The time that L7 guitarist Donita Sparks chucked her bloody tampon at a mud-slinging Reading audience has gone down as one of rock’s wildest moments, up there with Ozzy snorting a line of ants and Keith Moon driving his Rolls into a pool. But when you see it play out in the context of the band’s phenomenal rise and fall, as they rode out the major label grunge explosion to the bitter end, the tampon-fling doesn’t seem like a rock & roll stunt, exactly—it’s more like a moment of deliciously unhinged feminist rage. “If we were gonna be looked at, we were gonna be thrashin’,” notes Sparks in L7: Pretend That We're Dead.
The rags-to-riches-to-rags-again story of the LA rock reprobates was basically made for the movies, and director Sarah Price (whose other great docs include American Movie and The Yes Men) lets her larger-than-life characters tell it in their own words. Between the pyromaniac pro-choice rallies, tour antics caught on shaky home video, and TV interviews with baffled newscasters, you get a sense of just how off-the-wall L7 really were, even in the post-everything ‘90s. Who else could make labia-padded leggings—as worn for a John Waters movie—look cool? They never scored the platinum album their label wanted, but L7 ought to go down as one of the last great bands to embody the emancipatory ideals of rock and roll.