personage.
Realizing this, friends of Zapata, including 7 Year B**ch drummer Valerie Agnew and visual artist Stacey Westcott, founded Home Alive, an organization created to educate and fund self-defense. Among their efforts, Home Alive released a CD, The Art of Self Defense, that featured recordings of Zapata, Joan Jett, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and many others. The organization has also held benefit concerts, using all profits to conduct and fund self-defense classes and seminars. Inspired by Zapata's music (and tragic death) Jett didn't stop with her contribution to the Home Alive release, she also made a critically acclaimed music video in which she portrays a stalking victim not unlike Zapata and in 1996, Jett released a record with the surviving Gits under the moniker Evil Stig ("Gits live" spelled backwards). The disc featured much Zapata material, including a duet that had Jett singing along with previously recorded tracks of the late vocalist.
Besides Enter the Conquering Chicken, two other posthumous releases followed the demise of the Gits: Kings and Queens, released in 1996, is a live recording of a 1988 show in Ohio and Seafish Louisville features more live and unreleased material. Evil Stig proved to be a relatively short-lived affair, and afterwards, the Gits moved on to other projects. Spleen has worked with Poison Idea, and Moriarty has played with the Pinkos and Saint Bushman's Choir among others.
Although there is no doubt about the tragic scope of the Gits and Mia Zapata, it is comforting to know that the deceased singer's talent and personality inspired something positive. The result of her death was not just suffering, but awareness, and at least a call to action. It's not been specifically documented whether that call has saved any lives, but it's comforting to think that it is possible. Zapata's energy, charisma, and strength helped create an identity -- an artistic, feminine, urban quintessence, to be cherished and fought for -- that is sadly lacking in so many faceless statistics. ~ Vincent Jeffries