WEBEXCLUSIVE INCONVERSATION

On Jayne County: MICHAEL FOX and TONY ZANETTA with James Barron

Jayne County, Pillar of Society, 1982, acrylic and water color on paper, 11.5 × 16.5 inches. Courtesy the artist.

This talk coincided with the exhibition, Jayne County / Pillar of Society at James Barron Art, Kent, CT, in May – June, 2018. The exhibition was a follow up to the highly acclaimed Jayne County exhibition, Paranoid Paradise, at Participant Inc., NYC, in February – March, 2018, curated by Michael Fox, and organized in conjunction with Lia Gangitano of Participant Inc. That exhibition received reviews in Brooklyn Rail, Art in America, Hyperallergic, Art Forum and The New York Post.

Portrait of Jane County, pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

Jayne County was a pioneering punk, trans performance artist. She escaped to New York City from Georgia as a young adult and shortly thereafter participated in the iconic Stonewall Riots. She worked with many remarkable performers in New York City before moving to Berlin in the 1970s. Today she has returned to her native state, where she continues to produce the vibrant, eccentric art that was exhibited at both Participant, Inc. and James Barron Art.

On the occasion of New York City Pride 2018, art dealer James Barron sat down to talk with two of Jayne County’s longtime friends, New York City police sergeant and exhibition curator, Michael Fox, and creative designer Tony Zanetta, who produced David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dog tours, about Jayne’s life and legacy.

James Barron (Rail): Let’s start with you, Michael. You told me a few months ago about the first time you and Jayne met. I quote, “Jayne was the patron saint of Squeezebox. She offered to buy me a drink. Southern Comfort, chilled, no ice. We had several and became inseparable.” So, tell me, what was that like for you, Michael?

Michael Fox: Jayne and I first met Squeezebox, which was a show at a club called Don Hill’s, on Spring and Greenwich. Squeezebox would happen on Friday nights. And it was amazing. It was a very mixed crowd, mostly gay, but it welcomed everyone. Jayne performed there pretty frequently. We became fast friends.

Tony Zanetta: But it was kind of a queer rock ‘n’ roll night.

Fox: Exactly. Well, Jayne really helped sort of bring… 

Zanetta: —Well she broke all the boundaries and created her own. She never would be boxed in; she just did what she wanted to do.

Fox: She did. And she played for straight crowds. They loved her.

Bob Gruen, Jayne County. Courtesy James Barron Art

Zanetta: Oh yeah. Those Brooklyn punks loved Jayne. Jayne was not a gay performer. Neither was Wayne. I talk about Wayne because I became acquainted with Wayne in 1970, and Wayne and Jayne are not totally the same person. Wayne created Jayne. There was a kind of fierceness about everything that Wayne did. He wasn’t going to be defined by anything. He wanted to do rock ‘n’ roll. He wanted to do it his way. And the punks really liked Jayne because she was fierce. She represented, really, what punk was all about, which was a very in-your-face, confrontational “fuck you.” And that’s what they related to. It had nothing to do with gay, straight, trans. This was a person who was courageous and fierce.

Fox: I always thought that as well. Her bravery was really amazing to me. At the time when she was doing this stuff, it was basically illegal to be gay.

Zanetta: Also, Wayne did have some ambition, in terms of rock ‘n’ roll. So Wayne started performing in the early ’70s in New York City. It slightly predated the CBGB’s, Max’s, the punk scene. It was all at the Mercer Art Center, really, and the bands were Wayne County, the New York Dolls, Eric Emerson, who was a Warhol superstar; Ruby Lynn Reyner, who came out of the Playhouse of Ridiculous. Much of this work and its visuals are very heavily influenced by the Playhouse of the Ridiculous. And for Jayne, I think, also the drag scene in Atlanta in the mid-60’s.

Fox: Yes. Tony, you were part of the Theater of the Ridiculous as well.

Zanetta: Yes. Well, you see, Jayne never technically worked in the Playhouse. I did. But we were all influenced by the original company, and then there were many different offshoots of the Playhouse. Jayne and I met in 1970, when her play called World – Birth of a Nation was being done by a guy named Tony Ingrassia. Now Tony had worked in the Playhouse, and he had worked with Jackie Curtis, who was the premier and really out-there performer of that moment. Jackie had a play that got mainstream attention called “Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit”, and that was the Playhouse of the Ridiculous. The New York Times headline was “Not a Girl, Not a Boy, Just Me, Jackie,” and that was, I think, 1969. So, if you want to talk about gender fluidity and all this stuff, Jackie was really the pioneer, and everybody looked up to Jackie. 

Fox: Yes. Leee took some great pictures of Jackie in Times Square. Gorgeous pictures.

Zanetta: And Jackie and Wayne and Leee were roommates at the time—for a while.

Fox: Jayne talked about living with Leee, Jackie and Holly Woodlawn, all at the same time. Which I can’t even imagine, all in a tiny New York City apartment. It must have been so much fun. It was on East 13th Street.

Rail: I’ve been reading this book—you should all try to get your hands on it, it’s out of print—Jayne’s autobiography called Man Enough to be a Woman. She talks about how she was basically chased out of Atlanta by some rednecks shooting at her. She got on a Greyhound bus for twenty-five bucks. She had one suitcase. She was coming to New York City. The suitcase was either stolen or lost, so she got to New York with nothing, with no money and no clothes. I mean, this is a fierce human being, to survive that. And to think about being a trans person, in Times Square, at that moment, with no money. 

Zanetta: Well, she wasn’t totally trans at that point. Wayne was kind of a quiet little southern boy—kind of introverted, actually. Just a cute little southern gay boy like a lot of other boys were. And this was the late ’60s. To arrive in New York City with no money in the late ’60s would be a lot different than arriving there now with no money. Also, you know, we war babies were everywhere. We were burning down bridges, and [we were] hippies. So, Wayne was kind of a hippie child, kind of a hippie gay boy. But in those days, there were so many of us that you would make best friends with someone you met on the street and go stay with them for a week. It was not uncommon, and that’s kind of the way Wayne survived. And then Wayne met Leee, who was another southern boy. Leee Black Childers was basically known as a photographer. He died a couple of years ago. He was a wonderful storyteller and writer and photographer…

Jayne County, Carlos and Jimmy, 1982, acrylic and watercolor on paper, 11.5 × 16.5 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Fox: A great talker. And he always turned out a great look with his clothes and makeup, right until the end.

Zanetta: Just an incredible person, and he was kind of at the epicenter of pop culture for the forty years that he was around. A great influencer. But Leee was the kind of person who doesn’t really value—anything. He just threw everything away, didn’t hang onto his negatives; he didn’t care about money.

Fox: It’s true. We have a couple of Leee’s photographs here hanging in the little room over there. I bought those from the gallery that had Leee’s very last show. Actually, Leee flew to L.A. for this opening of his photography show, and it was a huge success. There was a line around the block. People still talk about what a great party and what a great night that was. Holly Woodlawn was there, and the two of them together—they were holding court. And one thing that troubled me when I saw them was that they were both wasted, and I knew Holly had had issues staying sober, and Leee did as well. They were both trying to be sober, but they were not at all sober that night. And Leee died the very next day. Poor Holly also died a few months later.

Zanetta: He was literally carried out of the show. Of course, Leee would have loved all the fame, having a captive audience. 

Fox: Well, he did love it. He had a great night. Apparently, he was very jaundiced. His skin was yellow that night. His liver had just completely shut down, and he died the morning after his opening. 

Jayne County, Self Portrait, 1982, water color on paper, 11.5 × 16.76 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Zanetta: It was very tragic. But he was kind of a southern gentleman. He also embraced his alcoholism. He did stop drinking for a short time because he had almost died a few years before. And during that time when he wasn’t drinking, he really got some acclaim and had quite a few shows.

Fox: And a book of his photos was published called Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pick Pockets, Junkies, Rockstars and Punks. It’s a really good book. Leee took great pictures. 

Zanetta: But my point with Wayne and Leee is that Leee was almost Wayne’s keeper, because Wayne wasn’t very functional—at that time. And Leee was. My theory on Wayne and Jayne….Wayne’s family had some…issues. [They were] very, very religious. The sister was schizophrenic, her brother ended up getting murdered. But my outlook has always been that Wayne had to become Jayne to become sane. And Jayne, really, is a very sane person. Wayne was a little bit more unbalanced and had more trouble navigating life. This is just my opinion. But Wayne was very withdrawn, very quiet—brilliantly talented, but not outgoing at all. Whereas Jayne is very outgoing.

Rail: But this sometimes happens. A friend of mine just went out to Arizona visiting a friend. And there had been a very contentious horrible marriage when the husband identified as straight. They divorced, and then they fell out of touch for about 25 years. In the meantime, he became a trans person, and then they got back together, and now they live in complete harmony. My friend said, “They’re one of the happiest couples that I’ve ever seen.” So, it’s an interesting thing when somebody finds some peace. This sounds a little bit like what you’re talking about. 

Zanetta: Very much. And among my friends at that time, many of us were trying on identities—especially as performers. David Bowie is a great example of that. I mean, David Jones was not the most interesting person, but David Bowie, and then Ziggy Stardust really enabled this boy to express what he wanted to express, which he couldn’t really do as himself. And I think a lot of the characters in the Playhouse of the Ridiculous and in that scene in those years were very much about that. People would make up names and personas. The Warhol superstars were very much about that too—Holly Woodlawn, Candy [Darling]. Not only them but Viva [Superstar], all the superstars were trying on bigger-than-life personas in order to be what they thought they should be or wanted to be. And Jayne says that Jayne County is her best creation. She’s very aware that there’s a persona that’s “Jayne.” And she can kind of stand aside and look at Jayne. And she doesn’t always want to be Jayne. Jayne is pretty flamboyant, and absolutely fantastic on stage.

Jayne County, Untitled, 1981, acrylic and water color on paper, 11.5 × 16.5 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Fox: I love her singing voice.

Rail: I also know that Tony worked with David Bowie.

Zanetta: Well, we all met when we were in London doing Andy Warhol’s play Pork. Pork was [made up of] tape recordings. Just like all of Andy’s other work, he took taped conversations that he had with people, had them transcribed, and then someone put it all together, we put it on stage, and he said, “This is my play.” And because it was on stage and it was theater, it was perceived as a play. I played Andy; Jayne played Viva Superstar…. Anyway, we met David Bowie when we were in London, who was just this struggling singer-songwriter. He was a fan of ours first. Then he signed a recording contract, and I went to work for him, and then I got all my friends involved.

Rail: Jayne feels that she was very influential with David Bowie, with John Waters, Divine, and Andy Warhol—right?

Zanetta: Well, Jayne and I don’t totally agree on that. [Laughter] However, to me, her influence was that fierceness. It wasn’t how she wore her makeup or costume or her music. It was that she had a certain ability on stage. One night we were being heckled by someone in the audience. It was during one of Jayne’s speeches, and Jayne never stopped with her delivery of the scene. She got up, and she walked towards the audience, and she kept delivering the lines, but directed them at the heckler. And those people ran. They got up and they ran out of the theater. [Laughter] She had strength and power onstage, a strength and power to present something that wasn’t traditional. And I think Bowie was very encouraged by this kind of fierceness and by a kind of sexual outlaw-ism that he discovered in this play, because this play wasn’t sexy, but it was all talk—a lot of talk about sex, talk about this, talk about that. And it was edgy. I think Bowie was really inspired by that, and of course he was a big fan of Warhol. In some ways, he patterned his career after Andy Warhol.

Rail: For someone of this background, I can understand leaving Georgia. I can understand hightailing it to New York on a Greyhound. But then why do you go back to Georgia?

Fox: That’s an interesting question. I’ve known Jayne since the mid ’90s, and she moved back to Georgia in about 2006. She told me that the reason why she was moving back was to look after her parents, who were really getting up there in age. And one of the things that really pushed her down there was that, within a very short period of time, her sister committed suicide, she told me, basically over an argument between her sister and her father that had something to do with Obama being the President. And then her brother got murdered very shortly after that. He was shot and killed in Georgia. I’m not sure of the exact circumstances of that, but she felt like she needed to go down there to support her elderly parents. Jayne moved down there in 2006, and she had been asking me to go down to visit her, and I did make it down there in 2007. I didn’t know what to expect, because of course I’d read the book [Man Enough to Be a Woman]. And I’ve been to Georgia before, and, you know, it can be rural and backwoods and a little bit strange outside of Atlanta, so I didn’t really know what to expect. She picked me up at the airport. And I remember it was September 11th, 2007, the day that I was flying, so there were a lot of military people around and security all over the place. She met me at the airport with sort of long, platinum white hair, and she had some facial stubble, and her hair was in a ponytail, and I think she was wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. She was presenting as a person somewhere in between genders as her day look. She considers herself to be gender fluid, and I understand why. She uses the term “trans” as well, but she presents in a way that is confusing to people. 

On the way to her house, she told me that she didn’t live in the same house as her parents. And she told me that she had a lot of cats, and I’m allergic to cats, so I said, “Let’s stop at a Target or a Walmart or something on the way to your house.” So, we did that. My friends call me Joan as a nickname, after Joan Crawford [in] Mommy Dearest, with the bleach and the scrubbing; they call me Joan as an inside joke because I’m a little obsessive about cleaning. We stopped at a Target, and I started filling my shopping cart with things like Clorox bleach, Chore Boy sponges, Scrubbing Bubbles, Windex, Bounty paper towels—you know, everything that I like to clean surfaces with. Just an arsenal of everything I needed to do a good surface cleaning, which I started to do as soon as I walked in the door. And there were a lot of cats. I think she has even more cats now. I took my allergy pills and I get allergy shots and it was still a little too much for me with all of the kitties and my terrible allergies. Very Gray Gardens, but southern style. And I love cats, by the way, but at a point, my throat starts constricting. I was sleeping in her living room, which was carpeted, and one of her cats had gotten sick all over the carpet just before I got there, so you know there’s all of these kitty smells. I just got down to business and started scrubbing everything. I stayed with her for a few nights, and then we spent a night in Atlanta before I came back to New York.

I was happy that I did get to visit with her mother while I was down there. Their house shocked me, because I was expecting a shack, you know, like she described in her book, and it was this lovely tree-lined driveway that was about a quarter of a mile long, with ponds. It was just a beautiful house. They had a helper, a sort of house maid to help them. There were pictures of her mother on the wall from when she was young, and she was very pretty. She looked kind of like Norma Jean when she was young. She was like a sweet, older sort of southern Marilyn Monroe type. Her dad never came out of his bedroom. I wanted to meet him, but I didn’t want to be pushy about it, and her mom was just very charming, and I just left it alone. He wasn’t feeling well. He fought in World War II. They have a newspaper down there. When the parents died, the newspaper remained open, and Jayne and her brother keep things going with that.

Zanetta: She liked to give the impression that she came from a dirt road, a trashy background.

Fox: She did at one point, though, because she showed me houses that she lived at when she was younger. They were truly shacks. I think when her father came back from the war, he found a good job. I forget exactly what he did, but he ended up starting a newspaper. And they became sort of successful, and when Jayne’s parents died, they were definitely not living in a shack.

Rail: Did you visit Jayne in Berlin when she was doing these works, Tony?

Jayne County, Horizensia of Carthage, 1982, acrylic and watercolor on paper, 11.5 × 16.5 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Zanetta: No, but Jayne would go from Berlin to London to New York. And in New York she always stayed with me, for a period of at least twenty years. And she always had these little notebooks, but they were more like diary entries. They were really illustrating the life she was living at the time. So there would be a page with text, and then there would be these drawings and paintings. I thought they were fabulous. She didn’t take them seriously. To her they were just doodles, at the time. And then she had no permanent residence, so I had boxes and boxes of these notebooks in my closet. I was always hoping she was going to forget them. [Laughter] She eventually did remember where they were. As far as I know, that’s when she started painting, in the late ’70s in Berlin.

Rail: This is something you could to address, Michael, as curator of the show. There’s a lot of Egyptian imagery, and I know from what I’ve read that she admired Egyptian civilization because they revered trans people—that wasn’t the word back then, but—trans people as an embodiment of the highest humanity. Did she expound on that at all?

Fox: I think the whole Egyptian thing had something to do with that, but it also had something to do with Hollywood, and…

Zanetta: Well, it mostly had to do with the Bible. That was fundamental. Jayne is actually practically a biblical scholar. She loved archaeology, she loved the Bible, and she loved ancient Egypt. She’s actually very well versed in all that. She was obsessed by it.

Fox: She’s still obsessed by ancient civilizations.

Zanetta: When she wasn’t performing, she spent most of her time reading about Egypt and ancient times. Even the play that I was in, World—Birth of a Nation, had all the symbolism that came from that, also. She’d been obsessed with that since childhood. It has always been a deep interest.

Jayne County, Passion of the Penis #1, 2007, acrylic and marker on paper, 12 x 18 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Rail: So, the piece beside you with the phalluses and the Egyptian imagery. Could you enlighten us a bit about your thought process there?

Zanetta: [Laughs] It’s the one-eyed frog. It’s a great work.

Rail: Where do these pieces usually live?

Fox: I went down there for the first time in 2007, and I’ve been collecting her work since about 2004. And for me it started when she sent me in the mail a small piece on the back of a package of safety pins, you know, that you buy at the store that she’d done a little painting on. Then she had one piece in a show at CBGB’s which was showing the work of punk rockers that had played at CBGB’s. Dee Dee Ramone had some art there. And this Jayne piece was of Lady Bunny. At that time, she had had a falling-out with Lady Bunny. I don’t know all of the details about it, but it had something to do with cocaine. This little painting is just so over the top. It is great. It is basically about Lady Bunny stealing her look. And there were several Lady Bunnies in the piece. It was like a split screen. One part had Lady Bunny sucking off all of these black guys, and then another part showed Lady Bunny wearing a see-through dress, and she had a tiny little penis. And then there was another part where Lady Bunny snorting cocaine. So, I loved it. Nobody really knew about their falling-out, and I love them both, so I just had to have that piece. And she didn’t want to sell it, but I kept asking about it, bugging her, and she ended up selling it to me. That was the first piece where I thought that she is really a great artist. So, I would encourage her and ask her what she was doing with her art after that, and she kept talking about her art when she was down south, saying, “You have to come down and see it.” So, when I went down there in 2007, she showed me where she works.

She uses sort of non-traditional materials to make her art. It’ll be anything from paint or markers to makeup, nail polish. I never saw her use food, but pretty much anything else that you could imagine to achieve the color she would want. She loves gel pens, crayons, every kind of paint imaginable.

While down there, I took some photographs of her. I saw her workspace and the archive that she had down there, and she ended up getting in touch with me later, after I had gotten back to New York, telling me that Rupert, who wrote the book [Man Enough to Be a Woman], was doing a piece for Butt magazine, which is a gay porn/art magazine from Hollard, where they have advertisers like Balenciaga, Mark Jacobs and so on. Rupert wrote this piece about Jayne moving to the south, and no one had been down there except me, and they needed photographs for the piece that Rupert had written. I ended up submitting photographs and they ran them. Rupert wrote a really nice interview about Jayne’s transition from living in New York to rural Georgia. I was taking pictures of everything. I would drive her crazy with the camera, because I would want pictures of her in bed with the cats, driving around Georgia in her car, pumping gas, and I have always loved the idea of pictures of Jayne in nature, you know, because I never see pictures of Jayne in nature.

Jayne County, Moses and the Burning Penis Bush, 2005, acrylic and marker on found object, 5 x 8.25 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Rail: I know that Jayne was at Stonewall, and there are some really great descriptions of people jumping on top of cop cars, yelling, “Fuck the cops!” Tell me, has she had any discussions with you about your police work, Michael?

Fox: She was always okay with me being in the police business, and I think that she liked that there was someone like me who was very trans-friendly. I have a lot of trans friends, and I think she liked that there was someone like me representing the interests of trans people in the police department. Trans people tend to have more interactions with the police than other people, and I always try to give good advice to my friends. And you know me, I’m really not the cop type at all. I was in the fashion business for about a decade before I was a police officer, and after the fashion business I worked for artists. I was working for Tom Sachs as his studio manager before he became a famous person in the art world. And then I was also driving a yellow cab, because that was always a fantasy of mine. It’s still one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever had. But during that time a couple of people told me, “You should take the test to be a cop,” and I just thought it was the craziest thing I had ever heard. It was such an absurd idea that I thought I would just go through process and see where it takes me, kind of as a goof. This August will mark twenty years that I’ve been in the police business. It’s funny where life takes you.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve been in the habit of procuring other cops to have sex with Jayne, but there was one time when there was a cop who was in a band and that I’m friends with, who I took to see Jayne, and, you know, he really loved her performance, and Jayne was very flirty with him, and he drove her home, and they got a little frisky with each other. I’m not going to go into all the sordid details, but she loved that ride, she still talks about him to this day. And he still talks about her.

Jayne and I were just talking about Stonewall the other day, and although it was an uprising, and it was definitely a protest, I think she really enjoyed it. It was a time when gay people were really starting to have a voice, and they were drawing a line and saying, “Enough is enough, we’re not going to take this abuse anymore.” She was talking about these really fun things that they were doing during the riots. She said she wasn’t actually throwing bricks herself. She was more involved in chorus line, kick-line type stuff. She said that a lot of people were pulling down their pants and showing their bums to the police and stuff like that, and I think there was a lot of back and forth with police that was actually fun for both sides. But it was also about Gays drawing a line in the sand where they were saying, “We’re not going to tolerate this police harassment anymore.”

Rail: There’s an interesting interview with Jayne talking about Stonewall on YouTube where the interviewer asked if she knew it was historic, at that moment. And she said, “Absolutely.”

Fox: She also does love a man in uniform. She’s very turned on by the idea of getting it on with a cop. See, she hates the fascism and oppression that the uniform represents, but at the same time she likes the idea of a cop as a sex object. And this cop that I sort of procured for her, the one that drove her home after her show, he still talks about it this day, too. Something definitely happened in that car.

Audience: Are the UPS men safe? 

Fox: [Laughter] I don’t know any UPS men, but I would say that they’re probably not safe.

Rail: There is a small, limited-edition publication that you made for Paranoia Paradise, which was the show at Participant, Inc. She talks about Donald Trump quite a bit in that. She said something like, “I wish I could vomit enough to fill every toilet in the White House, these fucking pieces of possum shit, lazy-ass motherfuckers….” Do you talk to her about Trump?

Jayne County, Trump, Chicken Man, and Adolf Warhol, Pop Dicktater, 2017, acrylic and marker on canvas, 16 × 20 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Fox: There’s a couple of pieces that I brought in which, I believe, she really lets her rage out. We do talk about Trump all of the time. I often tell her that I’d like to see her make hate art of what is going on now, and she hasn’t been making rage art lately. I really love her more vitriolic work, because it says a lot about who she is. I think it’s meaningful. Jayne hates really well. Actually, I’ve been buying up Time and Newsweek magazines that I’ve been finding on eBay, and I’m going to send her a bunch of them for inspiration, because I think it is a really good time for that now. 

Cherie Currie, who’s the lead singer of a band called The Runaways—that was Joan Jett’s band as well—they were pretty great. Cherie is a Republican. They used to be friends; then Jayne found out that Cherie was in cahoots with what Glenn Beck was saying. Jayne did this series of pieces about Cherie Currie. She’s sort of raging about her being a Republican. I think they’re really great. Her hateful art is my favorite.

Rail: I’m curious about her transition from works on paper—which is obviously cheaper material—to works on canvas. Could you talk about that a bit?

Fox: Jayne loves changing and evolving with her art in terms of subject matter, the materials that she uses to achieve color, and the surfaces she works on. What strikes me is the signature on the back of this canvas work here. Jayne’s father actually had a conversation with her before he died, saying that he wanted her to use the name that she was given at birth. I think that has something to do with this, because she typically didn’t use her real name. She has been signing her canvases with three names: Jayne County, Wayne County, and her real name. It is interesting that so many of her newer canvas pieces also have three figures.

Jayne County, All Appliances Disabled, 2005, acrylic and marker on found object, 5 x 8.25 inches. Courtesy the artist.

A lot of her newest work is of penises. She’s been doing works on paper of penises nonstop lately. And they are just gorgeous. Some of them look like flowers.

Audience: I’m struck by the vivid colors of these works. Was there ever any psychedelic influence…?

Zanetta: She was never much of a druggie. I’m sure she did some psychedelics. Sometimes she would take a little bit of speed to perform, just for energy. Other than that, I never knew Jayne to take any drugs, really. She occasionally takes prescription medication for pain management.

Rail: Yes, she has a problem with her back, right?

Fox: She used to end her shows with a “Fuck off”—“If You Don’t Wanna Fuck Me, Baby, Fuck Off.” It’s a punk rock anthem. When she was performing it, she would throw herself on her back and almost do the bicycle, kicking her legs in the air.

Zanetta: That was her signature move.

Fox: There was a lot of jumping around. Her shows were always very physical. A lot of crawling around on her hands and knees. But with her back problems, she’s been more or less unable to perform at all for the last five years or so. She rarely even travels. But she’s still making music. Actually, there’s a new song that she dropped iTunes a week ago.

Rail: Who are some of her musical inspirations and who are some of her art inspirations?

Zanetta: Musically she was obsessed with anything English, in the ’60s, the British Invasion groups. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, and Dusty Springfield.

Fox: I think that her wigs were somewhat inspired by Dusty. 

Zanetta: And country music. She would start a show in outrageous female drag and end up taking everything off, until she was almost nude. She would go from a female look to a male look. During the course of these photographs. This one shows that.

Fox: When Bunny first came to see the show at Participant, it was the first time she had seen these three hateful pieces that Jayne had done of Bunny. The first thing that Bunny said was, “Well I’m glad I waited until I took my mother to the airport before coming here.” [Laughter] And then she said, “I think I’m going to start wearing ‘The Dave Clark Five’ on my wigs, just to see how she reacts.” That cracks me up because Jayne accuses Bunny of stealing her look, and Jayne wore “The Dave Clark Five” signage in her wigs in the 1970s.

Zanetta: The other thing is that Wayne had a big nose. When Wayne started transitioning to Jayne, she had her nose done, in either England or Berlin. We all thought that she was crazy, because when Wayne started, we all thought that Wayne could have a real mainstream career in rock ‘n’ roll, when he went to London in 1976 during the punk explosion and was doing pretty well, actually. And then he made the announcement that he was turning into Jayne, which we all thought was absolute insanity. Because nobody did that. But she did. It was interesting—it was almost like the band was too good, and I think she felt like she was losing control, losing her punk edge. And then she got rid of that band, and after that she would just use pick-up bands, or she would do taped shows, where she would perform over taped music.

Fox: People have always said that her bands were very solid. Even the Squeezebox band was a great rock ‘n’ roll band.

Zanetta: She definitely knows her rock ‘n’ roll.

Fox: And she knows how to move, as well. Bob Gruen took all of the photographs of Jayne on this wall over there. He’s one of the greatest rock roll photographers alive today. I would say he’s most famous for his photos of John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they were living in New York. There’s a picture in the back room of Jayne from 1979 which is showing her with the pretty nose that you’re talking about. She had also started taking hormones at that time, and you can see her budding breasts through her sheer dress.

Zanetta: Berlin, in the ’70s, was sort of the epicenter of transgenderism. There was a famous queen named Romy Haag…

Fox: I met Romy when I was in Berlin with Jayne, who was there in 2005 to do a play, and Romy was very glamorous.

Zanetta: Oh yeah Romy was a big star in Germany and around Europe. She had her own club in the ’70s; she was on TV. She did these incredible drag shows in this little club. But she was surrounded by a group of others like her. She was using the hormones in Germany, where they were considered the top. Jayne aspired to that German kind of look for a while, and then she went her own way. In the late ’70s, early ’80s she began transitioning and her appearance changed.

Fox: You can really see the difference in the Bob Gruen pictures. She definitely transformed and became more feminine from the early 1970s until 1979.

Audience: Could you give a timeline of the artworks?

Fox: We have pieces from the early 1980s and some from as recent as 2018. She did not go to art school or have any professional training in art.

Zanetta: Like Leee [Black Childers], she didn’t take her art very seriously, in the beginning. Leee was just taking snapshots of his friends at first, but he documented an entire era.

Leee Child, Jayne County and Divine, 1979. Courtesy James Barron Art

Fox: His friends were people like Iggy Pop, David Johansen, Debbie Harry. He photographed everyone. I mean, the most amazing photographs of Bowie. But the way the show came up at Participant—Lia Gangitano and I went to high school together in Connecticut. We met when we were kids, and I’d taken Jayne to Lia’s gallery a couple of times. And Jayne really wanted to have an exhibition of her artwork in New York, and Lia has a really terrific nonprofit space that features the great work of a lot of trans people. Lia and I really wanted to show Jayne’s art in a way that honors her. We had been talking about it for years, and then finally, about a year ago, I went down to Georgia, and I spent about a week with Jayne, and I just very methodically went through her archive and very carefully packed stuff up to send up here. The Participant show and this show resulted from that trip. She’s actually been making art since before 1980, but she lived in a place where a lot of the earlier stuff got thrown away. She does still have some of her diaries, and some of them are with Rupert, who wrote Man Enough to Be a Woman.

Zanetta: I think the artwork really started to pick up when she moved to Georgia and stopped performing.

Fox: She’s really retreated from performing altogether. And she’s been putting her creative energy into making art, and there’s an ebb and flow of that as well. She’ll go through periods where she’s very depressed and she’s not making as much work, but generally speaking, she’s been very productive.

Rail: Can we talk about the imagery behind some of these figures in the paintings?

Fox: Yeah. There are a lot of pieces with three figures. I’ve heard people say, you know, are they... peacock dildos? Does it have something to do with a third sex? And I think with Jayne, it’s these shrouded creatures. Where she lives in rural Georgia—it’s really the sticks, and she’ll drive around in a pickup truck, and the way she presents is very ambiguous; it’s hard to put your finger on, like, what she is or who she is. She may as well be from another planet. She really defies so many categories. And I think it’s actually unsafe for her to be open about who she is down there. I think that she would probably be killed if people actually knew her backstory and knew where she lived. And she has had guys show up in her front yard in the middle of the night that she thought meant her harm. Luckily for her, she has a gun, so she just went off and started shooting off rounds in the air, and they got off her property. But I think that these figures have a lot to do with hiding one’s identity, being shrouded. I think that it really is a very personal reflection of her life down there. Although she lives as her authentic, true self, she does have to live in a disguised, shrouded way. It affects her so much that even the simplest act of, say, going out to dinner in a restaurant is something that she doesn’t feel safe doing, because she feels that people will spook her as being a freak or a trans person and maybe follow her home and try to kill her.

Rail: That’s why it’s interesting that she’s remained there. I mean, I understand going back for her parents, but to remain seems like an act of great danger.

Fox: Well I do think that it puts her in danger. We’ve talked about her moving back to New York, and she’s just not open to it, and I think part of the reason for that is, she has all of these cats now. She’s got over twenty cats. I do know that she lives with some degree of fear for her safety. When you look at the bumper stickers on everyone’s cars, you kind of get an idea of their mindset, and it’s clear that someone like Jayne, if they knew who she really was, would not be welcome down there. But she does choose to remain down there. It’s where she’s from. As much as we want to get away from home as young people, I know a lot of people go back to the places they came from when they get older. And who’s to say whether or not she would be safer from narrow minded people in upstate New York or anywhere else where she would choose to live with her cat family.

Zanetta: At the end of the memoir, they’re talking about getting a sex change. And Jayne says she’s most comfortable in between. She doesn’t identify as male or female. She wants to be in between.

Fox: She says that she likes the term “gender fluid.”

Zanetta: At one point she wanted to start a band called the He-Shes, and sometimes she calls herself “Wayne-Jayne.”

Fox: And she does sign paintings sometimes as “Wayne,” sometimes as “Jayne.” Sometimes both, with her birth name as well.

Zanetta: Years ago, she did this play in Berlin, and she said, “Afterwards this New York fag came up to me and said he’d help me if I ever wanted to bring it to New York. He’s just after the wedding designer...” I asked his name and she said, “Robert Wilson.” [Laughter] But the play was riveting. It was just her and one other guy, and it was all about gender identity. And in the play, she kept switching characters. I can’t remember their names, but really it was Jayne, Wayne, and [Vernoy]. And they were kind of trying to kill each other. In the end she dies, and the manager becomes her. It was really funny. 

Rail: When did she play at the Pyramid club?

Zanetta: In the early ’80s.

Rail: I actually saw her there. I hadn’t quite put it together until you said it. It could be very late there, in Alphabet City; it was very dangerous. So, I got out that night, and I was with a friend of mine from college, and we saw these skinheads walking toward us with baseball bats studded with nails. And I said, “Just walk like you own this fucking planet. Just walk right through them.” It was, like, four in the morning. But you look back on it and think, “Wow, that’s a great story”—but it was really scary. Anything could have happened for any reason. But that’s when I saw her.

Fox: It was a crazy time in the East Village. I moved to New York City to go to FIT in 1985. My little sister went to Fordham. And I took her to the East Village to go barring, and the first place we went to, Downtown Beirut, just as we were about to walk in, this guy comes out with a knife in his belly. She was like, “Where are you taking me? What are we doing?” It was a different city back then.

Audience: Does Jayne prefer certain pronouns?

Fox: She prefers “she.” She doesn’t like to be misgendered. The only time that she deviated from this with me was around her parents or her neighbors down in Georgia, she asked me to call her Wayne. Otherwise, I have only ever referred to her as Jayne. Her parents didn’t seem to think of her in terms of being a trans person at all, but instead they wrote off her eccentricity as a person being in show business.

Zanetta: Even when she refers to herself as Wayne, she uses “she.” In her book she also talks about how in Atlanta, in the ’60s, the queens would go “wrecking” in the streets. Wrecking was goading or daring someone to come after them. And then someone would, and they’d run away. Interestingly enough, that happened all over the place. I lived in Buffalo; we did that in Buffalo, too.

Fox: It was like a way that you would walk around and tease the boys.

Zanetta: You would be as flamboyantly effeminate as possible in order to offend a certain group of people. It was a really hostile act.

Fox: She talks in the book about being shot at in Atlanta.

Audience: Where did her interest in the religious stuff come from?

Jayne County, Black Widow on Penis Planet Pluto #7, 2007, acrylic and marker on paper, 12 x 18 inches. Courtesy the artist.

Zanetta: Well, her mother belonged to a strange church. She was waiting for the rapture. Literally. Her mother was very, very obsessive about this religion. Jayne grew up in this religion, but she rebelled against it starting early on, but it also stayed with her. I mean, that religion is very strong in almost everything she’s ever done. Onstage she even looks a little bit like a preacher. She’s very much a preacher from that church. But she talks about loving, like, Jezebel. She liked the dark side of what they were preaching, as an act of defiance. Oh, it just totally informs everything that she does.

Audience: Is her art connected at all with aboriginal styles? 

Fox: Yeah, everyone’s been saying that it is very aboriginal-looking. I don’t think that she’s studied aboriginal art. I don’t think she’s referring to that at all. I think it’s just her mania and her obsessiveness. They look like mosaics, with the patterns that she creates by repeating circles. Jayne only ever does what she is inspired by. I have made suggestions to her over the years, and she says, “Don’t suggest things to me because I can only do what I feel inspired by.” And I never know what that is going to be.

And she’s always surprising me with what she ends up doing, and she will continue making these series of works that are just...You wonder, “What was she thinking?”

Rail: If she were in New York and didn’t have back problems, would she march in the Gay Pride parade tomorrow?

Fox: I don’t think so. I remember her going out at night afterwards. She probably wouldn’t march in the parade. If there were a float for her next year, maybe she’d ride on it.

Rail: Well let’s work toward that!

Zanetta: She doesn’t function in a gay world. Ever. That’s just not the world she lived in.

Contributors

Tony Zanetta

TONY ZANETTA is a creative designer who produced David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dog tours.

Michael Fox

MICHAEL FOX is a New York City police sergeant.

James Barron

JAMES BARRON is an art dealer. He is the founder of James Barron Art.

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