In 1987 Williams O. Williams hosted the Headbangers Ball, a heavy metal show that ran for eight years on MTV before it was abruptly cancelled in 1995 (The series was re-born in 2003 and still runs today on MTV2 for those of you who care). If you know who Wendy O.Williams was, then you are in for a treat. If you do not know who she was you really must change that and perhaps this will help. Headbangers Ball had a reputation for giving everyone from their guests to their hosts carte blanche on the show, which usually led to metalheads running amok on set. During the four-minute bit of footage below, Williams continually refers to the Ball as the “Maggot Moshers Ball” while the green screen shows a pile of the squishy bugs crawling around, juxtaposed at times with the cover to the Plasmatics’ 1987 record Maggots: The Record. She cracks jokes, is overly dramatic and makes a few anti-establishment statements along the way that likely went WAY over the heads of the average Headbangers Ball viewer. All while looking like a gymnastics team dropout that just doesn’t give a fuck.
Occasionally you can find copies of the old Headbangers Ball on VHS. You can also track them down on eBay and elsewhere on DVD-R that some die-hard metal fan burned for a pretty reasonable dime. If you can track down a copy of Wendy’s show (May 27th, 1987), it will be worth the effort. The original 90+ minute episode also contains footage of her jamming with Lemmy Kilmister at London’s Camden Palace in 1985 as well as the video for the Plasmatics’ song “The Dammed” which is nothing less than an iconic snapshot of pure punk adrenaline.
Directly following the Headbangers Ball bit you can see clips Williams did for Radio 1990, a TV show that ran on the USA cable network for a few years in the early 80’s.
Lastly, if you draw the conclusion that Williams was “high” or “drunk” during her appearance on the Ball, forget it . She was straight-edge. A vegetarian and exercise junkie who dedicated much of her too-short life to protecting animals and speaking out in support of wildlife advocacy. Let there be no doubt, we lost one of the great wild untamed spirits when we lost Wendy O. Williams in 1998.
The Plasmatics gained a unique notoriety in late-70s NYC, not necessarily for their metal/punk hybrid music, but for twisted and over-the-top live shows. These regularly featured live chickens and the chainsaw deaths of their own guitars and items symbolic of consumer society (like TV sets), but they mostly focused on the flaunted sexuality and aggressive attitude of singer Wendy O. Williams, known for performing practically nude save for a g-string and a “top” fashioned from shaving-cream or pieces of strategically placed electrical tape.
When you’re better known for your live stunts than your songs, there’s always a need to keep pushing things further, so when the time came to publicize their debut LP, the classic New Hope for the Wretched (their insane version of Bobby Darin’s “Dream Lover” is, by itself, worth the cost of the album), The Plasmatics devised something extraordinary.
Per the September 1998 issue of Spin:
The defining moment for the punk-metal band The Plasmatics was in New York City in the fall of 1980, when Wendy Williams jumped out of a moving Cadillac just before it exploded and catapulted off Pier 62 into the Hudson River. The victim, a ’72 Coupe de Ville, had been purchased from a couple who initially had doubts about selling the car they had driven all through their high-school days to the Plasmatics. “I don’t want my car to die!” the young wife said.
“Everything must die,” Wendy said sensibly, “but your car will be immortal.”
Williams was born on May 28, 1949, and so would have been 65 today had she not taken her own life in 1998. In their pursuit of the outlandish, she and her band did nothing halfway, and the Pier 62 show was just the beginning of an awesome career of wrecking shit. If you’re at work, be advised, Wendy O. Williams is in this video, and thus there are boobies.
The more my daughter and her friends listen to Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and Ke$ha, the more I miss Wendy O. Williams.
However, if you are under 40, there’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of Wendy O. Williams, and that is tragic.
There have been imitators of the shock rock icon known as the Priestess of Metal here and there, but no front-woman has come close to replicating her aggressive sexuality, gleeful destructiveness, violence, provocative art, or flagrant disregard for her own personal safety.
Ivy League-educated artist, producer, and promoter Rod Swenson hired 27-year-old Wendy O. Williams as a dominatrix for his experimental theater/live sex show “Captain Kink’s Theatre” in New York City in 1976. Wendy had led a nomadic existence since running away from home at sixteen, making and selling crafts, cooking, working a string of jobs such as lifeguard, stripper, topless dancer, and Dunkin’ Donuts server. Swenson was also making videos for young New York punk bands like The Ramones, Dead Boys, and The Patti Smith Group. He decided to form his own punk-metal band, The Plasmatics, a year later and recruited Wendy, by then his girlfriend, to front it. With an initial line-up of Richie Stotts on guitar, Chosei Funahara on bass, and Stu Deutsch on drums, The Plasmatics debuted at CBGB’s in 1978. Wes Beech was soon added on guitar and the only band member other than Wendy to weather repeated personnel changes. The Plasmatics’ music and stage shows became infamous, prompting the curious to wait in line for hours to watch them at CBGB’s.
Live Plasmatics montage from 1981:
Plasmatics songs were loud, authentic tributes to sex, violence, independence, and rejection of societal norms. Their fusion of punk and metal, common two decades later, perfectly complemented Wendy’s raspy, shouting, snarling vocals and her wild stage persona. With a platinum blonde mohawk (offsetting Richie Stotts’ blue one), smoky eye makeup, lean, tanned body clad in tight black leather or as little as possible (sometimes only a leather jacket and black underwear, a G-string and shaving cream), Wendy’s physically demanding act involved wielding chainsaws to dismember guitars (in lieu of guitar solos) and hefting sledgehammers to smash television sets. When the band outgrew CBGB’s, Wendy added smashing and detonating cars (especially Cadillacs) onstage, an unmistakable middle finger to consumerism.
“Basically, I hate conformity. I hate people telling me what to do. It makes me want to smash things. So-called normal behavior patterns make me so bored, I could throw up!”—Wendy O. Williams
Below, WOW talks with Tom Synder. You get a great sense of her personal philosophy here:
Sexually provocative without even trying, Wendy shamelessly simulated sex and masturbation onstage, which eventually led to her arrest on obscenity and public indecency charges in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Following these charges (eventually dismissed), Wendy took to wearing her trademark strips of black electrical tape over her nipples like a walking censored photograph. She dominated her performance spaces like a tattooed Amazonian stripper with rage issues.
Thanks to MTV’s willingness to play Plasmatics videos, Wendy will always be remembered for her doing her own dangerous stunts involving explosives, helicopters, school buses, and cars with no brakes. She was a peculiar contradiction of reckless daredevil and fitness and health nut. Unrelated to her sexual persona and shocking subject matter, she had a soft spot for animals, so much so that she pioneered animal rights, vegetarianism, and ecological concerns at a pre-Meat is Murder time when these views were not widespread among musical artists—forget the general population—other than Paul and Linda McCartney.
First signed to Stiff Records in the U.K., The Plasmatics recorded five studio albums (New Hope for the Wretched, Beyond the Valley of 1984, Coup d’Etat, Electric Lady Land Sessions, and Maggots: The Record) and three EP’s (Meet the Plasmatics, Butcher Baby, Metal Priestess). While not massive sellers, these releases, particularly New Hope, were hugely influential, and The Plasmatics gained mainstream attention from unexpected sources: ABC’s late night comedy show Fridays, Tom Snyder’s talk show Tomorrow, an opening spot on a 1982 KISS tour, and SCTV, for which The Plasmatics made a charming cameo in the “Fishin’ Musicians” sketch.
The Plasmatics on Fridays:
Wendy recorded three “solo” albums (W.O.W., Kommander of Kaos, and Deffest! And Baddest!), using Plasmatics members but not naming the albums so for legal reasons, and three collaborative EP’s with Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead (Iron Fist, Stand By Your Man, What’s Words Worth?).
“She was great, I used to fuck her. Although sometimes you ought to say she fucked me. She was a workout freak, muscles like steel rope.”—Lemmy Kilmister, Lemmy: The Movie
“No Class” with Motörhead:
W.O.W. was produced and co-written by Gene Simmons, with some of the songs appearing on later KISS albums. This hard rock offering earned her a Grammy nomination in 1985 for Best Female Rock Vocalist. Kommander of Kaos, her second solo album, was co-produced by Swenson and Wes Beech.
Wendy ventured into acting as early as 1979, when she appeared in porn (Candy Goes to Hollywood), later followed by indie film (the execrable Reform School Girls which at least contained her songs), musical theater (Rocky Horror), and mainstream television (MacGyver, The New Adventures of Beans Baxter) with moderate success.
Then suddenly in 1988, when heavy metal hair bands were dominating popular music, Wendy was bizarrely convinced by Rod Swenson to change her career path to rap (technically “thrash-rap”). This was only a few years after Dee Dee Ramone’s own similarly bad decision. In 1988 Wendy released Deffest! And Baddest! as Ultrafly and The Home Girls. Unfortunately that was her last recorded work. Her final live performance was on New Year’s Eve, 1988, with Richie Stotts’ post-Plasmatics band, playing “Mastermind.”
Wendy abruptly left both music and acting in 1991, when she and Rod Swenson moved to rural Connecticut. Wendy’s explanation was that she was tired of dealing with people. In Storr, Connecticut Wendy worked as an animal rescuer, natural foods activist, and kept a day job at a health food co-op.
But she was not happy and fulfilled in her retirement and seclusion. She struggled with untreated depression for seven years, and made at least two unsuccessful suicide attempts. She finally succeeded in a methodically planned suicide in 1998, spending her last moments alone in the woods, feeding squirrels before turning a gun on herself.
“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.” – Wendy O. Williams, suicide note
The loss of Wendy O. Williams’ voice and strong personality is still felt, 14 years later. Little has been released of her original, unedited concert footage, and there has been no proper retrospective of her career and enigmatic personal life. She deserves better.
In 1981 Wendy was arrested for obscene conduct during Plasmatics shows in Milwaukee and Cleveland. The authorities found her nipples guilty of some kind of criminal act. Here’s a brief clip of her discussing her legal hassles with New York TV newscaster Jack Cafferty . Williams was ultimately acquitted of any legal wrongdoing in both cases. She avoided any future dustups with the cops by covering her nipples with electrical tape.
Cafferty is currently a conservative talking head on CNN.
The newscast begins with a clip of Wendy driving an exploding Cadillac into the Hudson River.