Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Man Enough To Be A Woman - Jayne County


Jayne County was at the height of her fame during the Punk years of 1976/77/78 though arguably this wasn't when she was at the height of her powers. In fact, it could be argued that she's been at the height of her powers throughout her whole life. She's a bona fide living legend and always has been.
Man Enough To Be A Woman is the story of Jayne's life up until 1994 when this book was first published. Happily and perhaps even miraculously, Jayne is still with us to this day and still kicking up a fuss, raging of late against Political Correctness and the desire of self-appointed spokespersons to ban certain names used to describe gender types. Jayne is a lesson in being true to yourself, and an inspiration on a par with such individualist icons as Quentin Crisp. Jayne County is not just a star but a superstar. An Underground superstar but a superstar nonetheless.

Born into barefoot poverty in Dallas, Georgia, even as a young child Jayne was known as a 'sissy boy'. This was 1950s America when the supposed greatest nation on earth was still a backwards one where the races were segregated, religious fundamentalism held sway and homosexuality was impossible to comprehend. After a childhood of dressing up as Cleopatra and listening to the Beatles, Jayne left highschool and took a job in Atlanta where after a day's work she would walk the streets searching for something which even Jayne herself could not articulate. 
Her quest came to an end when one evening she spied sashaying toward her what was the equivalent of a big neon sign pointing to what was to be her future: Men wearing make-up and sprayed hair, screaming and attracting as much attention to themselves as possible. They were what was known as Screaming Queens, transvestites who enjoyed nothing more than freaking people out through outrageous behaviour and appearance. This was Jayne's first encounter with the city's gay subculture and she was only too willing to dive head-first (no pun intended) into it.

Come 1967, Jayne set off for New York City with the intention of travelling on from there to San Francisco to wear some flowers in her hair but after losing her luggage along the way she ended up in New York with no money and only the clothes she stood up in. The only place she knew of in the city was a gay bar called the Stonewall in Greenwich Village so rather than Haight-Ashbury, this was where she spent her Summer of Love.
The Stonewall was the most famous gay bar in America and in the summer of '69 it was raided by the police, an incident that ignited three days of rioting that became known as the Stonewall Riots, to this day widely regarded as being the birth of Pride and gay liberation. Jayne was there for all three days and nights, scrapping it out with the police and joining the chants of 'Gay power! Gay power!'.

Two months after the riots, Jayne set off for Woodstock where she spent the whole for her not very enjoyable three days sitting in mud and tripping on acid. The Stonewall had by this time been shut down so on returning to New York she started frequenting Max's Kansas City, the club headquarters of practically everyone involved in the New York City Underground. Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, Sylvia Miles, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick - all were regulars alongside many of the city's local freaks and hustlers.

She became acquainted with an aspiring photographer called Leee Childers who invited Jayne to room with him at his flat in the East Village. Through Leee, Jayne then met Andy Warhol's Drag Queen Superstars Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, as featured and immortalised of course in Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side. For a period - if it's possible to imagine? - all five of them lived together in Leee's tiny flat.
Through her friendship with Jackie Curtis, Jayne was offered a part in a stage play called Femme Fatale - named after the Velvet Underground's song, of course - that was the catalyst for her short career in theatre but which led to contact with Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Cherry Vanilla and David Bowie. It wasn't too long before Jayne thought she might also try her hand at being a rock star.
This was just at the start of the newly emerging 'glam punk' scene in New York when Max's Kansas City and CBGBs became the launch pad for the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Television, Talking Heads, Patti Smith et al. By the end of 1976, Leee Childers was managing Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers who had gone over to England to support the Sex Pistols on their ill-fated Anarchy tour. Leee immediately called Jayne and told her to get over to England as well because something hugely significant was occurring. It was 1977 and Punk Rock was in full, florid bloom.

The Roxy, Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Nancy Spungen, the Adverts, Julie Burchill, The Clash, Jordan, Derek Jarman's The Tempest, Adam And The Ants, Siouxsie And The Banshees, the Slits, etc, etc, etc. The British Punk Rock scene of 1977 was the perfect environment for Jayne and her band The Electric Chairs to perform before a receptive audience. A series of classic records followed, the biggest seller of them all being the 7" release Eddie And Sheena.
Interviewed and reviewed regularly in the music press, Jayne and her Electric Chairs became a staple of British Punk and a major influence upon such people as Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive and Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Fame and glory as we all know, however, is a fickle thing that can be owned one moment but be gone the next and after too many tours, too many drugs and too many boyfriend problems, the Electric Chairs broke up and Jayne slipped away to Berlin to submerge with the burgeoning German transvestite Underground culture there.

After a time, Jayne returned to America and back to Atlanta to see and make peace with her parents who she hadn't seen for over 20 years. The reunion was a happy one and a fitting way to wind the book down on, though it ends properly with Jayne reminiscing over her past and contemplating her old her age:
'Being a trannie got me a lot of attention but it stopped me from really making it, from being recognised for what I had to say. I'd like to be given my due credit for my work. I'm not bragging but I was a pioneer in a certain way; what I and a few other people were doing had a big impact.
The punk time was special but people came up behind me and took my basic ideas, watered them down and made millions, while I have to go out on the game. Good for them; I couldn't play the music industry game, because what I was doing on stage and on records was just an extension of what was happening in my life. It was never a gimmick or a marketing device. I never thought about what was 'acceptable' because that wasn't the point; I was being myself, trying to tell the truth about the world I lived in.'

Man Enough To Be A Woman is written in a very straightforward way, simply describing her journey through her rather interesting life. There's no major philosophising going on but then we're talking Jayne County here, not the Dalai Lama. There is, however, a fair bit of bitching and a shed load of anecdotes. When describing Max's Kansas City, for example, Jayne tells us of a certain waitress there: 'A really trashy blonde with too much make-up and over-done hair. Always stoned and always dropping cheeseburgers in peoples laps. Her name was Debbie Harry.' There's also a fair few descriptions of 'liaisons' with such people as David Bowie, Rod Stewart, John Lennon, Dee Dee Ramone, Sting and an unnamed member of a very famous Scottish football team.

Jayne County deserves to be remembered and deserves in some way to be immortalised. In fact, the day that a statue in her honour is erected in Atlanta or New York (or perhaps even all forms of discrimination wiped from the face of the earth) would be the day she would know that her work is done. In the meantime as we hold our breath she can be found on Facebook still being fabulous.
John Serpico


  1. Very interesting.... thanks for a great resumé of her life! I saw her and the Electric Chairs live in 1978 - billed at the time as Wayne County - supported by Levi & the Rockats, at my little local town venue which in spite of being a bit of a backwater was hip enough to also book the Banshees and the Ants the same year. I remember finding Jayne/Wayne absolutely compelling and somewhat disturbing (I was only 15) but wore my Eddie & Sheena badge (given out free as we went in) with pride, knowing I'd witnessed something very unusual and pretty outrageous for the time.
    She does indeed deserve to be remembered!

  2. Hello and thank you! Yes, it's of concern that people such as Jayne County are seemingly fading from memory and are totally unknown to younger generations. Sometimes I just don't know what the world's coming to! Do you know there are young people who don't even know who The Clash are? So what hope then for Jayne County?
    In the book Jayne describes a return visit in the 90s to the 'new' Stonewall: "I took a seat, and immediately some nasty queen gave me a dirty 'what are you doing here' type of look. I thought, 'Girlfriend, if you only knew...' "
    And that's the way it's continued. So yes, she deserves to be immortalised in some way.
    I saw her once too in Bristol years ago but this was when she had no band and was playing to just backing tapes. It was apparent she was a living legend. A fallen on hard times living legend perhaps, but a living legend all the same.