The Plasmatics, formed by lead singer Wendy O. Williams and manager Rod Swenson in 1977, were at the forefront of the first wave of American punk, getting their start at the legendary CBGB with their first gig in July of 1978. Their taboo-busting stage show gained them a huge cult following through the early 80s, featuring the shock antics of Williams, who was prone to wearing little more than electrical tape over her nipples and short school-girl skirts, while chainsawing guitars in half and blowing up cop cars onstage. Wendy O. Williams, who sadly passed in 1998, was one of rock’s all-time ballsiest performers, and her act lead to 1981 obscenity arrests in Cleveland and Milwaukee, where she was also beaten by police and received a charge of battery to an officer (which was later dropped, along with the obscenity charge).
Rod Swenson, the Plasmatics manager, shot all of the band’s conceptual videos and many of their live shows. Much of that show footage has never been released and was thought, for a time, to be lost.
During a recent move of Plasmatics/Wendy O. Williams archive material, a cache of unlabeled boxes was found, containing footage of the early shows shot by Swenson. Though much of the material had degraded over time, a restoration and salvage job saved many of these historic performances. A DVD release has been prepared and is currently available as a pre-order. The DVD contains sixteen songs recorded at various venues between 1978 and 1981.
Dangerous Minds has obtained a clip from this footage, which is the earliest known Plasmatics live video, and you can see it after the jump…
A movie poster for the 1986 film ‘Reform School Girls’ with Wendy O. Williams, Sybil Danning and Andy Warhol pal Pat Ast (pictured prominently above).
The “WIP” (“women in prison”) film genre has several sub-genres ranging from nuns in prison to an interpretation favored mostly by European filmmakers who loved to include Nazis in their chick-centric prison flicks. Italy, Germany, and France put out quite a few WIP films back in the 70s and 80s, as did the U.S. of A. and the Philippines. When the first women in prison films made their way to the big screen they were more dramatically inclined. One of the very first films to tell the tale of a girl behind bars is Hold Your Man starring the profitable on-screen power couple of Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. The film is full of some pretty salacious stuff. Thankfully, this was 1933 and Hollywood films were still getting away with more on screen prior to the enforcement of rules laid out in the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 being widely adopted within the industry as it wasn’t really wasn’t policed until late in 1934. Which made a film like Hold Your Man—whose plotline involved a gorgeous blonde getting stuck behind bars while she’s knocked up with her lover’s baby—possible.
You can find WIP films in every decade but because both the 1970s and 1980s are so near and dear to my heart—and because I’d quite frankly love the opportunity to do another one of these posts—we’re going to stay put in those two consecutive decades. The genre can be pretty strange and runs anywhere from girl-heavy drama which would generally fall into the “redemption” film category to straight-up pornography. In the 1950s WIP films were heavily influenced by pulp fiction novels but it wouldn’t take long for the films to evolve (or devolve perhaps) into exploitation flicks with lots of nudity, sex, violence, rape, and notably deviant plotlines.
The popularity of the genre and its many sub-genres soared during the 70s and 80s which would bring us , Chained Heat starring teen queen Linda Blair and Wendy O. Williams’s prison warden in Reform School Girls. So now that I think I’ve given you more than a few compelling reasons to take a deep dive into this strangely complex film genre, I’ve posted a large selection of WIP movie posters that are mostly NSFW as you would expect them to be.
A shot of a crocheted Tura Satana finger puppet (in the image of Tura’s character from the 1968 film ‘The Astro-Zombies’ playing behind her on the television) by Galen Djuna Green.
So I have some good news and some bad news about the strange, crocheted little finger puppets in this post made by artist Galen Djuna Green. The good news is that as recently as last year Green was offering her topless finger puppets for sale on her Etsy page Galendjuna Knitty Titties. So what’s the bad news? Well, there aren’t any up for sale currently on the page. Which is really sad as Green’s naughty knitted bad girls are rather covetable.
I will say this—since the Knitty Titties page is still active that *may* indicate that Green is still taking orders for past designs or new custom requests. Which I really hope is the case as some of her past finger puppets include Siouxsie Sioux, Wendy O. Williams, Kembra Pfahler (The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black), a few fantastic drag queens and an uncanny likeness of Tura Satana based on her “Satana” character from the 1968 film The Astro-Zombies (pictured at the top of this post). Tiny Tura’s little pink top even comes off! I’ve posted a number of images below of Green’s puppets which while small, clearly have big attitudes. They are also very NSWF much like the ladies they are based on themselves.
The Plasmatics at The Rathskeller in Boston. Photo generously provided by Mike Mayhan.
You Can Dress Up In Disguises
You Can Try To Mesmerize ‘em
You Can Surround
Yourself With Friends
Who Tell You What You Want To Hear
But In The End No Matter What You Do
You Will Come Shining Through
A few lyrics from the Plasmatics 1981 song “A Pig is a Pig”
I wasn’t old enough to truly appreciate Plasmatics vocalist and heavy metal crusader Wendy O. Williams during her punk-era heyday. But by the time I figured out who I wanted to be sometime in the late 80s I was fully in awe of her.
Williams was an inspiration for me back when I had become brave enough to put myself out into the world—writing about music, weirdness and other lowbrow pursuits. She was confident, strong and never ever took a backseat to anyone. Not the press who hounded her, people who flat out didn’t understand her and chose to label her as “obscene,” or the cops who sent her to the hospital when she defied them. Last week was a challenge to me as a human. I know I wasn’t the only one who laid in bed a lot because the contemplation of what our future looks like was too much for me to handle while standing up. I’m now past my “mourning” period and have moved on to being very fucking angry.
Basically, I hate conformity. I hate people telling me what to do. It makes me want to smash things. So-called normal behaviour patterns make me so bored, I could throw up!—W.O.W.
As a woman, forward thinker—and a mother—I want you to listen to Wendy share her feelings spoken some 35 years ago about sexism and female objectification—two negative attitudes that have become even more magnified (as well as seemingly completely acceptable to half of the residents of the U.S.) of late. They echo the spirit of lyrics of the Plasmatics powerful (and timely) song, “Pig is a Pig” (from the band’s second release Beyond the Valley of 1984) which Williams’ references during the short interview with Jeanne Beker on the Toronto-based The Music Show back in 1981. While trying to sort through all the madness that has been the past week, like many of you I relied on music to get me through as nothing else made any fucking sense. When I came across the footage of Wendy O’s interview I felt a distinct wave of reassurance thanks to her powerful words and point-blank fuck-this-bullshit attitude which are very much reflective of the many emotions I’ve been rollercoastering through myself.
Here’s something I didn’t know about: that time when Wendy O. Williams guest starred on MacGyver!? The episode aired on November 5th, 1990. You see Wendy wielding around a gun and in an ice skating rink getting an ass whooping by a nun played by none other than Richie Cunningham’s mom of Happy Days, Marion Ross.
Added footage in this video includes scenes from the 1989 film Pucker Up and Bark Like a Dog. Someone who claims to have worked on the film chimed in the YouTube comments and had this to say:
i was a camera assistant on the movie Pucker Up…fun moments with Wendy O. Curiously enough she did not know how to ride a motorcycle so she was “pushed” into the shot from off camera. The hallway whipping scenes were 90% improv…was intense being in there.
I realize that I’m blogging about these cards just a week before Valentine’s Day. Perhaps I’m too late to the game on this one, but maybe they can be rushed delivered? Anyway, here they are in all their glory… heavy metal heroes Valentine’s Day cards! For those who, you know, don’t want to get all mushy-gushy on the holiday.
You get nine different metal heroes that come in a set of 27. The set of cards sell for $15.00. Get ‘em here.
I don’t like fashion. I don’t like art. I do like smashing up expensive things.
Wendy O. Williams
Over the years here in at Dangerous Minds many of the excellent punk rock-loving contributors have dug up fantastic vintage footage of bands performing on various music television shows around the world like Beat-Club (Germany), and UK shows such as Top of the Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Tube.
That said, I find it hard to conceive of any band ever out-cooling this mind-melting performance by The Plasmatics on German music television show, Musikladen (formerly known as the Beat-Club) from 1981. In twelve short minutes, Wendy Orlean Williams has no less than three “wardrobe” changes, destroys a guitar with a chainsaw, and a television and a car with a sledgehammer before blowing up said car.
In addition to the top-notch chaos that the band was known for bringing to their live performances, The Plasmatics also rip through three songs from their 1980 debut record, New Hope for the Wretched—“Living Dead,” “Butcher Baby,” and their psychotic cover of Bobby Darin’s 1959 hit, “Dream Lover.” That same year, talk show host Tom Snyder called The Plasmatics “the greatest punk rock band in the entire world.” And guess what? He was fucking right.
A word of caution before you hit the play button for the video below - it’s NSFW. And that’s exactly why you must watch it.
Sometime during the mid-‘80s, I stopped buying MAD every month and begun habitually picking up National Lampoon. Both publications were in decline at the time, though in my teens I hadn’t the perspective to know that. I think I was probably flattering myself that the more collegiate content of the Lampoon was more my speed, but in any case, in 1985, I picked up an issue of the Lampoon that I would hang onto for decades to follow.
It was dated November, 1985 and titled “The Mad as Hell Issue.” Apart from a handful of fucked-up cartoons, it featured none of the magazine’s usual content, and instead was an open forum for celebrities of varying degrees of fame from the worlds of show business, publishing, music, et al, to vent about what irked them, and none were written by contemporary NL staffers, though some past names from the publication’s masthead were included. It can easily be found on eBay and Amazon, and naturally it’s part of the CD Rom release of every issue in the magazine’s entire history. Editor Matty Simmons introduced the issue thusly:
This issue of the National Lampoon is completely different from any other issue of the magazine published in its more-than-fifteen-year history. It has, first of all, basically been written by guest contributors, most of whom are not humorists. Second, much of what appears on these pages is not intended to be humorous. In many cases, the text is an expression of absolute anger, or, at least, pique. Other “mad as hell” pieces are indeed written humorously. It’s a mixture. And it’s a fascinating first for this or possibly any other national magazine.
You will read reflections here from governors and mayors and actors and authors and rock stars and directors and other celebrities, and some from people who are not celebrities. They’re just “mad,” and, we think, they express that anger interestingly. Why have we done this?
Maybe because there is so much to be mad about these days. Maybe because we’re all so well informed, so exposed to so many things because of television, we’ve learned to react — good or bad— more than we ever have before. It’s healthy to be “mad as hell” about things you think are wrong. Apathy is a dangerous lack of a state of mind.
Why this departure from an editorial policy which is always all-humor and usually mostly fiction? Because we think it’s an idea that works, and innovation is mostly what we’re about.
And anyway, we took a vote of the entire staff. There was one vote for doing the issue, and nineteen votes against it.
So I won.
The issue included exceptionally thoughtful long-form essays by columnist Jeff Greenfield and filmmaker John Waters, whose piece would be reprinted in Crackpot. There were “Jesus wept” length contributions from actor Mickey Rooney (“People aren’t mad enough about improving things—about themselves or our country.”) and Broadway luminary Hal Prince (“I’m madder than hell at all this trivia!”). The great clown Larry Harmon, who created the extraordinarily famous and durable character Bozo, contributed a piece about the travails of his 1984 in-character presidential run.
Totally in love with these cheap little vintage punk rock trading cards. Today we truly live in a post-punk world! Chain gas stations sell Misfits Zippos to oblivious rednecks! Hot Topic has monetized every band under the sun by slapping their logos on everything short of your first-born! Isn’t there something kind of quaint about this modest old school attempt to capitalize off punk fandom? The awkward little captions, the trademarks and copyrights over what I’m almost sure are fair-use press photos—it was a more innocent time of hucksterism!
I assume the cards didn’t move that well, considering these all came from 1981/82 editions of Punk Lives magazine (forget the copyright, most of these bands didn’t even exist in 1978). Perhaps whoever thought them up overestimated the archivist tendencies of early punk rocker, but I like the kitsch of such obsolete tinpot swag. Note early incarnation of The Cult with fresh-faced Ian Astbury; and Mark Chung and FM Einheit, later of Einstürzende Neubauten, back when they were in the Abwarts.
Despite the sledgehammers, chainsaws and occasional police-instigated violence that became heavily associated with Plasmatics’ shows, the late, great Wendy O. Williams was first and foremost a gentle soul, with more than a touch of hippie influence. As a teenage runaway she bounced around the Rocky Mountains and sold crafts, moved to Florida to be a lifeguard and even cooked at a health food restaurant in London before making the stage her home.
Wendy was also an advocate for animal welfare and a vocal vegetarian. One might understandably assume that her dietary choices were entirely ethically motivated, but this 1984 interview from Vegetarian Times (see her as the adorable cover girl above) shows she was also incredibly health-conscious—a serious urban gardener who avoided drugs and alcohol, exercised regularly and sprouted her own macrobiotic diet from a Tribeca loft. Williams actually taught a macrobiotic cooking class at the Learning Annex!
The best part? The article includes Williams’ own super-hippie recipe for salad dressing—it actually sounds like a pretty intriguing flavor profile too. Save it for your next Plasmatics themed dinner party!
Wendy’s diet is very heavy on live foods and sprouts. The salad dressing is the result of experimentation in the blender and it’s rather unique in that it includes fresh greens chopped up into the dressing. She advises that its [sic] best to use two different types of greens; one for the dressing, one for the salad.
1 1/2 cups rejuvelac (soak a cup of wheat berries in 3–4 cups of water for 3 days or until berries settle; then strain)
1 clove garlic
1 Tbs. miso or soy sauce
2 Tbs. lecithin
1 Tbs. cumin
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
Fresh herbs of your choice
Mixed greens (parsley, celery, sorrel, lettuce, spinach, or green
Add seasonings to rejuvelac and whir in blender. Add, little by little, 1 pound of mixed greens, Until greens or chopped and mix well. Best when used fresh.
Below, Wendy and her fellow Plasmatics go on a safari with John Candy on SCT.
In 1987 Williams O. Williams hosted the Headbangers Ball, a heavy metal show that ran for eight years on MTV before it was abruptly cancelled in 1995 (The series was re-born in 2003 and still runs today on MTV2 for those of you who care). If you know who Wendy O.Williams was, then you are in for a treat. If you do not know who she was you really must change that and perhaps this will help. Headbangers Ball had a reputation for giving everyone from their guests to their hosts carte blanche on the show, which usually led to metalheads running amok on set. During the four-minute bit of footage below, Williams continually refers to the Ball as the “Maggot Moshers Ball” while the green screen shows a pile of the squishy bugs crawling around, juxtaposed at times with the cover to the Plasmatics’ 1987 record Maggots: The Record. She cracks jokes, is overly dramatic and makes a few anti-establishment statements along the way that likely went WAY over the heads of the average Headbangers Ball viewer. All while looking like a gymnastics team dropout that just doesn’t give a fuck.
Occasionally you can find copies of the old Headbangers Ball on VHS. You can also track them down on eBay and elsewhere on DVD-R that some die-hard metal fan burned for a pretty reasonable dime. If you can track down a copy of Wendy’s show (May 27th, 1987), it will be worth the effort. The original 90+ minute episode also contains footage of her jamming with Lemmy Kilmister at London’s Camden Palace in 1985 as well as the video for the Plasmatics’ song “The Dammed” which is nothing less than an iconic snapshot of pure punk adrenaline.
Directly following the Headbangers Ball bit you can see clips Williams did for Radio 1990, a TV show that ran on the USA cable network for a few years in the early 80’s.
Lastly, if you draw the conclusion that Williams was “high” or “drunk” during her appearance on the Ball, forget it . She was straight-edge. A vegetarian and exercise junkie who dedicated much of her too-short life to protecting animals and speaking out in support of wildlife advocacy. Let there be no doubt, we lost one of the great wild untamed spirits when we lost Wendy O. Williams in 1998.
The Plasmatics gained a unique notoriety in late-70s NYC, not necessarily for their metal/punk hybrid music, but for twisted and over-the-top live shows. These regularly featured live chickens and the chainsaw deaths of their own guitars and items symbolic of consumer society (like TV sets), but they mostly focused on the flaunted sexuality and aggressive attitude of singer Wendy O. Williams, known for performing practically nude save for a g-string and a “top” fashioned from shaving-cream or pieces of strategically placed electrical tape.
When you’re better known for your live stunts than your songs, there’s always a need to keep pushing things further, so when the time came to publicize their debut LP, the classic New Hope for the Wretched (their insane version of Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover” is, by itself, worth the cost of the album), The Plasmatics devised something extraordinary.
Per the September 1998 issue of Spin:
The defining moment for the punk-metal band The Plasmatics was in New York City in the fall of 1980, when Wendy Williams jumped out of a moving Cadillac just before it exploded and catapulted off Pier 62 into the Hudson River. The victim, a ’72 Coupe de Ville, had been purchased from a couple who initially had doubts about selling the car they had driven all through their high-school days to the Plasmatics. “I don’t want my car to die!” the young wife said.
“Everything must die,” Wendy said sensibly, “but your car will be immortal.”
Williams was born on May 28, 1949, and so would have been 65 today had she not taken her own life in 1998. In their pursuit of the outlandish, she and her band did nothing halfway, and the Pier 62 show was just the beginning of an awesome career of wrecking shit. If you’re at work, be advised, Wendy O. Williams is in this video, and thus there are boobies.
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.
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.