Scarlett Shepard, WFilm founder, talks with Steve Moriarty, musician, artist, producer and human rights advocate. He was the drummer for The Gits: a band from the legendary Seattle music scene in the early 1990s. The Gits were being courted by major record labels, and were in the middle of recording their second album, “Enter: The Conquering Chicken” when they were struck by tragedy. On the night of July 7th, 1993, Mia Zapata said goodbye to friends and walked out of a bar on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Later that night, she was raped and murdered. She was only 27 years-old and her musical genius was dubbed by many as a punk rock Janis Joplin. The band, the community, and the world was devastated. Soon after they embarked on raising funds to finance an investigation to get justice for Mia.
Scarlett: We screened The Gits documentary at our festival in 2009. I remember seeing it for the first time as part of the screening committee, and being so moved, inspired, and angry. You co-produced the film and Kerrie O’Kane directed it. The story is in my heart forever. Tell us about the the film.
Steve: We hadn’t found the person that killed our singer, Mia Zapata of The Gits. I was involved in the private murder investigation because the police weren’t making any progress. We hired a private investigator for $85 an hour, and she was really doing a lot of work. I was doing all the fundraising for it. We needed a lot of money to keep the investigation going. I was selling stuff on Ebay including rare Gits records to finance it. I noticed the same person kept buying everything on Ebay. Even if I posted it for $10, they would bid $20 or if I posted it for $75, they would bid for $100 and they bought four things in a row. I’m like, “Who is this person?” So I finally wrote to them.
The Ebay bidder turned out to be the Gits documentary director – Kerri O’Kane. She said,“I want to make a film about your band.” Kerrie shared that she had cancer, and she came across a Gits song on KALX, a radio station in L.A. She started listening to The Gits, and said our music helped her get through it. She asked if she could come up and meet with the band. I said, “Well, I don’t think that the guys would be into doing a documentary.” She said she just wanted to make a five minute short. At the time there were crime detective shows featuring Mia’s story: a dozen shows had been done about her death. The tragedy was exploited in so many ways, and was sickening really. So the idea of doing a documentary was pretty tough, and a lot of people were hesitant to share their story. I had to advocate for the filmmakers, and arrange interviews to introduce them to people close to the story. Soon after, the short film project turned into a feature documentary.
Scarlett: Over a decade later, the case file was reopened using new DNA technology, and a suspect was found as the documentary was still in progress?
Steve: The documentary took 4 years to complete. In 2003, while they were filming, I was working at the public defender’s office in Seattle when the evidence which we didn’t even know existed was found. They made a match in Florida, and found the guy who killed Mia and extradited him to Seattle. The filmmakers were there and they were able to attend the hearings, the deposition, and the trial.
Scarlett: The loss of Mia devastated so many people, but also inspired, and continues to inspire so many people to make change because of her and the music.
Steve: The people that knew Mia were affected the most. I think it was influential on a lot of people in some dark ways, but also some cathartic ways in wanting to take self defense classes, realizing it’s not an isolated incident. This shit happens to people they know. People left town, bands broke up. People became investigators; other people became social workers. Filmmakers wanted to tell the story. A lot of people became activists that never had been before.
Activists focused on combating sexism and violence. They were reclaiming the streets, taking back the night and letting the world know “We’re women! If we want to go out for a beer at night, we will. If we want to go topless, we will.” It was a direct response to the police that were very insistent on discussing what Mia was wearing that night in their investigation as a reason not to investigate it. It didn’t make sense to me!
It was a painful but pivotal moment in the Seattle music community, Generation X artists, and people involved in the arts nationally and internationally. A lot of people started doing music and becoming active in the arts community because of what happened.
Scarlett: You’re working on a book. Tell us more about this project?
Steve: I think one of the main motivators for me was the fact that my friend’s legacy had been hijacked by crime TV, portraying Mia as a hapless martyr for victimized women at best; a fetishized stalking victim at worst. These shows are still in syndication. There’s new ones being made and what I call GITSploitation. I get alerts on Google once a week about a press release saying that another documentary or TV show is airing the death of Mia Zapata story. No one championed the story of the band and how her creativity as an artist, and the impact on people long before she was murdered. Her lyrics speak to so many people.
During the early screenings of the documentary people would stand up and say, “Thank you for making this because your songs changed my life, or “I was listening to your song Second Skin when I was suicidal and I didn’t kill myself because of it.” That was so powerful for me. The impact of her music and our music together was lost. I thought that Mia’s life needed to be documented in a way that was true to who she was when she was alive. I had been writing in journals and thinking about this for a long time. I was in rehab for seven weeks actually. I started writing and writing, and realized that even after 18 years it was still so influential in my life, my psyche, and my nightmares.
Scarlett: You launched a Kickstarter campaign for the project.
Steve: Yes. It’s a memoir called ART, ROCK and REVOLUTION: And the Punk Grace of Mia Zapata that explains my life between ‘86 and ‘93. It ends before she’s killed, but it’s about my life with her, so it’s sort of fly on the wall. I’m a drummer on the wall, you know. From the day we met in 1985 to the day before she was killed in 1993 is the span of the book.
Scarlett: Thank you for keeping Mia’s legacy going so that many generations will know about her, enjoy her music and learn about her contribution to music history. If you are reading this and want to help bring the book to the world, please consider making a donation today and support the kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/15332370/art-rock-and-revolution-and-the-punk-grace-of-mia