Taquila Mockingbird developed a following in LA with her various bands (punk and jazz) beginning in 1977, and she became a fixture on the LA punk scene when, from 1980-1984, she booked acts as Do Monkey Productions with Richard Skidmore for New Wave Theater. Since 1980, she’s produced the award-winning Tequila TV for Public Access, which features music and interviews with unusual and obscure people. In 2011, she created the Punk Museum, a pop-up venue that provides space for her favorite artists, visual and musical.
The punk–jazz singer, curator, and scene–maker Taquila Mockingbird first visited Los Angeles when she was 8 to live with her grandfather. She was, at the time, “the weirdo Catholic kid” from Cleveland, Ohio.
“Being black and Catholic was already a challenge,” she says today. “I made a vow to the Virgin Mary when I was 8 years old that I was always going to follow my heart.”
For the next two years, she attended Blessed Sacrament Catholic School where she had her first Holy Communion, and where she fell in love with Folk Mass. Decades later, from 2008–2010, her life came full circle when she found herself booking established punk bands as well as kids just learning to play, for the Carnival at the Blessed Sacrament. She hired the itinerant scene maker Kim Fowley, of all people, to host the musical program, while she performed there with her own band, Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. She wore a floor-length satin gown and her voice, with its four-octave range and perfect pitch, had never sounded better.
“That was a dream come true for me because that’s where I went to Catholic school when I was little,” she told me, and that was where she promised herself, “I’m going to come back and I’m going to book the bands.”
The event may have surprised some people in the audience because, by then, Taquila Mockingbird was best known for her deep roots in the Los Angeles punk scene both as a band member and behind the scenes organizer. In the early 1980s, as head of Do Monkey Productions, she booked New–Wave Theater, one of the first punk TV shows, bringing on such acts as Black Flag, Circle Jerks, X, Fear, and 45 Grave. Her own band, with Pete Ivers, was called Vitamin Pink. Today, 40 years later, you can catch those shows on Night Flight.
Since that time, Taquila Mockingbird has created what she calls the Punk Museum, a pop–up venue that has, since 2011, taken over a space and exhibited visual and musical art, so that “you are completely immersed in punk culture.” She also now works with UCLA on their Punk Archives and Punk Podcasts. She is, in fact, so associated with the LA punk scene that it surprises some that she sings now with a jazz band.
She tells me that just because she loves punk doesn’t mean she wants to sing only punk. She loves jazz, or “black punk rock,” and formed a jazz band, the Girls of Zaetar. When she moved to Los Angeles for good in 1977, she considered herself a “jazz singer.”
Getting back to that little girl at Catholic school in LA., she and her family moved often because her father was an officer in the Coast Guard (her mother was a high fashion model). When she was 12, they moved to the Philippines.
Looking back at her childhood on the various military bases where her father was stationed, she recalled how you had to fit in. You couldn’t wear blue jeans, and your skirts had to be just right: not too short and not too long.
“I never tried to fit in,” she said. “And I never tried to be anything but what I am. People put down people because of the color of their skin, which I knew from being a child in America.”
But she also noticed, as a kid, that everyone carries the seeds of racism within them, because she noticed it in her own family after they moved to the Philippines. There, Mockingbird took care of deaf and oppressed white kids. “I felt like I was a champion for all people,” she said
Nonetheless, she got into trouble for defending white hippie culture. She hid rock & roll records by white people under her bed. Her family derided her: “You think you’re white.” They criticized her love of Jimi Hendrix’s music, saying, “He thinks he’s white, he dates white women.” Mockingbird’s grandmother, on her deathbed, told her that Mockingbird “would’ve been alright if it wasn’t for that Janis Joplin.”
But Mockingbird loved rock and classical music and mini and midi–skirts, whatever the skin color of the people wearing them or making the art.
“Because I’ve been oppressed, I could see everyone was,” she says. “So when you’re being oppressed by your own family, your country, and the people around you, either you give in or you become a punk.”
When Mockingbird was 14, around 1972, and living in Cleveland, her cousin took her to see Led Zeppelin. They got backstage because they looked good, Mockingbird knew how to walk, and the make–up made her look older. Robert Plant said to her: “Hey Brown Sugar you look like a fucking good ball.” She turned to her cousin and said, “What’s a ” ‘ball?’ ” They were the only black people there.
After that, she found her way backstage at many concerts, including the Allman Brothers and Frank Zappa, and she never had to have sex with anyone to get there. But go backstage she did because “That’s where all the goodies are,” and the free booze. She never had trouble with the white people, even in the notoriously racist South. “I have more trouble with black people than I do with white people,” she observes, because “I’ve stepped out of my role…How dare I carouse with the other team?”
At first, punk was fashionable and intelligent. All of her punk friends were outsiders and she considered them “poets with music.” At heart, she explains, “punk rock is a revolutionary way of thinking…It challenges the status quo and the collective monotony of the average mindset.” But then the gobbing and spitting ruined it. She had plaid bondage pants but once those became standard issue, she changed her punk utilitarian look to the fanciful and grand. She loves turn–of–the–century gowns. She mentions the look she loves was made for people who would’ve excluded her because of her skin color.
She believes in glamour, saying “It shows that you’re trying. You only live once so you might as well be as fantastic as you can.”
Indeed, when Darby Crash introduced her to Exene Cervenka, she re–named herself Taquila Mockingbird on the spot, and in truly glamorous form, she still will not reveal the name her parents gave her. When she, like her mother before her, was working as a high fashion model in Boston in the mid-1970s, she would travel to New York to catch performances by The New York Dolls and The Ramones.
When she was hanging out in Johnny Thunders’ dressing room, Dolls’ guitarist Sylvain Sylvain told her she didn’t belong around all the junkies, and that she’d like this new band from England, The Sex Pistols. She didn’t just like them; she became obsessed with them, with the furious glamour of punk, and she was drawn to the political aspect of The Sex Pistols.
“I’ve never been addicted to anything except good taste,” she says. “I always choose truth over beauty.”
Mockingbird’s love for singer Johnny Rotten was so renowned that people thought her band, Trouble 4 Nora, was a reference to John Lydon’s wife, Nora Forster, the publishing heiress, whose daughter, Ari Up, formed the band The Slits.
“I considered myself completely devoted to him,” Mockingbird said. “The fact that people hated [the Sex Pistols] made me love them more.” The Sex Pistols were like those little white kids she wanted to “save and take home to my house.” But her band wasn’t named after Forster; it was named after the artist and writer, Nora Novak (now a contributor to PKM). Drummer Mitch Mitchell (from the Jimi Hendrix Experience), was also in Trouble 4 Nora.
In addition to being enamored with punk music and culture, Mockingbird also sang classic rock, such as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and Cream, at the storied Rainbow in Los Angeles, and played at Canter’s Kibbutz Room for 30 years. She’s sung with Nina Hagen, Jeff Goldblum, Slash, and Harry Dean Stanton. She recently recorded with Robby Krieger (The Doors), and since 1986, she has covered Kurt Weill songs (in German) with her band, Apollinaire.
She doesn’t even like teams, with their offensive/defensive competitiveness and win/lose mentality.
“Team human appeals to me,” she said. “Team smart appeals to me.”
Some people have called her a Nazi because her consort is a German prince. But his mom is Jewish. She was friends with Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmeister, who collected German wartime memorabilia. But Lemmy was a “perfect gentleman…He treated me like a queen.” He asked her to read his lyrics to him, he invited her to his recordings, he was a poet and a romantic. He was sweet. Debonair. Very English.”
Mockingbird and I first met at the Los Angeles premiere of Let’s Spend the Night Together (2010), a documentary based on Pamela Des Barres’s anthology about groupies. Was Mockingbird a groupie? By accident, she answers.
“A groupie is someone who wants to hang around a group of people that she finds like–minded,” she said, adding that a groupie may not be having sex with anyone from the group. Twice married, and with a daughter and son, Mockingbird “spent 40 years enraptured by Johnny Rotten, until he said he was a Republican.”
Is Rotten joking?
Joke or not, she replies, it’s important what you say. Mockingbird told me that their unrequited relationship was a form of birth control; talking with him was good enough. Painful enough to realize the object of her adoration might not be what he seemed.
“What he represented was important to me though. He represented a new generation of thinking rock and roll stars.”
In 1976, when The Sex Pistols appeared on a London show, Today, host Bill Grundy goaded them into swearing, which caused an uproar. Some of their fan base, the Bromley Contingent, were on the show with the band, including Siouxsie Sioux and Simone Thomas. Many people have confused Mockingbird with Thomas. But Mockingbird isn’t offended. Everyone confused them with Ava Cherry, too, she tells me.
Lemmy was a “perfect gentleman…He treated me like a queen.” He asked her to read his lyrics to him, he invited her to his recordings, he was a poet and a romantic. He was sweet. Debonair. Very English.”
Growing up, Mockingbird was never called pretty or beautiful but “exotic—which meant a different race.” When she was in third grade, her mom took her to the Barbizon School of Modeling.
“I failed Barbizon,” she states. “I refused to do what they told me to do…I never wanted to be beautiful. I always wanted to be smart.”
She didn’t like their definition of beauty, explaining that “Beauty isn’t everything. Beauty is only skin deep, and I’m much deeper than that.”
When asked if she is a feminist, Taquila said, “I don’t like to use words I’m not sure of. If feminist means doing what you believe in, then yes…I will fight for the rights of women.” But if it means not liking men, then no.
If she could leave America, she would, but she thinks the whole world is becoming right–wing.
She says people who don’t vote “don’t respect the world enough to be part of it…The nuns in school told me we were finished when the lowest common denominator become in charge.”
“People with power want more power.” It’s not that they want to make the world a better place, “they just want more money. And so, they’re going to destroy the planet.”
I ask her why people don’t want to share power, and she says, “Because power shared with others is less power for yourself.”
I said, “I find it hard to apply all my punk rock principles to earning a living. How do you do it? She takes “itsy bitsy jobs” because “I can’t take orders from people who don’t know what they’re doing.” Mockingbird organizes multi–media events, sometime featuring her best friend, Angie Bowie; sells art; works as a masseuse; and runs Tequila TV out of West Hollywood, which won the Best TV Show for Public Access in 2019. She promotes underground culture and “smart punk.” She says, “Angry poetry is where it’s at.”
The punk rock jazz singer says she’s optimistic on a spiritual level about planet earth. The songs she sings have a sense of humor, from German Jewish cabaret and the Weimer Republic, pre–WWII. She believes in God. What kind of God? “I think it’s more like the air we breathe. That’s God.”
And then, in that deep, intimate, and glamorous voice of hers, says, “I’m stuck on earth so I might as well make the best of it.”
MORE FROM PKM:
JENNY LENS: AN L.A. PUNK PIONEER
LISA FANCHER: STEERING PUNK’S FINAL FRONTIER IN LA
VIVIEN GOLDMAN AND REVENGE OF THE SHE-PUNKS