Rocket Queen: The Needs of a Friend

Olympia punks come back together to help one of their own.

The punk scene during the late '90s in Olympia could be roughly characterized by two predominant methodologies. The first, represented by bands such as Karp, Unwound, Thrones, and C Average, was built upon the belief that a minimalist structure of two or three band members was an ideal skeleton for generating a metric ton of metal-edged punk. Heaviness a la Sabbath was paramount, but an angular sense of melody and dynamics, drawn from influences like Fugazi and the Minutemen, was a close second.

The other, embodied by bands like Bangs, the Need, Team Dresch, and the Gossip, was the result of a welcomed evolution of the raw, politically impassioned, but less musically sophisticated elements of the early Riot Grrl movement. With a more diverse approach to instrumentation and arrangements, these artists pulled from a more colorful palette—art-punk, classic rock, and soul—but retained the fearless stance and left-leaning ideals of forerunners like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile.

Amid all this was a magnetic young woman named Natalie Cox, who booked Bangs, Thrones, C Average, and the Need at various points in their careers. She worked for iconic local label Kill Rock Stars for a bit, doing retail promotion, and played the drums in a few different bands, including the Old Haunts. She was also the Gossip's first manager, and led them and their tourmates Bangs through the UK for the first time. She was treasured by her peers for her moxie, intellect, and compassion.

"I've always admired Natalie's tenacity and determination to teach herself anything—she is the epitome of a real DIYer," enthuses Bangs guitarist Sarah Utter, who was also in a short-lived punk band with Cox called Neon Panda. "From playing drums to riding motorcycles to re-upholstering furniture and starting her own booking can throw any venture at her and she's just, like, 'I'll figure out how to do it.' She has also never been afraid to speak her mind. I've seen her put more than a few obnoxious jerks in their place! But she's also a real sweetheart—a lover of dogs and children and outdoor adventures."

Two years ago, just after giving birth to her first son and moving to Norfolk, England, Cox found a lump in her breast. Originally thought benign by her physician, it was eventually diagnosed as hemangiosarcoma, an incredibly rare and viciously aggressive cancer that attacks the blood vessels. After a double mastectomy and her doctors' assessment that there were no more visible signs of cancer, Cox returned her attention to raising her child.

Sadly, the cancer returned with a vengeance, metastasizing to her liver and spleen—a malignant metamorphosis that the British health-care system was no longer willing to cover. Cox returned to the States and began fighting her illness with help from the Center for the Study of Natural Oncology near San Diego. "I am not a statistic, I am an individual," wrote Cox on her blog ( last March. "Many people have beat the odds, and I intend on doing the same."

Cox recently relocated to Redmond to be near her mother and sister while she continues to battle the disease. In line with the supportive nature of the community they were raised in, her peers are rallying around her en masse, and will hold a series of benefits in Portland, Olympia, and Seattle July 21–23. All shows will feature the same lineup: the Need, Bangs, C Average, and Thrones. Thrones have remained an active entity since their 1994 inception, and thunderous duo C Average recently reunited to begin playing shows around Olympia, but the Need and Bangs regathered specifically to help raise funds for Cox's continuing treatment.

The Need's drummer, Rachel Carns, never planned to resurrect her band, but reconnecting with Cox last year via what she describes as the "punk cancer family network" changed her mind.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer last March, around the same time that hers showed up," explains Carns. "While angiosarcoma is a very different beast than breast cancer, we were on parallel paths: We both cut off our tits, went to hell and back, and came out the other side—she with a hopeful but indefinite prognosis, and I [apparently] cancer-free. The love and support of my community has been so crucial to my's impossible to put a number on it."

"Growing up in the Olympia punk scene taught me a lot about community," agrees Utter. "If your friend needs help, you do what you can with what talents you have to lighten the load—they would do the same for you. I can't bear the thought of Natalie and her family worrying about financial burdens when they need to be focusing all of their energy on kicking this cancer, and when Maggie threw out this idea of the benefit shows, everyone was instantly like 'Of course!'"

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