Punk à LaMode

I'm the only adult male at the Mason Jar tonight who isn't wearing a black tee shirt with sawed-off sleeves. My Kenneth Cole polo sweater marks me as a loser, but at least I'm a loser waiting for a former punk goddess to join me for drinks. Lucy LaMode, once the penultimate punker, had agreed to meet me here the night before, but canceled at the last minute when her 4-year-old son drank a bottle of her best cologne. Tonight, her eldest son's 12th birthday, Lucy has returned to the scene of several years' worth of musical crimes, where she once reigned as front woman of Killer Pussy, Phoenix's fave '80s punk band.

Back then, Lucy poured herself into a teeny white nurse's uniform and took the Mason Jar stage to holler the words to the band's signature hit, "Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage," and other three-chord screamers from their Bikini Wax long-player. After Killer Pussy busted up, Lucy fronted the proto-grrrl Ultimate Makeup Party Bitches, but by the end of the decade had traded in head-banging for housekeeping. She married her musician boyfriend and vanished into suburbia, resurfacing occasionally to perform in little theater productions but mostly staying home with her kids. Today she's Lucy Payjack, and her most recent gig was playing vice president of the PTA.

While a trio of mutton-chopped thirtysomethings ("Rock guys never give up," Lucy snorts) wail through their sound check, Lucy and I shout back and forth about her wild past and relatively tame present. She swears her current life is "too boring for an interview," but within minutes she's answering my "What's new?" with a story about how she's trying to buy a painting of herself by actor Dennis Hopper.

New Times: Why did Dennis Hopper do a painting of you?

Lucy LaMode: Who knows? Maybe he was a fan of the band or something. The painting's called "Killer Pussy" and it's a triptych with me in the center in my nurse's uniform.

NT: So now you're trying to buy it from him?

LaMode: Yeah, but Julian Schnabel wants it. You know who he is, right? Julian Schnabel can't have it! He probably only wants it because I look like his wife or something. Why else would he want it? I saw Dennis Hopper in a restaurant one time and he was staring, staring, staring at me, and now I know why.

NT: So you used to be a punk goddess; now you're a PTA mom — a typical American housewife and mother.

LaMode: Sort of. Typical except I take my son to New York to see Lee Breuer's new play, and we hang out backstage after. And I'm putting together a new theater company that will not do cutesy musicals or stuff like The Glass Menagerie. So I'm like any other mom, except in my spare time I'm writing a play called AKA Doris Day, about my childhood obsession with Doris Day.

NT: That's an odd continuum. You're a child obsessed with Doris Day who becomes a punk diva who becomes a housewife who's writing a play about her Doris Day obsession.

LaMode: She's the reason I was a punk who always wore matching outfits. She's why I always wanted to be an actress. I was studying acting when these punk bands came along. And we were a hit and I did that for 10 years. So it was like Lucy LaMode was a role I played in a really great play that was a hit and got extended for a whole decade. Except everyone thought I was Lucy LaMode.

NT: So what was a day in your life like back then?

LaMode: I'd wake up at two in the afternoon. I'd make sure the fliers for the show were made.

NT: You were the publicist for Killer Pussy?

LaMode: I was the only one who was responsible enough to make sure the shows got promoted, yeah. I'd be up all night at the clubs with the other bands, and everyone would be wasted except me. People would be smoking crack or whatever they did, and I was the only normal one, as usual. I had very little tolerance for people who did drugs, and there were a lot of people in various bands back then who did drugs. It was hard to deal with.

NT: So what were you doing there, then?

LaMode: It was about being seen, being theatrical. I started this all-girl band called The Roll-Ons. My mom loaned me the money to rent the Firemen's lodge, and we debuted at an event called Trout-O-Rama, which was a blast. People brought trout and threw it at the band. Then I started Killer Pussy, and it was really a hit. It was me, and Robert X. Planet, and Gary Russell. The whole punk era was a good time to be in a band because you didn't have to know anything about playing music. But Killer Pussy was always more about theatrics, anyway. Long before I started the band, I used to do . . . what do you call it, when you're like that girl who used to stick the yams up her butt?

NT: Karen Finley. Performance art.

LaMode: Right. I was a performance artist. I would get on the stage and wear a dress with calves' liver pinned all over it. I'd wear a tiny Girl Scout uniform up to my ass, and have blue hair and just stand there and . . . just be an exhibitionist. I would stand there in these thrift-store get-ups and just be really dramatic.

NT: But backstage you were a square.

LaMode: I remember getting ready for Killer Pussy shows and listening to old Frank Sinatra records in my dressing room. And then I'd go out onstage in my little nurse's outfit and sing "Teenage Enema Nurses" to a bunch of drunk assholes. And they thought I was Lucy LaMode.

NT: I met you back then at a party, and you were just sitting there sipping a Coke and talking about fashion magazines in a little voice.

LaMode: Everyone who saw the band thought I was drunk, and a whore. She was nothing like who I really was. But you know, if you're in a band called Killer Pussy, and you get up there and sing punk songs in these ridiculous costumes, people think you're a trampy whore who has a porno site. I'm not like that at all. I had my first beer at age 26.

NT: Do the other PTA moms know you were once Lucy LaMode?

LaMode: No way! I befriended this one woman whose son goes to my school, and I walked into her salon to get my hair cut, and this gay guy who worked the front counter started screaming. "Oh my God, you're Lucy LaMode!" I said, "Okay, it's me, but don't TELL anyone!" The bitch blew my cover!

NT: So do your kids know their mom used to be a punk goddess?

LaMode: My older son knows. He's seen my records. He thinks . . . he doesn't get it. He still thinks I'm a square. He tries to tell people I sang in a punk band, but I threaten him to keep his mouth shut. I have to live in my house in Paradise Valley, and people think . . . they judge you, you know what I'm saying? I'm a really good mother, and I really enjoy it. Lucy LaMode is part of who I am; I have no regrets. I wouldn't trade any of it. I met my husband here, at the Mason Jar. We were taking pictures of the band and he came up and asked me what time it was. The next night he was back, and we've been together ever since. I'm not embarrassed to talk about that part of my life, I just don't want to talk about it with old farty people.

NT: What would it take to get you back into your teeny nurse's uniform?

LaMode: I wore it about three years ago to a Halloween party. My husband dressed up like a doctor, and I walked around offering the guests a sponge bath. Ha ha. But you probably couldn't get me back up onstage as Lucy LaMode, if that's what you're asking. I mean, why? My passion is acting, taking my kids to art museums.

NT: Twenty years ago, when you were up on that stage screaming, and I was in the audience cheering you on, we would have thought of what we're doing today as selling out.

LaMode: Well, we were 20 years old. And we were wrong! No, it's just, no matter what I was doing back then, I was always responsible. I was never a druggy, never a drunk. I got married, had a kid, stepped up to the plate as a wife and a mom the same way I stepped up when I was in a punk band. This is just a different role. A better one. Now let's get out of here. That band is really loud and they suck.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela

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