You’ve heard from The Wasp Women, now it’s the turn of the Maggot Men! Talking Toxic Presents, an interview with Gregory Langston!

Today marks the anniversary of my fist ever post on Talk Toxic! A whole year has passed and in that time I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in two fashion film projects for Jed Phoenix of London, multiple amazing events with the fabulous Psycho:Drama crew and of course… A whole bunch of incredible interviews with luminaries of outsider drag, burlesque performance and electro homo solo musicians!

To commemorate this fact I have the great fortune to release the latest instalment of Talking Toxic – this time, with the wonderful Gregory Langston, former member of the Wasp Women’s backing band! The wonderful Greg has been involved with the S.F. punk scene since the early eighties and continues to play within a number of brilliant groups.

Read on as we piece together the history of the Wasp Women, talk post-punk and new-wave as well as the infamous, ‘Whatever Happened to Susan Jane’…

The Maggot Men and one Queen, courtesy of Wendy Mukluk

The Maggot Men and one Queen, courtesy of Wendy Mukluk

Dis) As part of the Wasp Women backing band, jokingly referred to as, ‘The Maggot Men’ – what was your role and how did you become involved with the group?

Greg) I was the drummer for the Wasp Women. Some time in 1979, I joined a band called the Touchtones. I was interested in the experimental side of Punk/New wave, and they fit the bill. After a short Time Guitarist Jan spoke of seeing the weirdest wildest band ever. I did not know that Teena one of our three Keyboard/ synth players was one of them! Touchtones practices morphed into Wasp Women practices as well.Teena as well as Walter Black shared both bands. We often Played on the same bills together, often at the famed Mabuhay Gardens, just seconds down Broadway from our practice space. The Wasp Women’s songs got me to explore the heavier, hard rocking side to my playing. I am more well suited to this style of playing.

Last ever performance of the Wasp Women

Last ever performance of the Wasp Women

D) The Wasp Women really stood out from the pack and still do! The band was so unique, what was it about the WW that made them so special?

G) The Wasp women were unique for a couple of reasons. First, visually. Three women, (one was a man in drag), dressed in tight black dresses and extreme make-up and large white bee hive wigs. At a time of musical and sexual freedom, the time was right and the doors were open to the new and extreme. Second, Musically. The band freely mixed styles and used several influences. What pulled it all together was the front line, the singers.

D) Of surviving documents, Marc Huestis’ film ‘…Susan Jane’ is the most famous. How involved with that project were you and what was filming like?

G) “What ever happened to Susan Jane” turned out to be far bigger than I expected. We were being booked into several venues with regularity, and each show seemed to be a real production. I knew this was a special show, and filming was happening, but it really turned out to be a whole lot more than just another show. We were called back to record some songs for the film, but I can’t remember how much was actually caught on tape.

the Wasp Women at the Castro Fair 1979 c/o Wendy Mukluk

the Wasp Women at the Castro Fair 1979 c/o Wendy Mukluk

D) Recently, Dark Entries Records released a re-mastered version of the song ‘Kill Me!’ – but what many of us want to know is… Does the album named in the film or an EP exist and if so, when can we hear it?

G) Sadly, what was announced in the movie was only part of the script. Not many recordings of the band exist, and those that do, are poor quality practice tapes. We recorded Lou Reed’s “Vicious”, in the studio. Teena is the only singer on that one. It came out on an obscure CD compilation a few years ago, “best of the Mabuhay”

D) Recently I spoke with Teena regarding her involvement with the group, looking back, how do you feel about the SF scene at that time?

G) The SF scene at the time was great! It was a time of great creativity, Ten years of musical progression in two! With the early underground SF punk/ new wave /experimental scene, we all supported each other in a way that was not compartmentalized. It quickly changed.

D) Of course, you were also a member of Tuxedo Moon and of the Vibrant S.F. post-punk scene. Which of these projects are you most proud of and are you still in contact with many of your collaborators from those days?

G) Surprisingly, I am in contact with many people from that time period. I briefly was with Tuxedomoon before the Wasp women and I spent a little time with Winston Tong last weekend. I have been In contact with Blaine too. Since I have been regularly playing drums and recording for almost thirty five years, I am in contact with many musicians from the past. Way too many to mention!! Other than previously mentioned, I have played with No Alternative, the Sea Hags, Fang, Fade to Black, The Renegades (Wire Train), Hellbillys, Offs, Insaints, The Next, Bryan Gregory’s Beast to name a few…. Oh, there are others too!

c/o Wendy Mukluk

c/o Wendy Mukluk

D) Returning to the Wasp Women, I’d like to clarify a bit of the timeline – how long did the group last? I’ve heard it was just over a year before you ceased activity with the group, why did you guys stop?

G) Yes, a year sounds about right. I don’t remember why we split. I jumped right into No Alternative after the Wasp Women.

D) Yourself and Teena worked on a few projects following the bands demise, is there much surviving from these projects and what were they called?

G) Yes! I still regularly play with No Alternative. The Offs, and the Next. I do reunion shows with a couple of others from time to time.

c/o Dark Entries records - Greg on Drums with the official Wasp Women line-up

c/o Dark Entries records – Greg on Drums with the official Wasp Women line-up

D) I know you have quite an archive built up – is there any plan to release this material?

G) Interestingly enough, much has already been released or is not quite the quality it could have been to make it outstanding. If anyone shows interest, I try and accommodate them in any way I can. Luckily, my band history has not been lost, stolen or misplaced.

D) Which projects are you currently working on and what would you like to plug?

G) I recorded an LP with the Next about a year ago. the songs all date from 1978-80. This is one of the best punky albums I have ever recorded, but the interest and the music industry have changed so much, that nobody is hearing it! The musicians all have so much talent and history, but we are not so young and cute any more. We have It all together, artwork and all, yet it remains unreleased.

A massive thank you to Greg for taking the time to Talk Toxic with me today! This helps piece together a part of The Wasp Women history and uncover another vibrant aspect of the SF punk/alternative scene. Make sure you continue to support Greg and his phenomenal musical output by going to see No Alternative live and buy all of their merchandise! Also, head over to Dark Entries records and grab yourself a copy of Bay Area Retrograde featuring the WW whilst you can, here: http://www.darkentriesrecords.com/

!VIVA LA WASP WOMEN! Talking Toxic presents Teena of The WW fame!

“LOVED the Wasp Women! They were TERRIFYING!”

David Weissman – Dir. ‘The Cockettes’

at the '...Susan Jane' opening courtesy of Marc Huestis

at the ‘…Susan Jane’ opening courtesy of Marc Huestis

Quite some time ago now, I posted a blog – two actually – which made reference to a lost drag troupe of San Francisco known as the Wasp Women. There was little surviving information to be found regarding this tantalizing group, save for a short piece of footage that surfaced from the Castro Street Fair in ’79 and an appearance in the legendary Marc Huestis film ‘Whatever Happened to Susan Jane’.

Re-issues of grainy noisy and poor quality sound bites from the ‘…Susan Jane’ performance circled the internet via groups such as Killed By Death but not until Dark Entries records released their compilation – ‘Bay Area Retrograde (BART for short)’ did something truly substantial surface.

Featuring, as its crowning glory, the Wasp Women’s infamous ‘Kill Me!’ single in PERFECT quality, I was sent into a rabid spin of sudden and urgent enquiry – How did they get hold of it? Are there members still in circulation? Is there more material to come?

I had to know!

A quick e-mail sent to Dark Entries regarding the possibility of digital download or CD release proved fruitful as the lovely person who answered gave me an e-mail address. Not just any e-mail address mind you, THE e-mail address. This address belongs to the only surviving member of the Wasp Women, a lady named Teena. When I saw the message and its content, I practically fell over. This could not possibly be true – after all this time suddenly here was a member of the group I had been so intrigued and possessed by. It couldn’t be real.

Tentatively I sent out my first correspondence to Teena and sure enough, within a couple of hours I had my confirmation. I was indeed talking to a Wasp Woman. What was even better was that over the course of the coming two weeks, she would agree to be interviewed for this blog via phone from San Francisco!

And so, here is the amazing truth (in part, as there is more to come) about the Wasp Women, legendary post-punk wailers of San Fran counter culture, Angels of Light who fell into darkness and revelled in the shadows…

Still from the amazing Marc Huestis 'Whatever Happened to Susan Jane?!'

Still from the amazing Marc Huestis ‘Whatever Happened to Susan Jane?!’

D: So, Teena, for those who may have missed the memo – Can you tell us; who/what were the Wasp Women?

Teena: Well, the Wasp Women started out as part of the Angels of Light who were a division of the Cockettes. We performed at the Castro street fair in 79 and around town starting out as a 5 piece. That group started as just one of the Angels skits but it was really popular – when we performed at the Castro everyone was screaming for more, we ended up going all around town and performing more and more as the Wasp Women. Everyone wanted more. We eventually became a 3 piece with the band as well, The WW performers up front were myself, Rodney and Julie. Rodney died of AIDS and Julie passed from cancer a few years ago.

D: It is correct then, that you started out as a sort of sub-faction of the infamous Cockettes drag troupe…

Teena: That’s true. There were lots of groups that started out that way. Sylvester was a Cockette at one point. He was one of the top billed performers at the Castro Street Fair. When we were on, because we were so popular, everybody kept screaming for more and Sylvester was kept waiting, eventually he got real mad and was like “Get off the fucking stage, it’s my turn!” [Laughs]

D: I first discovered you through watching the infamous Marc Huestis film, ‘Whatever Happened to Susan Jane?!’ How did you become involved with this project?

Teena: Well, that’s my all time favourite film. Marc was one of the Angels of Light and lived on the communes. We all used to hang out and get high and go to Café Flore. I think that’s where things started to get talked about, Marc came up with the idea for the film and he used to come up with all these great ideas for skits. He used to just grab his camera and get things shot all the time. I mean, the film was scripted, it wasn’t all improv or anything but it was a very creative time. It was great to be involved in that, that whole time was amazing.

D: Rumours abound and are referenced in ‘…Susan Jane’ that a full length album of the Wasp Women exists called ‘Crib Death’. I remember reading a piece from MAXIMUMROCKNROLL in which a journalist was desperately searching through their archives for a copy. Is this fabled LP somewhere?

Teena: I’m really not sure, I’m not aware of it. Marc has archived it all and has a lot of those things. I couldn’t be sure, I was really high [Laughs]. I have a few things from back then, like the wig and the dress somewhere [Laughs] I think Wendy MukLuk has a load of photographs of the Wasp Women in her portfolio.

Still shot from a snippet of footage taken at the Castro Street Fair in '79

Still shot from a snippet of footage taken at the Castro Street Fair in ’79

D: Your visual personae was very striking. It presented a really strong contrast to the drag of the time, what inspired the imagery you employed?

Poster from the film that launched the bands image

Poster from the film that launched the bands image

Teena: The Wasp Woman, the original film I know was a real inspiration for Rodney. The AOL came up with a lot of the original ideas for the group and Rodney had a major hand in that. It started out with 5 of us then became 3. I’m the only one left. It was 2 women and 1 man. In those days, ’72, when we started as Angels, the definitions weren’t really in place like they are now. It was really creative and free. There didn’t really seem to be ‘sexual rules’ – You could walk into a room and never know what you might see or what might happen [Laughs]. There were SO MANY DRUGS! [Laughs].

D: We’ve talked about your appearance at the Castro Street Fair, small bits of footage have surfaced of your performance there featuring a song (I’m guessing) titled ‘Shoot Me Like A Dog’. I tried to contact the person who uploaded that footage but was unsuccessful, are there any plans to release further surviving footage that you’re aware of?

Teena: I’m really not sure, I don’t really have the access to that material, I think that’s in Marcs collection. Maybe? I hope so. Usually if the people want more, we give it to them [Laughs]

D: If we listen to the lyrical content of the surviving songs such as ‘Kill Me!’ or ‘I Don’t Need Your Attitude’, a notably dark thread runs through. They’re down right pessimistic, but in a kind of cynical and dramatic telenovela-esque way. This seemed to be very ‘At-odds’ with the public perception of a city like San Francisco, which was seen as a very free and hippie infused place to be. What do you think the reason for this was?

Teena: To be honest, I think it was AIDS. Really it was a very dark time for a lot of us. People don’t understand now, it could be that you saw someone on the weekend and a week later, they were gone. It was so sudden and so paranoid. Nobody knew what was going on or what was happening. At one point it was like, ‘Is there something in the water? can we share the same glasses or eat from the same plates?’ that kind of thing. At times it was a test of friendship, like, who would drink from the same glass if someone was sick. Julie’s brother had AIDS and it was horrible, she was really devastated when he died.

It politicised people. It changed things forever. I think that’s why the songs were so dark. It was the time we were living in.

D: Are you still involved with the Drag/Punk/Goth counter-cultures? San Fran seems to have a thriving scene still, just look at Peaches Christ and what she’s doing with those Midnight Mass shows!

Teena: [Laughs] I’m old now and tired [Laughs], I do see some of the people from the old days, the ones that survived, like Marc. He actually dragged me up onstage when they did a showing of ‘…Susan Jane’ when it was re-released a few years ago. That was TERRIFYING, I don’t think I have ever been onstage sober [Laughs]. Quaaludes were always great for getting rid of nerves! [Laughs].

I haven’t really kept on going with things but my daughter and husband were in some scenes of the Peaches Christ film, ‘All About Evil’. You’ve got to love a Drag Queen! I do think she’s great!

D: Looking back on that time, how do you feel about it all?

Teena: It was an amazing time. Once again, I was REALLY HIGH for a lot of it [Laughs] but it was a great time, very creative and free from a lot of the rules about sex and sexuality that are around now. Unfortunately there was a real dark side to it as well, it was loads of fun until you cut to the image of Rodney all shrivelled up in a wheelchair. What that disease did to everyone was awful.

D: You are part of a history that has been greatly celebrated, and there are loads of people like myself who have been hugely inspired by groups such as yourselves. There’s definitely a thread of what you guys did in contemporary performers such as Sharon Needles, even if they’re not aware of it. And, I’ve got to ask, as you were part of it all… was Hibiscus ( infamous leader of the Cockettes), really as controlling as they all said he was?

Teena: [Laughs really loud!] OH MY GOD! He was a NIGHTMARE! [Laughs] You couldn’t even eat certain types of honey in their house! He was crazy [Laughs].

I have to say a massive thank you to Teena as well as the Dark Entries records group for getting me in contact with them! I absolutely loved this, talking with her has been so amazing – and as I uncover more of the Wasp Women I shall make sure to keep you all in the loop!

Don’t forget to check out Marc Huestiss’ film ‘Whatever Happened to Susan Jane’ at www.marchuestispresents.com

You can also buy the Dark Entries vinyl record re-issue BART, here: http://www.darkentriesrecords.com/bay-area-retrograde-bart-volume-1/

If you’d like to know more about the Cockettes or the films of David Weissman who gave me our fabulous opening quote, head on over here: http://www.davidweissmanfilms.com/ If you head on over to his short films section you can watch Teena et al. vamping it up in the amazing, ‘Beauties Without a Cause’.

Bile and Bruises

Dis

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Tuck and Cover: The Hidden History of the Punk Rock Drag Queen (part 1)

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!

 

Get it, HERE: http://www.darkentriesrecords.com/out-today-de-013-various-bay-area-retrograde-bart-vol-1/

 

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.

Like, comments, share, lather, rinse repeat!!!!

Love and Bruises

Dis Charge

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