Jamie K. Sims studied music composition and dance at UNC, then moved to New York City in 1977, following hard in the heels of boyfriend Chris Stamey, who earlier had heard the siren call of Alex Chilton and Ork Records. Once in New York, she formed a dance ensemble, choreographed some memorable pieces (including “White Souled Loafers”), and then was inspired to form a band of her own, which was mostly a dance duo of Nel Moore and herself, known as The Cosmopolitans. They played some memorable gigs at CBGB, Maxwell’s, Max’s Kansas City, Mudd Club, Hurrah and elsewhere, and cut the popular single “(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy”/ “Wild Moose Party”. Jamie recalls for PKM the magical time and place of a NYC that was fun, affordable and inspiring.
On December 8, 1980, Nel [Moore aka Nichols] and I were out putting up posters in the East Village for our [The Cosmopolitans’] upcoming show at the (original) Peppermint Lounge. At around 11:00 p.m., we were listening to music via Chris’s yellow Dick-Tracy-style wrist radio on my arm, when the music was interrupted by an announcement: John Lennon had been shot. Not killed (yet), but shot. I remember getting really mad and telling Nel, “How dare they say something like that?! I’ll just bet it’s one of Yoko’s publicity stunts for their new record!”
FLASHBACK: In August 1971, I ended up at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill by default after a knee injury thwarted my pro dance career. I’d never liked school and hadn’t planned to go to college. My secondary attempt to avoid college was a plan to go with Greymalkin (my teenage band in Asheville) to San Francisco to dethrone the Jefferson Airplane. But my knee and my parents got in the way of that notion, too, so I ended up in school.
It was at UNC that I met music school inmate wunderkind (and eventual boyfriend) Chris Stamey while snagging my music composition honors degree. My college-career-ending senior recital culminated with a friend’s motorcycle roaring down the center aisle of the auditorium after a rendering of Noel Coward’s “Mad About the Boy,” with my roommate Greg singing in drag. It was the ‘70s, man.
During my time at Chapel Hill, I also met rock futurists Mitch Easter, Faye Hunter, and Will Rigby. Before getting my release papers from college, my knee had improved enough to start choreographing, so I started a theatrical dance company – the North Carolina Progressive Dance Troop (sic) – creating both serious and comedic works. Our hits were Les Saltimbanques – a piece about Picasso’s depressed circus family paintings, and Tailes of a Veterinariana – a take-off of The Nutcracker using butchered classics by Gavin Bryar’s Portsmouth Sinfonia album (with Brian Eno on clarinet). Though I was trained, I often used untrained performers in pieces – for their natural qualities and abilities. Drummer Will Rigby was a comedic dance-company performer years before he ended up playing drums with the Cosmopolitans.
In 1976, Chris had been beckoned by the muses to New York City to play bass with Alex Chilton’s (Box Tops, Big Star) solo relaunch enterprise, as well as to launch his own music endeavors. My dream was to become a beach bum, but my inner child advised me to take my dance company aspirations to New York. We loaded up our cats (Moose and Papaya – aka Baby Wee), our gear, and headed north in Chris’s family’s Buick Roadmaster.
Chris and I pulled into New York on a cold January 1977 night, heading straight for Jim Green’s (of Trouser Press) apartment at Alwyn Court – W. 58th St. and 7th Ave. Jim had graciously offered us a room with a bath as our landing pad. After we unloaded our goods and the cats, we went to Max’s Kansas City (Steak Chick, Lobster Peas – is how the spacing read) for the release party of Blondie’s first album, where we met up with Alan Betrock (founder of New York Rocker and producer of Blondie’s original demo). Crowded, dark, but pretty tame.
Alex Chilton was getting some label interest from a branch of Atlantic Records, and there was a lot of breathless anticipation about this – talks of future limousines. Not knowing Alex or much about him, I didn’t understand. And then Alex came to town and ended up staying with us. I saw his appeal and boundless talent, and rehearsals and shows began.
It was a grim winter in New York – full of cold and dark and snow. To fight the depression of moving to NYC, I camped out during my off hours at the Carnegie Cinema, a block away, and watched double features of my idols – Fred Astaire and the Marx Brothers. At night we went to clubs to see the “big kids” play – on the weekends using the free-return subway passes. My favorite club at the time was the (Lower Manhattan) Ocean Club, a seafood restaurant by day and a small nightclub by night. Alex and Chris played at the Ocean Club and we saw the Talking Heads perform there. The club was clean and had a good dance floor and a juke box with James Brown. We often ended our nights at the Empire Diner with a chili sundae.
We also went to CBGB and happened in on Blondie and Ramones sets. CB’s was at the other end of the club spectrum. Dark and dirty (you didn’t want to see it with the lights on) and at one point the wall between the men’s and women’s basement bathrooms was broken through – becoming a free-for-all pit stop. Early on they were still serving food – chili and hamburgers made behind the stage in what later became the dressing room. Outside, the residents of the homeless shelter upstairs mingled with CB’s patrons during breaks between sets.
A phenomenon that happened in clubs between 1977 and 1982 was the push of start times for headlining acts. In 1977, the main act went on around 10:30 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. By 1982, that time was pushed to 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. for headliners at a club. I remember racing to get to a Fleshtones show that started at 2 a.m. The reason for this was – everybody wanted press and record company attention. Those deal makers came to see the headliner. But if the opening act could stall a bit, the writers and label executives might get there in time to see them, too. Every band was fighting for exposure and opportunity – and it could be anybody getting that next big break.
The New York of 1977 was bankrupt (1975 Daily News headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead”), which was an ideal breeding ground for the DIY arts world. Chris and I were able to use part-time jobs as a way to afford both living and rehearsal studio expenses. Derelict buildings served as cheap practice studios and abandoned manufacturing buildings were repurposed as dance studios, performance spaces, and clubs. Apartments were cheap and downtown landlords were just happy to have their buildings occupied.
In 1977, the main act went on around 10:30 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. By 1982, that time was pushed to 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. for headliners at a club.
I never knew any band at that time who considered themselves “punk” or “new wave.” Each band was a completely separate, exclusive tribe – and self-identified as either “rock” or “pop.” Pop was not a dirty word then, because everything subconsciously referred to the 1960s. It’s odd to think of us as re-visiting the 60s, when it was barely 10 years later, if that. Punk was Stiv Bators and the Dead Boys, but mostly something happening in England. New Wave also was something from England, but more intellectual and polished. So the Ramones, Blondie, Television, the Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the dB’s, the Fleshtones were all individual and distinct and striving for the same turf in publicity and record label attention. One of the only interactions I knew of between bands was when Chris (Stamey) set up a double date with us and Chris and Tina from the Talking Heads. Which didn’t happen, due to scheduling conflicts.
In the spring I had started auditions for my new dance company in the boiler room of Alwyn Court, where I also held rehearsals for a time. But in June, Chris and I found a good deal on a studio apartment on Bleecker St., between Broadway and Mercer. Three blocks of dereliction away – at the east end of Bleecker – was CB’s. Our place was minuscule and ended up serving as Chris’s headquarters for his label Car Records, as well as HQ for my dance company. Since CB’s owner, Hilly Kristal, let us in free anytime, CBGB became our living room.
I never knew any band at that time who considered themselves “punk” or “new wave.” Each band was a completely separate, exclusive tribe – and self-identified as either “rock” or “pop.”
Meanwhile, Alan Betrock had taken the apartment directly above us and his apartment became our annex hangout. He and Chris discussed arcane and exotic music ideas and issues, and I listened to Glen Campbell and Alan’s renowned girl-group record collection – and watch junk TV. Girl groups from the early ‘60s, to me, were great voices singing mostly ridiculous lyrics – as heard from a ‘70s mindset. I’d also started attending the original Club 57 at 57 St. Mark’s Place, where I saw the T.N.T. Show documentary and experienced what would become my prototype band – the Fleshtones. All of this fed into the next long piece I choreographed – White Souled Loafers – a junior-high-school dance dramedy depicting my adolescent experience of unknown love, using several Motown and other soul music tracks.
We were all looking for survival strategies. Dance Theater Workshop put out a Poor Dancer’s Almanac and sold discounted tickets to performances. I went to several experimental dance performances using these coupons, and came to realize that most of what I was seeing was uninspired narcissism in a tutu. They gave themselves grandiose titles like the World National Dance Academy Institute of America, the New York International Artistic Dance Alliance, or some other highfalutin name – while rolling on the floor in a potato sack in the foyer of a meat packing factory. I didn’t mind their location, smallness, or even their banal-ness. It was the pretension of their names that inspired me to one-up them. I came up with the name Cosmopolitan Dance Troop (sic) – meaning it was bigger – it encompassed the entire Cosmos. “Troop” referred to the childhood performance group I started in our Asheville carport – the Army Reserve.
The gods were smiling on me – three of my best dancer/actors from UNC moved to NYC and were now in my new company: Glen Tig, former roommate Greg Vines, and Karin Bradford. Harry Gantz and others were added in New York. In late 1978, Karin had to leave New York, and someone introduced me to dancer and sister Tar Heel, Nel Moore (aka Nichols). She was a perfect fit. We staged some of the pieces I choreographed in Chapel Hill, but I was also coming up with new works – one called They Came From Beyond – a take-off of the Close Encounters movie and the A Chorus Line’s “I Love New York” TV commercial. We rehearsed in butter factories and loft homes nearby. We auditioned and came very close to being included in a big-deal dance festival in midtown. And Eric Bogosian – as talent evaluator of the experimental performance space The Kitchen – came to one of our rehearsals to observe us for inclusion in their series. Not right for The Kitchen.
“Rockin’ Doctors,” Cosmopolitan Dance Troop, 1978. Dancers: Glen Tig, Harry Gantz, Nel Moore, Jamie K. Sims. [Silent footage]:
The NYC modern dance scene was very conventional in its “modern-ness” and avant-garde notions – focusing primarily on hopping, skipping, and spinning. We, on the other hand, mostly performed comedic vignettes and satires based on current culture. If you see a piece titled Giblets – Stuffing the Bird, with dancers crawling one-by-one into a cloth bag and squawking as they strike a pose as a trussed turkey, and you don’t think it’s at least supposed to be funny, something’s askew. I got a written evaluation from one judge in the modern dance community who had to confess to laughing at us. Thank you!
As part of New York’s National Dance Week, April 1978, the Cosmopolitan Dance Troop officially paraded around City Hall to throngs of confused/amused onlookers – including mayor Ed Koch. By this time, I’d written Rockin’ Doctors – a rockabilly song and dance about Elvis- and food-obsessed physicians with Chris playing live solo electric guitar. Our costumes were white scrubs, lab coats – regular ‘70s doctor-wear. For the parade, I combined these outfits with our outer space (They Came from Beyond) helmets and space guns. We carried a huge banner made from a bedsheet reading COSMOPOLITAN DANCE TROOP. And we got on the local TV news that night.
We performed multiple seasons at the Choreoground Theatre on W. 14th St.—a dance studio that converted into a theater with bleachers, lighting and, most important, a good floor. With manager/dancer Glen’s business acumen, we had incorporated as a non-profit corporation using Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts – just in case anyone wanted to give us some money. But as popular as dance was—and NYC was the global center for dance during this time—we were all broke. All of my part-time jobs barely covered living expenses and rehearsals. It cost a lot to put on a performance, with little expectation of recouping much.
In early 1979 someone (me?) came up with the idea of a fundraiser concert for us at CBGB. Several of our good friends in the rock & roll world agreed to perform: Chris Stamey and the dB’s, the Fleshtones, Information, Big Help, and other guests. Somehow Alan had convinced Bobby “Boris” Pickett (“Monster Mash”) to show up and do his hits. It was a grandly fun May night, and at the end we performed one of our numbers from White Souled Loafers – a parody of “Stop in the Name of Love” with we three girls – along with Harry and Glen – dressed in our junior high attire (me in my actual cheerleading uniform), lip syncing and doing competitive sign-language choreography. And to our complete shock – the CB’s audience went crazy! Used to being politely applauded by quiet dance patrons, this was a revelation to us. Maybe we were performing to the wrong crowd in the wrong place.
In spring and summer of 1979, we were privileged (either asked or allowed) to be occasional go-go dancers for the dB’s and the Fleshtones. At Tier 3 (a 3-storied home-like club that was next door to Teddy’s – a reputed Mafia restaurant) and CBGB, Nel and I danced to the dB’s “Espionage” instrumental, and premiered our chartreuse-furred version of “Wooly Bully” as an encore. We enhanced the Fleshtones’ “Vindicator Theme” at Irving Plaza and Hoboken’s Maxwell’s. For the Irving Plaza gig, we included two guys from the dance troop. I jerked on top of a grand piano, Greg watusi-ed on top of an upright piano, with Glen and Nel frugging on the front corners of the stage. Peter Zaremba was casting his spell down in the audience, and Keith Streng, with his guitar, had climbed up to the top of the enormous speaker stack on the left front side of the stage and was tearing it up from the ceiling. Irving Plaza was a dream – a big proscenium stage with a red curtain – and kids running wild.
As quoted in The Cosmopolitan Times – our newsletter:
“On October 30, 1979 Car Records threw a party introducing the Cosmopolitans as rock club debutantes. The Cosmops sang and danced to music provided by Mitch Easter on guitar, Faye Hunter on bass, Ted Lyons (of Nightbird) on drums, Kent Schuyler on sax and guitar, and Chris Stamey (of the dB’s) on organ . . . Representatives for the American Association of Dance Companies, Entermedia Theater, Shake Records, Trouser Press magazine, and Soho Weekly News attended. . . .”
This was the first time I’d shortened the name to the Cosmopolitans, and the group at this point was Nel, a new guy (Shaun McQuate), and me.
By the time we got the first gig of our own, it was down to just Nel and me as the Cosmopolitans. Chris, Mitch Easter, and I recorded guitar, drums, and keyboard backing tracks for our live shows. This was done in the dB’s rehearsal room in the Music Building – the rehearsal warren on 8th Ave. – which we later shared with the dB’s. We did a few covers, “Let’s Dance,” “The Barracuda,” and “Wooly Bully;” and some of my songs, “Carreck” (a take-off of “Leader of the Pack”), “Dancin’ Lesson,” and “Rockin’ Doctors,” etc. Nel and I performed in small venues in Manhattan using The Tape. At one point we added a dance-class buddy of Nel’s, Leslie Levinson. She could dance, sing, and was funny. She also declared herself a semi-orthodox Jew.
Leslie had a bit more of an exotic lifestyle than Nel and I. Yet, in accordance with her faith, she could NOT take transportation on Friday night to get to our shows. Nor could she push the button on our cassette machine or turn a light on so that we could rehearse in her loft. We could rehearse, but Nel and I had to push all the buttons. The three of us performed at the original Club 57 – also including a ‘60s go-go dance lesson as part of our set. We played the U.K. Club, S.N.A.F.U., 626 Bowery, and we used “Tammy” as our encore when we played Maxwell’s – yes, the Lennon Sisters’ hit.
But the travel limitations that Leslie’s semi-orthodoxy required became too tough to accommodate at one point, and we contracted again to become just Nel and me – and The Tape. Will Rigby, now playing drums in Chris’s band, the dB’s, started sitting in with us as a sideline. I’d written some more songs, and in July 1980 we played Max’s Kansas City with Will.
We needed a demo tape to get more bookings, so in August 1980 we went down to Mitch’s brand new studio in his garage – the now-historic Drive-In Studio in Winston-Salem, N.C. Nel and I stayed with her elegant grandmother in Winston. We told her that part of our repertoire was “Tammy,” but that did little to soften the blow of what we really did. We were recording “Wild Moose Party” (which writer Robert Palmer later referred to as a “trash-rock throwaway” in The New York Times), “(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy,” (a take-off on my mother’s exercise record), and “Dancin’ Lesson” (a song of made-up dances about bands – dB Drop, Fleshtone Flankstep, and T(alking) H(eads) Tromp).
It was a packed weekend with Mitch doing quadruple duty: drums, guitars, producing, engineering. I played keyboards, percussion, terrible harmonica, and sang. And produced with Mitch, as I had the nerve to say. Nel also sang, played percussion, and was venturing forth on the instrument that she would become noted for – the virtuosic harmonica. Faye (Hunter), Lib Easter (Mitch’s mom), and Beaufort (the dog) helped us out with party vocals on “Wild Moose Party,” and served up Pepsi and cookies. Chris and Don Dixon both came by and threw in some of their knob-turning finesse. We left with a tape and two bottles of Always Elvis wine that we picked up in a little gas station down the street. Our recordings, I believe, were the first released out of that studio, since it had only opened in July (and I’ll fight any challengers).
When we got back to NYC, we took some tape copies around to clubs and gave one to Alan [Betrock] upstairs. He shocked me by asking if he could put it out. I said OK, and Chris took the tapes to mastering bigshot Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk for his special touch. The single was released on Shake Records (which I had named, no modesty) in October of 1980 – the back cover featuring Chris’s photo of Moose on his back “dancing.”
We played at Hurrah at the beginning of October, adding to our set list Joe Tex’s “I Gotcha.” I’m not sure what people made of us – though we considered ourselves athletic and funny rather than alluring. We wore short skirts, but more akin to a tennis or cheerleading style, with either thrift-store large-sequined tops or sleeveless fringed tops, and 1960s-style tennis shoes. We needed the freedom to do the choreography. It was always about dance.
At the end of October, we played the Mudd Club with Will (and The Tape) and included our Cardboard Band: cardboard male band members (originally used in White Souled Loafers) that we had crudely drawn on old cardboard boxes with Magic Markers and cut out. They were positioned at the back of the stage with the equipment. There exists a live cassette tape of our “Wooly Bully” that night – when I chipped my front tooth on the mic – recorded on a little Panasonic cassette recorder in the center of the audience. Our best recording ever of that – mostly the drunk audience.
In December 1980, we played the original Peppermint Lounge, this time with drummer Doug Wygal. The Bongos were also on the bill, and we traded each other autographed singles, which, of course, I still have. It was at this show that Nel and I were pelted with decorative socks and small stuffed animals thrown by (I hope) fans in the audience.
By this point we were getting a lot of airplay on college stations around the country, as well as regular FM stations, with both “Husband Happy” and “Wild Moose Party.” New York’s WNEW-FM had “Wild Moose Party” on heavy rotation – once listed between Whitesnake and Yes. One of my part-time jobs was at the Fifth Ave. Racquet Club as a human towel dispenser. There were two young ad men at the club who had become friends and fans. They would brag to me about stopping their cars when “Wild Moose Party” came on the radio—jumping out and dancing in the street, no matter where they were. There was a lot of cocaine back then.
There were two DJs at WNYU who were playing the record, Evan “Funk” Davies and Naomi Regelson. We did an interview with Naomi that involved me playing the 45 of “Wild Moose Party” at 33 1/3 rpm. We tried to convince people that it was my older brother playing a slower version of the song. One enamored listener called to ask the name of my “brother’s” band, he liked them better than us.
In early January 1981 (pre-MTV), NYU then-student filmmaker Michael Dugan chose Evan as an assistant when he was making the video for “(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy.” Mitch Easter and Faye Hunter were back in New York at this time, so I asked Mitch to play the Husband, Faye to play the Wife, and friend Rayna to play the Wife’s friend. We shot it in the Bleecker St. apartment – using every square inch, including the basement and the storage loft above. During one of the choruses, I had everybody sit with legs dangling over the edge of the loft doing kicks in time to the music. At one point in the shoot, Evan mentioned that he played drums. We needed a permanent drummer. I liked Evan, and asked if he’d like to be our drummer. He said yes.
“(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy,” the Cosmopolitans, 1981. Film by Michael Dugan. Mitch Easter (husband), Faye Hunter (wife), Rayna (wife’s friend), and Cosmopolitans Jamie K. Sims and Nel Moore:
Before Evan started with us, we had held auditions for a guitar player and had chosen guitar ace David “Itch” Britsch. The first show with David was headlining at the Left Bank in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., on January 17. The first show we played adding Evan, as a foursome, was at Botany – still with The Tape (we needed the keyboard bass and fills). Chris (with his multi talents and despite his own heavy performance schedule) was often running the tape machine, so I had ultimate confidence in that aspect. We played The 80s Club in February on the same bill as Desmond Child(!), and later that month we were on the Uncle Floyd Show. And we played again at Hurrah.
One afternoon Alan called me at the squash club and asked me this: (What I heard) “Would you like to do an interview for Us Magazine?” This was a new mag that was along the lines of People, so I was thrilled and said “Yes!” What he actually asked was, “Would you like to do an interview for We Magazine?” What that meant was Oui magazine (“a men’s adult pornographic magazine,” per Wikipedia). I was mortified when I found that out after having agreed – not knowing that they had a legit music page, and that we were to be joined in that issue by Steely Dan. (In a bit of synchronicity, I later ended up working with Gary Katz and Donald Fagen for a few years.) Oui flew out a photographer from California to NYC, and she shot us – freezing – on a landfill with the World Trade Center towers behind us. The writer was female and good, it was a phone interview. There was, however, a word attributed to me in a quote that I’ve never used. And now I understand the need to use it – to make the distinction that we were NOT pornographic! I was floored (horrified?) at how many phone calls and cards I got from boys in my past after that article came out. Really??
In March, we played my second favorite New York club (to Irving Plaza), the Ritz. What an easy place to play – organized efficient staff, great sound and monitors, carpeted stage – it felt like playing in somebody’s really nice living room. And the crowd was somewhat below, so even though they were crushed right against the stage, we could still see. Now we had finally graduated from The Tape and were using a live keyboard player – though temporary – Fran Kowalski, who’d played with Alex Chilton. After the Ritz show we brought on a friend of David’s, keyboardist Jeff Dedrick, to play our Ace Tone organ on a permanent basis – thus completing the metamorphosis from dance company to band – with no Tape.
Albion Records released three songs in the U.K. in 1981, and the Cosmopolitans got international airplay and press. We continued to play clubs in New York, we played the East Coast, and we toured the South. The Cosmopolitans recorded several more songs in various Manhattan studios. Our most popular song on the road was “Party Boy,” written about a college buddy who liked to dance – and who, years later, became my spouse. Young bikers riding into Bud Berk’s Continental Lounge during our set in Buffalo, N.Y., yelled for “Party Boy” and “Sound Check” (the song we made up on the spot to accommodate a late sound check in front of our audience) after Evan beat his bass-drum pedal through the kick drum. I often used New York Post curiosities as themes for songs: “Chevy Baby,” “Doug,” “My Mama – Was a Man.” The last was never recorded.
We weathered personnel changes (which at one point added Robert Crenshaw, drums, Neil Winograd, drums, and Judy Monteleone-Streng, vocals/keys/guitar) and some poorly advised music/personal decisions; and finally my health and musical tastes caught up with me. There are many untold stories in Cosmopolitan World, but our last show was a Halloween blowout in a gym at Fordham University in 1982. My favorite holiday – all attending tried to convince me it was our best/funnest show ever – but I needed to stop.
Lee Joseph, of Dionysus Records in L.A., contacted me in 2005 to put out a retrospective album – Wild Moose Party – New Wave Pom Pom Girls Gone Go-Go, NYC 1980 – 1981 on his Bacchus Archives label. It is an enhanced CD, with the original “Husband Happy” video embedded. It was released in 2006 and it took us three years to get our reunion show together (a logistical miracle), which happened at Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill / Carrboro, N.C. in 2009. That final show added Catherine Harrington (keys and vocals) and Don Dixon (bass and vocal effects). Guest guitarist Mac Smith, M.D., and trombonist Thad Williamson, Ph.D., intensified our medical extravaganza, “Rockin’ Doctors.” “Husband Happy” featured its original guitarist, Mitch Easter, expertly wailing away in a last-minute guitar-unfriendly key change, due to my throat problem. My brother, Corey B. Sims, filled in for David (guitar and vocals) at the last minute, for the entire show, when David was unable to play.
Nel and I ended the reunion spectacle with “Wooly Bully” in our signature chartreuse fur ponchos and antlers.
MORE FROM PKM:
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