This is the thirteenth installment in HuffPost Gay Voices Associate Editor James Nichols' ongoing series "After Dark: NYC Nightlife Today And Days Past" that examines the state of New York nightlife in the modern day, as well as the development and production of nightlife over the past several decades. Each featured individual in this series currently serves as a prominent person in the New York nightlife community or has made important contributions in the past that have sustained long-lasting impacts.
HuffPost Gay Voices believes that it is important and valuable to elevate the work, both today and in the past, of those engaged in the New York nightlife community, especially in an age where queer history seems to be increasingly forgotten. Nightlife not only creates spaces for queers and other marginalized groups to be artistically and authentically celebrated, but the work of those involved in nightlife creates and shapes the future of our culture as a whole. Visit Gay Voices regularly to learn not only about individuals currently making an impact in nightlife, but those whose legacy has previously contributed to the ways we understand queerness, art, identity and human experience today.
The Huffington Post: You've been involved in the NYC queer nightlife scene since the 1960s. Can you describe your journey to becoming the legendary artist and performer that you are today?
Jayne County: It was a long, bumpy road that sometimes ended in dead ends, but I just kept driving on and on. I played the "straight" rock clubs with a full band -- never played "gay" clubs, so to speak. I always just kept on doing what I knew I could do best. Writing songs, recording, performing; it all came as natural to me as black eyed peas and corn bread! I mixed my early experiences of growing up in Georgia with my psychedelic, glam and punk rock pioneering tactics and shook them all together with my trans and gender-bending theatrics -- then presto! There I was! Wayne/Jayne County: transgender, rock and roll, punk rock pioneer!
How important was your time involved with the Andy Warhol factory? Can you describe this period and the way it shaped you as an artist?
My time hanging out with the Warhol crowd was instrumental in my development as both an artist and a weird underground character. I hung out with Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn and Leee Black Childers. The main hang out was Max's Kansas City over Park Avenue South near Union Square. The back room of Max's was famous for being the watering hole of the NYC in-crowd. Like the song says -- "Anything Goes," and boy did it ever! It was a mish-mash of underground culture: artists, singers, poets, rich people, poor people, drug dealers and LSD dropouts. It was a creative, cesspool of craziness brought together in one big bowl of mixed vegetable '60s and '70s decadence.
What kind of work do you tend to produce? How would you say nightlife influences or informs your art?
My work and music usually contain true life experiences set to catchy tunes and chorus lines. My best songs are usually written when I'm pissed off and angry with someone; a lot of my experiences in NYC nightlife have ended up in one of my songs. I wrote "Man Enough To Be A Woman" after sitting at a table at Max's with underground glam sensation Jobriath. He gave me the idea for the song, "If You Don't Wanna Fuck Me Baby, Baby Fuck Off." It was written after one of guitar players kept "prick teasing" me -- also "Bad In Bed" and "Mean Motherfucking Man" and many others. Some were written from a sheer political or anti-religious stance, like "Storm The Gates Of Heaven." "Transgender Rock And Roll" was written about the club Jackie 60's and it mentions Lady Bunny, Chi Chi and Johnny.
When and how did you eventually decide to transition?
My decision to transition came from the feelings I've had since I was a very small child. I was never a little boy but always a little girl. I never felt male or what society assigned as "male" and I always knew that I was not like everybody else around me. When I was a small child I dressed in female attire every chance I got. I hated getting stubble on my chin and it extremely upset me -- I felt like an alien on a strange planet.
In my late teens in Atlanta I hung out with all of the screaming queens and drag queens. We hardly knew the word "transexual" and everybody back then in the mid-sixties functioned under the word "gay." There weren't all of these extra divisions or these identity groups fighting for power against one another. Everyone was called "gay" and no one had a problem with it. We all hung out in the same bars together: the gay boys, the gay girls, the drag queens and trans people who had never even heard of the word "trans." Back then it was called "living in drag." Some queen would say, "Oh did you hear about Miss Coco? She's living in drag now! She's becoming a real woman!"
Do you identify as trans? If not, how do you identify? What does this identity mean to you?
I have identified as trans for awhile now, but the politically correct words that are approved for usage by idiots living up on "Transolympus" changes every time someone farts! I did identify as transsexual in the '70s and '80s. But that word is definitely out of style now and seems too much of a medical term anyway. I like transgender, myself, but I am a firm believer in one using self-identifiable terms. I'm a bit pissed off at the "PC college" crowd at the moment. I don't want to go on a rant about it because I've already done that, but I think this stupid PC crud about the word "tranny" is a pile of possum crap. I was even kicked off of Facebook for using the term "tranny" and making fun of the "shemail" fiasco. So I won't go into it again. Right now I am using the terms transgender and gender variant. I think people make too much ado about terms and wording -- it's self-absorbed. There are millions of men and women in the world. Why identify as either one? I love gender variant but I'm used to transgender, which fits pretty well.
Image Courtesy of Bob Gruen
How do you see what is happening now in New York nightlife today as building on a historical legacy of artists, performers, musicians and personalities over the past decades?
Oh, nightlife in NYC will always be fabulous because it's made up of the great artists and scene-makers of today that will become the nightlife heroes of tomorrow. Nightlife is still going strong -- it's just changed. A new generation of stars and scene-makers are trying new, and sometimes even old, things in a different way every night. NYC will always be the city of dreams! Sometimes things can be built right on top of some of the old, past nightlife history that some of us fondly remember and long for. It just keeps on building right on top of all the great history that NYC has given us.
From The Stonewall and The Sewer, From Max's and CBGBs, Dancerteria and The Peppermint Lounge, The Mudd Club, Save The Robots, The Pyramid, Jackie 60's, Coney Island High, The Limelite, The Continental, She, The Boy Bar, The Cock, The Bowery Bar, Life, The Squeezebox and on and on! And the NYC legends that have put NYC on the nightlife map like Chi Chi and Johnny, Mistress Formica, Miss Guy, Mario Diaz, Michael Schmitt, Linda Simpson, Cherry Jubilee, Lady Bunny, Mx Justin Bond, Don Hill, Hilly Krystal, Peter Crowley, Jim La Lumia, Mickey Ruskin, Andy Warhol and his whole crew and so many, many more.
We live in an age where queer history seems to be increasingly forgotten. Do you think this erasure is dangerous?
Queer history is so important because it often takes in and covers other history that it comes in contact with. Queer history is OUR history! Everyone's! It's all related in the way that whatever happens within the scope of queer history affects our entire culture -- television, films, books, music. It all contains some elements of queer history. It should be taught in our schools right alongside of black history and minority studies. Take out all of the things in our society that gay people have contributed and you would have one dull, boring world. Too bad that we had to kick and scream our heads off at The Stonewall Riots to even get noticed. But it had to happen! It was all a sign of the times!
I am so proud to say that I was there for The Stonewall Riots.
You have never been one to shy away from expressing your opinion and making your voice heard. What do you have to say to your critics?
To my critics I say: "You've never been able to shut me up, and you never will!" And, "If you can't take it, go live on a cave." And, "Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!" And to some of them, "If you don't wanna take a walk with me on my meat rack, then get the HELL outta my breadline!"
What projects are you currently working on?
In September I have a live DVD coming out: Wayne/Jayne County and The Electric Chairs, live in Germany from 1978. It's high quality, the sound is amazing and the band is in fine form. It's a straight-ahead rock concert presenting a lot of the songs and music that I am known for. I'm also continuing my art and have some art shows coming up in Atlanta and NYC. My music can be found on iTunes and Amazon and most other digital formats and presentations. Also very important, I run a "cathouse" to help homeless kitties. It's called Auntie Jayne's Cathouse. Anyone wanting to help can reach me on Facebook!
What do you see within the future of New York nightlife?
I think NYC nightlife is in good hands at the moment. It's a different time. We can't expect everything to be like it was yesterday. Yesterday is gone! Tomorrow is waiting for all of the young new artists to take hold of and create something new and wonderful so that we all can continue to grow and experience art, music and an exciting nightlife scene that will hopefully once again make NYC the center of the universe. NYC nightlife is here to stay. It can sometimes go up and down like a roller coaster but it will always keep right on a rolling. Long may it reign! Thank you -- sincerely, Jayne Fucking County.
For more from Jayne County head here to visit the artist's website. Missed the previous installments in this series? Check out the slideshow below.
"The whole point of the Club Kids was, I thought, to subvert the establishment. But it’s actually impossible to subvert the establishment because once you reach a certain point you become the establishment. Then, by definition, you haven’t subverted it –- it’s just assimilated you. It’s impossible to subvert the establishment... In 1995 things had become so utterly decadent -– it really was 'Mad Max' almost. Walking through a luxurious nightclub like Tunnel that was decked out to the nines and everybody beautiful, young and high on drugs at 8:00 a.m. -- literally stepping over people laying on the floor and ignoring them like it’s the most normal thing. I can’t think of many things that are more decadent than that. But I really did think, 'It really can’t go any further than this. Further would be death.' And it really was for a lot of people." --Michael Alig, The Original Club Kid
"Nightlife is a huge influence on me and the art I produce. The whole idea that you can change your appearance and become something else was demonstrated to me by the nightlife community, who also encouraged my own exploration of ideas. Nightlife has motivated and supported my development. The people I’ve met have inspired me and many have influenced and changed my perspective of the world, gender identity and personal style. I hope to inspire and motivate others by what I do in the same way." --Ryan Burke, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"Patti Smith once said in an interview that there are always these pockets of time where everything sparkles, and things are done because people believe in something... My time as a punk kid, and as one of the Club Kids, is elemental. It informs all of my work as an artist. The commitment to integrity and authenticity that stems from street and scene culture is reflected in the formal qualities of my artwork. It can be seen in the materials, and the objects feel occupied. There is a sense that life has been experienced within the work, fueled by personal narrative. When I compare pictures of myself, as a Club Kid, to my current artwork and jewelry, there does seem to be a lot of continuity. The cycling, the concept of life as one master work, permeates." --Walt Cassidy AKA Waltpaper, Artist And Former Club Kid
"The worlds and the outfits and the scenes we create are primarily elaborate escape routes from a reality that we didn't create and most of us want less and less to deal with... so in time we build our own reality. In this type of expression there is also a subconscious push for truth and evolution. A lot of times it's hard to deduce men from women in a nightclub. And that's a wonderful thing because we are heading into a time in which we'll depart further from gender roles, which also gives way to compassion and acceptance. It's a microcosm that I'm happy to be part of." -Muffinhead, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"Queer nightlife has been an ongoing cultural hotbed for decades, if not centuries, if not from when time began and a small group of outsiders, queers, artists, and madmen took a corner of a cave for themselves and "carried on" as we used to say in the 60's to the 80's... What is called queer history is really just a part of countercultural struggle that was not striated by sexual orientation. That was a '70s concept to divide people up into separate groups. Queer History is a history of Bohemia -- it is a history of resistance to mediocrity, injustice and assimilation." --Penny Arcade, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"I see a lot what is happening today in nightlife as a representation of the past. I find a lot of work in the museums from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s being reflected into today's kids -- though I am not sure if they are aware of it or not. It seems pop culture has slowly infested the queer waters and the only music performed to is Top 100. I love that music myself, but I go out into the nightlife for the second-better-life. The mirrored reflection of pop-culture. The perverted royal finger to what is normative. Now you have to search within the nooks and crannies to find anyone brave enough to be honestly queer." --Acid Betty, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"I would want the kids to know that even though we assume things must have been horrible for gays in the past, that’s not 100 percent the case. When it came to nightlife in the 70s, for example, to me it was the peak of gay nightlife. It was a fabulous time to be gay in New York City. Sure, things like "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" or gay marriage weren’t on the table -- they weren’t even conceptually thought of as ideas yet. But beyond that if you were fairly affluent and doing well, you had a hell of a time being a gay New Yorker. The clubs, the bars, the opportunities were enormous and it was just a wonderful celebratory post-Stonewall time of exploring different freedoms." --Michael Musto, Cultural Critic and Nightlife Personality
"[The club] is like going to an art gallery/community center/wreck room... that’s what keeps nightlife alive, in my opinion. All of these different tribes of people just coming together like a community center or a wreck room at these places that are only open at night, that you have to sacrifice your next day for or your health even sometimes. But it makes it better because everyone wants to be appreciated, everyone wants to be loved and nightlife is the shit with no make-up. It’s like a founding father of art. Like that club Area way back in the day and how they did all of those installations. Studio 54 still rings a bell, the Sound Factory is still making noise. These places they don’t go unnoticed." --Leo Gugu, Stylist and Nightlife Personality
"Over the course of just several years, drag transformed from an underground art form into a mainstream phenomenon. In the mid ‘80s, drag was thriving in the East Village, including the annual outdoor festival Wigstock. Then drag expanded to the entire nightlife scene; all of the clubs were clamoring for drag queen hostesses, go-go dancers, door people, etc. When RuPaul hit it big in 1992 with her song 'Supermodel,' it triggered an incredible amount of pop culture attention for the entire downtown drag scene. Every magazine and television talk show was heralding this new “trend,” and there were a zillion drag-themed music videos, movies, television shows and fashion shoots. It was the first time that drag really broke through to the mainstream. Out of that era came the club kids, 'Paris is Burning,' RuPaul, Susanne Bartsh, Amanda Lepore, Leigh Bowery -- all of these things and people that are still iconic on today’s nightlife." --Linda Simpson, Drag Queen Celebrity and Nightlife Personality
"I have a theory that there are always certain types of people in nightlife. If you look at nightlife now, nightlife ten years ago and nightlife twenty years ago you always see these categories of people... I like to think that whomever had the first party in New York invited all the people that were the pure raw forms of these different styles of people and everyone has been trying to recreate that fabulous party since then.. The beauty is looking at how the “glam queen” was glam in the '80s and what it means to be a glam queen now. The various genres of queens all find a way to relate to the current culture they live in and respond to that in some way." --William Noguchi, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"The very first time we ever saw RuPaul he was wheatpasting pictures of himself all over Atlanta that said 'RuPaul Is Everything.' What, at the time, seemed a brassy hyperbole has proven to be prescient. Because today we are all Everything. We are all brands. And not just artists and celebrities -- all of us. That original punk promise of Manhattan Cable is being made good on: You can have your own TV channel on YouTube. Yes, Kodak has gone bankrupt but without a doubt this is a golden age of photography. Just look at people's Instagram accounts. This is the golden age of content." --Randy Barbato & Fenton Bailey, AKA The Fabulous Pop Tarts and World of Wonder Founders
"I think the truly innovative people that I'm seeing are playing around with gender and sexuality. I think that's what our generation has to offer -- the idea of acceptance and blurred lines of gender. It's causing discussion, debate, new laws to be made and it's causing more art. THAT is the movement that's happening and I'm so glad that The Huffington Post is seeing it. It's groundbreaking and I'm grateful that you're not afraid and I'm grateful that you are present for the incredible change I hope to see. The world is changing and I hope that the bigots jump on this evolution because you're going to get left behind." --Domonique Echeverria, Fashion Designer and Nightlife Personality
"I think NYC nightlife is in good hands at the moment. It's a different time. We can't expect everything to be like it was yesterday. Yesterday is gone! Tomorrow is waiting for all of the young new artists to take hold of and create something new and wonderful so that we all can continue to grow and experience art, music and an exciting nightlife scene that will hopefully once again make NYC the center of the universe. NYC nightlife is here to stay. It can sometimes go up and down like a roller coaster but it will always keep right on a rolling. Long may it reign!" --Jayne County, Transgender Musician and Nightlife Icon
"There's a movement amongst nightlife "personalities" to identify as artists. We approach our nightlife personalities as living art, and often have conversations on how to expand what we do in the club to a gallery setting. For many of us there are aspects of our work that just aren't for the club -- that's why there's the push to blur the lines between art and nightlife. To take the emphasis off the booze and sex and put the artists and personalities at the forefront -- to create happenings. Moving the work into a gallery setting allows me to present work that does not always fit into a club setting. There are aspects of my work, such as the live collage/painting performances, that require a more focused environment to experience the work in it's entirety. A gallery gives us, as artists, more control over the details and participation with the audience. It the next step in the development of the work as a whole." --one-half NelSon, Artist And Nightlife Personality
"We live in an age where people are becoming increasingly detached from social interaction. No matter how loud or messy, nightlife spaces are some of the few places left where conversations happen. People can put a face to different viewpoints and lifestyles. With the ever-increasing number of queer subsets standing up to be counted, it is essential that we all know what's going on within our own community. The queer community coming together for any reason is important and, unfortunately, very rare. Nightlife spaces are a sort of neutral ground for communication to take place -- even if that communication is through a haze of drugs and alcohol, muffled by thumping base." -Erickatoure Aviance, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"Look at your history and you’ll learn more about who you are inside. Then look inside yourself and ask yourself who you really are. Are you the boy that really wants to go to bottle service clubs? Or do you have more to offer? And a lot of people learn these things as they go along and I think it’s important to realize we are much more powerful than we think we are. We are selling ourselves short by fitting into what society wants us to be. It’s great that you have marriage -– but what could you really be? We are the shamans of society. We’re here to show them you don’t have to go by the conditioned way of living. We’re here to show them you can live your life in a very authentic way. That’s what I think gay people are here for. And of course, to enjoy sex as well. Why not? [laughs]" -Kenny Kenny, Visual Poet and Nightlife Icon
"The most important thing coming out of nightlife today is that it’s still coming out. With all the dramatic changes politically and financially over the last 30+ years, the legacy of New York nightlife still exists. And even though our parties are often held in some of the most elitist “bottle service” clubs, for one night a week the door opens and you don’t get in because you are rich, famous or work in PR -- you get in because you’re a radical weirdo dressed to the tens, or friends with someone who is. Yes, it has changed, but we’re all here together committed to keeping New York weird." --Daughters of Devotion, Artists and Nightlife Personalities
"Know your history. Know your icons. Yes, the 'Drag Race' girls are all majorly important, but learn about the trailblazers who paved the way for them (and you). The Holly Woodlawns, the Jayne Countys, the Teri Toyes. Give them the homage they deserve. And know that no matter how creative you think you’re being, somebody else usually did it first. And that somebody was usually Leigh Bowery or Rudi Gernreich [laughs]. But whether it was the Club Kids, the New Romantics, the Mudd Club kids, the punks, the Factory crowd, the Dadaists, the Surrealists, the Bright Young Things, or the Macaronis, know that you are standing on the shoulders of giants. And once you know your history, you can go out and create your own." --James St. James, Original Club Kid and Nightlife Icon