March 2014

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His many fans will no doubt wonder at the absence of anything by Wayne County from the list of Top 50 American punk albums we’ve compiled as part of this month’s cover story on the Ramones. After all, Wayne – who by 1980 was Jayne County, following the necessary surgery – was with his band Queen Elizabeth part of the same Max’s Kansas City, Mercer Arts Center and Club 82 scene that nurtured the early New York Dolls. With his subsequent band, Wayne County & The Backstreet Boys, he was a regular at CBGB’s and in 1976 appeared in the film The Blank Generation that documented the beginning of New York punk that grew around the Bowery venue.

He had to come to London, though, to record an album, after a deal with David Bowie’s management went sour, arriving here in March 1977. We met at the Soho digs of Leee Black Childers, who’d worked previously with Bowie and was now managing Johnny Thunders, who Wayne later took me to see at The Roxy, where Johnny was playing with The Heartbreakers. What an entertaining date this turned out to be, especially after we bumped into Speedy Keen of “Something In The Air” and Thunderclap Newman fame. Speedy, who’s become a bit of a pal after I wrote something in Melody Maker about his first solo album, the little-heard Previous Convictions, was just back from recording a new record in America with Little Feat that’s never been released and here to see The Heartbreakers prior to producing LAMF for Track. Needless to say, things were quickly a blur.

But I digress, not for the first time. Back at Black Childers’ pad, Wayne’s telling me how much his act’s been toned down since a 1972 report in MM described a somewhat depraved spectacle. “I’ve stopped doing the really crazy out-and-out disgusting stuff,” he says in a surprisingly sweet Georgia accent. “I used to come onstage, sit on a toilet bowl and simulate a shit and I got a reputation for really shitting onstage!” He sounded aghast that anyone would think him capable of public defecation. “It never happened! That would be disgusting. From the audience, it looked like I was taking a shit. I’d squat on a bowl and then reach into it and bring out this mess that looked like shit but was actually dog food and the audience would go into shock. If they hadn’t already left the theatre or the club or whatever, that’s when a lot of them would run.”

Before forming a band, Wayne was busy in off-Broadway productions, including a couple of things with Patti Smith. “She played the same kind of character she is now: rough butch types. We were in a thing together called Femme Fatale, written by Jackie Curtis. It was set in a women’s prison. Patti was a gun moll, I was a dyke. In another play, she was a speed freak and I was a transvestite revolutionary. She wasn’t in any of my plays. Cherry Vanilla was in one where she played one of those girls who do it with dead people. Her little dog got run over when she was a little girl and that turned her on. So whenever anyone died in the play she went down on them.”

I ask about his association with David Bowie, who Wayne’s manager, Peter Crowley, describes as “the evilest person on the planet, completely without a soul”. Wayne doesn’t want to talk about Bowie, but refers colourfully to the Wayne At The Trucks! stage show, bankrolled by Bowie’s management, who paid $200,000 to make a never-released film of it.

“The Trucks is a very, very depraved area in New York,” he says. “There are all these bars where everyone’s got short hair and they all dress in leather and have sex shows. Places like The Claw and The Mineshaft, very S&M. People tied to walls and all that. This was a parody of that scene. I had dancers and slaves dressed in leather and chains, with little dildos tied to their whips. There was this huge set with a picture of me with my mouth wide open and for my entrance I’d crawl out of it. It was like I’d been thrown up out of my own mouth.”

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