07/25/2012 04:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This Is Not a Fugazi Essay

I was obsessed with Fugazi as a teenage girl. Ok maybe not I-have-Ian-MacKaye's-signature-tattooed-on-my-neck-obsessed but more like these-guys-are-speaking-my-language-and-I'll-see-them-every-chance-I-get-plus-I-love-moshing-obsessed. Their voices were powerful, their lyrics were inherently feminist and about justice and survival; their orchestration was both angst-ridden and jazz-complex, they did everything from writing to producing to promoting their music by themselves, and their shows cost $5.00. They advocated for the minority and they suggested -- no they insisted -- that we are more powerful than we've been taught to believe, and we have a voice. This was all very radical for a 15-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Manhattan, attending consecutive private schools that didn't support the arts much. Side note: Two years after I graduated my high school cut out almost all the arts in exchange for more science and math. But why? Not everyone's going to MIT. In fact a lot of people aren't. I certainly wasn't.

After one gig at Roseland I was convinced that the band would unanimously agree to have me do guest vocals on a new track. I'd practiced their songs all day before the show in front of the mirror into my sister's circular brush, so I thought the chances were reasonably high. But as much as I loved supporting them, what I didn't know then was that I wanted my own Fugazi. I wanted to be a totally badass female frontwoman for a punk band in an industry dominated by men. Of course it was the mid-'90s, I was young, and this would never amount to more than fun day dreaming -- something I did quite often at that time. I didn't actually entertain starting a band -- it never seemed like an option. I remember I could barely audition for the school musical at the time -- I was so devoid of confidence around my creativity -- and when I finally mustered up the moxie and gave my best rendition of "American Pie" the teacher responded, 'Um, maybe come back for the fall drama?" (Translation in my tender teen brain, "maybe don't sing?"). It was one of the many times I was told I couldn't and shouldn't sing, so I was convinced: do anything but.

Cut to 2007. I'm living in Los Angeles for several years at this point and I decide that I want to organize some kind of charitable event -- to feel more connected with where I live. This organization Art Share, a non-profit in Downtown LA, offers free arts classes to inner city kids. They are doing for kids exactly what I was seeking out as a teen. (In fairness my parents would have supported almost any creative endeavor I pursued, but the fact is I simply spent far more time at school.) They'd get my charity.

So I wanted to do something arts-related. I'd always known that my life would somehow be in the arts, and this was the best way to give back to the community. I thought, I'd organize a concert, and get some local bands on board for a show. Then it occurred to me: What if I organize a Fugazi tribute? My most inspiring band could be used to build a night about inspiration. It was the perfect fit. And it turned out I wasn't the only one who thought so: Members of bands like Hole, Fishbone, Tribe 8, Shudder to Think, amongst others, signed up for this. They signed up to help raise money so that more kids could boldly and confidently explore self-expression. I didn't know any of these people and they all answered my calls. To top it off Guy Picciotto, the lead singer of Fugazi himself, emailed his blessings and joy in lending his name to such a good cause. Everyone across the board saw the importance in this endeavor.

The night was a total hit, we raised tons of money, I got to hear great renditions of my favorite tracks, and I got to proudly sing. Success.

One day months later I was sitting on the couch with my girlfriend and she asked, 'Why don't you just start your own band?' The simple question just hung in the air. And she had a great point. Why did it take me so long to finally pursue music? It was in that moment, after organizing and performing at this fundraiser that I realized I could do it. I had already begun to create my own Fugazi. Shortly thereafter my bandmate asked me to form a band with him. After some hesitation and residual fear, I said yes. I've never looked back or regretted one second. Today Rick and I get to be each other's supportive teachers, and it's pretty harmonious.

But why do the arts get cut first when for some kids it's the most crucial part of their education? It took me forever to learn confidence but I think if everyone's taught that they can create -- they just might. Lady Gaga says that "Born this Way" is "about being yourself, and loving who you are and being proud." I agree and will go one step further to say that it is the responsibility of mentors and teachers to nurture this in young people. The girlfriend who suggested I start a band had one teacher in high school who championed her through her struggles with traditional classes by allowing her to submit all her homework as short videos. She graduated with honors and went on to become an Emmy award-winning editor. Fugazi made great music but they also taught me that anything is possible -- if I believed in my art and I applied myself. Just because it took me over 15 years to pursue being in a band doesn't mean I'm not doing it for the 15-year-old in me. She is finally singing and maybe, just maybe, another 15-year-old will hear me sing and get courage to use her brain, her hands, or her body to express something creative and empowering.