We fulfilled a long term objective last night by seeing Tammy Faye Starlite do her Mick Jagger interpretation (a better descriptive noun, I think, than the less complex “impression” or “impersonation”). We’d seen “Tammy Faye Classic” and her Nico many times, and her Marianne Faithfull twice, I think, and had known of her Rolling Stones covers mainly by reputation (and the odd Youtube video). She was typically on fire last night at Joe’s Pub, as deft as a juggler, as energetic as a kid on soda. The concert, dubbed “Respectable”, consisted of a performance of the Stones’ 1978 record Some Girls in its entirety, in celebration of the album’s 40th anniversary, which is just a few weeks away.
The news can’t help but make me feel old. I recall when all the singles off the record charted, providing part of the soundtrack of our lives, as Top 40 radio will do. There was a lot of excitement about the record at the time, it was very much attuned to trends of the moment (disco and punk especially, and the club scene in New York) and was the Stones’ best record since Exile on Main Street (1972). (Their most recent one Black and Blue  had been particularly undistinguished.) With Some Girls, the group, which had made it big over a dozen years earlier, acquired a whole new generation of fans, of which I was one. In addition to being full of catchy tunes, the album was noticeably dark. I vividly recall one occasion when my ten year old sister became terrified of the song “Shattered” to the point of tears. It also has songs about apparent sado-masochism and gay hustling (“When the Whip Comes Down”), sexual promiscuity (the title song), and drugs (“Before They Make Me Run”.)
Darkness is the right raw material for Tammy Faye to work with and last night she happily bathed in the blood of Some Girls like the pagan immortal she is. As always, the character she plays is a hybrid between her subject and herself, which is why I call it an “interpretation” rather than an impression. If we want a mere impression, we’d go see a cover band, though I must quickly interject here that her backing group (David A. Barnes, Keith Hartel, Ron Metz, Jared Michael Nickerson, Jon Spurney and Richard Feridun) is probably better than any other Stones cover band you will ever see, if you ever see such things. (One thing that especially impressed me — instead of coming onstage and nervously tuning and hemming and hawing for a century like most bands, these guys walked on stage, picked up their instruments and IMMEDIATELY went into the first tune, “Miss You”. I was in seventh heaven). But if the band sounds just like the Stones, Tammy Faye is not just Mick here — she jokes and comments about Mick as the character but from her own perspective. After all, he’s a misogynist; she’s a feminist. He sings “Some Girls”; she’s a GIRL. She underscored the difference last night by dressing like one of the Pink Ladies from Grease, the movie of which is also turning 40. Tammy also asserts her own identity by joking (like always) mightily and copiously about the news of the day — and I mean literally the news of THAT DAY, which always strikes me as especially impressive given that it’s extemporized in the middle of more polished patter. (Trump, Ryan et al. was the fodder last night — what else?).
Also (and this was particularly interesting), the gap between Tammy and Jagger as human types is much greater than other stars she’s paid tribute to. Her voice is quite far from sounding like Jagger’s huskier, deeper male register. She nails his cockney dialect, but mostly she compensates for the difference VISUALLY, nailing Jagger’s bug-eyed faces and rooster-like dance moves, comically upstaging the guitarists during solos and so forth. The amount of animation will startle anyone who’s only seen her Nico, for example, where she essentially sits motionless on a stool. Appropriately, the tune on which she sounded the most like Jagger was the faux-country “Far Away Eyes” — ironic since it comes very close to being a Tammy Faye Classic type tune.
As expected, she unflinchingly dealt with the album’s more famously problematic elements. She doesn’t bowdlerize, but she does openly critique. The record’s most famous offence is the line “black girls wanna get fucked all night but I don’t have that much jam!” She sings it, but she warns us, which I think is the wisest and best course. And last night she sang the “Chinese girls” verse directly to an Asian lady sitting close to the front, who proved to be a good sport. More than good sport — it turns out she was May Pang, the former girlfriend of John Lennon!
The fans got another wonderful bonus last night. It would have been a memorable show anyway, but her stand in for Keith Richard on the tune “Before They Make Me Run” proved to be none other than Marshall Crenshaw, who did a spot on impression. Crenshaw’s hit tune “Some Day, Some Way” came out in ’82, so his presence there further evoked the times in which the record initially came out. A little bird told me that Hubert Kretzschmar, who did illustrations for the Some Girls’ famous album cover was also in the audience last night. I’m glad I was!