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‘We got shot at’ – the outrageous life of Jayne County, the first trans rock’n’roller | Music

Jayne County is explaining the time period “wrecking”, which was a preferred pastime amongst the extra confrontational drag queens of Atlanta, Georgia, in the 60s. “Simply intentionally attempting to freak out the common individuals, the solids as we referred to as them,” she laughs. “Shaking individuals out of their normality, simply attempting to see what nerves we might push. They want their nerves twisted every now and then.

“We used to do issues like go into malls and trip up and down the elevators simply screaming, you already know, holding up girls’s garments and saying, ‘Take a look at this! He’s going to adore me on this!’ One of our huge wrecks was going into the males’s room at the Greyhound bus station, a bunch of us queens, possibly 4 or 5. The boys had been at the urinals with their you-know-whats out and we’d begin screaming, ‘Ooh, look how huge it’s! Take a look at that one! Oh my God, I feel I had that one final night time! How is your spouse in mattress, darling? I’d be quite a bit higher!’ The fellows could be speeding to get their zippers up, so uncomfortable with us in there.”

Maybe understandably, wrecking was not an exercise with out its dangers in the deep south of the 60s. “It’s a surprise we didn’t get killed, a surprise we didn’t get in additional bother than we did,” she says, talking by telephone from Atlanta. “We did get shot at. They might really come by of their vehicles and shoot at us for the enjoyable. You possibly can hear the bullets flying previous your head – shhhhhhw! Oh yeah, they wished to kill us. However I feel, as a result of individuals had been so shocked, they normally didn’t have time to consider hurting us. They had been simply too busy being shocked. By the time they got over it, we had been gone they usually’d be questioning what the fuck occurred.”

It was all a very long time in the past, when Jayne County was nonetheless Wayne County, previously Wayne Rogers, the son of working-class mother and father, who took to sporting make-up at college and graduated sporting lipstick. “I can’t actually conceal what I’m very nicely,” she says. County’s story subsequently took her from Atlanta to New York; from the Stonewall riot to the transgressive demimonde that gathered round Andy Warhol’s Manufacturing unit; from glam rock to punk, the place Wayne ultimately grew to become Jayne, the world’s first transgender rock’n’roller. It’s one of the most extraordinary sagas in rock historical past: you learn her not too long ago republished autobiography Man Enough to Be a Woman along with your mouth hanging open, not least as a result of, all through all of it, County by no means actually stopped wrecking. Regardless of the place she fetches up, she in some way manages to finish up stunning not simply the solids, however the different individuals intent on stunning the solids.

Warning: specific lyrics

It took some effort to emerge as the outrageous one in Warhol’s late-60s circle, however County managed it. New York’s absurdist fringe theatre firm the Theatre of the Ridiculous had already staged performs that includes necrophiles and a personality primarily based on John Wayne who apparently “gave delivery to a child out of his asshole whereas doing poppers” – however even they balked at staging County’s play, which got here with the thought-provoking title Wanker: Fascist Rhapsody. The glam scene was huge on decadence and ambiguous sexuality, nevertheless it clearly wasn’t ready for County singing You Gotta Get Laid to Keep Wholesome (And I’m the Healthiest Lady in City) whereas clad in a costume made of condoms.

Punk dealt in wilful offence, however not less than some punks appeared to attract the line at County’s band the Electrical Chairs and their signature song (If You Don’t Wish to Fuck Me) Fuck Off. Throughout a efficiency at CBGBs music membership, one of County’s fellow musicians started shouting homophobic insults at her, an motion he presumably regretted when County broke his shoulder with a microphone stand in response. Report firms, she sighs, “had no thought what to do with me in any respect. It was simply too past their understanding.”

‘Miss Warhol was a troublemaker’ … with Andy and the cast of his play, Pork, in 1971.
‘Miss Warhol was a troublemaker’ … with Andy and the solid of his play, Pork, in 1971. {Photograph}: Jack Mitchell/Getty Pictures

She arrived in New York penniless – her belongings had been misplaced en route – surviving on “the kindness of strangers” till she got an residence with fellow drag queens Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, later namechecked in Lou Reed’s Stroll on the Wild Aspect. Via her work with the Theatre of the Ridiculous, she attracted the consideration of Andy Warhol (“Miss Warhol liked the wrecking; she was a troublemaker, she wrecked individuals together with her artwork”) ultimately ending up in the solid of his play Pork, as a personality referred to as Vulva Lips. It was a succès de scandale when it transferred to the Roundhouse in London in the summer season of 1971, attracting each horrified evaluations and the consideration of David Bowie, then planning his reinvention as Ziggy Stardust.

County was signed to Bowie’s administration firm, Mainman, and started writing songs together with her band Queen Elizabeth (named not after the monarch, however a fellow drag queen again in Atlanta), who continuously performed with New York Dolls. However Queen Elizabeth’s dwell performances had been so stunning, they succeeded in upsetting even New York’s burgeoning homosexual liberation motion. “They had been horrified by me as a result of they didn’t need individuals to assume ‘homosexual’ meant being like me on stage, rolling round licking dildos and sitting on bogs and pretending to shit utilizing pet food. It freaked them out a lot, they pulled the plug on my reveals. They stated: ‘We is not going to have New York College was a forty second Road smut present.’ They had been afraid that somebody was going to assume that they appreciated that stuff, too.”

Demimonde … with David Johansen of New York Dolls.
Demimonde … with David Johansen of New York Dolls. {Photograph}: Leee Black Childers/Redferns

Mainman appeared equally baffled about what to do with County, funding and filming an extravagant 1974 dwell present – Wayne County at the Vehicles, the title a reference to a infamous New York cruising space – then declining to launch the movie and album. The latter lastly emerged in 2006, a startling doc of glam at its most uncooked and confrontational. “They used to say, ‘You’ve seen David and also you’ve seen the Dolls, however Wayne County is the actual deal. He’s doing it out of actual life, out of actual creatures that dwell on the market and are half of the undercurrent of our tradition.’

“I couldn’t get anyplace for a very long time as a result of individuals had been too freaked out by me. I wrecked them an excessive amount of. They’d no thought the right way to market me. I imply, my pal [photographer] Leee Black Childers used to say, ‘Simply promote her as some form of horror present!’ They promoted Alice Cooper as a horror present, so possibly I might have been promoted as a unique form of horror present.”

When punk arrived, says County, “it made an area for me”: not a lot in America, however in Europe. Most visiting New York punks had been horrified by the British interpretation of the motion, with its gobbing and violence, however County liked it. “It was extra of a present, extra visible. In London, they accepted me – the first time I performed the Roxy, it was a mob scene, actually traces round the block. You had been anticipated to be not simply on the edge, however over the high, so it was an amazing house for me to do what I did, to get all the consideration I wanted. It was unbelievable.”

The Electrical Chairs made three albums. Inevitably, a band whose oeuvre included Fuck Off, Rest room Love and Imply Motherfuckin’ Man by no means crossed over into the mainstream, with County’s affect solely actually turning into clear years later: every time they performed in Liverpool, a younger Pete Burns – later to search out fame as the frontman of Useless Or Alive – was “at all times proper at the entrance, watching my each transfer”.

County toyed with the thought of gender reassignment surgical procedure, however determined she was happier “being in between or being neither”. “A really trendy idea,” she says. “It’s extra accepted now, however again then it was thought-about extraordinarily radical to need to be each sexes, to be a mixture of each, or to be neither. You have got so many identities now that appear to be rising … there’s so many in-betweens, so many various variations of what a person or a girl is. Anybody that tells you they’re all man or all male is mendacity.”

County last year at an exhibition, with Faith No More musician Roddy Bottum.
‘Completely satisfied outdated maid’ … County final yr at an exhibition, with Religion No Extra musician Roddy Bottum. {Photograph}: PMC/Getty Pictures

After the Electrical Chairs broke up, County moved to Berlin, working in theatre and movies and, for a time, doing intercourse work. “That was a really off-the-cuff factor. Some of the ladies had been doing it, my pal Miss Alison was doing it, and I wished to be cool and make a bit of more money. It was fairly a studying expertise, actually, about males and their tackle issues, how they react in sure sexual conditions. Most of the males had been married, wives and children at house. It was their probability to kick up their heels.”

Today, she says, she has “turn out to be form of mellow”, though her most up-to-date musical output – a single with fellow Atlanta trans artist Am Taylor referred to as I Don’t Fit in Anywhere, full with a video that depicts County reworking a church congregation right into a riot of boozing, smoking and oral intercourse – doesn’t actually recommend as a lot. She moved again to Atlanta to take care of her ailing mother and father and stayed, working as a visible artist – she’s exhibited in New York and London – and residing the life of “a contented outdated maid, with no man to drive me loopy”.

Generally, County says, she appears to be like again on the occasions recounted in Man Sufficient to Be a Girl and thinks: “It’s like I’ve got a form of double they usually did all that whereas I’m simply sitting right here, studying about it.” Different instances, the outdated Jayne County makes herself recognized. “I nonetheless to at the present time do some wrecking with out even understanding I’m doing it.” She laughs. “I’ve a foul tendency to speak an excessive amount of once I’m out buying. Generally I’ll say one thing actually outrageous to myself and make the individual buying subsequent to me actually nervous. I get an enormous thrill out of doing that.”

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