If Phoenix is a place where gun shops outnumber bookstores, where your neighbor's house could suddenly explode because a junior chemist bungled his meth lab starter kit and mixed too much Coleman 7 fuel with acetone, then, on likeness alone, the White Trash Debutantes should be huge here.
They could be huge like Springer. Or huge because the spiritual sons and daughters of Sheriff Joe could take them at face value and embrace them wholeheartedly. We can picture it now: A Debs gig would be littered with soused posse members, hooting and roaring in the front rows, arms flailing about as they bounce off one another's beer bellies.
Come Labor Day, I couldn't invent a better way to honor labor than digging on this blithe band of escapist Hollywoodites at the Emerald Lounge. With only the benefit of fliers and word-of-mouth, the show brimmed with a joyous buzz.
The Emerald has the feel of a lounge up from the gutter, a marginally reestablished refuge heavily weighed down with rock 'n' roll promotions of unruly proportions. Among the aged hippies, spike-topped punks and smartly dressed tarts, there's a smattering of tweaker nymphets, fresh-faced friends/fans of the local bands on the bill and a few ruddy-cheeked old-timers crammed in along the bar. Cigarettes and body odor mix with hints of hair dye fumes and beer breath.
More than simply going for the throat of the lower classes, the White Trash Debutantes are a mélange of TV, sex and beer, blue-collar high jinx and trashy love.
The Debs are more pop-culture excavationists than sprouting trailer-park flag wavers. Their sound, show and records are more cunning satire and suburban send-up than a celebration of dubious breeding. Songs include odes to Susan Lucci ("Susan Lucci"), Newt Gingrich ("Bad in Bed") and the idea of marrying a Kennedy, any Kennedy ("Kennedy") -- all delivered with hyper trichord churns and shout-above-the-noise chants.
The band over the years has gone through numerous lineup changes and has released a handful of singles, full-lengths and compilations. Most recently, it was featured on the Stranglehold comp on Triple X records. Three of its songs have been used on the Don Johnson TV show Nash Bridges. The Debs have toured with everybody from the Ramones to Shonen Knife. They've toured Japan, Canada and Mexico. They once asked figure skater Tonya Harding to join the band. Harding not so politely declined.
Formed in San Francisco, the now-Los Angeles-based White Trash Debutantes have been around in one form or another since 1989. The group revolves around the singular presence of singer Ginger Coyote.
"I got involved in the punk scene there and started going to the shows there [in San Francisco]," she says before the show, her voice a hoarse whisper. "There was a [music] magazine there called Search and Destroy, and I got really bored with that; I thought it was kind of elitist and snobbish. So I put together a magazine called Punk Globe that lasted 10 years. I did that and got to meet all sorts of people. That's how I met the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Blondie, Dictators, X, Alley Cats, the Bags, Germs, Dead Kennedys. I met Joe Jackson at the Mabuhay."
During the gig at the Emerald, Coyote was all blowsy and bosomy in a customized outfit that included a near ass-length Sapphire frightwig, fishnets, a kaleidoscopic skirt and booties. Coyote could barely speak, her voice was but air, thrashed from consecutive nights on the road. Raffish with hints of Midwestern chaste, she's (he's?) part Japanese, Dutch, English and Irish. Another alluring aspect to the fleshy Coyote is that she is either a post-op tranny or a transvestite. No one really seems to know for sure. I thought it rude and unbecoming to ask Coyote.
"I dunno," says road manager Paul J. Van Duine when queried on Coyote's sexuality. "Nobody knows."
When the Debs hit the stage, there was an explosion of plebeian color and trashy visual discord. Live, Coyote's mock Hitler salutes and marching strides give the tunes a surreal bent. The visual effect is unmatched in current pop, anywhere.
Lovely Asian guitarist Danette Lee brandished -- with much testosterone composure -- a Flying V. She kept it nestled lovingly in the recesses of her outscissored legs, short fingers playing long, hard chords. She wore an Army-fatigue-print tee shirt tied at the waist, a flank-revealing tight black skirt and boots, with a single Army dog tag around her neck. She plowed forth the chords in a manner that would do Runaways-era Lita Ford proud.
A matchingly dressed dancer/back-up singer -- fittingly dubbed Tigerlily -- had go-go girl hips with their own life force. Fishnet stockings topped thighs just beneath the skirt hem. Black pigtails fell to just below the shoulder. One enamored gent -- a host of a local punk-rock radio show -- wielded a video camera and took to sticking the hand-held up her skirt from a level just below her knee. He moved slowly up her body and stopped at her saline-free chest. Tigerlily adored the worship, played into it with gusto.
The other guitarist, Jake Goldman, could have been the guy hanging dry wall at some stucco apartment complex up the street. Bassist Dan Humes, outfitted with a Captain Sensible dog collar, throbbed along swimmingly. The Latino drummer, Johnny Sosa, resplendent with a Vandyke and Stranglers tee shirt, pounded it out like Topper Headon in one of his good years.
"This is a song by my husband, Ricky Martin," Ginger Coyote croaked proudly before launching into "Livin' la Vida Loca" in a voice whacked, sounding like gravel strewn across the hood of a car.
Even with her thrashed voice, the possibilities of the Debs are endlessly gleeful.
The show pushed and shoved to the verge of collapse. Each Deb member was in nearly his or her own version of the song, but each connected by uncanny chemistry.
Coyote's flirty and dirty persona is Mae West, provided West had cut her teeth on the Bay Area punk scene in the late 1970s.
Among other things, Coyote's been a Danielle Steel collaborator, the subject of a Jim Carroll poem (titled "Poem for Ginger Coyote"), has been profiled on Springer, Hard Copy and a host of other TV shows. She's had a fling with Joe Jackson, who, during his heyday, wrote two songs about her.
"He wrote that song 'Fit,' then that song 'Different for Girls,' for me," she says over the phone days after the Emerald show.
Her voice is restored and sounding every bit as womanly as her (his?) persona suggests. She's amusing, offering stories with self-deprecating anecdotes.
"I went to England and hung out with him [Jackson] there and stayed at his house. Throughout the I'm the Man, Beat Crazy thing, I went on tour with him. Even with the Jumpin' Jive. Up to Steppin' Out, we were hanging out. . . . The Joe thing lasted for a very long time, for about three years."
She says she survives on infrequent writing gigs and works for a company called Jean Jeanie that sells custom jeans online. Coyote includes Gloria Steinem, Lily Tomlin and Patti Smith among her feminist heroes. She adores television, of course, particularly Bea Arthur.
"Bea Arthur, I love her. Maude was a pioneer. I loved her in Golden Girls."
Punk rock and Golden Girls?
Although normally lucid and thoughtful, her reply to this query is a run-on non sequitur: "I think if you have been raised right with values and stuff, and sexual things, I think everyone goes through hormone changes and with life in general. Even the provocative ones like Madonna and people like that, it still doesn't sway kids to go out and have orgies and stuff. We used to do a song called 'Dildos Are a Girl's Best Friend': 'It teases, it pleases/It's free from diseases/That's why dildos are a girl's best friend.'"
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What's her motivation?
"[Rock 'n' roll] is something that can get you down," she explains. "Luckily, I've never gotten into a real bad drug habit. So I've never had that stop me. I've always maintained and have been able to function and able to go on. I've known plenty of people who have succumbed to the drug thing and are now vegetables or are dead, which is sad."
She ties off the conversation with one last maxim that she claims to live by. "My motto in life is 'Wild women don't die,'" she says, laughing, "they just dye their hair and get wilder."