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Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics
March 21, 2012 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Despised by the rock establishment which they assaulted with every turn, Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics were so far ahead of their time in so many ways it is hard to know where to begin. They synthesized punk and metal before it was cool to do so, used chain saws and other noise put through amplifiers, and their stage shows were second to none. (previously)

After terrorizing the television audiences of Tom Snyder, SCTV, and Solid Gold, Wendy went on to a memorable supporting role in Reform School Girls.
posted by Trurl (46 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
We loved Wendy O., even out in Podunksville, Texas.
posted by Xoebe at 11:14 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't disagree with the phrase "rock establishment" but it still blows my mind.
posted by DU at 11:17 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


That poor Nova on the Snyder clip. Classic.

What a loss. Definitely missed.......a lot.

Thanks for the clips.
posted by lampshade at 11:20 AM on March 21, 2012


Here's the footage of their 1980 New York show where Wendy drove a car onto the stage, which promptly collapsed into the Hudson River.

Sadly, in later years, Wendy O. lapsed into depression and committed suicide in '98.
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:20 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember watching this with my family when I was a kid. My brother and I turned to each other with a look of "OMG that was the coolest thing EVAR!!1!" on our faces, and then we turned around and saw our parents faces which clearly read, "what the fuck was that?"
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:23 AM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


i have a vision of wendy o. williams' breasts with little X's of electrical tape across the nipples burned into my retinas, and i expect it will be there the rest of my life.
posted by facetious at 11:28 AM on March 21, 2012 [15 favorites]


I saw them at the Palladium in NY in '79 or '80. I was thirteen and she had electrician's tape covering her nipples - at the time I felt like I was exactly the right audience. (I was tall for my age - I can't remember there being a problem getting in.)

My Dad let us go on the condition that he come with us. It impressed him to the point that he invited blue-mohawked Richie Stotts to appear in a J├Ągermeister ad. (Which Richie did.)
posted by progosk at 11:30 AM on March 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I second the previous speaker.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:30 AM on March 21, 2012


Oh yeah, I remember that appearance of The Plasmatics on Tom Snyder. I was living in the miserable shithole of Dubuque, Iowa, a very punk-unfriendly town. It was a friday night and I had decided to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels and some Coke and have a drink or two while waiting for the Tomorrow Show to come on.

I got so excited about the show that before I realized it, I drank half the bottle. I have a woozy memory of watching the performance while laying on the floor and puking all over.

Ah, good times.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:41 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Depending upon your taste in kinky and NSFW you might or might not Google "Wendy O Williams ping pong ball video". I take no responsibility for anything that happens if you do.
posted by Splunge at 11:43 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


So envious of you, progosk! I only saw Wendy O. on TV, because I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and by the time I moved to the middle of somewhere she had pretty much stopped performing.

But I have never forgotten her. She was the Kathy Acker of music, in my opinion.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I consider myself a fan of punk (and new wave).

I do not think the Plasmatics were particularly good.

I think they had the same relationship to punk as Gallagher has to comedy. Is there a category for prop punk?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


A little punk rock nostalgia is harmless, but it always threatens to metastasize into something every bit as vile as the smug boomer self-satisfaction that punk allegedly demolished:

"We stopped a triple album, man!"
posted by thelonius at 11:47 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


A little punk rock nostalgia is harmless, but it always threatens to metastasize into something every bit as vile as the smug boomer self-satisfaction that punk allegedly demolished:

I say this as a long-time fan of punk rock: If there's one phrase that nearly universally describes and unifies all punk rock from the beginning through the present time, regardless of the sound of the music or the look of the performers, it's "smug self-satisfaction."
posted by The World Famous at 11:50 AM on March 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm of the same opinion as Clyde, that the Plasmatics were a kind of vaudeville version of punk, however their Maggots album was great fun.
posted by cazoo at 11:58 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always thought the really interesting crisis for punk musicians was when they had been doing it long enough that they could suddenly play well. This gives you, in one direction, The Clash, making pastiches of reggae, rockabilly, and other styles, and, in another direction, The Ramones, just honing the basic 1-2-3-4 warhead into something tighter and faster.

Now for the part where y'all tell me how wrong I am.....
posted by thelonius at 11:58 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


After watching some videos, the only thing I can think is "but why does she look so much more like Lemmy Koopa?"
posted by darksasami at 11:59 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


@thelonius:

Then there are punk bands which become so ltechnicaly proficient that they become de facto metal. (Suicidal Tendencies, The Exploited, and Napalm Death come to mind.)
posted by Renoroc at 12:00 PM on March 21, 2012


I say this as a long-time fan of punk rock: If there's one phrase that nearly universally describes and unifies all punk rock from the beginning through the present time, regardless of the sound of the music or the look of the performers, it's "smug self-satisfaction."

Yeah, now tell me that while you're riding on top of a driverless school bus full of gasoline and dynamite rigged to explode when it crashes into a wall of TV sets, and then jump off at the last possible moment.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:02 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


De Facto Metal. That's a good band name.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:03 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't disagree with the phrase "rock establishment" but it still blows my mind.

One of the Plasmatics' most important achievements was showing many of us that there IS such a thing as a "rock establishment", long before RIAA became one of the most profane four-letter words.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:03 PM on March 21, 2012


God damn, I loved Wendy O., and I appreciate being reminded of her. I was 13, so I didn't know anything about music, not that I know much more now, but she was just so bad ass. I wanted to be her even more than I wanted to be Joan Jett, if that's possible.

.
For Wendy O., gone far too soon.

Also, that school bus thing was epic.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 12:08 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


De Facto Metal. That's a good band name.

I'm thinking Muppet.
posted by bondcliff at 12:10 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, now tell me that while you're riding on top of a driverless school bus full of gasoline and dynamite rigged to explode when it crashes into a wall of TV sets, and then jump off at the last possible moment .

It's been at least a decade since I was smug and self-satisfied enough to do anything like that. Also, bad knees.
posted by The World Famous at 12:15 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


i knew i had grown up about as much as i was going to when i started digging wendy o. a lot more than hunter s.
posted by beefetish at 12:18 PM on March 21, 2012


I think they had the same relationship to punk as Gallagher has to comedy. Is there a category for prop punk?

They were a punk/hardcore gateway drug.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:24 PM on March 21, 2012


This thread is not complete without her iconic mug shot. (uncropped but B&W version here)
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:26 PM on March 21, 2012


If you have never seen The Plasmatics at Pier 62, you are missing out. Watch just for the voiceover at the beginning. "Smashing up expensive things makes me cum."
posted by Catblack at 12:35 PM on March 21, 2012


I don't know if I ever "liked" Wendy O, but it certainly is hard to quantify how much I loved her attitude and I've great respect for her doing what she did at that time.
posted by edgeways at 12:37 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I was just watching that Tom Snyder show last night. I was too young to have seen it the first time...I can't get over the fact they actually showed that on network, broadcast tv. And everyone was smoking on camera!
posted by JoanArkham at 12:47 PM on March 21, 2012


Maggots. The best rock opera ever created.

Miss ya, Wendy.
posted by davelog at 12:51 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do not think the Plasmatics were particularly good.

I think they had the same relationship to punk as Gallagher has to comedy. Is there a category for prop punk?


I consider myself a gigantic fan of punk and hardcore and I love the Plasmatics, yes they were cheesy as hell, but I think their first album has some pretty good material. Songs like butcher baby, concrete shoes and monkey suit still seem pretty great to me. Maybe it's just because I grew up with them though.

As far as categorization goes I would call it beginner punk and lump em in with other bands whose names you might see painted on a leather jacket, like Subhumans, Crass, Exploited and what have you. Not that those bands are at all similar musically or politically, but they are all starting point type of bands that will lead you to the better stuff.

I hadn't seen the Tom Snyder appearance in forever, thanks for posting it.
posted by miles at 1:04 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Growing up in a tiny rural town, I found an issue of Heavy Metal that had an ad for Coup d'Etat. I couldn't have been more than twelve, and the ad burned itself into my psyche; I had no idea who they were or what they sounded like, but it was very, very important to me to know that there were people like Wendy O. and the Plasmatics out there in the world, doing things that I was only just beginning to comprehend.
posted by lekvar at 1:06 PM on March 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wouldn't say they were ahead of their time so much as throwing a bunch of contemporary ideas at the wall, and some of it was bound to stick. No subsequent bands seem to follow directly in their boot steps. At best, there's a few that give off a similar aroma.
posted by bendybendy at 1:14 PM on March 21, 2012


And she was on the Fishin' Musician.
posted by plinth at 1:18 PM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wouldn't say they were ahead of their time so much as throwing a bunch of contemporary ideas at the wall..

I wouldn't say they were throwing a bunch of contemporary ideas at the wall so much as covering them with shaving cream and smashing them and rubbing them all over her breasts.

The reason nobody followed in their footsteps is how the hell could anyone follow that act.

I can only think of two musical moments that have affected me deeply enough to change my life. The first one was the first time I heard "Never Mind the Bollocks." The other was the first time I heard "Meet The Plasmatics." I thought the Pistols were anarchic, but the Plasmatics were total fucking mayhem.

I only know of one other band that was capable of generating such mayhem. I'm working on them for my first FPP, it's not ready yet.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:43 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


As an adolecent, I never really recoved from this image.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:55 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bah

*adolescent*
posted by humboldt32 at 1:57 PM on March 21, 2012


According to Wikipedia, in 1987 Wendy O. Williams appeared in three episodes of the short-lived FOX network TV Show "The New Adventures of Beans Baxter." Trying to imagine how that came about is making my head hurt. Anyone know the story behind that casting?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:01 PM on March 21, 2012


it was very, very important to me to know that there were people like Wendy O. and the Plasmatics out there in the world

Whatever one thinks of the music - which I think even the band would agree was never the main thing - it was indeed an important and valuable contribution to have Andy Gibb and Marilyn McCoo shouldered off the air for a few minutes by the shrieking frenzy of a Plasmatics performance. Given how much narrower the bandwidth of culture was at the time, it achieved a degree of paradigm subversion that Lady Gaga can only dream of.
posted by Trurl at 2:05 PM on March 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Recently as part of a book club, I read 'The Dirt', the Motley Crue bio. (which, as someone who hates the band, I can heartily recommend).

The entire time I just kept thinking 'The Plasmatics did it better'
posted by lumpenprole at 2:26 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wendy was my Lady Gaga for a while there.
posted by longsleeves at 3:20 PM on March 21, 2012


Supposedly, this is one of the last straws that drove Fast Eddie Clark out of Motorhead.
posted by snottydick at 3:28 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Er, that should be "Clarke," not Clark.
posted by snottydick at 3:28 PM on March 21, 2012


Maggots: The Record was recorded in 1987 and set 25 years in the future where environmental abuse and the burning of fossil fuels have created a greenhouse effect that then leads to an end of the world scenario. Called by many the first "thrash metal opera" the album also featured dialog of the hapless "White" family through three days of the their lives until one by one they meet their end until the final scene of the record when effectively the entire human population is headed for immanent annihilation.
posted by ovvl at 7:37 PM on March 21, 2012


Remember Milwaukee.
posted by j03 at 1:25 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


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