Brotherhood and Sisterhood: Looking Back with New York Hardcore's Warzone Women
Freddy Alva tracks down the women who were a vital component of the diverse urban tribe that congregated around Warzone in NYC's Lower East Side in the 1980s.
Photo by Brooke Smith
"Ray ain't in the fucking studio, where the hell is he?..."
He went to get the Warzone Women!"
The classic spoken intro bust that kicked off Warzone's Don't Forget The Struggle... LP from 1987 has fired up the imagination of several generations of NYHC aficionados, and continues to inspire a rabid cult following to this day. Just who were the Warzone Women? What role did they play in shaping the sound of the band that, one can argue, spearheaded the second and larger wave of hardcore bands that erupted in the NY scene circa 1986-87?
The Warzone Women were a strikingly singular entity: not groupies or a "fan club" per se, but an auxiliary group of sisters in equal footing from the scene that fit into Raybeez's all inclusive vision of a united front that transcended race, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds. They supported the band the same as their male counterparts, whether it be on the dance floor or in being down to back them up at a moment's notice. These women were a vital component of the diverse urban tribe that congregated around Warzone in NYC's Lower East Side in the mid to late 1980s. They were ultimately aligned against a corrupt society that stocked up the odds against them, leaving no choice but to group together and fend for themselves.
I spoke to four of the original Warzone Women about those days. Thank you Alexa Poli, KT, CindiB, and Brooke Smith for answering my questions.
Noisey: Can you tell me about the Warzone Women: how did it start, what was it about & about how many women were in it?
Alexa: The Warzone Women were never an official thing. I believe CindiB came up with the name on one of our drunken nights at her apt. on 5th street. It was KT, CindiB, Allyson Peters, Jody Wayne (RIP), and I. Then there were the girls on the periphery like Dawn, Heidi and one or two others who I can't recall. My memory is sketchy, at best, so please bear with me. We did stuff like make and distribute flyers and T-shirts. We made it to all the NYC shows, and a couple of trips to Albany, where my mom (who moved up there some years back) would put us up and make spaghetti dinners.
KT: Hopefully I am not forgetting anyone: the Warzone women were myself, CindiB, Alexa, Brooke, Mo, Allyson, Cass, Little Michelle, and Bethany. If memory serves, it all started in late '85, early '86. The genesis was our love for Raybeez and Warzone's message.
CindiB: I think we started the Warzone Women in '85 or '86, not to be groupies, but to support the band. The scene was so male-dominated back then, guess you could say we were like protective sisters of sorts. Don't recall how we got the name, Ray must've coined it, but KT and I ran with it. All our female friends were or could be "Warzone Women", it's not like you needed initiation. However, if we didn't like a girl, or thought she just wanted to "do" the band or was a bad influence on them, she would be denied the privilege of hanging with us. Yeah, we were bitchy, but with good intentions. How many of us? 20-30?
Brooke: I don't remember how it all started! Maybe I'm wrong but I remember it as a way they showed respect to the women of NYHC. I was happy to be included on that flyer.
Any recollections of the Warzone record release show for the Lower East Side EP at CBGB's on April 5, 1987?
Alexa: I only have vague memories of that CB's show. I remember a go-go dancer at the Pyramid club, which was a wild show. The sound was awful, but the boys still rocked the house! I remember throwing out a ton of stickers, and watching everyone try to kill each other for one.
Brooke: No, but I know I was there cause I took photos. My memories are a bit cloudy in general due to the copious amounts of marijuana I smoked.
Any memories of hanging out with Raybeez, Todd Youth, Tito, Batmite, or any other member of the band at that time?
KT: The Warzone women, with Raybeez and Todd, Brad, Tito, Little Chris and others like Tommy and Ray Cappo and the straight edge boyz were a family, with Raybeez as our charismatic, adorable, loving leader. We shared his vision that we all could find a safe place together irrespective of gender, race, sexuality, etc. We were a family—a family of punks, skinheads, straight edge kids, runaways, and drop outs who rejected and were rejected by mainstream culture. We hated the rest of the world but within our little world we were united and loved each other.
Brooke: Ray was the sweetest guy in the world. Warzone played at the pool party I had at my family's house (when my parents were away) in Rockland County. So did Nausea. The only bad thing about that day was Roger from Agnostic Front getting arrested.
Alexa: I remember when Brad "Batmite" (Warzone bassist/guitarist) first came to town. Gwyn McAllister (yes, she was a Warzone Woman, too) literally picked him up at Port Authority bus station when he came here. She kept him for a couple of months, than passed him around to some other girl. I swear that kid got laid more than anyone I know. I never saw the attraction, but a shit ton of other girls did! As for Ray, I first officially met him when he rescued me from some dirt bag at an after hours club on 3rd street. Ray was so sweet and kind, it was like having the best big brother on Earth. Before I left NYC, he stayed at my apartment, making collect calls to Rachael in Florida. He did do some strange shit, like smoke dust and read the bible (not during his straight edge phase) and the last time I saw him I yelled at him over my $500 phone bill. I still feel badly about that. Todd and I didn't get along when we first met, but we made up by the time he was in Warzone. Brooke's party in Rockland County, NY was a really great show, other than Roger and English Nick getting locked up, that is. We ended up moshing in the pool!
Photo courtesy of CindiB
Did any of the Warzone Women play instruments or play in a band?
Alexa: I played a little bass, and wrote some badass songs with Lee Marie from Scab, we just never followed through. Occasionally I sang a song here and there with the Numbskulls and Agnostic Front, but as far as I know, no one played or had a band. We were like non-groupie groupies.
Brooke: I played the bass and tried to start a band a few different times. Carl from The Iceman and I had a band for a few months but we never played out anywhere.
CindiB: Raybeez asked Beth and I to do back up vocals on "As One" for the record. We went to a studio downtown, Don Fury's I believe.
There was an all-female NYHC band called Blood around '83-'84, do you remember if any of them were part of the Warzone Women? I know Tito's girlfriend at the time played in Blood.
KT: We hung around with Scab and PMS a lot—in particular Lee Marie from Scab, and Yana from PMS, and both bands were big fans, but I would not consider them Warzone Women.
CindiB: Can't recall if any of the ladies had bands. There was Blood, then Scab, can't remember which was Tito's girlfriend.
Alexa: Blood (later Scab) didn't really hang out with us, though they went to shows and EVERYONE was friends w/ Raybeez.
Alexa, tell me about the fanzine you did called Lifestyles Of The Poor & Homeless.
Alexa: Hahahaha! You remember that? Gwyn and I put that out in '86 I think. Richie Birkenhead from Underdog and Mo Browne contributed. It was hysterical. I don't think I even have a copy of it, though. We did an "interview" with the Exploited consisting of things we "overheard" while they were loading in. Richie did an advice column, and I wrote an ode to Karen Christal from CBGB's so awful she banned me from CB's for a couple of months till I begged her (on my knees, no less) to let me back in. That was some truly funny shit.
The Warzone Women had a fierce reputation of getting out in the pit and being as hard of dancers as any of the boys. Do you remember any other women that were hard dancers back then, circa '85-'87?
Brooke: Alexa was the best. I remember Cass and Jenny Lush dancing too. I wasn't very good at it and preferred standing on the sidelines and taking pictures.
CindiB: We did dance in the pit—yes, Alexa, Sue, Cass etc were fierce. Sometimes it would be just us girls, maybe it was a certain song designated for us alone, or maybe the boys wanted nothing to do with us! At my boyfriend's first Warzone show, he said something to the effect of "When you girls got out there, it was so insane, we couldn't push against the wall hard enough."
Alexa: Lil Michele (who was a semi Warzone Woman) could dance her ass off. We used to do this thing where we would lock hands and spin, clearing the pit. I wish I could remember what we called it.
KT: We all danced but Alexa, Little Michelle, Mo Brown, and Cass did the most. This is a picture of (in order) Alexa, Mo, CindiB, me, Little Michelle, someone unidentifiable, and Cass in the pit at I think the Pyramid, with Big Charlie the bouncer bowing to us.
Photo by KT Tobin
As the 1990s version of Warzone rolled around with a completely different lineup and Ray was left as the sole original member, did the Warzone Women still continue or had it dispersed by then?
Alexa: We were all starting to go our separate ways in the 90s, so it really wasn't about Warzone. Me and a couple of the others developed nasty drug habits. I fled NYC in 1994. I didn't even hear about Ray's passing until 1999.
KT: I left NYC late '87, as far as I know it did not last much beyond then. I would say our heyday was '85-'87.
CindiB: I stopped hanging out as much by the early '90s after I left working at the Ritz club and worked daytime and went back to school at night. I would try to catch Warzone, Murphy's Law, and Agnostic Front shows when possible, but it got hard. My boyfriend (who Ray introduced me to as they both worked security at the Pyramid club) was a biker, so I spent less time at clubs and more time with my sportster. We girls all sort of parted ways as well as we moved, or got different jobs, etc.
Brooke: Not sure about everyone else but I had pretty much moved onto other things by 1990.
What are the Warzone Women members up to these days? I know there's an annual LES ladies reunion lunch, do you all still keep in touch?
Brooke: I keep in touch with Alexa and CindiB and KT and Michelle and Mo and Alison and lots of others on Facebook. I still consider the friends I made during those years as my friends for life and I truly believe that we still have each others backs, even after all these years.
Alexa: We are all over the damn country. CindiB lives in Colorado, with her two kids, KT had some young 'uns herself and lives in New Paltz, and I live in Saratoga Springs.
KT: We are all over the country! I'm a sociologist (a field lacking in ex- and current punks). Brooke is a very successful actress. Alexa does not live far from me, and I have gone up to visit her. Yana from PMS does not live far from me, so I probably see her the most. My significant other was the drummer in her Sheo band for a while. When I first left NY I only kept in touch with Alexa and Beth, but we lost touch after a while. Little Chris and I lived in New Paltz both at the same time for a long time without even realizing it. My good friend Dougie Beans (former Murphy's Law and current Mearth drummer) lives here too and I meet people around town who were in the scene after I left or are only just getting into it now. I got back in touch with many of my old NYHC friends via Facebook, especially the NYC Hardcore Chronicles page. And people "friend" me all the time saying they know me from then, telling me stories with me in them, and I often don't remember them or their stories because my memory is so shot.
Photo courtesy of CindiB
Thank you so much for answering my questions, anything else you'd like to add?
Alexa: I almost died 4 years ago in a fire (actually, I was dead for ten minutes). I spent three months in a coma, and burned over 35 percent of my body. I've had about ten surgeries, including grafting and I am currently tattooing over my scars. Facebook has been integral for keeping in touch. When CindiB is in town, we always have a lunch, and we are planning another one for June or July.
KT: Yes, there were a lot of drugs and sex and risk taking that ended up killing more than a few of us, so yes, it was a crazy fucked up, violent era and yes, really we mostly just wanted to run around and party and have a good time, but still, it also was an idealistic time—embodied in Raybeez's vision, exemplified in his lyrics, e.g. "War Between the Races" and "Brotherhood and Sisterhood" and of course "Don't Forget the Struggle, Don't Forget the Streets." If our parents had Woodstock, we had NYC hardcore and the LES. I greatly miss the people who are no longer with us, and deeply cherish the friends from that time period. It was a completely crazy fucked up time, we lived life totally on the edge, but the friendships we created and the stories we can tell are historical.
Check out more of Brooke Smith's amazing photos from back then here.
Dedicated to the memory of Raymond "Raybeez" James Barbieri 1961-1997 RIP