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unfinished notes on Mia Zapata
Can't do it on my own/Sometimes I need just a little more help
I was listening to KEXP this morning and John Richards played “Second Skin” by the Gits, which is the kind of song you turn the volume up to maximum levels, and when he was finished he told us that today was the 30th anniversary the passing of the Gits’ lead singer, Mia Zapata, who was raped and murdered in Seattle in 1993, and whose case remained unsolved for almost a decade. I didn’t expect to start crying at the kitchen table but I don’t think I’ll ever stop being furious about this.
I’ve tried to write about Mia a million times and never got anywhere I wanted to go, but this piece (which I sent to a friend for a presentation she did at the Pop Music Studies Conference back in 2019) comes close.
I moved to Seattle in March of 1995. I had to get out of New York City, and it was Seattle over Chicago or San Francisco because I had a friend offering me a free room in her house. I was a jaded New Yorker who knew that living in Seattle didn’t mean I was going to run into Chris Cornell shopping for green beans any more that living in New York meant you ran into Lou Reed when you went out to buy milk. It was post-grunge, post-Nirvana, post-Everett True. It was two years after Mia Zapata was murdered and not even a year after Kurt killed himself. It was before they routed Pine Street through Westlake Park (and that will only mean something if you have lived there long enough to remember the difference), it was still quiet and dark and odd in that very Northwest, very Seattle way.
There were people I met who were street smart - they came from somewhere or someway different - and then there were the people who were not. The ones who were still thought & talked about Mia. Eddie Vedder had gone on national radio and talked about Home Alive. But I didn't really know how much it all affected me until 2004, when the trial was going on. I kept trying to make it there but didn't, but I did send a victim impact statement because Steve Moriarty1 kept posting about the trial and asking people to.
What I said in my statement was that I always felt this odd – alliance is the best word – with her. Strong, independent woman making her way through the world, doing things her way, making it happen.
I guess the most obvious reason for this is that it could have been me. I walk the city streets at night, I come from a city where civilized people take cabs everywhere (originally, the police suspected a cab driver, since Mia didn’t have a car and she took cabs everywhere). She wasn’t stupid, she was razor-smart.
It could have been me.
I was also always struck by the vivid solidarity demonstrated by Moriarty. He never gave up trying to keep her name alive. I was not used to a man being an actual ally.
I had to walk out of my office and go sit on a curb when the verdict was announced. I didn't realize how much weight her death, and the fact that they hadn't found the killer, carried until it wasn't there any more.
I wrote Mia and the Gits into my second, never-published, sitting-in-a-drawer novel in tribute. I wanted other women to have the experience of listening to her large, loud, beautiful voice. It always made me feel like there was a tiger in my chest, waiting to pounce.
The Gits’ drummer, who did so much to keep her case alive all those years.