Tammy Faye Starlite and me, by Shell Sheddy
The last two weeks have been a swirl: friendships forged and renewed, mother-son bonding, bright lights and big city, desert island and the deep sea, public performances, private connections, music and nature and ideas and activity. I spent five days revisiting my proto-Sex and the City life in New York and three days on Catalina Island with 31 fifth graders. Both experiences were deeply gratifying, and I’m immensely grateful to the friends, and family, who enrich my life.
First, New York. For my spring “break” from teaching, I finally made it to the center of the universe to do some promotion for Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways. I wound up with three gigs in as many days: a Women’s History Month Keynote speech at Bergen Community College March 6; a rock’n’roll show that night at the Cutting Room, featuring the Runaways tribute band the Stay-At-Homes; and a book signing and reading at Bluestockings in the Good Ol’ Lower East Side March 8. Each event was different, productive in its own way, and worth the trip all by itself.
For the final act in my series of posts about my collaborators for All Hail the Queens of Noise, I wrote about the artist I’ve known the longest. I first met Karyn Kuhl back in the 1980s when I was a fledgling journalist in Providence. It’s incredible that our paths are crossing again this Thursday. I chose Karyn as a Woman Over 38 whom I admire for a special issue of the website Tue/Night. I can’t wait to hear her wail Joan Jett style Thursday night. Be there or be sad.
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
When a bunch of gnarly tattooed girls in New York City decided to form a punk rock band in 1987, they came this close to naming themselves after their favorite band, the Runaways. “There was a minute where we almost called ourselves ‘the Go Homes,’ we were all so inspired and enamored with the Runaways and that they were so young, so talented and so hot,” says Theo Kogan, the singer of the band that instead became the Lunachicks. They were “total idols for me and all of us.”
The Lunachicks were one of the best American punk bands of the late ’80s and ’90s, successors to the Ramones, Dictators, Blondie, and of course, the Runaways. The towering Kogan dressed like a refugee from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! but sang with a deep, rich vibrato. When she wasn’t thrashing, she was a successful model, for the likes of Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole. She also did a stint as an advice and beauty blogger for MOLI.com. (I was her editor; she’s a great writer.)
These days she’s a makeup artist and beauty expert who is creating the products that punk singers and fashion plates crave. Her Armour Beauty lip gloss line features shimmering colors that are paraben and cruelty free and have names like Nirvana, Gazarri’s (after the infamous LA club), and Siouxsie. Theo will be giving away Armour Beauty samples to lucky attendees of All Hail the Queens of Noise, the Runaways tribute night I’m hosting with Tammy Faye Starlite at Manhattan’s The Cutting Room on March 6. Appropriately Tammy’s band the Stay-at-Homes (almost the Go Homes) will be playing, proving that great minds do think alike. And of course I’ll be reading from my book, Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways. Profits go to rock camps for girls. Stay tuned to this blog for profiles of other performers, including Miss Guy, Karyn Kuhl, and Ms. Starlite.