WENDY O WILLIAMS 1949 - 1998
by Denis Gray
A chapter in punk history was closed forever recently, when
in early April, Wendy Orlean Williams chose to end her life. Wendy
was one of the music scene's more intriguing characters, and her
recordings with both the Plasmatics and indeed her solo work,
will always be a loud, raucous reminder of this unique, ground
breaking performer. Born in Rochester, New York on May 28, 1949,
Wendy was a farmer's daughter who once appeared on The Howdy Doody
Show at age 7, performing a Shirley Temple-styled tap dance routine.
She attended R.L Thomas High School which she dropped out from
in year 9, and at 16 hitched to Colorado, earning money crocheting
string bikinis !
A stint in Florida followed where she sold handicrafts
to the throng of tourists, before heading to Europe in 1972 and
acquiring work in the showgirl/stripper circuit. Returning home
to New York a couple of years later, she approached the Big Apple's
biggest sex show promoter at the time, Rod Swenson, and signed
a contract with him. Wendy performed ten times a day in various
42nd Street theatres (often changing in cabs between venues) and
apparently appeared in some of Swenson's porno flicks. Swenson
began shooting music videos for the likes of Patti Smith and the
Ramones and by 1978 he and Williams hit upon the idea of creating
a shock-rock punk outfit like no other - thus the Plasmatics were
born. The band made their debut at CBGB's on July 26, 1978, and
made one helluva impact !
Not since Alice Cooper or Kiss had a
band taken the theatrical angle of rock to its limits. A seven
foot, blue mo-hawked guitarist, (Richie Stotts) decked out in
various little girls party dresses, a rhythm player (Web Beech)
in lab coat, and a sexy singer who cavorted about the stage in
tight leopard-skin pants whilst topless. Guitars would be chainsawed
in half, Beech was mock hanged, machine guns would be fired, speaker
cabinets detonated and Cadillacs would be blown up !!
single 'Butcher Baby' was issued on red wax on the indie Vice
Squad label and sold well, as did the follow-up single 'Dream
Lover'. The explosive 'Butcher Baby' was definitely the noisiest
thing UK label Stiff Records released when they signed the Plasmatics
back in 1980. A show that year at the Hammy Odeon in London was
cancelled by the GLC, who deemed the blowing up of a car on-stage
dangerous and a fire risk. "We're about violence and destruction,
destroying objects and material possessions of our greedy society,
which must be a healthy satire" said Wendy at the time.
the London fiasco, the group retuned to New York and were helicoptered
onto a New York pier where, in front of some 20,000 punters they
played a short, blistering set. Wendy then drove a Caddy into
a stage loaded with explosives, jumping out of the car seconds
before it hit the stage and car and stage blew up. The band made
numerous TV appearances including two memorable stints on Tom
Snyder's Tomorrow Show where they once again blew up a car in
the studio. In the space of a year, the Plasmatics had developed
a cult following and had risen from the NY club scene to headlining
Not everyone however appreciated Wendy's stage
act, which included covering herself in cream and simulating masturbation.
She was once arrested in Milwaulkee back in the early 80's and
was charged with Conduct Prohibited on Licensed Premises, Resisting
Arrest, and Battery. Funny how Madonna received MTV Video awards
for grabbing her crotch, whilst Wendy O Williams got arrested
! 1982 saw her release a duet with Lemmy from Motorhead, on a
speed-metal take of Tammy Wynette's 'Stand By Your Man'. The Plasmatics
broke up in 1983 and eventually released four scorching albums:
'New Hope For The Wretched', 'Beyond The Valley of 1984', 'Metal
Priestess', 'Coup d'Etat' and 'Maggots: The Record' which hit
the racks in 1987.
Williams pursued a solo career and her debut
offering, 1984's 'WOW' is a great punk-meets-metal outting, produced
by Gene Simmons of Kiss. 'I Love Sex (and rock and roll), 'It's
My Life, and the hot and sweaty 'Bump and Grind' are just three
of the strong tunes on this album, which sold respectably well.
The Kiss connection did not end with Simmons, as there were guest
appearances on the LP by Paul Stanley, Eric Carr and Ace Frehley.
She released the fan club-only 'Fuck n Roll' EP in 1985 and her
popularity was at its height that year when she was nominated
for a Grammy in the best Female Rock Vocal category. 'Kommander
of Kaos' was issued in 1986 and is another skull crushing effort
filled with loud rockers. Her take of Motorhead's 'Jailbait' rivals
the original for raw intensity. Wendy also embarked on an acting
career, landing many parts including TV's 'Macgyver' and also
stealing the show in the film 'Reform School Girls'.
Wendy's long time partner/manager, and the pair moved to Storrs,
Conecticut in 1991. Wendy retired from music, becoming a prominent
health food advocate whilst working for a natural foods co-op.
On April 6th Swenson returned home to find a package Wendy had
left him, which included suicide notes. He found her body in the
adjacent woods in an area where she loved to feed the wildlife
(several nutshells were on a nearby rock where she had apparently
been feeding some of the squirrels before she died).
died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. One of the
suicide notes Wendy left read:
"The act of taking my own
life is not something I am doing without a lot of thought.
believe that people should take their own lives without deep and
thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time. I do
believe strongly, however, that the right to do so is one of the
most fundamental rights that anyone in a free society should have.
For me much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about
what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place
where there is no self, only calm. Love always, Wendy."
offered: "Wendy's act was not an irrational in-the-moment
act, she had been talking about taking her own life for almost
four years. She was at home in the peak of her career, but found
the more ordinary 'hypocrisies of life' as she called them excruciatingly
hard to deal with. In one sense she was the strongest person I
have ever known, and in another, a side which most people never
saw, the most vulnerable. She felt, in effect, she'd peaked and
didn't care to live in a world in which she was uncomfortable,
and below peak any longer.
Speaking personally for myself, I loved
her beyond imagination. She was a source of strength, inspiration,
and courage. The pain at this moment in losing her is inexpressible.
I can hardly imagine a world without Wendy Williams in it. For
me such a world is profoundly diminished."
His last comment
about Wendy is a sentiment shared by thousands of fans around
the world. A tribute night was held at CBGB's on May 18th, the
place where it all started twenty years ago. Rest in peace Wendy.