Tammy Faye Starlite as Nico

As a displaced New Yorker, I often get those Chelsea blues and no one articulates them in a more New York way than the ultimate displaced New York female herself, Nico. When a friend called to say she’d be in town doing hair for “a Nico show,” I was dumbfounded-then I realized it was the Nico show-this one. How could there be another?


foto: Bob Gruen

Inspired by current economic catastrophes of the same sort that provoked the climate of fear that begat the Third Reich, Tammy Faye Starlite forswears her country persona for an evening of song performances — und gespräch — in a dark, Weimar-cum Warhol Kabaret Konzert directed by Michael Schiralli. Chelsea Mädchen includes the brilliant repertoire of songs associated with Nico’s brief, yet legendary, tenure with the Velvet Underground including “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” Femme Fatale” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”  Starlite will also perform classic Nico covers of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” and The Doors’ “The End.” The show will culminate with a rousing finale of “Deutschland Über Alles.”  She recently guest hosted in her Nico persona on US Magazine’s “Hot Stuff” video feature.  It’s posted here to provide some insight into the character: http://xrl.us/TammyFayeNico

Starlite, backed by an all-star band, recreates actual encounters Nico had with journalists based on the text by T.D. Lang. The piece includes dreamlike reminiscences about Lou Reed (and Jews in general), Andy Warhol, John Cale, Jackson Browne, David Bowie, Alain Delon and others. Starlite noted, “Nico was, and remains, a heroin(e) and emblem for these dark days of civil unrest and our unceasing fascination with sybaritic self-destruction and the willful deconstruction and annihilation of beauty.”  She continued, “I’ve got the songs, the accent and the hair down and am working tirelessly on the cheekbones.  Moving the show from New York to Los Angeles reflects the tectonic cultural shift that Nico helped catalyzed during her brief time on the planet.

The band set to provide the musical context for the Bootleg Theater performances of Chelsea Mädchen is led by guitarist Peter “Petey” Andrews (Nancy Boy, soloist on the soundtrack to Miss Evers Boys, contributor to JAGNCIS), drummer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Jack Shit), LA punk rock bassist Ben Edge (Fields of Fire, Broken Needle, Bad Reaction), pianist Alex Burke (Magnolia Memoir, Michael Bublé, Margaret Cho, Second City), violinist Lisa Germano (John Mellencamp, Giant Sand, Eels, Neil Finn) and Craig Hoek (Phoebe Snow, Dave Edmunds, Patti Smith, Mike Hunt Band) on sax and flute.

Rolling Stone’s David Fricke reviewed a recent Duplex Chelsea Mädchen performance and noted that he had actually met the real Nico 33 years ago.  He wrote, “All of those Nicos – the lethal venus of 1966-67; the stoic sorceress of The Marble Index and 1970’s Desertshore; the commanding matron I saw that night in New York – are present, with affectionate and gently comic detail, in Chelsea Mädchen, a portrait in performance by the colorful New York alternative-country-and-cabaret singer Tammy Faye Starlite,  Starlite has the proper blonde hair and packs an accent just the right side of exaggeration. She punctuates Nico’s fondly blunt and drolly unforgiving characterizations of Bob Dylan (who gave her the immortal ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’) the Velvets’ Lou Reed (‘a usurper of souls’) and the teenage Jackson Browne (her accompanist for a spell after the Velvets) with regal sweeps of hair and exasperated stares, her eyes as wide as headlights. The show mocks and honors its subject with loving regard; it certainly captures the woman I met, however briefly, in 1978.”

Danny Fields, the legendary Warhol-era underground scenester and record business executive who signed Nico to Elektra Records said of Starlite’s performance, ‘It’s not an imitation, it’s a rediscovery of Nico.” He added, “I love what she does. She’s wonderful.”

Frank DiGiacomo, writing in his New York Daily News Gatecrasher column called the Chelsea Mädchen “a  wonderfully wry one-woman homage” and went on to guest star as the inquisitive on stage journalist at last week’s HOWL! Festival performance of Chelsea Mädchen.

Veteran MTV News anchor Kurt Loder who performed the same role at an earlier performance commented, “The show’s extraordinary: a Nico tribute–so unexpected! But Tammy Faye’s a fine singer, and she really nails Nico’s deadpan/narcotized delivery, and the dialogue, lifted straight from old Nico interviews, is very funny.”

Robert Christgau, “the dean of American rock critics,” writing for MSN Music in a piece under the headline “The Velvet Underground’s resident femme fatale, reincarnated onstage” urged that “Anyone who knows [the album] ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ knows enough about Nico to drop in..  and learn some more.” He went on to cite Starlite as “a performance artist [with the ability to] slip into someone else’s skin.”

Larry Jaffe, like Fricke and Loder, had actually seen Nico in performance. In Rock’s Back Pages, he wrote, “Tammy Faye unleashes physical comedy worthy of Lucille Ball-meets Tonya Harding. At the gig I witnessed, she sat like Rasputin behind her harmonium. I remember the band cooking on “I’m Waiting For My Man,”  thinking to myself that was the closest I’d get to a live experience of Velvet Underground & Nico, . Nico live was bewitching, and I’ll never forget it – much like Chelsea Mädchen.

HITS Magazine’s “Beats Me” columnist Roy Trakin wrote, “Starlite is like Lady Gaga, if Stephanie was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan by liberal Jewish parents and studied at yeshiva. Starlite is Nico in perfectly coiffed frosted blonde-hair, blackened eyeliner and gravelly Germanic drawl, launching an eerily note-perfect rendition of “Femme Fatale.”

For her role as Nico in Chelsea Mädchen singer/performance artist/bandleader Starlite abandoned her preternaturally godly country star character whose set list has included “Misguided Magdalene,” “God Has Lodged a Tenant in My Uterus,” “Ride The Cotton Pony” and the classic “Did I Shave My Vagina For This?”

Praise for Tammy Faye Starlite

“Tammy is funnier every time I see her…She has kind of stumbled into greater relevance with what’s happening in the world right now…Very powerful people have learned how to manipulate folks through faith and fear. Being absolutely irreverent is an important way to fight back. She’s like Lenny Bruce and his insistence on the N-word.” Steve Earle


“Tammy Faye Starlite incisively satirizes the right-wing politics…but above all the gal can sing; she’s all over that signature country twang and style, and she works the audience like an evangelist at a roadhouse revival.” Lovell Estell III, L.A. Weekly

“She’s my Karen Finley.” Robert Christgau, The Village Voice

“When it comes to complete and utterly wonderful depravity, few have ever dropped their drawers, exposed every orifice and let out a lustful holler with as much panache as Miss Tammy Faye Starlite, whose self-released EP, On My Knees, sets a new standard for countrified carnality.” Robert Baird, Magnet

“Miss Tammy Faye Starlite…Sort of a Pia Zadoable look-alike who pulls off an alter ego possessed by Tammy Wynette, Jesus Christ and Wild Turkey…turned Cheap Trick’s Surrender into a Bible-thumping rapturous hymn….and brought new meaning to Bible passages, such as when he comes, he will come. Tammy Faye’s brilliant Did I Shave My Vagina For This? brought the house down, especially when she wiped away a tear while singing, it’s Saturday night, and I’m watching the tube, while he goes off to shave another girls pubes. All in the key of D – for divine ! Jesus would have loved it, before he sent her straight to hell. ” Libby Molyneaux, L.A. Weekly

“A bunch of cowboys wander into a honky-tonk, listen for a while to the band onstage, decide they like what they hear-as evinced by hollered requests for that song about the vagina. Hey, it could happen, and it pretty much did at the Opryland Hotel, when the singer known as Tammy Faye Starlite warbled the jaw-dropping God Has Lodged a Tenant in My Uterus.” Jim Ridley, Nashville Scene

“A country music send-up whose shows can grow disarmingly pointed, Tammy Faye Starlite is a genius of sorts. She has a couple recordings to her name including Used Country Female and On My Knees, an EP boasting the would-be hit “Did I Shave My Vagina For This?” The Onion

“If Pia Zadora and John Waters had a love child she’d likely be Tammy Faye Starlite, the sultry, evangelical country singer who has brought her missionary work to Provincetown for the month of August with her show “Born Again Again.” Looking as if she just walked off the set of “Sex Kittens Go to Bible School,” Tammy Faye is a Red State caricature played in tongue-in-cheek Blue State style by New York actress Tammy Lang. Never has the product of inbreeding been so entertaining.”  Robert Nesti, Edge Provincetown

Following her much lauded string of New York performances of Chelsea Mädchen at Joe’s Pub, The HOWL! Festival and The Duplex, Tammy Faye Starlite brought her bravura theater piece, focused on the music and commentary of Nico, the glamorously decadent Velvet Underground chanteuse, née Christa Paffgen, to Los Angeles for the first time this coming February.   She’s bringing the piece to LA’s Bootleg Theater for a limited run run right after Valentine’s Day with shows set for Thursday – Friday – Saturday, February 16, 17 and 18 at 9 PM.  Tickets are priced at $10 and $12 and can be purchased online through ticketfly.com:

Donna Lethal

About Donna Lethal

Donna Lethal is the author of "Milk of Amnesia" and writes for her own blog (Lethal Dose), Hair Hall of Fame, Dowager Quarterly, Find A Death, & the Valhalla Cemetery chapter in "Weird Hollywood." A native of Lowell, Mass., she's lived in Boston, NY and London before settling here. When not writing, she's hiking, soaking in a Korean salt room or in the high desert with her pit bull.
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