I first saw WENDY O. WILLIAMS on the Tom Snyder Show in 1981 *(I’d’ve been about 8 years old, and often a by-default-victim of my father’s [what I then considered] odd tv viewing habits [funny – – – Tom Snyder, Dick Cavett, Mystery! – – – in total, a lot of PBS), and what I had witnessed in that 30 minutes of mayhem was something that, to my ever-forming child-mind, was just as instantaneously forever embedded transformatively into my mind like a strange seed, much like ALICE COOPER the year prior, waiting for a seemingly inevitable shower of the right synchronicities to rain down in the years to come – – – to lead me right into the grand sci-fi theatrics, ever-experimenting sound, and full-on clutches of electric-taped cleavage and post-apocalyptic mania that was WENDY O. WILLIAMS & the PLASMATICS. She had repeatedly appeared in various ways throughout the years: bits of a live performance on the show Night Flight *(on the the once great, and much different, USA Network) that I’d creep down and watch after my folks were well asleep; in guest spots on an array of talk & variety shows, either taking herself/band with a witty & sardonic sense of humor or challenging the hosts and guests of shows as they’d cast their “banana up the ole asshole” *(quote from a brilliant WENDY O. live intro) mores down upon her, WENDY’S intelligence always slicing through the tunnel-visioned perceptions of some bewildered questioner/accuser; spots on the news about when she was arrested and severely assaulted the battered by police after a live performance in the midwest for “indecent exposure”; I remember renting Reform School Girls just because she was in it; a brilliantly funny SCTV skit with JOHN CANDY – – – the list could go on.
That’s why on April 6th of 1998 I was not just taken aback by but just thoroughly confused and, well, despondent to get the phone call that WENDY O. WILLIAMS had taken her own life. She had left a small gift package for her manager/partner of 20 years, ROD SWENSON, containing sealed letters, a living will, some personal items for ROD and stuff for their pets. In a panic, Swenson went on a search for WENDY through their wooded yard in Storrs, CT. He found her at dusk, a handful of peanut shells on a rock beside her, and a pistol in her still hand. He checked her pulse only to find there was none, went to the house, and called the authorities. The toughest woman to ever take the stage in the realms of punk, metal, and all the rest, who carved out a path that would influence countless musicians in a variety of ways to this very day, male and female alike. *(Those who “WOW!” [no pun intended] at RAMMSTEIN performances have apparently never seen a PLASMATICS live clip of any kind – – – WENDY did it first and, in my opinion, better – – – no offense to RAMMSTEIN, but she actually had SOMETHING to say hidden within those strange post-apoc & dystopian tales & concepts the PLASMATICS had so vibrantly, originally, brought to life). They were musical Mad Max, and how that’s right where we were headed.
A quick rundown, for those who don’t know/aren’t familiar with: WENDY ORLEANS WILLIAMS was born May 29, 1949 in Webster, NY. Her knack for performance started early as at the age of 6 she was a tap-dancing member of the “Peanut Gallery” on the old nightmare-fuel spectacular Howdy Doody, and was the lead clarinetist in her high school band. But being born in posession of a naturally brilliant mind and an early case of wanderlust, the natural nomad came out in her at 16, when she left home and hitchhiked to Colorado, actually sustaining herself on brains, wit, and making ornate string bikinis that she sold as she traveled. After some time in CO, she headed to Florida to work as a lifeguard, until finally she was able to get to Europe and become a macrobiotic cook *(something inextricably linked to her love of all nature/animals and lifelong vegetarian lifestyle and animal rights activism), as well as a dancer in a Gypsy Dance Troupe. It was also at this time that she had several run-ins with the law involving shoplifting and the passing of counterfeit monies *(hey, when you’re in a spot, you gotta do what you gotta do). So much for Europe.
By 1976 WENDY was back in NYC, and standing one day at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, when an ad in a tattered copy of Show Business magazine that lay ragged on the filthy terminal floor caught her eye. It was an ad for a ROD SWENSON “experimental live production” called CAPTAIN KINK’S THEATER. She replied to the ad and began performing – – – basically strange & surreal partially choreographed live sex shows, which led to her being cast in GAIL PALMER’S 1979 XXX feature Candy Goes To Hollywood. Within the film there is a scene parodying The Gong Show *(a childhood favorite, on a side note), wherein WENDY shoots ping-pong balls across the room from her hoo-ha *(look it up, it’s easy to find, and actually quite funny).
In 1977, SWENSON became WENDY’S official manager and saw her as the frontwoman to his “conceptual” punk rock band, the PLASMATICS. The Players were: RICHIE STOTTS on guitar *(and according to legend, STOTTS was the first NY punk to sport a mohawk, basing it off of his love of the film Taxi Driver);
JEAN BEAUVOIR on bass, imposing, big, black *(rare for the punk scene at the time, but for NY’s BAD BRAINS, and Philly’s own PURE HELL & McRAD), always clad in a white suit and looking like he meant business; WES BEECH, second guitar, always dishevelled and war-torn looking, another mutant of the living dead ripping through the dystopian wastelands – – – but they needed a leader, and WENDY would prove to be that indefatigable “Metal Priestess” *(an ep released in 1981, after their debut lp, “No Hope For The Wretched”  & “Beyond The Valley Of 1984” ). The drummers included a rotating lineup of such, the most pertinent of which to be original ALICE COOPER drummer NEAL SMITH, who performed on the masterpiece “Beyond The Valley Of 1984.” The roundabout concept of the band, admittedly, was SWENSON’S, though various members had their share of input and created a sonic and lyrical apocalypse the likes of which had never been heard, nor seen, before, nor in quite the same way since *(and thusly never could be).
Starting at CBGB’s, they rapidly garnered a huge following in Japan, and much press here as well, though not necessarily as kind or as achieving of the popularity of such proportions as elsewhere. Here in the good ole Reagan-era U.S. of A., The PLASMATICS were absolute pariahs – – – and now there weren’t just “boys to lock your daughters away from,” but here was this female bestial force of intermingled violence & sexuality, of substance & subversion, that mothers wanted “caged” away from their sons. *(Notice it’s always the female that’s gotta be locked away – – – fukked up unculture.) This was no RUNAWAYS schtick with a bunch of teen girls being used by a monstrous narcissistic, Fowley-an letch puppeteer. JOAN JETT may have a hooked hand *(ahem), but W.o.W. had a chainsaw, with which she would split amped guitars in two; a PLASMATICS performance involved cars exploding; WENDY taking a 20 lb. sledgehammer to a pyramid of television sets; she performed topless, sported a mohawk to the heavens, electrical-tape X’s covering her nipples, amidst the fire, chaos, explosions, smoke, gasmasked roadies fretting frantically about to collect the detritus of the onstage dystopia-come-apocalypse. They sang of truths, again hidden within the skeletal sci-fi frames that made the entire collective unit stand out as they did, and WENDY O. herself in particular. Dangerous music for smart minds, decored with just enough camp to throw the average listener off. You got it, or you didn’t. And really, it all still applies.
WENDY and the band also suffered the consequences that came with their challenging the status quo of the time to such a degree that after a show in 1981, she was assaulted viciously by our boys in blue for “indecent exposure/lascivious behavior in public” or something like that nature. Anyway, she had to be hospitalized after the incident with a fractured eye-socket, broken ribs, and assorted other injuries of a cruel and unusual nature. While other cops held the band back, inciting fights with them as well as they tried to stop the assault. *(You kids got it easy – – – it was not as such to be a punk/metalhead/goth when I was growing up.)
In 1984, WENDY tried embarking on a solo career, releasing two very different albums as W.o.W. After the release of the PLASMATICS socially poignant and equally as surreal *(also a failed attempt to break into a mainstream they were never meant for, yet still a great album) “Coup d’Etat” lp in 1982, the band was asked to open for KISS *(I fukking loathe KISS, always have). As the PLASMATICS contract with Capitol Records had not been renewed after “Coup d’Etat,” GENE SIMMONS approached ROD & WENDY about producing their next album. And that he did, with only WES BEECH of the original lineup remaining, and ALL of KISS appearing at some point on one song or another. To avoid any possible legal issues *(and as the main core of the band was genuinely on hiatus anyway), the W.o.W. moniker had been decided upon. Unfortunately, this is easily the absolute lowest point of her musical career, and I’ll fully admit that yes, absolutely everything wrong with the album had to do with the production/co-songwriting with GENE SIMMONS and involving EVERY SINGLE MEMBER OF KISS. Aside from a song or two, it sounds like a KISS album with WENDY O. in place of Starface Stanley on vocals. It’s disappointingly weak. SIMMONS even performs on the album as REGINALD VAN HELSING. Just awful. She had dropped her glorious, immense mohawk and radically, sexily armored look for a much more toned down quality, much like the music itself. Nary a trace of the sci-fi metalpunk here. However, she was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Vocalist – – – and lost to TINA TURNER. Go figure. *(A shoe to the head’ll get you a Grammy every time, I suppose.)
1986’s “Kommander Of Kaos” *(aka: “K.o.K.,” if you couldn’t figure it out) is an altogether different affair. And this album has a very distinct cover one is not likely to forget *(and probably explains a whirling dervish of my multitude of perversions – – – but I digress): WENDY O., chained to the hood of a blown out car, surrounded by smoke and desolation – – – had the apocalypse returned? Indeed it had. With WES BEECH back as lead guitar and co-producing with SWENSON, this was a much more punk-thrash affair *(and sonically, a harbinger of what was to come with the return of the PLASMATICS.) Seeing and hearing this at 11, just after buying IRON MAIDEN’S “Killers,” was just another transformative portal to lead to more glorious things in the years ahead *(at least to listen to). Interestingly, though released in 1986, it was recorded in 1984 *(probably right after the GENE SIMMONS disaster to cleanse thy aural palate – – – or as a backup to save face, take your pick). “K.o.K.” brought back a minimalism that would grow into something much more complex.
And that would be the return of the PLASMATICS original lineup for their final album, “Maggots: The Record,” in 1987. Perhaps the first thrash opera, this album is a massive work of genius in both musicianship, structure, production, and last but most certainly not least, WENDY O.’S vitriolic, vicious vocal attack on the world in which we live, and where it’s going. There is a strange bleak humor to the pummeling roar of this album, largely in the skits that precede each song, the album managing in 32 minutes to tell a fully arched story, playing out like a radio drama. And the arrangements are mindblowing. Lyrically it carries the socio-political intensity of both “Beyond The Valley Of 1984” & “Coup d’Etat” within its storyline of a 25 years in the future global collapse. *(Creepily enough, the lyrical content of the PLASMATICS applies to our current world, or at least isn’t far off – – – they never had been but for during the hiatus.) I love this album to the point that both it, as well as SKINNY PUPPY’S “Too Dark Park,” influenced my novella “Waiting For The End” *(still available for FREE in the “FREEZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction,” and can be found at http://extremezine.blogspot.com/2010/03/waiting-for-end-2.html?zx=e1b564e69ad6110 ).
In 1986 she took one of the sub-lead roles as the evil prison lesbian in the b-movie asswipe “Reform School Girls.” *(Admittedly, it’s entertaining, but not good – – – from what I understand neither WENDY nor ROD were happy with the final release, but she was asked by the film’s producers to record the campy title track to the film.)
After an incredibly theatrical, quite literally explosive go round world tour, The PLASMATICS called it quits, WENDY O. no longer wanting to be involved in the music industry. So in 1991 she and Swenson retired to Storrs, CT, WENDY saying openly that “she was pretty fed up with people.” She pretty much retreated into a total and complete solitude, but for her partner and the animals she cared for at the rescue she ran. She stayed fit, never abused drugs or alcohol, and lived an incredibly healthy lifestyle despite being THE Queen of Punk. But her partner, SWENSON, noticed something wasn’t right. Apparently she had always battled with depression to one degree or another, something one would never guess *(as is often the case). But now her lows were becoming despondency. In 1993 she attempted suicide by hammering a knife into her chest; it got caught in her sternum, and she eventually asked ROD to take her to the hospital. In 1997 she tried once more to take her life, this time by overdose of the stimulant ephedrine.
Something was wrong – – – and WENDY, deep down in the core of her soul, knew it. On April 6th, 1998, her soul succeeded in it’s dire need to escape the prison of the shell, alone in the woods with a pistol in her hand. In a portion of her suicide note she had written this: “I don’t 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.” Another unfortunate loss amongst a sea of haunts that seems to be ever-swelling with tides of new souls – – – yet very few things genuine in nature to replace them. Other questions, unanswerable questions of the nature of depression, the never ending whys – – – some artists seem to be of a charismatic brilliance, foresight, and true passion of soul on such a different plane that once that has been snuffed out, or perhaps burns itself out, the world becomes grey, life becomes grey, and for certain souls to stay in such a constant existence of agony, and not just seeing the world for what it is, but also feeling it of such an immense empathy – – – it becomes too much.
That said, WENDY O. WILLIAMS was, is, always shall be a true legend and truly unique within the annals of Rock-n-Roll history. She was a part of something that will never happen again, can never happen again, and her searing huntress roar will be forever remembered. ALL HAIL THE QUEEN, FOR THE QUEEN IS NOT DEAD.
WENDY O. WILLIAMS & THE PLASMATICS DISCOGRAPHY
NO HOPE FOR THE WRETCHED (1980)
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF 1984 (1981)
METAL PRIESTESS (1981)
COUP d’ETAT (1982)
W.O.W. (1984, released as WENDY O. WILLIAMS)
KOMMANDER OF KAOS (1986, released as WENDY O. WILLIAMS)
MAGGOTS: THE RECORD (1987)
WENDY O. WILLIAMS ULTRAFLY AND THE HOMETOWN GIRLS DEFFEST! AND BADDEST! (1988; A strange rap-rock album, along the lines of DEE DEE KING’S MASHED POTATO TIME – – – best left unmentioned).
Vincent Daemon, writer, editor, musician, photgrapher, film/music buff and historian, and rabblerouser, can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 as well as his spontaneously updated blog of writing news and nonsense THE WRITINGS OF A DEPRAVED MIND http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/Some of his music can be painfully experienced at http://www.reverbnation.com/vincentdaemonsageofdesire3 His email is firstname.lastname@example.org