Flash Metal Suicide: Wendy O. Williams
This week: In 1998, Wendy O. Williams made her final album, Deffest! and Baddest!. It was a disaster.
“No cowbell, no sucker raps, no hairspray and no spandex!” - Rulers of Rock
First of all, let me just say this: yeah, Deffest and Baddest is the worst (and sadly last) record Wendy O. Williams ever did. That's why we're here today. But it does nothing to besmirch or tarnish the legacy/legend of Wendy, who will forever remain one of the most ferocious and authentic rock n' roll performers of all time, ever. Deffest? No. But Baddest? That, she most certainly was.
The Plasmatics chainsawing their way through Butcher Baby (literally — I mean, Wendy had a chainsaw in her hands) on a late-night TV show in 1980, when I was 11 years old, remains probably my most profound rock'n'roll moment. Not only did it seal the deal as to what I was gonna do when I grew up, but it set a standard that, really, nobody has ever surpassed.
In life and death, Wendy O. believed in three basic tenets: Never Compromise, Never Surrender, and (most importantly), Posers Get Lost. The Plasmatics, her crazed punk-metal shock rock wrecking ball, was the supersonic distillation of her Nietzsche-like belief system, and they blazed a trail of chaos and mayhem through the 70’s and 80’s that nobody could touch. Not Alice Cooper, not the Sex Pistols, nobody. Somebody had to be the wildest rocker of ‘em all, and that somebody was Wendy O. Williams.
Wendy Orleans Williams was born in 1949 in Rochester, NY. She grew up on a farm, appeared on the Howdy Doody Show, tap dancing, at age 7, and ran away from home at age 16. In the early 70’s, she wound up in Europe, where she started a career as a stripper. She moved back to Noo Yawk and met up with filth hound Rod Swenson, who first employed her as a dancer, nude model, and one-time porn star - she had a memorable bit part in Candy Goes to Hollywood (1979) - before ol’ Rod had the brilliant idea of setting this powderkeg to blow live, on stage, with a full-fledged rock n’ roll band. And so, the Plasmatics were born.
"We're about violence and destruction, destroying objects and material possessions of our greedy society”, Wendy said back in ’79, and she meant it, man. Early Plasmatics gigs featured exploding televisions, hangings, blood, tits, electrocutions, and searing, rip-roaring punk rock'n'roll. They were signed to Stiff, released the seminal New Hope for the Wretched in 1980, and then started doing stuff like blowing up cars on TV. There were obscenity busts, there was filth and fury, there was magic and madness. Wendy had an insatiable need for speed and excitement, which manifested itself in rock n’ roll-as-shock-performance-art. Fire, destruction, explosives, public nudity, she did it all, baby.
She went solo in 1984, releasing the Gene Simmons-produced WOW, which is a spectacularly bad record, but it had enough kitsch appeal to age into a novelty of crazed 80's excess.
She over-corrected a couple of years later with the monstrous, live-without-a-net Kommander of Kaos and also starred in the camp classic women-in-prison flick Reform School Girls.
Which is fun and fine, but Wendy was starting to feel like maybe she was losing her edge. She released a final "Plasmatics" album (it was really just another solo record) in 1988 called Maggots, which is a “thrash metal opera” about the apocalypse. And when that still didn't feel weird enough, she decided to try out hip-hop.
By the way, New York punks rapping was really nothing new. Hip-hop and punk were blood-brothers in New York City. Debbie Harry was really the first mainstream rapper (Ugh, Rapture, let's not get it in our heads). Everybody knows the Beastie Boys started out as a hardcore band, and Dee Dee Ramone spent a good chunk of time spitting out awkward rhymes as his gold chain-festooned alter-ego, Dee Dee King.
So it was out there, man. It was in the ether. Credited to Wendy O. Williams' Ultra Fly and the Hometown Girls, Deffest! And Baddest! attempts to merge RUN DMC-esque rap-rock with gang vocals and the kind of cavernous drumbeats and slashing flash metal guitars that ran rampant through the WOW album. Minus the rapping, it's essentially the blueprint for the all-girl biker moll extravaganza that was Cycle Sluts from Hell. But it's very difficult to get past the rapping, man. Holy smokes, what a disaster this was.
And as I mentioned, it was the last album she ever made. She essentially retired from rock'n'roll in the early 90s and moved to Connecticut, devoting most of her time to animal advocacy. In 1993, she attempted suicide for the first time by hammering a knife into her own chest, which is, I mean, that is the most Wendy O. way to go possible. She was discovered and rescued by Rod Swenson, but for Wendy, the die was already cast. On Monday, April 6th, 1998, Wendy O., the Metal Priestess, the Queen of Shock Rock, the Kommander of Kaos, the baddest rock'n'roll motherfucker who ever lived, took a walk into the woods near her home. She sat on a rock and fed some squirrels, then she took a pistol and shot herself in the head. In a press release on April 7th, Swenson wrote that Wendy had been talking about suicide for nearly four years, because 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.”
Wendy did it her way, right until the end. She even decided when the end was going to happen. For a lesser light, Deffest! And Baddest! might seem like a remarkably ignoble end, a truly jaw-dropping misfire, the kind of stupendous flash metal suicide that could keep you up at night, decades later, wondering what the fuck you were thinking. But it's Wendy, man. Who cares? Remember that time she blew up a fucking car onstage? What a bad-ass.
Next: Three junkies and an alcoholic