The idea in James White and the Blacks was that everyone who sang on the album (like me and Lydia Lunch) had to be a new different persona. Even James did it, because in the Contortions, he was James Chance. So Lydia was Stella Rico, etc.
I've always liked the name "Tad" - I like the way it looks, that it means "a little bit" and reminds you of tadpoles, at the same time as being a perfect early 60's matinee idol/beach bum type of fabricated name.
So that was convenient.
But I was at a loss for a good last name - and I looked through the T.V. guide and found this actress named Marlene Among.
I bet it was a phonetic spelling of some polynesian name or something - as usual I didn't do any research or watch the movie she was in. But it was so ridiculous if you took it as an English name that I loved it - it sounds whimsical, and not like a real name, and also then I was just a "tad" among these post punk funksters.
The photographer was Anya Phillips, who was James' notorious manager, stylist, girl friend, sometime alternative/dominatrix, (I remember one of her patrons, whom she called "Chubby Puppy", would just come over and clean their house in nothing but an apron, and paid her to do it! There was no sex involved - just a variety of household chores), and all around creative whirlwind.
She also duets with me on Tropical Heatwave as Ginger Lee (get it? gingerly? groan!). Really very beautiful, and smart and sophisticated - she was more 30's movie star than anyone else on the scene. And she designed all sorts of wonderful clothes (including something I co-designed for the Mumps that I can't find the picture of) for her company Eso-terrorist Productions.
For the James White photo shoot, she cut and styled my hair, and had me dye it "seal brown" - I never had that hair style again. My hair was too curly and I couldn't figure out how she did it. In fact one of the rifts we had in the increasingly but inexplicably hostile environment of my tenure in the Contortions was when I let someone else cut my hair, because I thought she was busy! That made her really angry! I wish I'd known.
She had the big picture in mind all the time. So one of the weird things about that photo shoot is she managed to make my somewhat doughy features look as close to matinee idol handsome as they would ever seem - then or since, lamentably. But then they chose the one picture where I made my typical Kristian/Mumps "kooky" face. So much for the new persona!
I do think it's a really cool album cover though, and am proud to be on it, the writing credits dispute notwithstanding. Over the years James has had, for reasons unknown to me, taken my name off the songs I wrote, and then equally inscrutably, put it back ON the songs I wrote, in a cyclical fashion. The inevitable reissues always keep me guessing!
Anya Phillips was unfortunately one of the first people I knew of my age or younger who died. She was having a dinner party at her house (she was an incredible cook too! But I wouldn't eat the octopus, and everyone else got sick).
She said "I think there's a little lump on the back of my neck. Do you want to feel it?"
We all did - it seemed as benign as an ingrown hair, perhaps an "undergrounder" zit, or a tiny cyst. Six months later she was dead of cancer, and for some reason the marble box that held her ashes was in the hallway in my loft on Grand Street for about four years. Bummer!
In the spirit of the day, it was a cherished right to declare such punky observations as "Anya died because she was mean." Which she was! I was not alone in saying that. There was an entire Greek Chorus.
But as we had a few more harrowing experiences with the burgeoning plague (her cancer was unrelated to that) that kind of outrageous pronouncement wasn't quite as much fun to make.
And Anya really was something of a genius. She singlehandedly created the climate for James Chance to become the breakout star of the no wave scene - which he did for a moment - and I'm sure her death robbed a lot of the steam from that locomotive. James of course had the musical gift and vision, but she supplied the groovy hip context and radically stylized aura to make it seem acceptable and even exciting to mainstream people it might never have reached otherwise. Very sad.
- Kristian Hoffman, April 2005