“L7: Pretend We’re Dead” Tells The Full Story Of The Feminist Grunge Rock Band

by Kelly McClure


The dawn of the 1990s was truly a beautiful time. Teenagers started dressing like walking thrift stores. MTV started showing videos by bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, who had previously been regarded as underground/hyper local favorites exclusively. And magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin started putting bands that still had day jobs at diners and hotels on their glossy covers. It felt like the dirt was getting kicked up in a widely exciting way, and bands that had spent long and hard years fighting for a bit of attention finally had a shot at it, in career-making amounts. L7 was one of those bands. 

A documentary called L7: Pretend We’re Dead, directed by Sarah Price and made by Blue Hats Creative, pieces together snippets from their home movies, as well as interviews with friends and peers, and makes you feel like you’re hitching a ride with them for over an hour and a half. The film had a short but successful theatrical run that kicked off in Portland, OR on September 1 and ended at the Nitehawk in Brooklyn on October 5. At the end of October (10/27 to be exact) the documentary was released on Blu-Ray + DVD in an awesome deluxe package that also includes bonus materials, as well as Krist Novoselic’s (Nirvana) 1999 documentary on the band, The Beauty Process. The holiday season is officially upon us and this would make the perfect gift for literally anyone. Your weird dad, your mom who loves tea shit, your cousin who you haven’t talked to in 20-years. Just get them all this and call it a day. Either their lives will be changed forever, or you’ll get a good laugh out of the deal.

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Pretend We’re Dead starts at the very beginning, which is always a good place to start, and walks us through the fullest telling of this band’s story to date. When you think of L7 you most likely associate them with the scandal of lead singer Donita Sparks responding to a mud throwing crowd at their 1992 Reading Festival performance by removing her used tampon and throwing it back at them. Or maybe the band’s cameo in John Waters’ Serial Mom, where they played a band called Camel Lips comes to mind. But, there’s much more to them than that, which is probably why they’ve remained a talking point for 32 years. Not every band can say that’s their own personal case. Justin Bieber can pee in buckets until he’s got no more pee to pee but I guarantee that his antics won’t still be talked about in 2049. And if they are, I hope I’ll have safely relocated to a cave on the moon by that point.

The best parts of Pretend We’re Dead are those that show just how much the band tried, and cared, to make the most of what they had. Unlike bands such as The Replacements, who purposely squandered and poo-pooed every opportunity they were given due to a toxic influx of self-entitlement, L7 fought for every bit of success they ever had, and continued to fight even after that success began to wane. Watching core member Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch, And Dee Plakas start out touring in shitty used vans, get upgraded to limos, and then go back to the shitty used vans is exciting, relatable, bitter-sweet, and a reminder that all musicians should enjoy success (whatever that means to them at the time) while they have it, and be gracious and humble during the getting there parts.

Aside from the history and insight provided by Pretend We’re Dead, it’s just so nice to be able to spend time with L7 again after they’ve been laying relatively low since the release of their last album, Slap-Happy, which was released on their own label, Wax Tadpole Records, in 1999. The section of the film that deals with that album’s release is an especially heartbreaking one, as the band describes the amount of work they had to take on themselves just to get it out there, only to have their distribution company go belly-up once it was out. They describe how the company was too broke to even mail them back the remaining copies, so they eventually ended up in a landfill, which the band saw their career in, at that point, as well.

In 2014, the band reunited and the following year saw them sharing a stage again at Riot Fest in Denver and Chicago, and at the Fun, Fun Fun Festival in Austin, Texas. At the end of the band’s theatrical run for the Pretend We’re Dead documentary, they released their first new song in 18 years, called “Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago,” a pretty direct kneecap hit at President Cheeto and his preferred getaway for hiding from his “presidential” responsibilities. Word on the street is that we can look for a new single from them via Don Giovanni Records on December 15. Until then, treat yourselves to this documentary and watch it till your wheels fall off. And by “wheels,” I mean, until your butt gets numb from being on the couch.


Top photo:  Poster for L7: Pretend We’re Dead/ Blue Hats Creative


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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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