Tuck and Cover
; the hidden story of the Punk-Rock Drag Queen!
Last time around, I was talking about the legacy of groups that have now been consigned to the dusty vaults of history to be poured over in the years to come – filed away under the dubious tagline of curiosity. The work of a wealth of performers, reduced to a single word that falls short of describing their own unique sonic and visual stylings.
The contributions of luminaries such as Patti Smith and Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch and David Bowie to the exotic world of rock n roll are well documented. But what of the Wasp Women? Of Jayne County and the Six Inch Killaz, and why is it so hard to find a club (Save for Psycho:Drama of course) in which to toss a weave to the electrifying punk rock of Dirty Barby? I think it’s time for some perspective, as well as a short history lesson…
The catalyst of the gay civil rights movement now know as Stonewall, erupted from the afforementioned bar in New York 1969 following on from the death of camp icon, Judy Garland and years of harassment of LGBT patrons by law enforcement. You see, back in the day, there were all sorts of laws designed to block the freedom of expression of LGBT persons, laws that criminalised such activities as wearing women’s clothing in public – if you were caught wearing anything less than 3 items of clothing specific to your gender then BAM! Off to jail with you! It was not only an act of bravery to leave your house in drag, or in gender non-appropriate clothing as it would be called, it was an act of war! One queen who was always ready to land a blow for the cause, any cause actually, was Wayne County soon to be know as Jayne.
Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys who later became Wayne County and the Electric Chairs before being singularly known as Jayne County, a major figure in the worlds of both alternative rock and LGBT history, has been credited with being the first ever Trans performer in Punk, the influence behind one of David Bowies’ hit songs and a hardline fighter in the riots that sparked at the Stonewall Inn all those years ago.
Jaynes brash, bluesy writing style and snap delivery quickly lent to punk rocks spit and sneer attitude – in fact it pre-dated it! Her first major effort, ‘Electric Chairs‘ released on Illegal Records was a mission statement, ripping and snorting, boozing and brawling. The lead single Fuck Off, now infamous, punishes the fool that wastes Ms. County’s time “If you don’t wanna fuck me baby, baby fuck off. If you don’t want a piece of the action, baby take a walk. I ain’t got time for yesterday’s news, don’t fill me up with your bull-shit-blues”. Jayne spoke then and continues to speak her mind in a matter of fact brutality that so many british and american groups desparately sought to capture but always fell short. Her aggressive sexuality and gravel road vocals could whither the ineffectual generations of punks that became ever more bland in the years to come *ahem* Rancid/Greenday/Blink 182.
County has remained an influential figure on the fringe for years – she has made repeated appearances at drag festivals such as Wigstock curated by Lady Bunny, collaborated with recent RuPaul Drag Race winner Sharon Needles and been the feature of countless articles, documentaries and books.
Whilst County was tearing up clubs across the USA and Europe, San Francisco based gender-fuck collective, the Cockettes, were causing quite a stir themselves. Preferring a rather more shambolic approach to drag, the Cockettes were at odds with the media representation of drag and trans performers at the time, typified by Warhol’s factory stars. Preferring full beards coated in glitter to feminine realness , tunics and psychadelic handmade prints to designer illusion – the Cockettes certainly stood out from the pack. Performances were staged in the city of origin and quickly became notorious for their irreverent, chaotic and humorous nature. Even Baltimore resident and film star Divine was scripted in for one of their legendary shows. Once they decamped to New York in 1971 to put on a small run of performances their star officially waned as the collectives wanton abandonment of style in place of hippie free-form happenings did not win them fans in the Big Apple and following their return to San Fran the group disintegrated in a haze of in-fighting.
Born out of the dissolution of the Cockettes and their splinter group: the Angels of Light, post-punk wailers; The Wasp Women were born. Now, I know I spoke a little about these guys in a recent entry but I felt it necessary to devote a certain amount of information regarding their origins in this post as well to provide a little more context, they were after all, the reason I started this article. Without overstating their virtues, the Wasp Women were FABULOUS. Rejecting the peace and love optimism of the Cockettes, this splinter group were far darker; preferring chalk white faces with heavy black eyes and contouring, skin tight black outfits to the ill fitting dress-up box imagery of their former incarnations and a far darker lyrical content – ‘Shoot me in the head, make me feel dead, KILL ME!’ taken from ‘Kill Me‘, or the bratty and trashy, ‘Fuck you, you queen, you act like a machine!’ from ‘I Don’t Need Your Attitude‘. Sadly only two tracks, a short appearance in the classic punk-film ‘Whatever Happened to Susan Jane‘ and a snippet of live footage from 1979’s Castro Street Fair seem to remain of this group. There is one surviving recording that I am aware of which has been released by Dark Entries on their B.A.R.T vinyl reissue!
Now it’s time to talk about a queen who has probably been the biggest inspiration for all drag queens and many others since his arrival on the scene – a queen who has left a mark unlike any other on the face of both commerical and alternative cultures, the one and only; DIVINE! I’m not going to go into massive detail here as the first lady of fucked-up drag is the subject of so much focus – a brilliant documentary titled ‘I AM DIVINE‘ is currently being put together with support from the original Dreamlanders as well as the pope of trash, John Waters. What I’m preferring to discuss here, is Divine’s music and the impact that has made. Let’s make something very clear here, Divine had an awful voice, he couldn’t pitch a note to save his life – but that harsh guttarl delivery was part of his charm. Whether he was belting out rock assaults with as much flash and trash as he could give – ‘Born to be Cheap‘ or issuing sexually aggressive electronica produced by Bobby Orlando with ‘Shoot Your Shot‘, Divine left a mark across the world that has influenced thousands if not millions of people. His unqiue brand of sexual anarchy and the wealth of one-liners delivered in Waters’ movies (and quoted ad infinitum) made Divine incredibly visible. His aesthetic was harsh and unrelenting and his sound matched: A perfect combination of lethal flash and in your face rock ‘n’ roll attitude.
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Love and Bruises