In an era in which personas are as easy to create as an Instagram account, is it easier to show authenticity from behind a mask? Tammy Faye Starlite, impersonating Marianne Faithfull last month at Lincoln Center, would seem to suggest yes. Even Penny Arcade, famed performance artist provocateur–the same Penny Arcade who fell under Warhol’s tutelage–was in the audience during Tammy Faye’s dynamite show. The former Factory superstar’s cheery shock of red hair shook all night long, along with her applause–even before Tammy Faye achieved Hendrix-worthy orgasm on Penny’s lap. Such unexpected release occurred in the last third of a show which was having a world debut, as the announcer somewhat breathlessly told us. Tammy-Faye, impersonating circa 1979 Faithfull, sang the entire album Broken English. Known for her Nico impersonations (and here helped by a strong back-up band and witty improvised patter) Tammy Faye presents an interesting case of a female doing drag on another female, attentive as RuPaul to seductive nuance. In the case of Faithfull, the seduction is informed by aristocratic and proto-intellectual self-presentation by a rock star. In Starlite’s interpretation, the rock star straddles an orchestra of interests, referencing Heraclitus and The Book of Seth in almost the same sentence.
In front of a hometown Upper West Side crowd of cognoscenti and gray-haired nostalgists, Starlite did all she could to connect to Faithfull. Like the orgasmic impact between Starlite and Arcade, women separated by decades if not aesthetic, unforgettable collisions arose. You may not love, care for, or even know Faithfull’s almost overproduced Broken English, probably best known for its cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”. But you may have heard of the notorious “Why’d Ya Do It” in which a gutter-tongued, betrayed woman turns hellishly scornful while listing body parts. On this night, the album’s band, led by Kevin Salem (disclosure: Salem is known to this audience member), was tight and intuitive, the mood suppressed libido, and a happy heckler even offered homage to Tim Hardin, who wrote lyrics for Marianne and used to live in his building. Tim, the happy heckler informed us, was “a real lead guitarist. Really moved in and out of the music.” To which Tammy Faye responded, with the wacky impersonating logic into which she had inducted us: “Yes, a lead guitarist. Is that like a gynecologist? In and out. Which leads me to my next song.” Long may such sprightly quests toward (perhaps) authenticity persist.
—Edie Meidav is an American novelist whose books include Lola, California, The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon and Crawl Space. She has been awarded the Kafka Award, a Lannan Fellowship and the Bard Fiction Prize. She teaches in the MFA program at University of Massachusetts Amherst.