Jayne County set a pre-punk standard for outrageous rock & roll stage antics and regalia with her then bands Wayne County & the Electric Chairs and Queen Elizabeth. Her goal, she boasted, was to “make Alice Cooper look like a nun.” Now living in quiet rural Georgia with 19 cats, Jayne is mostly making visual art, but also some music, including a new single “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere”. PKM recently caught up with Jayne County, who talked about the single, her rock & roll past, a weird encounter with John Lennon, Egyptian mythology and much more.
It’s the year 2020, and Jayne County may be living a simple rural life, but she hasn’t lost an ounce of her big-city energy. For one, the singer of the provocative proto-punk bands Queen Elizabeth and Wayne County & the Electric Chairs is in her early 70s and still making rock & roll. She’s even “wrecking” on busy roads outside of southern churches.
“Wrecking,” as she describes in her 1995 autobiography with Rupert Smith, Man Enough to Be a Woman, is a way she and other drag queens would purposefully summon outraged reactions from passersby. She tells of her youthful experiences as a young queen in Atlanta when she and her friends would dress up and traipse around town:
“There was a whole gay subculture in Atlanta, and I dived right into it… I turned into what was known as a Scream Queen: wearing make-up, walking down the street screaming at people, screaming at boys, having to run from them… that’s what Scream Queens would do, go out wrecking people’s nerves… we’d put on our Cover Girl makeup and go driving around in Miss Cock’s convertible wrecking people,” (Man Enough to Be a Woman, Chapter 2 “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?”).
Years later, after moving from the South to New York City, she became a fixture at punk clubs like Max’s Kansas City, a part of Andy Warhol’s Factory, and began her transition to female. As the first—or, at least one of the first and certainly the most well-known—out trans frontwomen of a rock band, Jayne made a name for herself in New York, London, and Berlin. With her foul mouth, wild stage antics, and offbeat sense of humor, she boasted that she made “Alice Cooper look like a nun.” Her energy has always made a lasting impression, so it was fitting that she was present for the historic Stonewall riots, and in all probability, influenced the likes of David Bowie, John Cameron Mitchell, and GG Allin.
Her stage-persona elicited all types of responses from audiences. In 1972, Jayne got the plug pulled at a college. Her music, including the song “Fuck Off” and the band’s “Blatantly Offensive EP,” was banned by radio stations. On stage, Jayne made a habit of squirting members of the audience with water pistols shaped like dildos and performing songs while sitting on a toilet.
“I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” – Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, live in Germany, 1978:
Underneath the rambunctious and theatrical nature of her performances, and the fact that she has so many friends and an adoring, global fanbase, Jayne’s true nature is quiet and introverted. “If it hadn’t been for my career, I would probably have been a complete hermit,” she wrote in Man Enough to Be a Woman. Recently she spent time in the studio with a new collaborator, AM Taylor. The so-far unnamed duo will soon be dropping a new song, “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere.” In a music video for the tune, she and a crew of collaborators wreak havoc in a church and roam around town, up to no good.
Aside from making music, the legendary punk singer spends her days painting, driving a truck, and nurturing her family of 19 cats. Her love of cats manifests not only in her everyday life but infuses her visual art. Jayne’s art work will be featured in the viewing room at the Marlborough Gallery in New York City from Jan. 28 to Feb. 29. In the collection, BASTET, Goddess of Wet Dreams, each piece features a different image of the eponymous Egyptian cat goddess. Jayne’s fascination with Egyptian mythology dates back to her earliest memories and even hinges on rebelliousness in her youth.
I had a chance to catch up with Jayne recently. We had a wonderful, lively conversation, and she told me all about it.
PKM: So can you tell me about the work you have going up at the Marlborough Gallery this month?
Jayne County: It’s [mixed media paintings of] Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess. Only paintings of her.
PKM: Amazing, I was going to ask you about your fascination with her…
Jayne County: I’ve always been fascinated with anything Egyptian. My walls are plastered with Egyptian statues and cats and all sorts of stuff. My living room looks like a museum.
PKM: So, in terms of Bastet, what is her magic specifically to you?
Jayne County: Well, I’m a cat freak. I love cats. I have a lot I’ve saved, rescue cats. [Altogether] I have about 19. You know, I’ve got a big house, a big lawn. I have two decks fenced in for them, a fenced-in carport. They have their own cat room. Then I have other cats, scattered all through my house. Some of them even have their own bedrooms. I just love cats, have always had a fascination with them. So of course I have a fascination with the Egyptian cat goddess.
I have a thing for cats. I have an affinity for them. I love to be around them. They make me feel good. They make me feel secure. They have a way of finding me as well. If there are any cats in the neighborhood, they’ll find me. They’ll find Momma Jayne.
PKM: I read in your book that your interest in Egyptian mythology began in your childhood and in some ways was a response to your mother’s religious beliefs.
Jayne County: Fundamentalist religion, yeah. It was part of my rebellion against that upbringing, which was quite terrible actually. I’ve always been drawn toward pagan things anyway. Things that are non-Christian. If it’s not Christian, I like it. It’s part of my rebellion. So, what better way than cats and Bastet? You know, they were worshipped in Egypt, so they must have something good going on.
I like old Biblical movies, too– like The Ten Commandments, Solomon and Sheba, and those Biblical epics they made in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Egyptian stuff really draws me to them. And I’m drawn to the Biblical stuff, too, because I heard all the stories my whole life.
I love things about all those ancient cities. I’m a history buff. In fact, at one time, before I got into music, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I wanted to dig up dead cities, you know. I’m so fascinated by dead cities and cities that are no longer there, that used be here thousands of years ago. It’s amazing when you think about it—all these cities with hundreds of thousands of people, people with their everyday lives, and they get up and have their day in the city. They would function and do all this stuff and now the cities are totally gone.
Babylon’s a good example. One of the greatest cities of all, and now there’s just a couple of ruins left.
I don’t know why I’ve always had this fascination. I’m just drawn to it.
I’ve always been drawn toward pagan things anyway. Things that are non-Christian. If it’s not Christian, I like it. It’s part of my rebellion.
PKM: What media did you use for this work?
Jayne County: I used acrylics mostly. I use paintbrushes and marker and ink. I love ink. For some reason, I’m drawn to ink. It looks good on canvas. It looks good on paper. Looks good on anything. Now I love silver ink. So a lot of things I make are done in silver ink. It’s a whole mixed media thing. I actually draw the silver on the canvas, it works really well. I go over it multiple times. I do one quick coat of silver, then I go over it again, then I go over it a third time. It just looks amazing on black canvas. That’s my thing.
The show at the Marlborough is all Bastet in different forms. Some of them in traditional form, some kind of outrageous, like she looks like an alien. I love all that alien stuff.
PKM: So, when you’re painting, what’s going on in the background? Do you listen to music or is it silent?
Different things. Sometimes I listen to music. But a lot of times, the TV is on in the background. Usually all the cats are around me. Like right now, there are three cats sitting with me on the couch. Sometimes I like no noise at all. But usually the TV is on. The TV is sort of a babysitter for me—me and the cats. It’s always on, all these images coming at me. It helps me realize there’s a world out there. Sometimes I get caught up in staying in and doing my art and not going out as much as I should. TV is sort of my outlet to the outside world (laughs).
PKM: What do you watch?
Jayne County: Oh, I love classic TV. Leave it to Beaver. Bewitched is my favorite. Then there’s some newer comedies, like Two and a Half Men. That show is outrageous. But I watch mostly older stuff, I don’t watch much newer stuff. But during the day, I’ll keep it on those court shows. Like, you know, “You ARE the father, you are NOT the father.” Those things amuse me. I like Judge Mathis. At night, I am a Trekkie. I love Star Trek, so they have this TV show H9— they play all the Stark Treks right in a row. They start with the original Star Trek, then go to The Next Generation, then Deep Space 9, then they go to Star Trek Voyager, and then they go to Enterprise. I’ll just keep doing my art with Star Trek in the background.
PKM: So, when it’s music, what do you listen to?
Jayne County: Oh, I’m stuck in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I like old stuff. I used to love it when they had regular oldies stations on the radio. Now I can’t find any. I have a Bluetooth in my truck. I drive a truck, a Toyota truck, believe it or not. It’s so butch. And I drive that thing and I have my Bluetooth on…I like a lot of ‘60s garage music, that psychedelic stuff, that’s my favorite. Like Nuggets, that kind of stuff. Like “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count Five, “Liar Liar” by the Castaways, that kind of stuff. I love the Seeds. Oh the Seeds are amazing! I like the ‘60s music though because that’s when they really experimented. Some of that stuff is amazing. I like early Dylan when he was rock & roll. After Blonde on Blonde, I couldn’t stand him anymore. I just like it cuz it was kind of odd.
Other things too, like the Buzzcocks. I don’t listen to a lot of punk, but I listen to some. Like Magazine, or the Ramones. I listen a lot to them. That’s about it. A Sex Pistols track here and there, but I am so turned off by Johnny Rotten anymore, I can barely stand to listen to them.
PKM: Well that’s fair. So you’ve mentioned this rivalry between rock & roll and punk a handful of times. Your bands have so many elements of both.
Jayne County: Yeah, yeah, this punky rock & roll. I always thought of myself as rock & roll. When that thing happened in New York and they started calling the music “punk,” a lot of people were like “no!” I remember Dee Dee coming into Max’s and was like “we’re a rock & roll band. What’s all this punk stuff?” But that punk label stuck and I think it’s a fair description of the music. A lot of punk is like sped up rock & roll. You know, I think the Ramones are one of the best rock & roll bands in the world. Just true rock & roll chords, especially the way the bass is. The way it’s constructed. The way the beats are. It’s the opening, the verse, the chorus line, the verse, then the chorus line, then a verse and chorus line, then an ending. Just constructed very simple like rock & roll. Of all the punk bands, the Ramones are definitely my favorite.
PKM: People stretch it so much sometimes though. Like, I swear to God, one time someone told me they thought the Beatles were punk.
Jayne County: Hmmm… I don’t know…I mean…. I guess maybe a few tracks. Whose definition? People have their own definitions. I don’t think I could call the Beatles punk.
PKM: Maybe “Helter Skelter”? “Polythene Pam”?
Jayne County: I like a lot of their stuff. When I was a kid, and the Beatles came, and there wasn’t much else around, and they were four little mop tops from Liverpool and they were doing simple rock & roll. I really loved them. Later on, they got too experimental. I think they took it too far. I think they should have kept it rock & roll. I loved them as a rock & roll band. Like Sgt. Pepper and all. They were true genius of course, but it’s not rock & roll. It became like classical music…
PKM: Yeah it’s definitely a stretch. So you loved them when you were a kid, and then you had this weird encounter with John Lennon you’ve written about. What year was it that you bumped into him?
Jayne County: Oh yeah! I ran into him in the bathroom at a party for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band [an off-Broadway production in 1974]. My roommate Leee [Black Childers] and I. He was doing the publicity for it. They had a musical on stage. It didn’t last [66 performances, total]. It wasn’t that great. But they had a big party for it. And John Lennon was at the party.
I always kinda thought maybe he followed me into the bathroom. I was in total drag. I had three wigs, about 16 pairs of false eyelashes. I wasn’t transgender at the time, I was still Wayne. I had no bazooms. But I had these fake rubber bazooms. And I was dressed in a nightgown. I looked quite striking with all those wigs. I looked more like an alien from another planet than a woman, but it was still a very interesting look. And I went into the men’s room, I was still using the men’s room, or maybe there was a long line at the ladies, I don’t remember.
Anyway, I was fixing my makeup in the mirror. And in walks John Lennon. And no one else was in there. He just walked up to me, in my face, and was grinning at me. Just stood there grinning. And I was so nervous, I was shaking. So I just looked at myself in the mirror, closed up my compact in my purse and I was just like “Good night.” I was so shocked. I just left him standing there. What should I have done? Grabbed his arm and started dancing with him? It was quite an experience. I don’t know if he saw me going into the men’s room, decided to go in, or what. I don’t know what was going on with him.
I always thought of myself as rock & roll. When that thing happened in New York and they started calling the music “punk,” a lot of people were like “no!” I remember Dee Dee coming into Max’s and was like “we’re a rock & roll band. What’s all this punk stuff?”
But I did hear this rumor about him that when [the Beatles] were in Hamburg, he was fascinated with drag shows. They had a lot of trans people in them. The rumor was that he was fascinated with what in the old days were called ‘female impersonators.’ That’s what they used to say instead of ‘transgender people’. So I heard he used to love going to those clubs in Hamburg and he would hang out with the trans women. That’s the rumor about him.
Yeah so, maybe he saw me at the party, I don’t know if he came in to check me out or not. Or maybe he thought I had drugs on me. People think trans people always have drugs on them or something. Very bizarre and interesting at the same time.
PKM: Wow. So was what like? ‘68? Sgt. Pepper came out in ‘67…
Jayne County: The show didn’t come out ‘til after Sgt. Pepper. This was like before the punk thing happened. Before the punk thing. Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, and Divine were all at that party. It was some party. When I look back at some of those parties…some were just outrageous. And the people who were there, it’s like, I can’t believe it. I would never have dreamed I would live to 74. But I’m actually 74 years old, it’s hard to believe that was actually me. Sometimes I look at it like that was another person. It was so long ago.
Some stories I’ve just plain forgotten. Someone recently showed me a movie on YouTube that I evidently did in the early ‘70s that I don’t remember doing! I don’t remember doing it! I was wearing a black wig… and I don’t remember doing this movie at all, I have no idea. But I’ve made it 74 years, my god. I can’t believe it.
PKM: When I read your book, I feel like you remember so much, you remember so many details… It’s actually quite amazing the amount of detail you have for those stories.
Jayne County: I remember a lot, but there are certain things I don’t remember. I’m lucky that way, but the older I get, the more fuzzy it all becomes. It was quite a long time ago.
Anyway, I was fixing my makeup in the mirror. And in walks John Lennon. And no one else was in there. He just walked up to me, in my face, and was grinning at me. Just stood there grinning. And I was so nervous, I was shaking. So I just looked at myself in the mirror, closed up my compact in my purse and I was just like “Good night.”
PKM: Did you keep journals?
Jayne County: I kept a journal way back then, I should have kept more, but yeah, I have loads of journals from the ‘70s. I guess someday somebody will print them up. There’s a lot of embarrassing stuff in there, a lot of my personal feelings and some things… you know… stuff I would be embarrassed for people to know. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, too, in my life. I’ve done some embarrassing things.
PKM: I think we all have.
Jayne County: Yeah, you’re right, I think we all have. But you know, a lot of people will say to you, “I lived my life with no regrets… If I had to do it over, I’d do it the same.” Not me! I have a lot of regrets, if I had my life to live over, there’d be a lot of different things I would have done differently.
PKM: I’d rather honesty like that! A lot of people think they are perfect, like they can do no wrong. It’s brilliant to admit that.
Jayne County: Oh Lord, I’ve made so many mistakes. If I had my life to do over, I would correct them. And you know, well, I’m 74 and still going. I can’t believe it myself. It’s an energy, I have a rock & roll energy. That’s what keeps me going, actually… keeps my art going, my music going, everything going, it keeps me going. It’s an energy that keeps me going and I can’t explain where it comes from. It’s just there.
It’s up to us to keep rock & roll alive. Some of the music coming out now is just awful. There’s not enough rock & roll. It’s just too bad.
PKM: You know there are more guitar sounds underground. It’s just not really in the mainstream… it’s more local and you never hear about it because rock & rollers don’t have the same relationship with PR…
Jayne County: That’s right, you can find it. I mean, I think that’s why I just listen to the old stuff. I listen to the same stuff I used to. I just never get tired of it.
PKM: Well that’s great, you know what you love. You said you were in the studio recently?
Jayne County: Yes! I was recently. And we’re making a video, too. It’s a song called “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere.” It has come out really good. I have great hopes for it. We have a whole marketing campaign planned for it and everything. It’s gonna be released about February or March. We’ll see what happens.
“I Don’t Fit In Anywhere,” all right, that’s my story. I don’t fit in anywhere (laughs).
PKM: That’s great, you putting that out there… I think a lot of people relate to it.
Jayne County: I think a lot of people feel like they don’t fit in anywhere, mmhmm.
PKM: So, we talked about your process with painting, what is your process with creating music? How do you write songs?
Jayne County: I get these ideas in my head. It seems like they come from nowhere. I just get tunes in my head, sometimes I dream them. Sometimes it won’t be a whole song, just a tune, and it will get stuck in my head and won’t go away. So what I say if a tune gets stuck in my head and won’t go away, it would probably make a good song.
I’m working with a guitar player, AM Taylor. And she’s just this incredible guitar player. I can hum a tune to her and she can pick it out with a guitar in just seconds, she’s got this incredible knack. It’s amazing. So I just hum the tune to her and she picks it out and plays in on guitar. And she’s got ideas and she’ll add a good line for the verse or something like that. And I usually come up with good chorus lines. I came up with “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere” in my head, and I had the whole thing in there, and what I have to do is translate that song from my head to a guitarist, so we can put it into the physical. And once we have it on guitar, we can add bass and drums, the rhythm section, and that glues the whole song together. Without the rhythm, the song falls apart. So we then record those and then overlay the guitars and the tune and the chorus lines over that. That’s how I write ‘em! The tune just appears out of nowhere. I also get good ideas for song titles, then just write them down.
Now on your phone, they have these apps on phones and you can just record yourself. So I reach for my phone and I just go (sings a tune), then I have a song!
I have a rock & roll energy. That’s what keeps me going.
PKM: You’ve also had such amazing band names over the years– Queen Elizabeth, The Electric Chairs, The Backstreet Boys…
Jayne County: The Backstreet Boys, can you believe that? I am so glad the Backstreet Boys went on to become such a big band (laughs). I couldn’t believe it when I started hearing about them. I was like, “Has one of my bandmates gone and put the band back together? What’s going on?” Then when I saw them, I was like “Oh my god.” People were like, “You should sue! You’d make a lot of money.”
But, I couldn’t. I wasn’t using the name anymore. You have to go to court and prove all sorts of stuff, and you know I didn’t have the money to take them to court… so I just let it go.
I just think it’s funny, because I was hoping when all those kids Googled the Backstreet Boys, they’d get “Max’s Kansas City” by Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys. Then turn them onto that. I’m hoping. Or at least it’s kinda funny thinking about a 14-year-old girl in Nebraska Googling it and coming across my band.
“Down at Max’s Kansas City”-Wayne County & the Backstreet Boys, 1976:
PKM: So what’s the name you’re recording under now?
Jayne County: AM and I are still looking for a name… but when I do gigs down here in Georgia, it’s Jayne County and The Electric Queers. It’s funny because all the boys are straight, but they don’t mind being called ‘Electric Queers.’ I find that kinda funny. But yeah, AM and I are still trying to come up with something. Every time we think of a good name, we Google it and it’s taken already! Every! Time!
PKM: Yeah that’s the problem these days, you gotta spell it differently…
Jayne County: Yeah I guess you could, but yeah we might just call it Jayne County and AM Taylor for this release.
We started the video, we haven’t finished it yet, but we started it. We are starting again soon. We’ve done a scene already in a church. I wanted to do a scene with me and AM and some freaky people getting thrown out of a church. We sit there and the minister gets mad at us and starts screaming at us and throws us out of the church. And we are asked to leave and as I get to the door, I bend over and pull up my skirt and pat my ass at him. That’s the end of our church day. And we are gonna have some more scenes, like coming in and out of women’s and men’s bathrooms, which can be a comment on the whole bathroom controversy. I want to do another scene in a cool rock & roll store and I wanted to do a scene of me putting stuff under my clothes and getting caught and arrested.
I want the video to have a sense of humor to it, so it’s not just something gloomy, like “I Don’t Fit In Anywhere,” ya know.
PKM: Well, you always have a sense of humor in your work. So, the church let you do it?
Jayne County: Yeah! We rented it out. They let us do it. I guess it’s a ‘contribution.’ I don’t think the church is even being used at the moment. It’s in perfect condition, it’s a beautiful country church, with stained glass windows and pictures of Jesus everywhere. It’s gonna look good in the video.
It’s funny because the church is on one of the main roads, and we were coming in and out, we were all dressed to the nines and in all our rock & roll gear, we were stopping traffic, people were pulling over to gawk at us. It was like we were wrecking people. I used to do that when I was young.
PKM: Is there a different response from people in the city now?
Jayne County: Yeah, kind of a different response, but sometimes it’s the same! People are still shockable. You have to get the right kind of person to be shocked. Now people kind just look at you and roll their eyes and are like “oh they must be making a movie or something.” But, you know, down here in the South it is way easier to shock people. A lot of people are ultra conservative. So a trans person in a huge, 3-foot tall wig, it’s sort of attention-getting down here. Not like in New York, where even the people who are considered normal are kind of weird (laughs heartily). That’s what I love about New York.