Will Mia Zapata Be Remembered for Something Other Than Her Death?
A forthcoming TV show about the singer’s murder dredges up bad memories without acknowledging the good ones.
At this point, there’s nothing left to be gained from rehashing the details of her death. It’s been more than 20 years and the story has been told and retold ad infinitum, the grisly pieces of evidence serving as plot points in so many true crime docudramas of the week that, for a lot of people, they’ve come to define her. She’s no longer Mia Zapata, just “the girl in that band who got raped and murdered.” And yet here were producers for a show called Dead of Night, calling to dredge it all up again.
Steve Moriarty lives in Oakland now, 800 miles from the Seattle stages where he and Mia and Andy Kessler and Matt Dresdner rattled amps as the Gits; 800 miles from the Pacific Northwest clubs where Zapata’s soulful growl had, at one time, made her a poster child for the burgeoning riot grrrl movement; 800 miles from the Central District alley where she died.
Despite the distance, the memories of Mia are always right there for the band’s drummer, right under the surface. There are the painful ones, sure, of the night it happened, of the hopelessness and desperation that set in as the investigation dragged on for years. But more than that, there are the images of the girl he went to school with at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, who took music—but never herself—seriously and whose aggressive singing on stage belied a goofy, even sweet side off of it.
So when those producers from NBC contacted Moriarty last November to request an on-camera interview for an hour-long program about Zapata, he was leery. Would the show celebrate the artist and friend who Moriarty still desperately misses now, or would it focus on the girl in that band who got raped and murdered? All he would have to do to answer that question was read the description of the series on the Investigation Discovery network’s website: “Dead of Night shines light on nighttime crimes in which darkness hides predators hungry for a midnight attack.”
Moriarty didn’t decline right away. He’s not necessarily opposed to talking about Mia. Kessler and Dresdner certainly are, at least when they don’t know the person asking questions; they were willing to talk to shows like Unsolved Mysteries, but that was before her killer was found in 2003 and convicted in 2004. For Moriarty, though, that kind of conversation offers an opportunity to set the record straight. So he entertained the idea of flying up to Seattle on the network’s dime for the interview, provided they’d buy his wife a ticket as well so she could join him and offer moral support. When they declined his request, though, he was done.
And yet the producers weren’t.
First they asked Moriarty if he’d be willing to let them use the band’s music. When he quoted them a licensing fee that he worked out with a friend from the industry, they said they couldn’t afford it. They came back later, offering a nominal amount, but by then Moriarty had soured on the whole project. He was willing to wash his hands of the whole thing and accept that it would go forward, even without his participation, but then he started hearing from friends. Virtually everyone who had been associated with the band was contacted, and they all checked in with Moriarty to get his thoughts on the project. Each time he confirmed what they already knew.
Ben London, a local musician and friend of the band from as far back as their Antioch days, asked the producers to make a $500 donation to Children’s Hospital in exchange for appearing in the show. They declined. “It just felt really slimy,” he says. “There’s this whole culture of murder porn or crime porn with women that’s been going on probably forever but especially since cable news got involved. And unfortunately people in America are fascinated with this stuff.” From there news of the production spread on Facebook, and, in early January, Moriarty posted an open letter on the site, asking local businesses to “refrain from advertising products and services” on Investigation Discovery’s parent network, NBC, in June, when the show is scheduled to air.
The whole episode felt reminiscent of the fallout from the national media’s drive-by of the Seattle music scene in the early ’90s. But Hannah Levin, another friend of Moriarty’s who declined to be interviewed for the show, says the community’s shunning of the production went much deeper than that. “At the risk of stating the obvious, it was a violent rape and murder,” she says. “Rehashing it again with someone you don’t know who ultimately wants to use it to sell ads, that’s going to be unpleasant and uncomfortable. And I think that’s perfectly understandable.”