I was a teenage Donna
Guitarist Donna R from the rising rockers, The Donnas, talks about why high school reunions suck
The Donnas are one of those Cinderella stories, the kind you read about in People magazine.
Four girls (Donna A., a.k.a. Brett Anderson, vocals; Donna C., a.k.a. Torry Castellano, drums; Donna F., a.k.a. Maya Ford, bass; Donna R., a.k.a. Allison Robertson, guitar) from Palo Alto formed a band in junior high, started gigging, got signed to a widely known indie-punk label, released a string of albums to favorable press (critics latched on to obvious influences the Ramones and the Runaways), toured some more, then got signed to a major, and now they’re all over MTV. This is the kind of stuff that rock mythology is built upon; it’s the proverbial rock-'n-'roll fairy tale, if you will.
Now, you wouldn’t know it to look at them—all four Donnas are rather cute—but they were not the most popular girls in their high school. As a matter of fact, they were regarded as geeks or outsiders. At least according to Allison Robertson (Donna R., in case you forgot), the band’s talkative guitarist.
“We were nerds,” Robertson states matter-of-factly. “They’d call me and Maya ‘retards.’ They used to ask us if we made our own clothes and throw things at us. I know it could have been worse. There were definitely kids at my school that were made fun of way worse than we were. But at the same time, you know, I believed it all through high school. I believed that I was a lame-ass. And I still feel like I’m a big dork. And when people meet us now they’re like, ‘You guys were probably the popular kids in high school, weren’t you?’ And I’m like, ‘Not really.'”
While most nerds would have formed a band in a desperate attempt to gain acceptance, not the Donnas. “I think people probably thought we wanted them to like us more,” recalls Roberston. “But we really didn’t. We knew that once we started the band that whatever friends we might have had, well, like nobody was gonna associate with us after that. And it was true.”
Even though they may have been high-school outcasts, these days the one time nerds are the toast of the town with a critically acclaimed album, Spend the Night, a hit single, “Take It Off,” and legions of loyal fans. Given this level of fame and popularity, plus the fact that all of them are in their early 20s, one would assume that they are planning to attend their high-school reunion, right?
“Our fifth-year [reunion] is this year, but we’re not gonna go,” clarifies Robertson.
And no, the women didn’t make a pact to this effect. They just have no desire to go. “I just think the only people I’m friends with from high school I still hang out with, and that’s pretty much the band members,” says Robertson. “Everybody else I probably will never see again and I don’t want to see again,” she adds with a laugh. “It’s not one of those things where I want to go and be like, ‘Look at me now.’ It’s one of those things where I don’t want to see them again. People made me feel bad about myself in high school, and I don’t ever want them to have the satisfaction of knowing me or ever being my friend. And that’s what people try to do at reunions, is like make up for things. I don’t think that these kids need a chance to make it up to us.”
While most folks would give their right arm (and probably their left leg, too) for the opportunity to have become famous and then attend their high-school reunion so they could rub it in their former classmates’ faces, the Donnas don’t play that game—which is surprisingly fresh considering their tough-as-nails rock-'n'-roll attitude.
“Yeah, I’ve met people that want to do that,” says Robertson, in regard to the revenge fantasy. “I just I don’t relate [to that], but I can see why some people would want to do that. Personally, and I think the rest of the band is the same way, the people that we do see from high school now, it’s always really awkward. There’s nothing to talk about.”
Obviously, some folks who went to high school with the Donnas desperately wish to have that connection, to be able to tell their friends, “Hey, I went to high school with the Donnas!”
Robertson is quick to point out, “But you know, at our high school there were a lot of popular people, like Ugly Kid Joe went there.”
It’s hard to tell whether Robertson is joking when she says this, but who cares. Ugly Kid Joe is a distant pop memory. The Donnas, on the other hand, are making their own rock history, Cinderella style.