Zapata's slaying broke the heart of a music scene that had already been jaded by a media spotlight that had turned a philosophy and way of life into a cliché and catchphrase. The rise and mainstream breakthrough of Nirvana and the subsequent success of bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains were part of the so-called "grunge" movement. But their success — and the glut of media attention that followed — spawned endless imitators. Dedication to musicianship and integrity gave way to the grunge sound, grunge wear, grunge catalogs and the search for the next Nirvana.
"When Mia died, there was a sense that the scene was dying," said Moriarity. "It took the wind out of many people here. Kurt Cobain's death [less than one year later] was the nail in the coffin."
The Gits first came together in the mid-1980s at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where all the members — Zapata, Moriarity, guitarist Joe Spleen and bassist Matt Dresdner — were students. Originally called the Sniveling Little Rat Faced Gits, they gradually gained a following on campus and ultimately moved to Seattle to continue recording music, play live and hopefully gain a recording contract under a major label.
The Gits gained a following in the underground Seattle punk scene and increased their fan base during an international tour. They released their first album Frenching the Bully under an independent label in 1992. They were working on their second release, Enter: The Conquering Chicken when Zapata was killed.
Not many people outside Seattle had heard of The Gits when Zapata died, but several believed they were on the brink of a breakthrough. However, stardom — that breakthrough album, that hit song — was not all-important to Zapata.
"'Making it' is such a relative term," said Storm. "To Mia, doing her thing — performing her music, writing poetry — doing what she loved was 'making it.'"
"With us, it was about the music," said Moriarity. "With Mia and all of us, we didn't care about being famous. We just wanted to be able to make a living."
Empowerment From Tragedy
Zapata's death was more than just the loss of a rising star — it was the loss of a friend to her bandmates, fellow artists and others in the community. Immediately after her murder, Zapata's friends — including Storm, 7 Year Bitch drummer Valerie Agnew and artist Stacey Westcott — founded Home Alive, a self-defense education organization, to cope with their pain and help others defend themselves against those who would attempt to rape or mug them late at night.
With the help of the surviving members of The Gits, Joan Jett, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and others, Home Alive held benefit concerts and released a CD, The Art of Self Defense to fund self-defense classes and seminars. The classes, the concerts and the CD — which also featured recordings of The Gits — empowered a community while allowing it to grieve and keep Zapata's memory alive.
"It enabled people to look within themselves, deal with their own grief, while also enabling them to look outside themselves and see how they could help others," said Storm.
The surviving members of The Gits, led by Moriarity, also put on benefit concerts to help fund a private investigation of Zapata's slaying. Moriarity said that was the least they could do — they could not rest without knowing who killed their friend and why.