Like a good – and female – drag queen, Tammy Faye Starlite doesn’t impersonate great women; she invokes them. She’s most famous for her Nico act, Chelsea Madchen, which is smart, funny, tragic, and lovely. While aptly pointing out the anti-Semitic Velvet Underground singer’s numerous faults, she also made me appreciate her talent. I haven’t seen Tammy’s Blondie tribute band the Pretty Babies or her Runaways manqué the Stay-At-Homes. But from the way she talks about learning to portray Debbie Harry and Cherie Currie, I know she gets it.
“I really love Cherie’s voice – it’s husky and she imbues each song with both attitude and subtlety, similar to the way Debbie Harry does, although their sounds are so different,” Faye said in a recent email. “Cherie is so much fun to play onstage – she has certain signature moves – the single knee-bend, the arm flap, the squat/crouch, the Bowie-esque mime. She was definitely in command as frontwoman, which I love. I also love the L.A. inflections in her voice and her slightly Liza Minnelli-style ‘s.’ She’s a very physical performer – she bodily punctuates the beat and is full of kinetic energy. Debbie Harry is also physical, but to me she seems much cooler, much more ‘come to me’ as opposed to beseeching the audience to come to her. Nico barely moved at all – I love doing her almost catatonic stance, but it’s hard for me, in a way, because I’m inherently a spazzy freak and cliched ‘entertainer.’ (Must be my Jewish upbringing.) As Cherie, I get to be my teenage self, who jumped in front of the mirror with a hairbrush and did interpretive dances to ‘Honky Tonk Women.’ (Also, shamefully, to Billy Joel’s ‘My Life,’ but we’ll keep that to ourselves.)
“Speaking of Judaism (were we?), I think my favorite song to do is either ‘American Nights’ – it’s so gloriously anthemic – or Lou Reed’s ‘Rock and Roll’ (even though my husband pointed out that the Runaways do the Mitch Ryder version). It must be the New Yorker in me – I have to stop myself from saying, ‘She stawted dee-ancin…’ I don’t always succeed in that endeavor.”
Tammy and the Stay-At-Homes – featuring Jill Richmond (the Aquanettas) as Joan Jett; Linda Pitmon (the Baseball Project, Steve Wynn’s Miracle 3) as Sandy West; Heidi Lieb (Sit ‘N’ Spin) as Lita Ford, and Monica Falcone (Sit ‘N’ Spin) as Jackie Fox – will play a blistering set of Runaways covers March 6 at 10 p.m. at The Cutting Room, 44 East 32nd Street, New York, with special guests Miss Guy and Karyn Kuhl. I’ll be reading from Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways. Knowers of Runaways trivia will win copies of my book and/or tubes of Armour Beauty lip gloss. I promise you it will be a once-in-a-lifetime night.
I wish I could stay in New York to see Tammy mend Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English at Lincoln Center on March 13, with Kevin Salem – but I can not. I can tell you that working with her on All Hail the Queens of Noise has been a delightful and inspiring experience. She’s a great woman; some day, the drag queens will be doing tributes to her.
For proof of Faye’s comic and vocal genius, check out her recent performance at the Loser’s Lounge tribute to Lou Reed: