NEW YORK — The irreverent and literary alt-cabaret singer Tammy Faye Starlite brought her best to the sold-out finale of season three of Richard Barone’s Village Nights series at the historic Washington Square Hotel, Oct. 15. As always, she created a stunning night with political commentary and humor that revealed the complexities and intelligence of her characters and herself.
I’ve seen her perform before in other venues, including the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair and Pangea and Joe’s Pub in New York. But this spot in the North Lounge of the West Village hotel was new to me.
Formerly named Hotel Earle, the Washington Square Hotel, which opened in 1902, has a fascinating history of giving shelter from the storm of New York to many musicians and writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, Bo Diddley, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas (who co-wrote “California Dreamin’ ” there, according to the hotel’s website).
Joan Baez sang disparagingly about the hotel in her 1974 song “Diamonds and Rust,” calling it “that crummy hotel over Washington Square,” though it now has been beautifully renovated by current CEO and owner, Judy Paul.
Barone, a pioneer of the New Jersey and New York indie rock scene as frontman for The Bongos as well as an author, producer and professor, interviewed all of Starlite’s personas and sang harmony vocals. Richard Feridun accompanied them on guitar.
For the first time ever, Starlite — a New York native who lives in Hoboken — presented multiple characters in one show, including German singer-songwriter Nico, who sang solo and with The Velvet Underground, and Marianne Faithfull; in a prior interview, Starlite described them both as “blondes with low voices and defiant lives.” She captures the depth of their voices, expressing their anger and pain.
Starlite’s spot-on impersonations eerily bring her characters into the room … you don’t know where she stops and where her characters take over.
Her incarnation of femme fatale Nico at the show expressed Nico’s disgusted and disaffected attitude and mournfulness perfectly. Starlite spoke with a German accent and imitated Nico’s distinctive voice, singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (watch video below), a timely choice given the wars waging in our world; “All Tomorrow’s Parties”; “These Days,” mentioning Nico’s former boyfriend Jackson Browne, who wrote it; and “I’ll Keep It With Mine.”
Starlite’s Nico discussed her collaboration in the pre-Velvet days with Jimmy Page and her work with Federico Fellini on “La Dolce Vita,” dissing both. “He was very annoying,” she said of Page. “He got his own band. I don’t know what happened to him.”
“La Dolce Vita” has “no relevance now,” she said, adding that the film is a “codified defecation masquerading as nihilism” and that “it was a minor film compared with those I did with Andy,” referencing her work with Andy Warhol. Of her work with The Velvet Underground, she said that Lou Reed only let her sing three songs. “Lou didn’t ever really like me because of what my people did to his people,” she said.
She talked about Page and Reed making Rolling Stone’s list of all-time best guitarists and told the audience, “You like Eric Clapton because you are not vaccinated.”
Starlite’s brilliant stream of consciousness lasted all night, keeping the audience slightly shocked at times, and laughing at others.
As Faithfull, she sang Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” and a scorching version of Barry Reynolds’ raw and stirring song “Times Square” (watch video below), which is about emptiness and addiction. She imbued “Times Square” with Faithfull’s loneliness.
A fictional Mick Jagger joined us to sing bluesy tunes including “Cocksucker Blues” and “Angie.”
Tammy Faye’s Starlite’s actual name is Tamar Lang; her stage name comes from one of her characters, a right-wing, stridently anti-feminist country singer known for songs such as “Did I Shave My Vagina for This?” and “God Has Lodged a Tenant in My Uterus.” She sang in the latter song that God “will rent out my womb for the Child that will bloom … the Lord is the lessee and I know that he has blessed me.” (Watch her sweet smile as she sang her tale of submissiveness and subjugation in “Did I Shave My Vagina for This” in the video below.)
As this character, she showed disdain for gun control, Jews, racial integration and “queers”; and said that Trump’s presidency brought back some of what we lost after the Civil War. She said she looks forward to his return, and that her tune “White As Snow” is a “lamentation of bad things that happened after the Civil War.”
We also heard from Tamar, the fictional narcissistic Israeli disco chanteuse, who recently came back from a West Coast tour of “Yesterday, Today and Tamar.” Barred from playing in Israel for unknown reasons, Tamar closed out the show with a mashup of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” and the Israeli song “Ba’Shana Ha’Baah” (watch video below). This moment pierced through the comedy, landing in a place of emotion for all that is happening now.
Tamar addressed the problems in the Middle East by suggesting that we take lessons she has learned from the show “Murder She Wrote,” which featured an interfaith couple. She reminded us that Israelis and Palestinians have many similarities and connections and that we should learn from popular television shows.
After the show, I asked Starlite if former lovers Jagger and Faithfull spoke to each other during it. “Oh God, I don’t think so,” she said. “He’s too busy promoting Hackney Diamonds.”
I asked if she is developing any new alter egos.
“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “Maybe Patti Smith.”
Are you represented in all your characters? “I think there are aspects of all of us in everyone, maybe,” she said.
I asked if she felt satisfied that her shows kept the spirit of these strong blonde icons alive. “Really, it’s only that I want to be them all, and this is as close as I can get,” she said.
Tammy Faye Starlite will perform in a show titled “She’s a Rainbow: Marianne Faithfull Sings the Songs She Inspired: A Cabaret Fantasia Revisited” at Pangea, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. Visit showtix4u.com.
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