On July 7, 1993, 27 year-old singer Mia Zapata, a member of Seattle band The Gits, was strangled. Less than two hours before her body was found, she had spent an evening in her local pub - with many friends.
Three years later, the killer has not been found. (This despite national publicity in rock magazines, plus re-stagings on two 1996 "Crimestopper" TV shows). Zapata's community - musicians, artists, writers, actors - even hired their own investigator.
There are songs and paintings and posters about her; but Zapata's real memorial is an organisation. It's called Home Alive, and it came into being with one purpose: to help her community protect itself.
Home Alive was founded by drummer Valerie Agnew, who plays with the band Seven Year Bitch. Says she, "After Mia died, we went on tour, on a tour she would have been part of. I had all the sorrow of her absence. But I also had incredible anger."
Agnew tried to talk this out with other friends, and discovered they, too, felt both fears and conflicts. "We were all like Mia, we were all streetwise. But if it happened to her, it could happen to us."
One thought came back over and over to them: "If she knew how to throw a punch, would she be here?"
So the friends established Home Alive, their initiative towards self-protection. Says one of its founders, Stacey Westcott, "First we tried to check out all the options. Were there self-defense courses already? Were they relevant to our way of life?"
Broadly, the answer was no. Most existing courses were quite expensive. And what they taught opposed the founders' lifestyles. Says Cristien Storm: "We're musicians, artists, actors; we work late at night and don't make much money." Often, like Zapata last said she would, they walked blocks to get a cab or bus.
So, the group created a new agenda, and began to find some different "experts". These recruits were advocates, trainers, lawyers. Once located, some agreed to teach. Now, the Home Alive team has its own instructors.
They hold a range of courses, from anger management and use of pepper spray to the martial arts. Stacey Westcott says that it's mostly basic. "I learned that at my first self-defense class. I hadn't hit anyone since I was six. If someone came at me, what would I really do?"
At the center of Home Alive is community; funding comes from art events and concerts. Now they have a benefit CD, which is called "The Art of Self Defense". Eighteen months in the making, it is quite a project: two volumes, 45 tracks and a lot of celebrities. (Just to name a few, there are songs by Pearl Jam [Leaving Here, 140K .au], The Presidents of the United States, Soundgarden, vintage Nirvana, Joan Jett [Go Home, Seattle Version 100K .au], Green Apple Quick Step and Love Battery).
It's clear this CD is the work of artists: it is carefully balanced between song and poems - and between a wide range of contributors. It is grounded in the gap between male and female, laced with tales of threat, regret and anger. It exposes much about the power of rock - and not every part of that is pretty.
Two selections actually feature Mia Zapata [Guilt Within Your Head, 120K .au], and a third features the members of her former band, The Gits (now The Dancing French Liberals of '48). "It's a hard listen," says Valerie Agnew quietly. "Not the kind of thing you play in a single sitting."
Still, it's packed with more than rock exclusives: there is information here on self-defense, on organising and on help resources. Says Cristien Storm, who is featured on the cover, "Take care of your friends. Don't let them just stumble out of bars alone. If you do, you may not meet again."
And there are a lot of ghosts on this record. Sometimes they are actually the crowds of listeners, audible as the late Kurt Cobain wails ruefully. Other times, the ghost is Mia herself: lively and tipsy and bluesy. In another cut, it is a late poet, Jesse Bernstein.
Some tracks here were meant as goodbye songs, some are poems, and others merely rants. But there's no CD or "tribute" like it. Violent, intense and passionate, it pulls off the trick of pulling life from death.
Spaces of Fear: Megan Kelso, 1995
"The Art of Self Defense" is available through Epic/Sony, catalogue number E2K 67486.
Home Alive can be reached by phone at (US) 206-521-9176 or by post at 1202 East Pike Street, Seattle 98122 USA.
Joan Jett has long campaigned for Home Alive, appearing in a video as Mia
An earlier Hot Tips item about Mia Zapata contains a clip from that "Go Home" video.