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Whore of Babylon with a chainsaw: Short life and times of ‘Metal Priestess’ Wendy O. Williams
05.28.2013
10:13 am

Topics:
Feminism
Punk

Tags:
Wendy O. Williams
The Plasmatics


 
This is a guest post by Kimberly Bright, author of Chris Spedding: Reluctant Guitar Hero.

The more my daughter and her friends listen to Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and Ke$ha, the more I miss Wendy O. Williams.

However, if you are under 40, there’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of Wendy O. Williams, and that is tragic.

There have been imitators of the shock rock icon known as the Priestess of Metal here and there, but no front-woman has come close to replicating her aggressive sexuality, gleeful destructiveness, violence, provocative art, or flagrant disregard for her own personal safety.

Ivy League-educated artist, producer, and promoter Rod Swenson hired 27-year-old Wendy O. Williams as a dominatrix for his experimental theater/live sex show “Captain Kink’s Theatre” in New York City in 1976.  Wendy had led a nomadic existence since running away from home at sixteen, making and selling crafts, cooking, working a string of jobs such as lifeguard, stripper, topless dancer, and Dunkin’ Donuts server.  Swenson was also making videos for young New York punk bands like The Ramones, Dead Boys, and The Patti Smith Group. He decided to form his own punk-metal band, The Plasmatics, a year later and recruited Wendy, by then his girlfriend, to front it. With an initial line-up of Richie Stotts on guitar, Chosei Funahara on bass, and Stu Deutsch on drums, The Plasmatics debuted at CBGB’s in 1978. Wes Beech was soon added on guitar and the only band member other than Wendy to weather repeated personnel changes. The Plasmatics’ music and stage shows became infamous, prompting the curious to wait in line for hours to watch them at CBGB’s.

Live Plasmatics montage from 1981:
 

 
Plasmatics songs were loud, authentic tributes to sex, violence, independence, and rejection of societal norms. Their fusion of punk and metal, common two decades later, perfectly complemented Wendy’s raspy, shouting, snarling vocals and her wild stage persona.  With a platinum blonde mohawk (offsetting Richie Stotts’ blue one), smoky eye makeup, lean, tanned body clad in tight black leather or as little as possible (sometimes only a leather jacket and black underwear, a G-string and shaving cream), Wendy’s physically demanding act involved wielding chainsaws to dismember guitars (in lieu of guitar solos) and hefting sledgehammers to smash television sets. When the band outgrew CBGB’s, Wendy added smashing and detonating cars (especially Cadillacs) onstage, an unmistakable middle finger to consumerism.

“Basically, I hate conformity. I hate people telling me what to do. It makes me want to smash things. So-called normal behavior patterns make me so bored, I could throw up!”—Wendy O. Williams

Below, WOW talks with Tom Synder. You get a great sense of her personal philosophy here:
 

 
Sexually provocative without even trying, Wendy shamelessly simulated sex and masturbation onstage, which eventually led to her arrest on obscenity and public indecency charges in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Following these charges (eventually dismissed), Wendy took to wearing her trademark strips of black electrical tape over her nipples like a walking censored photograph. She dominated her performance spaces like a tattooed Amazonian stripper with rage issues.

Thanks to MTV’s willingness to play Plasmatics videos, Wendy will always be remembered for her doing her own dangerous stunts involving explosives, helicopters, school buses, and cars with no brakes. She was a peculiar contradiction of reckless daredevil and fitness and health nut. Unrelated to her sexual persona and shocking subject matter, she had a soft spot for animals, so much so that she pioneered animal rights, vegetarianism, and ecological concerns at a pre-Meat is Murder time when these views were not widespread among musical artists—forget the general population—other than Paul and Linda McCartney.

First signed to Stiff Records in the U.K., The Plasmatics recorded five studio albums (New Hope for the Wretched, Beyond the Valley of 1984, Coup d’Etat, Electric Lady Land Sessions, and Maggots: The Record) and three EP’s (Meet the Plasmatics, Butcher Baby, Metal Priestess). While not massive sellers, these releases, particularly New Hope, were hugely influential, and The Plasmatics gained mainstream attention from unexpected sources: ABC’s late night comedy show Fridays, Tom Snyder’s talk show Tomorrow, an opening spot on a 1982 KISS tour, and SCTV, for which The Plasmatics made a charming cameo in the “Fishin’ Musicians” sketch.

The Plasmatics on Fridays:
 

 
Wendy recorded three “solo” albums (W.O.W., Kommander of Kaos, and Deffest! And Baddest!), using Plasmatics members but not naming the albums so for legal reasons, and three collaborative EP’s with Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead (Iron Fist, Stand By Your Man, What’s Words Worth?).

“She was great, I used to fuck her. Although sometimes you ought to say she fucked me. She was a workout freak, muscles like steel rope.”—Lemmy Kilmister, Lemmy: The Movie

“No Class” with Motörhead:
 

 
W.O.W. was produced and co-written by Gene Simmons, with some of the songs appearing on later KISS albums. This hard rock offering earned her a Grammy nomination in 1985 for Best Female Rock Vocalist. Kommander of Kaos, her second solo album, was co-produced by Swenson and Wes Beech.

Wendy ventured into acting as early as 1979, when she appeared in porn (Candy Goes to Hollywood), later followed by indie film (the execrable Reform School Girls which at least contained her songs), musical theater (Rocky Horror), and mainstream television (MacGyver, The New Adventures of Beans Baxter) with moderate success.

Then suddenly in 1988, when heavy metal hair bands were dominating popular music, Wendy was bizarrely convinced by Rod Swenson to change her career path to rap (technically “thrash-rap”). This was only a few years after Dee Dee Ramone’s own similarly bad decision. In 1988 Wendy released Deffest! And Baddest! as Ultrafly and The Home Girls. Unfortunately that was her last recorded work. Her final live performance was on New Year’s Eve, 1988, with Richie Stotts’ post-Plasmatics band, playing “Mastermind.”

Wendy abruptly left both music and acting in 1991, when she and Rod Swenson moved to rural Connecticut. Wendy’s explanation was that she was tired of dealing with people. In Storr, Connecticut Wendy worked as an animal rescuer, natural foods activist, and kept a day job at a health food co-op.

But she was not happy and fulfilled in her retirement and seclusion. She struggled with untreated depression for seven years, and made at least two unsuccessful suicide attempts. She finally succeeded in a methodically planned suicide in 1998, spending her last moments alone in the woods, feeding squirrels before turning a gun on herself.

“For me, much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm.” –  Wendy O. Williams, suicide note


The loss of Wendy O. Williams’ voice and strong personality is still felt, 14 years later. Little has been released of her original, unedited concert footage, and there has been no proper retrospective of her career and enigmatic personal life.  She deserves better.
 

 
Below, The Plasmatics on German TV in 1981:
 

 
This is a guest post by Kimberly Bright, author of Chris Spedding: Reluctant Guitar Hero.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Plasmatics blow shit up on SCTV’s ‘The Fishin’ Musician’


 
John Candy as Gil Fisher, the fishin’ musician, is paid a visit by The Plasmatics in this wonderful bit from SCTV circa 1981.

This predated John Lurie’s Fishing with John TV series by 10 years. Goes to show you just how ahead of their time the crew at SCTV were.

Watch as Wendy O. Williams blows up things real good.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Wendy O. Williams’ obscene nipples

 
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In 1981 Wendy was arrested for obscene conduct during Plasmatics shows in Milwaukee and Cleveland. The authorities found her nipples guilty of some kind of criminal act. Here’s a brief clip of her discussing her legal hassles with New York TV newscaster Jack Cafferty . Williams was ultimately acquitted of any legal wrongdoing in both cases. She avoided any future dustups with the cops by covering her nipples with electrical tape.

Cafferty is currently a conservative talking head on CNN.

The newscast begins with a clip of Wendy driving an exploding Cadillac into the Hudson River.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment