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Women Who Rockening

Theo Kogan and Murray Hill

Theo Kogan and Murray Hill at Persisticon’s The Rockening

Women get shit done, they are funny AF, they are fed up with patriarchs, and, of course, they rock. Those were four of my takeaways from the Rockening Sunday night, the comedy, music, and activism event presented by Persisticon at the Bell House in Brooklyn. Timed to take place just a couple weeks before the midterm elections, The Rockening both served as a galvanizing gathering for girl power and a fundraiser to turn the evening’s energy into concrete action. A group of musicians, artists, and comedians formed Persisticon after the 2016 election to help get women elected to office, and this, their second event, raised buckets of money for Emily’s List.

It also was a launch party for the book I edited, Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl, so I can’t pretend to be unbiased. Subjectively, it was one of the single best days of my life, as I felt my own work, and those of my collaborators in this volume, celebrated and connected to a cause. And I wasn’t alone; “I want to live at Persisticon forever,” wailed one friend, a reporter for a prominent newspaper. The feeling in the room was electric, positive, uproarious. People laughed at my jokes! Objectively, the not-small venue was full of people, sold out in fact, of tickets that started at $50 — yes, the Women Who Rock launch party sold out! The final take isn’t in, but the estimate is we raised $15,000 for Emily’s List.

Catalina Cruz could become the first dreamer elected in New York state.

Having Janeane Garafalo headline is a good way to pack your launch party. Persisticon put together a smart, fast-paced variety show, smoothly segueing from the politician Catalina Cruz (who could become the first Dreamer elected to New York State assembly) joined by the quick-witted Full Frontal with Samantha Bee correspondent Ashley Nicole Black, to the parodic punk burlesque act Tiger Bay and Fancy Feast, ending with the star of Mystery Men and Reality Bites, who has long persisted as an icon of a cerebral dark, dry humor that women don’t get to show often and who poked fun at Mumford and Sons. Murray Hill, who has been king of the drag kings since I lived in New York almost two decades ago, threaded it all together with his borough-politician parody. When it came time for my Women Who Rock crew to take the stage, Hill joked about how the six of us looked like a band; it was true, without consulting or even knowing each other, we were all dressed in our best black and leather/pleather. Then DJ Tikka Masala played “I Love Rock’n’Roll,” of course a perfect entrance song for me, the Runaways biographer, and we took the stage like bad-ass scribes, clutching pieces of paper.

It was a bit of a daunting task to provide the literary portion of this raucous event. I wasn’t even sure if we were going to do any readings at various points during the months-long planning for the Rockening. But Persisticon producer Lynn Harris selected portions of one essay from each writer and seamlessly weaved them together. So when Katherine Turman started talking about the transformation of Anna Mae Bullock and Anne Muntges’s drawing of Tina Turner was projected on the wall behind her, you could hear a pin drop in the Bell House. Each reader was greeted with enthusiastic applause followed by the most attentive appreciation a wordsmith could ever hope for, as Jeanne Fury praised Cyndi Lauper, Jana Martin told the story of Mahalia Jackson, Holly George-Warren commemorated Patsy Cline, and Caryn Rose eulogized Aretha Franklin, offering the final word of our set: “Amen.” Afterwards, people told us we provided just the dose of serious purpose the evening needed.

The Persisticon crew

And then, the fun girls want to have. Contributor Theo Kogan, a Persisticon founder, the initial conceptualizer of the Rockening and of course, the singer for the legendary Lunachicks, took the stage with guitarist Sean Pierce. She talked about her love of Deborah Harry, whom she wrote about for WWR, then sang “Heart of Glass,” her voice moving from the soprano verse lines to the Lunachicksesque roar of the chorus like a full-throttle code shifter. Thus, Blondie and the Lunachicks were evoked and entwined. Theo Kogan is the very definition of a woman who rocks.

Kogan and Pierce were a tough act to follow, and probably only a visitor from the dead could pull it off. “Ladies and gentlemen, Nico!” Theo announced. Looking pale and moving stiffly like a zombie, a skinny woman with a blond shag and eyes like coal took the stage, to the immense confusion of the audience. “How?!” a male voice shouted. Apparently, many Rockeners had never seen Tammy Faye Starlite’s genius Nico impersonation before. I’m such a fan, I had asked Tammy to write about Nico for Women Who Rock. Her experimental first-person narrative ultimately didn’t make sense in the context of the book, but she got to make fun of me at the Rockening for cutting it. Faye is like a drag performance artist who mostly portrays women but is currently doing a Rolling Stones show. Her Nico is at once blotto and brilliant. Sunday, she sang “Heroes,” and when Faye moves from banter to song, her act shifts from pathos to empathy. Keeping with the theme of the night, Faye/Nico paused the music for a little political interlude. She called out for a man of the people to run against the “saffron” man in the White House, someone who could speak to the elites about their tax cuts but had also worked the fields of New Jersey, someone “not only meant to run, but born to run.” And then Faye went from Nico to Bowie to Springsteen, and somehow it was a joke that made sense, at least to me, who had just Friday seen Bruce’s Broadway show, which in its own way is a eulogy for patriarchy.

I had pushed for this moment — my contributors, Theo, Tammy Faye — and thanks to the incredible Persisticon organizers, including executive producer Diana Kane, with their clever script and, as Hill put it so well, “gentle micromanagement,” it came off brilliantly. This was girl power in action, microcosmic proof of how much better the world would be if women ran it. After all, Tammy played my last book party too, four years ago for Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways, when she was the Cherie Currie of the Runaways tribute band the Stay-At-Homes. But that venue was run by males and they treated us like shit — just like the Runaways used to get treated. It was so fundamentally different to be at an event run by the ladies. This is what we speak of when we speak of safe spaces, and empowering spaces. I want to live at Persisticon forever too.

Catalina Cruz

The capper: The book’s publicist, goddess Kara Thornton, blew some of the artwork up into giant posters that hung behind the merch booth (where, needless to say, copies of Women Who Rock sold like hot cakes). Catalina Cruz asked to take home the Selena poster drawn by Winnie T. Frick. I hope she hangs it in her office in Albany, after women rock the vote Nov. 6.

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The Incredible Tammy Faye

The Stay-At-Homes

The Stay-at-Homes

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.” Continue reading

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Born To Be Miss Guy

Miss GuyMiss Guy is a Downtown legend. Before there was an imaginary Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Guy and his Toilet Boys were flipping the punk-rock script at parties like SqueezeBox and DropOut. They’re the chromosomal love child of the New York Dolls and Blondie. In fact, Guy co-wrote “Charm Alarm” with Debbie Harry and, as a sometime makeup artist, helps make the Queen of Punk look glam. A genius DJ, Guy channels the girl power of rock divas, from his Cherie Currie mane to his Dumb Blonde (it’s the name of his solo album) persona.

“I’ve always been inspired by female rockers and The Runaways are the epitome of the perfect all girl rock band!,” Guys says via email. “They had it all. And I adore Cherie and Joan!”

So Miss Guy was the perfect artist to tap for All Hail the Queens of Noise, the March 6 event at the Cutting Room. He’ll be singing a song with the Stay-At-Homes, Tammy Faye Starlite‘s Runaways tribute band. (The picture gives you a hint which song.) I’ll be talking about my book, and Theo Kogan will be the beauty queen. Proceeds benefit rock camps for girls.

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