Stacy Russo has created a unique book about the punk rock era, focusing on the women who were such a huge part of it. We Were Going to Change the World: Interviews with Women From the 1970s & 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene (Santa Monica Press/August 21, 2017) captures the stories of women who were active in the punk rock scene in Southern California during this historic time, adding an important voice to the cultural and musical record. Through exclusive interviews with musicians, journalists, photographers, and fans, Russo captures the essence of why these women were drawn to punk rock, what they witnessed, and how their involvement in this empowering scene ended up influencing the rest of their lives.
RELATED STORY: Book Review: We Were Going to Change The World
Hot off the press, Russo is already enthusiastically writing her next book which will be out next Spring. Russo filled us in on the inspiration behind We Were Going To Change The World, things she discovered along the way, and her next project.
The Voice of Witness workshop I attended was titled Amplifying Unheard Voices. It was an excellent week-long workshop for educators that gave everyone the tools to conduct an oral history workshop. Throughout the week, guest speakers came and we learned about different oral history projects. For example, one was with men who worked in a certain occupation in the Bay Area and another was with residents from a particular neighborhood. What connected the stories in each project was that the individuals all had some type of a shared experience. Around this time, I had just gone through a very difficult period and I was thinking about how much growing up punk rock gave me the resources to be strong and make it through tough times. I decided I wanted to interview other women in their 40s or older who were part of the same scene and ask them about their experiences and if growing up in the scene influenced the rest of their lives.
Why did you decide to include interviews of photographers, writers, DJs and fans as opposed to just the musicians?
Music is, of course, at the center of the punk rock scene, but like all creative and social movements, people are involved in different ways. During the punk rock scene, people created art and fanzines, for example, and some of these creations were highly influential. Those of us who grew up in the scene are also aware of how important the audience was at the shows. In order to present a rich portrait of the scene, I wanted to interview women who were involved in all of these different ways. When documenting historical periods, so often it is the case that only a single story is provided, or just the stories of a few well-known individuals are used to reflect a large movement. I wished to present a different and more inclusive way of documenting an important part of our cultural record.
How long was the entire process from conception until publication?
It was about four years!
How many women did you interview in total?
I interviewed around 42 women.
Did you find one common thread among you and all of the women?
I did notice some common threads with most or many of the women. Most described themselves as not living a traditional life, not fitting stereotypical roles for women, or simply feeling different and like an outsider. Although most of the women have had male partners, over half of the women I interviewed did not have children by choice. Most of the women also seemed very much alive and engaged with life – they had a survivor’s glow about them.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating this book?
I was surprised by how quickly I felt a connection with the women. Almost instantly, I felt a deep compassion for them and much gratitude for their willingness to share their stories. Although I absolutely believed in the project from day one, I was surprised by how meaningful the experience was for me and I didn’t realize that I would make new friendships with some amazing women.
What was one of the most challenging issues you encountered while writing this book?
When I started the project, I thought it would be about one year long! The most challenging issue was the time it took to transcribe the interviews. I have a very demanding career as a librarian and professor, so I found myself often too tired to work on the project in the evenings. I spent many weekends and many hours during semester breaks working on the transcriptions and manuscript. When you find yourself spending so much of your time working alone on something, which is a part of the writing life that many people struggle with, you can start to doubt yourself and question what you are doing. I felt so strongly about getting these stories an audience though that I was able to continue to push through. Once Jeffrey Goldman at Santa Monica Press wanted to publish the book and he gave me such great support and ideas, I knew I was going to make it the whole way.
How did you choose Mike Watt for the foreward?
The publisher, Jeffrey Goldman, and I discussed different individuals, men and women, for the foreword. We wanted to invite someone from the scene who would be known by many of the readers and someone who would be supportive of the project. What Mike wrote was so beautiful. It demonstrated the influence women had in the scene and captured the essence of the book.
You’ve written other books. Do you see another one in the foreseeable future?
Oh, yes! I’m currently working on my next book, Love Activism, which is a book about a daily activism of kindness we can all practice (www.love-activism.com). The book will be out in the Spring. It includes interviews with ten amazing activists. There is a thread through everything I do that leads back to punk rock, since it was through punk rock that I became politically aware of injustices.
There are currently a lot of events in Los Angeles celebrating the 40-year history of punk rock in LA. The Grammy Museum will be exhibiting “X: 40 YEARS OF PUNK IN LOS ANGELES” starting October 13th through March of 2018. Have you attended any events or are you planning on attending the Grammy Museum exhibit?
Yes, I absolutely plan on attending that exhibit. I am also hoping to have an event or two for We Were Going to Change the World in the Los Angeles area that will involve several of the women I interviewed.