Chain Saw of Fools

Where do Wendy and Rob rate among rock's most marginal contributors?

No question about it. Years from now, people will grill each other about it. "Where were you when you first heard the news?" And the response will go something like this:

"Jeez, I was driving around in my car, I turn on the radio and I hear someone on there chain-sawing a television set in half. I flipped down the dial and two other stations are playing the exact same thing. Then I KNEW!"

Of course we're talking about the death of Plasmatics "singer" Wendy O. Williams, reportedly from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

No, you didn't hear chain-sawed televisions on your trusty radio, or, for that matter, any cuts from New Hope for the Wretched or Beyond the Valley of 1984. That never occurred even when the Plasmatics were blowing up automobiles at a nightclub near you. Given that auto destruction was their main stock in trade, perhaps they should've filled up those bygone albums with the sounds of Lincoln Continentals going under the cruncher--it would've been a melodic improvement. Just try humming a Plasmatics song sometime. It's a lot like trying to describe a blood bath without using the word red.

A sad week for Plasmaticians, to be sure, but hardly a blip registered in the eat-'em-up, spit-'em-out world of rock. Yet no less an authority on pop culture than USA Today has dubbed the late Ms. Williams "the queen of shock rock." That sounds like an impressive distinction until you realize there's no such category, as a trip to the "shock rock" section of your favorite record store will swiftly reveal.

If onstage auto destruction was already old hat when English bands like the Who and the Move discarded it in the '60s, what was Williams' real contribution to the wacky world of rock? Changing the way we look at black electrical tape. Yeah, it made for great pasties, but even here Dale Bozzio's breasts in goldfish bowls was far more innovative.

For that matter, how we gonna remember Rob Pilatus now that his forgotten number's up? The less fab half of rock's most successful forgery, Milli Vanilli, leaves behind three No. 1 recordings he never sang on and a lot of angry girls who apparently didn't know it's true. Rob and Fab perpetrated no more loathsome a scam than what record producers pimping phony teen idols did in the '50s, yet they took the lash for every last one of 'em. Why isn't their producer being strung up by his incorrigible balls?

As sad as Rob's death is on a humankind level, it's pretty humorous to watch how the press, who vilified the Vanillis for not singing on their albums, are now struggling to find something reverent to say about Pilatus. They can't commend him for his honesty since he was basically outed, so you can forget the Charles Van Doren quiz-scandal comparisons. So what's left? That he exhibited a wry wit for insisting that Milli Vanilli was the new Elvis? That he was an accomplished dancer? Herman Munster was lighter on his feet, for the love of Limahl!

So here you have two key figures in poorly regarded groups now being lauded far beyond their station. It makes you wonder where any artist's importance falls in the big rock 'n' roll scheme of things. Maybe you can make a case for either of these newly deceased rock stars.

Consider Wendy's and Rob's contributions, and, on a scale of one through 12, decide if they were less than or greater than any of the following selections below.

Top Topham:
Only avid liner-note readers would've come across this name--surely not even Topham's mom could be expected to own a copy of his lone solo album from 1969, Ascension Heights, since she encouraged him to forget about music as a trade. Before Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, the Yardbirds' lead-guitar slot was occupied by this bottom-rung ax man named Top. But he couldn't hack the job, and when his parents gave him the proverbial hard time, he hung up his guitar. History tells us that no "Top Is God" graffiti ever contaminated a London wall, yet by virtue of his lack of stick-to-itiveness, Top becomes a very pivotal figure in the history of British rock indeed. Even if his replacement didn't go on to form Cream, and Derek and the Dominos, Slowhand would've no doubt had a solo career that featured the background vocals of Yvonne Elliman, whose sole No. 1 Bee Gees-penned hit "If I Can't Have You" is infinitely better than any Milli Vanilli or Plasmatics recording.

Jimmy Nichol:
In the world of rock, you don't get much more important than the Beatles. Yet in the world of Beatles, you don't get any less important than Jimmy Nichol, a four-digit figure in the "fifth Beatle" sweepstakes. This session drummer filled in for the first few dates on the band's summer 1964 tour when Ringo was having his tonsils taken out. The Fabs were none too enamored of Nichol for making derogatory comments about Ringo's drumming, and he was never heard from again except as a Sgt. Pepper footnote. McCartney nicked Nichol's often-used phrase "it's getting better" for the song "Getting Better." Though Sgt. Pepper is certainly the most important album in rock, if Nichol hadn't been around, Macca would've just given the song some other title. Weigh this in your final analysis, and also note that had it not been for Nichol, every Beatles biography would be three sentences shorter.

Ringo's Tonsils:
Infinitely more important than Nichol, these excised masses of tissue warbled on a total of three Beatles recordings before being yanked out of the Lovable Nose's skull. That this trio of songs ("Boys," "I Wanna Be Your Man" and "Matchbox") constitutes possibly the least important songs of the Beatles' recorded output might downgrade them in the final scoring. While we're at it, let's gauge the importance of yet another drummer's biological castoff.

Rick Allen's Left Arm
After the Auto Accident:
Sure, the former arm of Def Leppard's drummer kept time on a great number of hits by the band, but what has it done for us lately?

Mickey Finn:
Most people downplay the importance of drummers, a common but understandable mistake given their lower profile onstage. Yet what is one to make of Mickey Finn, T. Rex's conga player? Tracks like "Bang a Gong," "Metal Guru" and "Children of the Revolution" are indisputable rock classics that have endured far beyond glam's limited shelf life. But just try remembering the conga parts on any of these, and you'll come away wondering if Finn recorded his parts on transparent tape.

Cliff Noble:
One-hit wonders seem like a natural for this listing, except that they've got at least one memorable hit to commend them, which is several less than Milli Vanilli but considerably more than the Plasmatics ever attained. Like Rob and Fab, Cliff never sang on his hit record, either. Deejays flipped his vocal rendition of "Love Is All Right" over in favor of its instrumental version. "The Horse" galloped to the Top Three in 1968 and jettisoned Noble's singing career. Blame it on the reins!

Andrea True Connection:
Before ex-porn priestess Wendy O. turned her attention to music, there was ex-porn star Andrea True warbling the disco classic "More More More." Here's another case where several other voices were brought in to sweeten a lead vocal, to the point where you couldn't hear the true True anymore. Except on late-night TV disco-album offers, no more more more was ever heard from Andrea.

Andrew Ridgeley:
George Michael recently made headlines by indecently exposing himself in a Greyhound depot. Years ago, he gave far more indecent exposure to his no-talent partner Andrew Ridgeley. Andy's hollow post-Wham! stab at a heavy-metal career gave some indication of how come he wasn't ever invited to sing on a Wham! recording or even the safety-in-numbers Band Aid anthem "Do They Know It's Christmas?" What was Andrew's job description? Playing negligible guitar, mouthing George Michael's la-las in the videos and taking up 4x5 inches of every Wham! 8x10 glossy. The only job Ridgeley was qualified for after that was being one of the people who fill in the seats at the Oscar ceremonies when someone famous goes onstage to collect a statuette.

The New Monkees:
These upstarts were supposed to take up where Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike left off. Unfortunately, they didn't get the funniest looks--or ANY looks that matter--from anyone they met. Unless you're one of those people who fell asleep during an infomercial and woke up to their rarely aired 1987 syndicated show at 4:30 a.m., the actual existence of a new Monkees is cause for mere speculation. It's doubtful even episodes like "Meet the Pope" gave birth to any memorable songs.

Jason Everman:
Credited as a second guitarist on Nirvana's Bleach album, he merely came up with the $606 the band needed to record it. Everman, a former commercial fisherman, never played a note on that or any subsequent recording. Kurt Cobain grew to dislike him, and the band soon got rid of him. And remember now, even in post-grunge America, Kurt's very important and very, very dead.

The 25th Marvelette:
As far as girl groups go, the Marvelettes were anonymity personified. Most of their early album covers don't even show their faces--Please Mr. Postman has a crude drawing of a cobwebbed mailbox. By the time they did show the girls' smiling faces with any regularity, new members came and went several times over. The Return of the Marvelettes album in 1989 features only one original Marvelette (Wanda Young) and two models hidden in fog and haze. The touring version of the Marvelettes surely must've hit 25. Only Menudo can claim more ex-members.

The 26th Menudo:
As long as there's a God and a useless Internet page devoted to these puppet pop stars, I'll get to the bottom of this.

Billy Squier's Dance Instructor:
Squier gave us a few choice AOR hits and perhaps the most embarrassing video in all of rock, the "Rock Me Tonight" fiasco. Whoever taught Billy to dance like such a strumpet and took money for it probably had a lucrative sideline printing "I'm With Stupid" tee shirts as well.

Every account of the Sex Pistols' anarchic rise to fame always mentions the mysterious guitarist in glasses named Wally who was eventually given the boot for being, well, a geek. For a while, this nerd was rumored to be Elvis Costello. Had he been allowed to stay, most editorial accounts of the Sex Pistols' exploits would probably have used the word "wanker" far more frequently. Plus, with Wally's deciding vote, they may have been outvoted when they kicked out their most accomplished musician, Glen Matlock, for liking the Beatles.

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