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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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Bright Lights, Big Sky

Tammy Faye Starlite and me, by Shell Sheddy

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.

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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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Getting Lippy With Theo

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.)

Armour_Logo_wType_2014 copyThese 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.

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New York, New York!

 ALL HAIL THE QUEENS OF NOISE!

 

EVELYN MCDONNELL READS FROM HER ‘RUNAWAYS’ BEST SELLER,

THE STAY-AT-HOMES CHANNEL CHERIE, JOAN, JACKIE, LITA AND SANDY AT THE CUTTING ROOM ON THURSDAY MARCH 6

“They had something that cannot be manufactured, no matter how cunning your maverick manager is: a spark of explosive creative chemistry, the primal energy that Iggy Pop calls ‘raw power.’ The Runaways could play like the boys, but without once pretending they weren’t girls.”  – Evelyn McDonnell/ Queens of Noise

 

Evelyn McDonnell, author of Mamarama: A Memoir of Sex, Kids and Rock ‘n’ Roll, former pop music critic for the Miami Herald and Village Voice senior editor, and journalism professor at Loyola Marymount University, will be joined by The Stay-At-Homes, the much- celebrated Runaways replicant band, for a multi-tiered evening of performance events at New York’s Cutting Room. The renowned journalist will bring Queens of Noise, her critically acclaimed biography of The Runaways, the legendary ’70’s SoCal all-girl band, to glam-rock life at the Cutting Room on Thursday, March 6th at 10pm.

 

Bask in the California paradise that was the ’70s Sunset Strip with the author as she reads excerpts from her groundbreaking book and rock out with the premiere Runaways tribute band, The Stay-At-Homes.  Their take-no-prisoners lineup includes downtown performance chanteuse/provacateuse Tammy Faye Starlite (just named by Time Out New York as one of the top ten cabaret artists of 2013 for her role as Nico in Chelsea Mädchen) in the role of Cherie Currie; 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. With special guests Miss Guy (Toilet Boys) and Karyn Kuhl (Gutbank) on vocals and Theo Kogan (Lunachicks) on Armour Beauty lip gloss.

 

Relive the sunshine-and-neon era of Lurex, leather and jailbait juvies! Be sure to wear your feather earrings and satin shorts, wing your hair and climb into those platform boots! ‘Ludes optional but recommended.

 

The Cutting Room is at 44 East 32nd Street, New York. Tickets will be $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Show time is 10 p.m. http://ow.ly/t0NC8

 

>>Part of the proceeds will benefit the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls<<

 

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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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