Legendary Status – Mia Zapata and The Gits – More Than 30 Years

It has taken me some time to figure out my opening line for this piece.  I have struggled with the words I would use to explain the frustration I have had over the endless “crime” stories that have aired (and still do), since July 7, 1993. I feel this as a fan of this band; wondering if the media that aired these shows knew that this woman was more than a crime victim,,,,,,,, she was so much more than what happened to her. And thanks to the remaining members of the band, her memory of their friend and bandmate is what I try to relay to others when I talk about Mia Zapata and The Gits.

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Mia and The Gits

I play non-stop Gits music as I type again, the words become easier to my mind. I watched The Gits movie approximately 5 times over the past few weeks, and it took me back to a freer and happier time in my life. The music of the early 90’s in Seattle. It was a great place to be as a 23-year-old. Now I begin to explain the powerful legacy of someone who has been surrounded by so much tragedy. I need to do that by changing the focus solely on the music and the ongoing legacy of Mia Zapata and The Gits; and the special time of the 1990’s. The Gits formed in the fall of 1986 in Yellow Springs, OH while attending Antioch College. They were originally called the “Sniveling Little Rat Face Gits” (from a Monty Python episode), they later shortened it to The Gits. They later made the move to Seattle in 1989.

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The band on the steps outside the “Rathouse” their home
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Mia Zapata and Joe Spleen (aka Andy Kessler)
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The Gits performing live

What is a fact, on July 7, 1993, a brilliant pioneering singer was savagely taken from us – less than a mile from her home on Capitol Hill in Seattle. The aftermath was so great that many other bands crumbled as a result unable to pick up the pieces. Mia’s death didn’t define her; it was her lyrics and the music written for it by Andy Kessler and the band. That’s all I will say about what happened to her, the rest is not relevant to my story.

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The Gits performing live
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One of my most favorites of Mia performing live-photo by Charles Peterson (used with permission)

Many have said she was a blues singer fronting a rock band. But during that time, the music exploded in Seattle; they were lumped into the “grunge” category. Grunge is really an “era” a time in Seattle when music exploded. The music is not grunge because those bands did not have the same sound at all. What was definitely a familiar sight regardless of what music you listened to was flannel, Doc Martens, cut-offs and everything in between. What I do remember is that The Gits were more of an “underground” music band; yet they played at all of the venues that Alice in Chains, Mookie Blaylock (Pearl Jam), and even Nirvana did. The Vogue was one of the first venues they played at, and that was their first real introduction into the scene. After that, the fans started forming at a steady rate, and I was one of them. You had to have seen them live to get the full impact Mia’s stage presence and her vocals came at you – a force morphed 10 fold! I saw them a few times and the last being at the X-Ray Cafe in Portland, OR about 5 days before she died. That’s also where their album “Live in the USA” was recorded too.

Mia wrote immensely powerful lyrics that Andy Kessler (aka Joe Spleen) was able to put it to soulful punk music – crafted all together to make a signature sound only The Gits could deliver. The band and her vocals were uniquely embracing. I recently reminisced about the times I saw them perform; you can find the band rosters in old Rocket and Backlash fanzines that were published for free. I’ve provided a few of them in this article for the other fans out there. When I saw Mia perform for the first time I thought to myself, “How can she be so confident on stage”? She moved in-sync with the music they created – I think back and remembered it fondly – I only wish I had taken pictures, but we just didn’t carry them around back then. All we can do is share our eperience.

Pino Foderero and my friend of “Shame” (Italian Grunge Band, from Milan, Italy) had this to say about Mia: “Mia was an honest and brilliant soul, a girl strong and fragile at the same time. These feelings and thinking of her were the inspiration for Comet.”

Shame “Comet”

7 Year Bitch – a great hard-core punk rock band that emerged during the Seattle music scene and friends of Mia’s and The Gits, recorded this song in response to Mia’s murder. M.I.A

Famous DJ Marco Collins formerly of 107.7 The EndSeattle had this to say on The Gits:

“The Gits were definitely one of the more underrated Seattle bands in the 90’s. There was a sense that they SHOULD be the next band to make it out of the scene. Because they came from punk rock roots, we all hoped that they would follow Nirvana’s arc to superstardom instead of some of the other bands in the scene (most of them 2nd tier Grunge bands).

Mia’s voice is what turned the Gits into almost more of a soulful take on the Seattle Sound. Grit and passion were her superpowers. She was a talent that was never fully realized because of her murder. The Gits had the potential to become bigger than most of the bands out of the NW and I dare you to find those who were there to disagree.”

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The Gits performing live

I spoke with Steve Moriarty the original drummer of The Gits, through email and on the phone about Mia and The Gits and here is some of that interview:

NS: Who’s idea was it to start the band all those years ago?

SM: I don’t remember.

NS: What do you think about the grunge scene that hit Seattle how did it affect the band?

SM: I don’t think it had any effect on the band and I don’t think that the people in the scene were calling a grunge anyway I think it was just a term invented by the English press not really something people said here.

NS: When do you decide to relocate from Mill Springs Ohio to Seattle and why?

SM: 1989 we moved because we wanted to start the band somewhere else. And there was nothing happening in Ohio. Matt and I had finished college; Andy and Mia did not finish but wanted to get the hell out of there.

NS: What did you think of the fans that loved seeing you perform?

SM: I think we loved them more than they loved us.

NS: What was a favorite song that Mia performed? 

SM: I think my favorite performance by Mia was when I had a small blues band that I put together with Mia and we did lose covers from SE Smith Marina and Billy holiday on piano acoustic guitar and drums it was really stripped down and she could really experiment with your voice. It was during the time of the Gits and Andy was abroad or something so we have this other band to fill the time it was really cool. We called it the barfing blues band because we all were sick and we started it. We had the stomach flu or something.

(In closing our interview):

SM: We love the fans and every few years I hear of new people that seem to discover The Gits and the crowds get younger and younger in their countries. Spotify and Pandora give analytics as to how many people listen to our songs and how many people follow the band and subscribe to the radio. There they were 10,000 new listeners to get songs. I credit people like you who have been with it and supportive all these years. 25 years – it’s incredible to think it’s been that long. We’d still be a band if Mia hadn’t died. I’m just grateful that no one else died in the band. 

Playing in bands since I was over 12 years old and touring all of the world is been such a gift to be able to meet so many cool people and have virtually lifelong connections with fans of the musicians and people along the way. I think anyone who has been in a band for a while would say that’s absolutely the best part in hindsight. Not the deli trays with a free beer or the hours and hours of sitting in the van between gigs or the rehearsals and recording or where all the failed attempts to get monetary support to record music and play – but it’s the people that I got to meet along the way and the connections that have been lasting. 

Steve is currently working on a book for middle school and high school kids a way to introduce Mia and her ancestor Emiliano Zapata a Mexican Revolution figure together in a book. Richard Zapata used to tell Mia stories of Emiliano Zapata when she was growing up. Mia then would tell those stories to the band during long road trips in between gigs. Watch the video below where Steve explains the book project to us. Underneath the video is a link where you can donate to this project. It’s called Art, Rock, and Revolution.

You can make a direct donation for Art, Rock & Revolution

Steve Moriarty

Mia Zapata on Facebook

The Gits Fansite

Mia Zapata’s ancestor is Emiliano Zapata August 8, 1879 – April 10, 1919) was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution.

 

Fun Trivia:

Marlon Brando played Emiliano Zapata in the award-winning movie based on his life, Viva Zapata! in 1952. The film co-starred Anthony Quinn, who won best supporting actor.

Another Shot of Whiskey

Seaweed

Second Skin (from Hype! movie)

Cousin (Bob O)

Watch The Gits Movie – it will give you a lot more insight into the band and Mia.

“She was on loan to me; now she belongs to all of you” Richard Zapata (Mia’s father).

I am very much looking forward to Steve’s book that I know will make a difference. If anyone is new to this band please watch The Gits movie and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. It’s Mia’s lasting legacy with Andy, Matt, and Steve. They reached legendary status a long time ago. I think you’ll agree.

The Gits are; Mia Zapata (vox), Steve Moriarty (drums), Andy Kessler (guitar) and Matt Dresdner (bass). You can still find plenty of The Gits music on iTunes, Amazon and on the Gits Fan Website (link provided above).

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The Gits movie poster

This is dedicated to my Sobrino Luis Mendoza who reintroduced me to Mia and The Gits once again, and to all fans of The Gits.

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