It’s 1991, and L7 has signed to a major label. A well-known grunge musician at a party in San Francisco insults a song frontperson Donita Sparks wrote, making fun of her affinity for car culture and surf music. You know, California shit. The specifics are hazy. Her fury was not. So Sparks opted for the ultimate revenge: immortalizing him in a prison of his own design, as a character in one of her songs. “Don’t preach to me, Mr. Integrity,” she sang, her flat drone forever rattling in his ear.
“I can’t tell you who the artist is,” says Sparks on a phone call from Toronto, sounding almost apologetic when CREEM asks who inspired such creative retaliation. “I actually admire this person.” There’s a hint of amusement in her voice, “I was just incredibly angry with him that night.”
Thank god. Sparks can get more mileage out of a bad night and a downstroke than most musicians with a seven-figure recording deal; it’s a miracle no one has made her seek anger management. And exactly thirty years ago, during the making and promoting of L7’s 1992 classic Bricks Are Heavy, her short fuse was experiencing something of a golden age. At the Reading Festival in the U.K., it made music history.
Maybe you know the story. The crowd at the U.K. festival was hurling so much mud at the band they could barely play. So Sparks pulled out her used tampon and fired it back at them. “Eat my used tampon, fucker. And oh, Jesus, watch out for tuberculosis,” she snickered.
But behind that brusque front, the hurt went deep.
“As someone who’s dodged a lot of misogynistic arrows,” she says, trailing off. “The mud had that same kind of, you know—it triggered me—so I was just like, ‘Fuck it.’” In L7’s 2017 documentary Pretend We’re Dead, the first thing she says off stage is: “Get the press release ready.” It was the beginning of the end for L7, Sparks says. But fans took the moment of frustration-fueled “performance art” as a symbol of feminist solidarity for decades to come.
These days, L7 fans throw tampons dipped in red paint onstage the same way people throw tea bags into the Boston Harbor on the Fourth of July. “It’s getting passed down from mother to daughter,” Sparks jokes. Sometimes the tampons land with nice notes written on them. Only L7, famous for rage anthems like “Shitlist” and “Shove,” would get literal love notes launched at them in return. “I have contemplated a tampon cannon for the stage,” Sparks says. “Maybe for the farewell tour.”