Helen Wheels by R. Crumb (via Wild Dog)
Helen Wheels (née Robbins) wrote the lyrics to “Tattoo Vampire,” the B-side of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.” The song memorializes the time Warhol superstar Eric Emerson pulled a knife on her and her boss and made them tattoo his unconscious girlfriend, as Wheels explained to writer Martin Popoff:
There was this guy, Eric Emerson from The Magic Tramps, an early glitter rock band from the New York Dolls era. He was also in some of the Warhol movies, and I acted as an assistant to a tattooist known as Ernesto Tattoo that had tattooed Eric and his girlfriend, who Eric had us tattoo at knifepoint later [laughs]. That was pretty crazy. We were all partying hearty into the night and Eric was reaching a new manic level of behavior, insisting with a big kitchen knife that now it was his girlfriend’s turn, even though she was unconscious and Ernie was all sails to the wind, high and drunk. Ernie protested that he couldn’t even draw a straight line, but before you know it Eric had him at knifepoint, rolling B’s lifeless body onto the table, stripping her clothes off and tattooing “ERIC” in six, seven-inch letters across her side, hips and tush. She lay there snoring like a beached whale, never waking as the huge tattoo proceeded in thick, wavy red letters. Ernie looked about to cry, knowing he could hardly keep it together. Eric’s glee mounted as the square inches of bloody red letters scarred across B’s backside. Then it was done, the knife put down, B’s butt bandaged up, and still snoring, she was rolled to another location.
Eric has long since died; rode his bicycle into a truck in New York traffic. But yeah, I wrote that song in the Cafe Figaro on Macdougal Street on a paper bag, and boy, it made me the most money of all my stuff.
Helen Wheels fell in with Blue Öyster Cult in 1967, when she was a student at SUNY Stony Brook and BÖC was still called Soft White Underbelly. Albert Bouchard says he first met her at a Ravi Shankar concert at the college.
Both The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk and Richard Meltzer’s Autumn Rhythm stress how quiet and sweet young Helen Robbins was, but when she first appears in one of Meltzer’s stories in Blue Öyster Cult: Secrets Revealed!, she’s already something of a firebrand. Meltzer claims that, in ‘69, her paperboy-style mescaline dealing caused a member of the Underbelly to quit:
It’s funny, this guy Andy Winters was the first one to quit the band. One of the reasons he quit the band was that Helen was selling drugs. It was a band that did so little drugs in the early stages. Maybe they would smoke pot once in a while and maybe each member of the band took acid once. In any case, all of a sudden in the fall or winter of ‘69, suddenly Helen was selling mescaline; without telling anybody, she’d started this business. And she worked part-time at a liquor store. She’d tell these kids, ‘If you like gin, I know something that will really get you high.’ So like, 11 p.m., knock on the door, in a suburban neighborhood, a bunch of rich people, like a very upscale suburban neighborhood, and two strangers knock on the door, ‘Where’s the mescaline?’ [...] And you know, Helen, this is a bad idea, selling drugs to strangers in this neighborhood, come on. She wouldn’t give it up. So Andy quit. It was like, fuck this. You’d hear a siren in the distance, and it was like, this is it, they’re going to lock us up and throw away the key.
(In the same book, Bouchard denies it was “a dealing situation,” and says he mostly recalls taking the drugs Helen stole from her job at a pharmacy, not selling them.)
Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators gave her the name Helen Wheels in the mid-Seventies, when she was the band’s costumer; Dictator Scott Kempner later played in Helen Wheels Band. She kept pet snakes and claimed UFOs “regularly” abducted her during her teens and 20s. In an interview with ROCKRGRL published the year before her death, Wheels said she no longer knocked over people’s drinks and stuck knives in their tables at shows because exercise and “writing about body building, UFOs, motorcycles and magic” helped with her anger.
Embedded below are both sides of Helen Wheels’ 1978 single (taken from the CD compilation Archetype, which also includes Helen Wheels Band’s 1981 release Post Modern Living), followed by BÖC’s “Tattoo Vampire.”
“Room to Rage”:
“Tattoo Vampire” (Helen Wheels’ version here):