Tonight: Tammy Faye Starlite channels Nico at the Warhol
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The images of Nico at Andy Warhol's Factory in New York are time-stamped in the black-and-white, hand-held camera footage of the late 1960s. You can see them on the Internet, where they continue to make people wonder, "What is going on?"
Warhol, the pop-art pioneer who was born in Pittsburgh, died in 1987. Nico, the German-born model, singer and actress he helped promote, died in 1988.
Neither attended the other's funeral.
That is the kind of curious observation that will give people pause during tonight's presentation of "Tammy Faye Starlite: Chelsea Madchen" in the theater at the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side.
Tammy Faye Starlite is the alter image of New York performance artist Tammy Lang. Part Tammy Faye Bakker, part Tammy Wynette, Ms. Starlite [Lang] has spent years perversely entertaining cabaret crowds with an edgy routine that mocks ultraconservative, born-again country music.
But do not look for Ms. Starlite tonight. The only woman on the stage will be Nico.
You know how those performance artists like to stay in character.
But that's a good thing as Ms. Starlite [Lang] channels the former singer with The Velvet Underground, singing actual songs and speaking with the audience in the same unique way -- in the same German accent -- that Nico did. The quotes and the anecdotes are based on actual interviews.
Here's how writer David Keeps of the Los Angeles Times described the performance after seeing it last year.
"For anyone who has ever heard her, there is no mistaking -- or forgetting -- the voice of Nico, the icy blond German chanteuse," Mr. Keeps said. "From the very first notes of the show's opening number, 'Femme Fatale,' sung with drawn-out vowels in a Teutonic drone, it is clear that Lang ... captures Nico's essence. She approximates the singer's iconic look -- blond hair with bangs and heavily mascaraed eyelashes -- and, more tellingly, replicates Nico's minimalist, nearly torpid stage presence."
Yeah, but I don't know Mr. Keeps, so I'm not sure I can trust him. Let's see what Rolling Stone writer David Fricke -- who actually MET Nico -- had to say.
"In the spring of 1978, my friend, the writer Kurt Loder, and I saw a then-rare New York club show by Nico, the arctic chanteuse of the Velvet Underground, at the club Reno Sweeney's. She was not the same woman I knew from the covers of 1967's The Velvet Underground and Nico or her first solo album, 'Chelsea Girl,' also issued that year: lithe perfection; a blinding-yellow cascade of hair framing the serene challenge in her beauty. The former Christa Paffgen was nearing 40 and had broadened, her figure both hidden and betrayed by a dark shapeless smock. Her hair was a grim shade of brown.
"All of those Nicos -- the lethal venus of 1966-67; the stoic sorceress of The Marble Index and 1970s Desertshore; the commanding matron I saw that night in New York -- are present, with affectionate and gently comic detail, in Chelsea Madchen. ... 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."
That's high praise, indeed.
Ben Harrison, curator of performing arts at the Warhol, said tonight's show is the first time Ms. Lang has been Nico outside of New York and Los Angeles.
"It's not a piece that has traveled extensively," he said. "But I was familiar with it as it got a lot of great reviews."
And he doesn't expect the Pittsburgh audience to have any trouble "getting it."
"Nico was kind of one of these mythical figures," Mr. Harrison said. "She was one of Warhol's superstar icons. And she did have her recording career. She kind of has a real following in the Goth community.
"And then there's Tammy, who has a following herself."
From what I see on the Internet, Ms. Lang sometimes does interviews in character and sometimes does interviews as herself. I wasn't able to speak with either one -- or any of them -- but Mr. Keeps was.
"Nico had the kind of subversive personality I am attracted to," Ms. Lang told him in a telephone interview for the article he wrote. "She was contradictory, not politically correct, and very conscious of being provocative."
Welcome to the Warhol. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $25.
First Published January 25, 2013 3:51 pm