Vi Subversa (Désir Nocturne #1)

As far as I can remember Désir Nocturne was a one-off (published in 1998). It was made by Lara A. when she’d moved from Biel/Bienne (Switzerland) to Paris. Lara was the mother of the daughter she had with Pablo (‘The Prophet’) and she had collaborated in various of his zines (e.g. No Sanctuary). In this one here she published a talk with her (then) 51/2 years old daughter Suzy and an interview with ‘Flav’ (singer of ‘Paris Violence’). There’s also thoughts on love and fidelity. There’s also (a reprint of) a criticism on local exchange systems, info on fertility-signs and this account of a conversation with Vi Subversa around the time ‘Posion Girls‘ had their CD-box out…

[translation below]

VI SUBVERSA [Frances Sokolov; born 1935, R.I.P. 2016] was the singer of the English anarcho-punk band POISON GIRLS that formed in ‘76 when she was 42 years old and had two children. This interview [orginally by Rosanne Rabinowitz], published in BAD ATTITUDE [Radical Women’s Newspaper (1992-1995)] n° 8 in Autumn ‘95, was done during a rehearsal: to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Vi, ‘Poison Girls’ reformed at the time for a concert. I wanted to translate this interview because Vi has always been a kind of model for me, even if I don’t agree with everything she says. (I don’t think there’s a profound enough analysis of what is declared.) It shows that at any age one can give a new direction to one’s life to fulfill one’s desires, and that one must behave one’s self as one is, without complexes, talk about what one wants to talk about, do what one wants to do, even if it doesn’t fit the mold. And she shows that aging is an enrichment, not just wrinkles in the face. It’s really a babe that gives me energy!

When did the band split up and what have you done since?

Our last concert took place in Zagreb in November ’89. ‘Poison Girls’ existed 13 years. Vi Subversa was the epitome of a very strong character…and when everything came to an end I needed to think about who I was apart from Vi Subversa. I went back to university for some time. I became a Parent Network Advisor and funnily it was an extension of Vi Subversa; because she had always spoken as a parent, for example in Jump Mama Jump and Not Your Fuckin’ Mother. I was teaching people how to do a communication-class for parents to listen better to their children. After about 5 years I still spoke as a mother while my children were already adults and lived their lives. So I felt it was time to stop that, also to really find out who I was apart from that very responsible person that was Vi. I started to detach myself from this. Last January I went to Spain to have a good time in the sun, to find some space and to spend time alone with myself. I was interested in what is happening locally and the big problem there turned to be the water. I wanted to do some gardening but there was very little water. The rain didn’t come so I am immersed myself in the practical aspects of irrigation. What amounted to using a very old irrigation-system that dates back to the time when the Moors were there. Now I take care of watering orange-trees and I also water my own vegetable-garden. The other aspect is the ‘water-policy’. It’s really fascinating, all the power held by those who have control of the water.

What made you want to be in ‘Poison Girls’ at the beginning, at the age you had?

It didn’t have much to do with my age, apart from the fact that it wasn’t easy because one isn’t supposed to do this kind of thing. It was more related to what was happening in the mid ‘70s. Many women were opening up to a new wave of female consciousness. I’m sure it’s been like this for centuries. I found out that I had something to say because most of the people who spoke out then were young women, students, and I felt they were missing out on a lot of things. My son [‘Pete Fender’] played the guitar… and if we can’t do better than them, we must join them! I met people who were doing something for the Edinburgh Fringe [arts festival] and they invited me to join them. This is where I wrote my first songs. I was encouraged by people who said “Go on, what you say needs to be told.”. Richard [‘Richard Famous’], the second guitarist of ‘Poison Girls’ encouraged me, he really liked not only what I said but also the quality of my voice that no one had ever found interesting before. I really enjoyed it, partly because I was doing something that I never thought I could do. I decided that I didn’t just want to be a run-of-the-mill singer so I learned to play the guitar. And I really got into making noise, and everything became really fun and erotic somehow. Having fun, it was really important because I don’t think I’m interested in politics per se, but once you start telling yourself “I want a fulfilling life, I wanna have a good time.” and that you are a woman and a mother, you run into the politics of what prevents you from doing so. The other aspect was more serious. I deliberately agreed to be the spokesperson for many women. In some songs I spoke about quite extreme things that were hard to say. My son heard me say overwhelming things about men and it was difficult to juggle that, but I felt that these things had to be said. I didn’t know about the hell that some women are going through. I don’t know if it was a good thing or not but I became the spokesperson for a feminine political line of thinking and I found it rather exhausting. There were some tough things for my two kids. I was a very strong role-model for my daughter but how did that translate to her expectations and the world she grew up in? I never thought I could be a spokesperson for all the radical separatist things that were very strong at the time, partly because I had a son, a lot of women had sons. And I wanted to work with men, in my life they were the people that surrounded me.

Did you get a lot of reactions from women at the time?

There were almost no women attending the concerts. The pacifist punk political movement of which we were a part consisted mostly of young guys, but little by little there were more women. Yes, I was supported a lot, but there was also some difficult things like “Why are you playing with guys?”, “Why do you utilise that macho music that rock is?”.

I was a young woman at the time and I was interested in feminism, but I also liked rock’n’roll and it wasn’t easy! There was a basic hostility at the base, the idea that only soft music suits women.

I offered a response to that kind of things. It was obvious that I was receptive to rock and that I drew my energy from it, and why not? But I respected the fact that it was a problem.

A long time ago I read an interview in a music journal where you talked about the concept of youth-culture. You said it was a way of labeling rebellion as a stage, rather than a fundamental rejection of capitalism and the state. I think that’s an important issue to repeat!

How is it when you’re still rebellious at 40, is it bizzarre? That’s about what people say; do you pay attention to what people are saying? I keep thinking that I won’t let others define me, thank you!

What do you think about most of today’s girls’ bands?

I don’t know much about them actually. I’ve been to some concerts a few years ago. It seemed really good but not particularly new, not more new than the women’s movement itself is; seeing women making noise, having fun, reclaming their space, demanding attention! When I saw ‘Bikini Kill’ at ULU [University of London Union; venue] I had a good time, I met people I hadn’t seen in ages, I bought a T-shirt! I never followed a band. I listened to the ‘Beatles’, I liked the quality of their music and my kids loved them too. I breast-fed them listening to lots of songs and I rocked them until they fell asleep. I lived on the countryside and I didn’t even go to most festivals. It wouldn’t really have interested me to be part of the audience.

What got you all together to do this concert?

Ten years ago when I was 50, we had a really big party to celebrate that. So I thought it would be nice to have a party and invite those of the time. I didn’t think of playing or anything. Then I went to Spain but in the meantime Cooking Vinyl [British indie label] wanted to release all the songs we had recorded on CDs because nothing of what we had done was available anymore. So we said “When can we do it?”, “Well, she’s going to be 60 years old.” … and that’s how it was arranged.

Was it hard to find everyone?

I let Richard take care of everything but he had some difficulty. He couldn’t find Dave [Bennett; also ‘The Cravats’], who was our last drummer and wrote a lot of the recent stuff. He’d disappeared. I believe someone put an ad in Time Out [magazine] asking anyone who knows where he is to contact us with free CD-box as a reward, and two people called to say they’d found him! Its three weeks that I came back here and I rehearse almost every day. I’m afraid my voice doesn’t hold out, it’s been almost 6 years since I did this kind of thing. But this little magical thing that happens when we play together came back fast, it’s great! I don’t know what everyone did. We didn’t have much time to talk, but it works again and it feels good!

A more personal question: I wasn’t satisfied by everything I read about the menopause, not even by all that feminist stuff supposed to be ‘positive’. They often start from the premise that we have become ‘wise’ at that age. I’m very interested in the experience of women doing things that are not so conventional and maybe not that ‘wise’.

This is a very broad question! For me menopause has been a bit like adolescence. The body changes a lot and we realise that something new is happening to us. I don’t think I’ve ever been very certain of anything, even when I was in the ‘normal’ period between puberty and menopause. I’ve always been open for change, I’ve tried things out in my life, I’ve always challenged myself and I like taking risks. So I guess the changes in my body as I grew older were just an extra thing. I think the whole point was not to identify with “Oh my dear, I’m getting older now, I have to find myself a little house covered with roses!”. What helped me is the same as when my adolescence was difficult: the friends around me, a lot of support, not expecting to know all the answers, making the effort to ask questions. When I was young I learned to detach myself from what hurts me. To really get away from the concerns about my appearance. Although it still worries me, a lot of these problems have disappeared. In the end I feel stronger now than I have been in a long time. I left a lot of my fears aside and I got rid of a lot of shit. I wanted to go to Spain, somewhere far from London, to live on the countryside, in touch with nature, surrounded by mountains; I wanted to walk at night on bumpy roads… That’s really important. I found myself a new balance, and a new calm too. I know what it’s like to be nervous but I don’t feel so overwhelmed by unnecessary fears, which is all about me because I was born in a difficult time. It was wartime when I was a child and I grew up without the support that many women know today. We were still afraid of each other.

Do you have any advice for the younger women who would like to rock and live a rock’n’roll life?

The people we work with are much more important than the music or the ideas about music. If you have the right people you will find your music. If you have the right people, if you have that click, that support and it’s solid, then yes, go for it! Go ahead!

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