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Tammy Faye Starlite switches from Nico to Marianne Faithfull

There are few femme fatale rockers in the league of Nico, and Tammy Lang, as her notorious musical alter ego Tammy Faye Starlite, was hardpressed to come up with a followup to her brilliant Nico: Chelsea Mädchen performance piece.

Tammy Faye Starlite, as Marianne Faithfull on the "Broken English" album cover.
Bob Gruen

Then last year, after leading the Hebrew Ladies in a performance of the classic 1977 Iggy Pop/James Williamson album Kill City, singer/songwriter Kevin Salem, who played guitar in the Hebrew Ladies, offered to back her should she ever decide to perform Marianne Faithfull’s 1979 album masterpiece Broken English.

“I’ve worshiped Marianne my whole life!” says Lang, who had reworked Chelsea Mädchen for a performance at Joe’s Pub last year, but had decided to return to the original version.

“In the meantime, I thought, ‘What can I do?’ So I went to Kevin with the Broken English idea and got a band together.”

She figured on staging it at Joe’s Pub, she also approached Bill Bragin, who had previously booked the venue and now serves as Lincoln Center's director of public programming.

“I’ve consistently bothered him, and noticed that he had a band doing The Pixies’ [1988 album debut] Surfer Rosa. I asked if we could do [Nico’s] Chelsea Girl or Broken English and he wrote back, ‘I love Marianne Faithfull!’”

Bragin did in fact book Lang to premiere Tammy Faye Starlite Performs Marianne Faithfull's Broken English In Its Entirety Thursday night (Mar. 13) as part of Lincoln Center's Target Free Thursday series at the Frieda and Roy Furman Stage in the David Rubenstein Atrium.

But he did have one concern, as the closing Broken English track “Why D’Ya Do It,” which put original music to a poetic Heatcote Williams diatribe, is extremely raw.

“But he said to go ahead and do it, that he’d send out a little message warning people not to bring their kids.”

Joining Lang are Salem on guitar and the Redlands Quintet featuring pianist David Dunton, guitarist Keith Hartel, saxophonist Craig Hoek, drummer Ron Metz and bassist Jared Nickerson. The group likely takes its name from the notorious 1967 drug bust at Keith Richards country home, during which Faithfull, then 20 and Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, was discovered naked except for the fur rug she was wrapped in.

“I’m so thrilled to be doing it!” Lang says of Broken English.

“All the songs are so great, and the guitarwork is so beautiful. ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ hits me so hard, and her version of John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ is so ominous.”

As the album contained only eight songs, Lang will add a few others including “Times Square,” which was the lead track on her 1983 album A Child’s Adventure.

“She co-wrote it with her guitarist Barry Reynolds,” says Lang. “I love it, since it sounds like my favorite Times Square of the ‘80s--not Disneyland and all these nice franchise places where you can sit and have coffee. It was post-porn theaters, but still desolation.”

And she’ll do Faithfull’s version of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” which he wrote for Nico and was a prominent part of Chelsea Mädchen.

“I heard her version before Nico’s, on her Hal Willner-produced Strange Weather [1987]. It was almost a different melody--very atmospheric.”

And “of course,” Lang will sing “Sister Morphine,” the Stones classic which she wrote with Jagger and Richards and which she released in 1969 as a B-side, and “As Tears Go By,” her 1964 Jagger-Richards-Andrew Loog Oldham written signature hit.

“That was her initiation into the world of rock,” says Lang, noting the similarities between Nico and Faithfull.

“They're both blond and used certain substances to somewhat extreme degrees, but are very profound artists who began as either muses or ancillaries to their more well-known male counterparts. And Marianne Faithfull—I love to hear her voice, its sound and timbre, and gravitas.”

She distinguishes Faithfull from Nico in being “much more self-aware, from what I can gather. Nico did what she did, and didn’t reflect upon it, at least not overtly or verbally, whereas Marianne was very self-exploratory and had a different kind of persona.”

In preparing for her new role, Lang reread Faithfull’s 1994 autobiography.

“It’s so much fun,” she says of the experience. “Since I was a teenager I got into the Stones and everything related to the Stones. That’s how I got into Marianne Faithfull! So it’s an honor to perform Broken English, and I hope I do it justice.”

And rest assured, “Why D’Ya Do It” will indeed be performed intact.

"No one will be disappointed!” she promises. “Every body part that begins with a ‘C’ that you want to hear is all in there.”

“And it’s so fun to do as Marianne!” she concludes. “It’s such a cathartic song about a woman in love, scorned and betrayed. A complete spewing of the most profane vitriol—and it’s beautiful.”

And as for Nico, she’s set to perform the original version of the show, now retitled Nico: Underground, at New York’s Theater For the New City, Sept. 11-28.

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