Tag Archives: Nico

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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Lou Reed After Hours

Friday night at the MEOW Conference in Austin, Grace London found the dark innocence in the Velvet Underground song “After Hours” like only a 13-year-old could. A tall, lanky girl with eyeliner curls, the Austin artist sang with the raw emotional warble of Conor Oberst or Chan Marshall as she strummed an acoustic guitar hard, then stepped on the pedal smashing the kick drum behind her for good measure. It was an impressive performance, doubly impressive that a young teen was playing a Velvets cover, triply impressive that she was playing that cover. Here was a new generation, discovering Lou Reed’s songwriting genius. “If you close the door, the night could last forever/ Leave the sunshine out/ And say hello to never.”

Genius is one of those words that gets tossed around so much, but Lou Reed was definitely a genius. I’ve been thinking about the Velvets a lot lately, ever since I saw Tammy Faye Starlite’s amazing Nico tribute. I played “All Tomorrow’s Parties” for my Revolution Girl Style students, explaining how this was the dawn of punk (and how women were there at the beginning). My love of Lou runs long and deep. In college I was obsessed with him. So important were albums like Street Hassle and Transformer, I can’t really imagine myself without the influence of his music. That didn’t stop me from once writing a negative review of a Broadway show he did, which I felt pandered to fans. I guess Lou read his press; a few years later, he refused to talk to me for Interview magazine. “Isn’t she that writer who writes terrible things about me?” he apparently said. Ouch.

While I stand by my judgment, I would take it all back, because I love Lou Reed’s music and what he stood for: an unapologetic, tough, loving, cantankerous, idealistic, ugly, beautiful, rapturous aesthetic, that is now silenced forever.

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Nico Reborn (Plus a Legendary Cowgirl)

Nico

Tammy Faye Starlite as Nico. Photo by Bob Gruen

Today would have been the 75th birthday of the enigmatic art chanteuse Nico. I saw her reincarnated last night, in a spot-on, dead-funny, brilliant show by the performer Tammy Faye Starlite, at the louche Pico Boulevard cabaret lounge Mint. Tammy impersonates the Teutonic beauty with the arch exaggerations of a classic drag act; her makeup-encrusted eyes zoom wide with sarcastic disdain at errant laughs or remembered inanities. But the interpreter’s sense of humor is sharp, wide-ranging, and wicked – she sings like Joan Baez, but she jabs like Lenny Bruce. Her targets shift from Nico’s legion of legendary lovers (Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Jackson Browne) – “I mean friend euphemistically,” she says — to today’s crackpot legislators.

Starlite makes fun of the former Velvet Underground singer’s deadpan, drugged-out affect and German arrogance. “Jews are my go-to trope when I find something execrable,” she says. But she also sings Nico’s songs beautifully, funny accent and all. In the midst of her deconstruction of this cultish icon, Tammy resurrects her’s music, from the Velvets’ “Femme Fatale,” to Browne’s “These Days,” to Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” –all songs written for Nico.  Starlite’s Chelsea girl is more than a muse for great men (though she is that); she’s an underestimated talent too proud to feel sorry for herself.

The show ended with Starlite’s ace band (Petey Andrews on guitar, Richard Feridun on guitar and mandolin,  Keith Hartel on bass, Erik Paparazzi on keyboards, and Aaron Conte on drums) tearing “Heroes” to shreds. Tammy sang Bowie’s epic with all shtick gone, only real sentiment now.

While Tammy left the stage to “do something,” Carlene Carter came out and played a walloping “I’m Waiting for My Man.” Carter – daughter of June Carter and a country star in her own right — has a great Janis Joplin voice and looked awesome in cowgirl shirt, shorts, black stockings, and boots. Incredible night. Thanks Tammy. Happy birthday Nico.

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