Independent Indies – The Gits
“If you aren’t playing in your own favorite band, then you shouldn’t be playing.”
I was in High School when the Seattle Grunge movement suddenly burst onto the scene in the early 90’s. While I liked all sorts of music while growing up, this marked a time when several grunge bands quickly became must listen, so much so I would ditch out during lunch to race over to Best Buy to buy the albums the day they were released. As the years passed by my favorites (Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and to a lesser extent Nirvana and Pearl Jam) all succumbed to tragedy or in fighting before inevitably breaking up. While those breakups were difficult to deal with as they seemed to be situations that could have been prevented, I was oblivious to what The Gits and their friends and fans had to go through in the same city and during the same time period.
Formed at a small Ohio college before making their way to Seattle, The Gits (bassist Matt Dresdner, drummer Steve Moriarty, guitarist Joe Spleen and lead singer Mia Zapata) were a close knit group that quickly became a major influence in the burgeoning Seattle music scene. Perhaps most responsible for this was their charismatic singer Zapata who when she wasn’t mentoring or influencing bands like 7 Year Bitch and Bikini Kill, she was making friends with seemingly everyone she met. And with her rich, bluesy vocals attached to the band’s dynamic punk sound, The Gits seemed destined for greatness.
Mia Zapata certainly doesn’t seem like much when you look at her. Her friends described her as looking like a chicken, and her singing voice was so deep and raspy that Anna remarked, “She sounds like a bar whore, not a punk singer.” when she first heard The Gits. Even Spleen’s priceless imitation of Zapata makes her sound like one of Marge Simpson’s sisters. Yet there is no denying it, when Zapata steps on stage she is electric.
But The Gits are far more then just a singer, they are a blending of unique talents that make the band far greater then the sum of its parts. The talent of the band is undeniable from the opening credits when they break into their first song. With each successive number the question “How the hell are they not famous?” is bound to run through your head again and again. If not for the horrific murder of Zapata, they most certainly would be.
Director Kerri O’Kane is careful in how she tells this tragic tale. The vast majority of the film is spent celebrating The Gits and especially the memories those have of Zapata. It is clear from the numerous people interviewed that this band was near and dear to their hearts, and rather then wallow in misery they, and thus the film, will exalt The Gits with what they did accomplish in their too short of an existence.
Helping accomplish this task is the wealth of photographs and video footage of the band that truly helps demonstrate what a unique and vibrant band The Gits were. They crack jokes with each other during their sets (Spleen is often seen attempting to make Zapata laugh while she is singing) and that playful nature infects the crowd even as the music is dragging them in the opposite direction. O’Kane has done a great job of splicing the various footage together, so during each song a whole range of live performances are showcased, further proving this band were fantastic performers every time they set foot on stage. It is an eye catching and vibrant way to present the band, and they more then deserve it.
But while it is clear that many of the subjects don’t want to talk about Zapata’s death, O’Kane finds a way to get them to open up and discuss that tragic night and the fallout that resulted from it. This is when the documentary steps out from the band’s shadow and begins to shine. As you hear about the outpouring of support that followed, as well as the frustration and confusion surrounding the lack of resolution and closure for everyone you witness a filmmaker deftly getting the most out of their subject matter. And as these friends, fans and family members discuss this unsolved crime, a conclusion no one expected finally appears and brings about a conclusion to this tale that is vexing in its random happenstance. It is not a perfect ending to this tale, but one that is desperately needed to remove the lingering questions and allow fans to now freely enjoy the music, and the memory, of The Gits.
Purchase this movie or any of the albums by The Gits at Amazon. You’ll thank me for it.