The 1993 rape and murder of Mia Zapata, the singer for the band the Gits, sent shock waves through Seattle's tight-knit rock community. When two months passed with no progress toward solving the crime, Zapata's bandmates mobilized. Bassist Matt Dresdner, drummer Steve Moriarty and guitarist Andy Kessler contacted a private detective, and to finance the investigation they organized benefit shows featuring such local bands as 7 Year Bitch and Nirvana.
Two years later, Zapata's slaying remains unsolved, but thanks to the investigation there are now leads and suspects. But funds to keep the search going are nearly exhausted.
That's where Evil Stig comes in.
Rock singer Joan Jett and the raw, abrasive Gits recently released "Evil Stig" (the name is Gits Live backward), a collaborative effort on Warner Bros./Blackheart records featuring mainly Gits material, with proceeds earmarked for the Zapata investigation.
"I listened to Joan Jett when I was about 14 years old," says Kessler (a.k.a. Joe Spleen), 28. "It was the craziest, most ludicrous thing in the world to be thinking I'd be playing my own songs with her."
The album offers more than just good intentions. The band plays with an urgency that it hasn't shown in its current incarnation as the Dancing French Liberals, and Jett is as dynamic as she's been in ages. Her raspy, unrelenting voice delivers Zapata's often enraged, violent lyrics, and with the band's revitalized fury, she brings the songs to life.
Jett had been in Seattle when Zapata was murdered, writing songs for her album "Pure and Simple" with Kathleen Hanna, the singer of the group Bikini Kill. The slaying inspired them to write "Go Home," a song about a woman being pursued by a stalker. In the video for the song, the victim is attacked after leaving a club, but fights off her assailant and escapes. The video was dedicated to Zapata.
"I, for one, was not exactly pleased with the video," Kessler says. "I felt protective at first. I thought, 'Who are these rock stars capitalizing on our tragedy, that my best friend was raped and murdered and left in the street?' I thought maybe [they were] latching onto a saleable issue. We wanted to approach [Jett] and say, 'Look, if you really care, help us out and play a benefit show and give money to the investigation.' "
Kessler did contact Jett, who was more than willing to help, but was also aware of the Gits' suspicion.
"I was so into it, but wanted them to realize my motives were really pure," she says. "I just wanted to raise money and do it in the most interesting way. So we met in Seattle, rehearsed some songs, and it seemed to work. We then did three benefit shows last March, taped them, then decided to take them into the studio. That basically became this album."
The Gits' songs hadn't really been played since Zapata's death, so for the band the prospect was potentially depressing, and for Jett it was a sensitive matter. But the process proved inspirational for all.
"I never felt uncomfortable singing her songs," Jett says. "When I listen to the Gits and hear Mia sing, I feel a real anger. It's like it's transferred. I feel real energized when I do them. The lyrics are so right on and powerful that I'm just like the instrument transferring the message."
Zapata was killed in the midst of making the Gits' second album, "Enter the Conquering Chicken." The remaining members salvaged what they could, but the tiny record label K, which put the album out, was unable to distribute it widely. It seemed an all-too-small tribute to Zapata's memory.
"We were really bummed out," Kessler says. "We wanted that legacy--the great songs and amazing singing--to get a lot more exposure. Hopefully playing with Joan will help create interest in Gits records, and people will go back and check those records out."
Jett hopes so too.
"It's not about replacing Mia Zapata," she says. "Mia Zapata cannot be replaced. It's about taking what she was doing and not letting that die."
* For more information or to contribute donations, write to: Investigation Account for Mia Zapata, 1202 E. Pike St., Suite 1221, Seattle, WA 98122-3934.