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Bag Ladies

Jill Cunniff 1981 photo by Dave Parsons


Jill Cunniff (Official Site)


More of a clique than a band, the Bag Ladies were friends of the Beastie Boys and a memorable part of the early New York Hardcore (NYHC) punk scene from 1980-1981. Known for their shabby clothes, the Bag Ladies were a group of young ladies ages 14-16 who went out to see shows at places like A7 and hung out with friends like Michael Diamond and John Berry at the Ratcage. The Ratcage store at that time was located in the basement of the 171-A studio, and was run by Dave Parsons and Cathy Fitzsimmons. In April of 2004, Dave Parsons said the following regarding his recollection of the Bag Ladies and the early NYHC scene. "Kate Schellenbach was one of the ring leaders and all the other little girls followed her lead. Everyone hung out after school at Nick Marden and AC's house. Kate would be at every show, literally every show all over downtown."

With both Kate Schellenbach and Jill Cunniff being part of this clique, the Bag Ladies were, in a roundabout way, a precursor to what would much later become Luscious Jackson. However, since Luscious Jackson did not take shape until the early 1990s, both Kate and Jill would find themselves as members of several other bands first. Jill and some of the other Bag Ladies morphed into another group who called themselves "The Moppy Scuds." Kate, on the other hand, would join Michael Diamond, Jeremy Shatan, and John Berry to form the Young Aborigines. In a January 2003 conversation with Jeremy Shatan remembered the following, "Mike and John befriended a group of girls they dubbed the "Bag Ladies" because they dressed almost in rags like the homeless women around NYC who carried all their possessions around in shopping bags. Kate Schellenbach was one of them, as was Jill Cunniff, later of Luscious Jackson. Kate wanted to play drums, so we asked her to be the percussionist in the Young Aborigines. She played standing up, like Maureen Tucker in the Velvet Underground, and used a combination of Mike's old drums, a conga drum, and other stuff that was lying around." Jill Cunniff auditioned to be the vocalist for the Young Aborigines. However, largely due to a lack of interest by all parties involved she never actually joined the band. Shatan says now: "I guess that, for whatever reason, the Young Abs were just destined to be an instrumental band." Jill, and other Bag Ladies, did contribute vocals to some of the home recordings that the Young Aborigines made in the spring of 1981.

The early 1980s were a time when these young New Yorkers were enjoying a variety of different musical genres and gaining inspiration from all that was going on around them. Jeremy Shatan recalls that after Young Aborigines rehearsals, "we used to dance like mad to Michael Jackson's Off the Wall and Uprising by Bob Marley & the Wailers." The Bag Ladies did their part to be active in and promote the local music scene. This included creating, publishing and distributing punk zines, stickers, and buttons at shows, stores and parties. Jeremy Shatan recollects that, during early rehearsals by the Young Aborigines and the Beastie Boys, the Bag Ladies would come over to John Berry's loft and make buttons while they listened. These buttons, also sometimes referred to as badges or pins, were created to promote new bands that the girls were interested in. To fabricate these DIY (do it yourself) items, they would use other band's buttons and then hand paint over the top to create a new unique piece.

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