Judy Nylon has been around since the very primitive days of punk rock, a resident of the USA, former
(Photo from Judy’s webcam 2007)
She has made waves and ripples in many guises, from creative writing to singing, incidentally she has an incredible husky voice, a beautiful woman inside & out, inspired many creative people, has countless tales to relive (many will be documented in her forthcoming book). Judy’s been photographed by the world’s most iconic photographers: Joe Stevens, Kate Simon, Peter ‘Kodick’ Gravelle, Lisa Genet. She is notably renowned for being one half of female punk combo Snatch with Patti Palladin in the late 70’s and producing the infamous track ‘All I Want’. Judy has been the inspiration for Eno’s ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’ and his ambient phase.
She appeared on a punk panel on Sept 7th 2008 in NYC's East Village, a discussion on the topic 'Unrest in the 70s - US vs UK' at the Bowery Poetry Club, also appearing were, Richard Lloyd (Television); Ari Up (Slits); Cynthia Sley (Bush Tetras); Walter Lure (Heartbreakers); Arturo Vega (Ramones) and Steve Garvey (Buzzcocks). Judy is a warm humanitarian, a feminist, well respected in the business, an outspoken and intelligent woman. She ranks as an experienced voice for a generation and is currently penning her memoirs, it’s sure gonna be a groovy read.
Hi Judy, I’m really pleased to have you with us on Mudkiss for a little conversation and it’s even more fantastic that you’re such a strong female character. I guess the first question I'd like to pose would be what are you currently doing?
Judy - Currently......for a couple of years now... I have been working with this group aether9. We’re all artists who work (writing and performing collaboratively) either while based in the countries where we reside or.... wherever we happened to be working/drifting. There is very little gear involved; just a laptop, microphone, a video camera and software. We are not only multi national collaborators, but multi generational, multi lingual as well. There is no cost associated with our broadcasts (aside from artist fees paid by the galleries/museums were there is a live audience). All artist fees received are paid immediately to participants using Moneybookers or Paypal. We write on Skype and use Skype as a teleprompter during the shows. Most of the softs we use are open source and we share code/patches. For me it’s a ‘learn as you need to’ experience. It’s idea driven not gear driven, about networks, using the web’s endless reach, it's inclusive, intended to engage with art in places where it is impossible to tour. We use one live, performative element at the downlink location to showcase local talent within the frame of aether9. We’ve done a renegade version of Beckett’s Ghost Trio without a central location; that would have appealed to ‘himself’ immensely and a modern twist on Little Red Riding Hood mixing interaction with live web sex chat girls (who had no idea what we were doing) and performers from aether9. Some of us used IM and signed in as “Wolf” looking for some ‘role playing action’. I built the Surrealist dollhouse to shoot video close-ups that would anchor the performance in the traditional story. We got eight separate camera set ups out of that dollhouse; it was on wheels. Because you are tethered to the computer, creating action in a small box room, we got into embedding existing traffic cams from around the world into the performances. In the performances the web cams establish long shots, they establish place and depth like Chinese landscape paintings. There is a single source of sound in the web part of the performance; I’ve done it only once or twice. I didn’t want to always do it just because I had a musical history. I move around and work different parts of each production.
People have been streaming for a while now. It is the international collaboration equality that is interesting...sharing is the core of the project; I am personally also quite interested in the notion of “stimmung”. This sort of refers to the intimacy set by the objects in a private room, arranged by the way you use them when you are alone. Roomscapes like that give a warm human quality to live performance that is missing in other web based stuff. Integrating my life and art practice with the others is trickier than just collaborating on text or sounds. I have not met other aether9 artists in person yet; we are feeling out the distance needed to keep it at the right degree of being ‘personal’ and that’s pretty similar to the way it works with being in a band.
We use a slow ftp, Max/Jitter and a patch with the 9 square presentation grid, you enter at our site to web watch or it is downloaded and projected in a public space. The eye doesn’t perceive waiting with so many separate video streams loading at once. Our main language is English……though it is the mother tongue of only a few of us. The project is constantly evolving; performances are scripted but change as they get tighter, like anything you take on tour. This is touring like dreaming; you are still in your room even when the applause is in
The aether website: http://1904.cc/aether
An archive edit of our work on “LRRH” Little Red Riding Hood: http://www.mefeedia.com/entry/aether9-lrrh-archive-remix/11639238
And there’s a slide show of performance stills from several shows here:
I have never lost my love of sounds. I listen to a wide range of things but haven’t always had a chance to try new things publicly. I have started having the overwhelming desire to play live again, especially now that everything I’d need on stage is small and could fit into my banged up Halliburton Zero carry-on. There aren’t a lot of group situations where I would be a good match but I would move quickly on the right offer. I actually like touring and I’m lucky enough to be in good nick without obligations that I couldn’t handle long distance. It inspires me to be moving from country to country and continuing to participate in aether9 would be possible even on the road.
'NEW YORK NOISE Vol 3' - Music from the New York Underground 1977-1984
I’ve worked again recently with Stuart Argabright (Dominatrix, REC, Ike Yard, Rammelzee, Death Comet Crew and Dystopians) on two tracks for a compilation called New York Noise Vol. 3 and also on two other tracks for a compilation called “Now Then After”, commissioned by Harvestworks in NYC for a SurroundSound DVD coming out this spring. He is one of the most focused sound talents I know and the rhythms he builds are perfect. He’s been termed a Goth Futurist. Don’t know if that is properly descriptive, but he speaks a language I understand. I’ve also just contributed a couple of pieces for loops to be used in an installation by Oblaat (Keiko Uenishi, Brooklyn based composer) opening April 9th at Medien Kultur Haus in
In spite of my inclination to forward propulsion and in spite of dreading the gut twisting emotions at the end of a writing day, I have started on a memoir. Actually, I’ve had a lot of encouragement and am quite a few chapters into the first draft. It will be a hybrid book that may appear to be a shelfable book but will contain a more adventurous format of memoir. I have finally understood that just doing it takes less energy than explaining it in advance.
Photo: Lisa Genet
Mel - I was going to ask about your biography/memoirs as it sounds a really exciting venture, will you self publish or look for a publishing company? Will it be a no holds barred roller coaster of a book? From birth, to current day, or your favourite recollections? You could always add a cd format to the book!
Judy - Publishing options are changing so fast that it would be silly to lock into something on offer now before the memoir is done or mostly done. The phrase ‘ no holds barred roller coaster of a book’ sounds like a “News of The World“ teaser. I believe you have to write and re-write until your own bullshit detector is silenced. There are no shortcuts in writing to avoid the pain. The first agent I met gave me the invaluable insight that since I had come up through the most thoroughly documented period ever, my challenge and advantage lies in being able to write about things first hand that you cannot already find online. There are hardly any back channel stories of female performers hanging out. I’ll try to keep the family and childhood stuff to a few very revealing short stories and pictures that give you keys to the trajectory of my life without over-reliance on exposition. Yes, absolutely there will be CDs. I don’t want to leave people with nothing but downloaded mp3 P2P copies of worn out vinyl!
Photo: Judy's collection
Mel - You obviously have a great love of musical experimentation and not just in one style of music. You say you’d like to play live again. Who or what might inspire you to get out on the road again, what kind of offer would you be available for?
Judy - I’m not sure exactly at this point; I’ll have to fall back on intuitive thinkering. I’m influenced by DJ mixes, when I deconstruct them as a ‘how to’ and, of course, I’m influenced by contemporaries. Even if I don’t see or hear them I acknowledge that they influence my imagination. My curiosity was tweaked recently by the description of a Blixa Bargeld set in
Mel - I think anything that stretches your imagination and makes you feel alive. This stuff is all so avant-garde and technical, how on earth did you learn to do all these complicated applications, are you self-taught? Thank god for the web, it brings so many possibilities, crosses over so many boundaries. How many languages are you fluent in?
Judy - Now you’re making me laugh. I actually have crib sheets in a file on my desktop because I’m often too embarrassed to ask my collaborators for the hundredth time how to do some simple series of application steps. I do seem to have the attention span to come up with new ways to use things and I love to drift through research. I am self-taught with a little help from my friends and web access. I really only speak English, but I use online translation when I read in another language. You can get the gist of anything if you know a bit of slang in a few languages. It’s a pretty universal form of communication if you create from the street up as opposed to from the academy down.
Mel - I’ve just been reading that you’ve been in foster care, coincidentally I work as a support worker for Foster Carers.
Judy - I’m an odd poster child for foster care; I don’t know if I was strong always, but I was shaped by not being raised in my family. I still have parts of my map of dealing with cultural expectation that are unformed and an immediate familiarity with the gangs of street kids I see in third world countries. I looked at your story too and figured you may have been having your Northern Soul period when Chrissie Hynde and I spent a very long night at Wigan Casino in about 1976! Maybe you were there....
Mel - I most certainly spent part of 1975 through to’77 on Wigan Casino’s dance floor, wasn’t it a grand place, the all-nighters were legendary. How did you and Chrissie Hynde end up in
Judy - Kate Simon, had an assignment to photograph an all-nighter at
Mel - Just going back to your childhood, it was a pretty difficult period for you, moving through various foster placements, a bit of an unruly child, and later a wayward teenager.
Judy - I developed the coping mechanisms I needed. It’s over; I don’t chew on it, but an abusive childhood can alter a gene for the glucocorticoid receptor - which helps control the response to stress. You have to seek out all available wisdom, understand it and recreate yourself for the sake of your health, like a soldier with PTSD. You become aware of the triggers and patterns to disarm. I was not an unruly child. I did very well in school and even skipped a year. I was quiet and overly capable hoping I’d be rescued. The fact that, although I was low hanging fruit, I was never molested speaks to my potential ferocity. I didn’t hunt or bully, but I defended with a ‘no surrender’ mentality and a dandy’s desire to avoid being damaged. Usually in conflicts I got by with bluff, but it never went to a second round if someone pounced. It is a grace of chance that I don’t have the addiction gene, but I’ve never hidden much recklessness. Since my teens, I’ve been reckless but not sloppy. It’s there in the lyrics:
Wanna walk along the edge, high upon my toes
‘bout a hundred miles an hour an’ steady as she goes
Wanna get so high I can tell the time
Or when the time is up
By looking into cat’s eyes - (Live in A Lift….on LP Pal Judy 1982)
Photo: Lisa Genet
Mel - What is your stance on John Bowlby’s Attachment theory, and do you think all the moves had any long-term effect on you? (Sorry it’s my social work background coming through here). I imagine that any negativity created by your experience of the care system you have channelled into your creative passions, would you agree?
Judy - Thanks for calling my attention to the work of John Bowlby; I would have liked meeting him. So many people with difficult childhoods show up in the arts; it’s almost the ante if you want to swim in the deep end. I did have one constant emotional bond with my aunt. From my birth to her death she provided a secure base even when it had to be very long distance. I keep strong bonds in my personal life, but in the outwardly flowing ripples into public life, I am world-weary. Like Bowlby, I feel that the effects of real life events shape children. I think this happens well before they have the language to discuss their conclusions. I remember the afternoon I had to stand at the age of five while my mother and a perspective foster mother negotiated financial arrangements in front of me. I only understood what I’d felt when I saw an illustration of a slave block. Foster care politicized me, sensitized me to injustice, and pushed me to empathize more widely, sooner than a sheltered life would have.
Mel – Those are very powerful emotions you’re sharing with us Judy, I think you either swim with the tide or get drowned, many don’t live to tell the tale, or end up in the penal system. Being such a strong personality, independent and challenging, which women would you say have been a great inspiration in your life to date?
Judy - I never saw any reflections of myself in media or traces in the culture when I was growing up. Women held up were all about cottage craft or nurture. Otherwise they were suffering saints or Amelia Earhart crashing. My school class was taken to
Mel - How do you feel about being compared to the likes of Patti Smith & Nico?
Judy - Of course I’m deeply flattered; I never felt I had a large enough body of work to compare with either of them. I’ve always just tried to deliver on the few opportunities that came my way. I knew Nico and it sort of breaks my heart to think about her. Ari Up got it right when she said to me that if only Nico had only been born a few years later she would have been less alone. I do write about Nico in my memoir. Our paths crossed in a lot of places. I don’t actually know Patti Smith. Her work is hugely important to so many people but there is also some sort of mythomania when Patti speaks that makes me uncomfortable.
Photo: Judy Nylon collection 2009
Mel - What’s your take on today’s fashion style, everything seems to be mainstream these days, not much originality around anymore. I believe you were revolutionary in being a tattooed woman in the very early years, and had Man Rays Violins D'Ingres on your back, did you add more to the collection?
Judy - No, A lot of thought went into choosing those f-holes. The tattoo has aged well; you could almost say I grew into it. I’d known Ruth Marten for a very long time before we did that, she was a pioneer female tattoo artist and that moment in my life was perfect to mark. Unexpectedly, I did get to show it to Man Ray. He was in a wheelchair with his last wife, Juliet, pushing him at his
Mel - Meeting Man Ray must have been a special moment in your life. I read in one old interview that your motto was "Live Now, Wise Up and Die Well” is this still a motto that portrays an accurate description of you? - Sounds like a good title for an interview headline ;-)
Judy - Yes, this is pretty much still what I think is worth reaching for.
Mel - Is there any particular causes you support? What makes Judy react strongly?
Judy - The abuse of companion animals is intolerable to me. I get too angry to be useful on the front line but I stand behind the Humane Society of
Another cause close to the heart is The Howl Help Fund. It’s an outgrowth of the annual Howl Festival that starts with a reading of Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” in
And The Somaly Mam Foundation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somaly_Mam_Foundation - It retrains girls who have been rescued from sexual slavery by teaching them skills to survive and encouraging them to develop their notion of selfhood.
Mel - What are your current feelings/opinions on the question of love? As you once said in a News Of The World interview in 1976, (Yes I realise a long time ago) "I despise love and all it stands for; I think it turns women into stupid cows. Love is the big four-letter word that sells records, cars, pots and pans. That's all. At least sex is a good honest act. In fact it’s like hunger - if I have an appetite I eat. If I feel randy, I have sex. If I met someone in the right place, and I felt like it, I would go to bed with them.” How has your view changed 33 years later?
Judy - This is the piece of Fleet Street drool that only people I actually know spot as fake. I let this woman write whatever she wanted to in her ‘punk shocker’ piece figuring it would be wrapping fish and chips a couple of days. Who knew it was going to end up on the web and hang off me like the tail on a kite. I was desperate to have a microphone ( Calrec CM652, from the 600 series; Patti and I each got one) so I could start recording with Patti Palladin as Snatch and this writer gave me a few quid to see her. I’m not saying that I didn’t like sex or change partners in
Photo: by Peter Gravelle
Mel – A couple of questions if I may for the old punks in the
Judy – I’d go back to a memory loop of the “nothing special” days, rainy day walking with Chrissie. Jumping on and off buses without paying, thumbing through the record bins abound
Mel - A friend of mine recalled in an interview I did with him for Mudkiss, how he remembers you & Patti Palladin on the last night of The Electric Circus in Manchester singing in the dressing room with John The Postman. Do you have a snapshot in your memory of this occasion?
Judy – That’s gotta be the fabulous John Perry speaking, no? This is the sort of thing I meant in the essay I wrote on John Lydon; we all hold different pieces of a collective memory that only by comparison makes an accurate picture, but only if you ask just eye witnesses. I don’t remember it exactly, but Snatch touring with The Only Ones was like a road film remix of Peter Pan. Patti and I had that girl group thing going on that could jack up the fun in a tune and John the postman was a street singing sort of guy where it could work out.
Mel – It was actually a guy who worked behind the bar at The Electric Circus and ran a local punk fanzine called ‘Shy Talk’. We have been given permission to reprint from an excellent creative piece you wrote for Chrome Dreams on John Lydon, other contributors were Alan McGee, Greil Marcus, Kris Needs, Legs McNeil, Pat Gilbert, Clinton Heylin, Nigel Williamson, Alan Clayson, Barb Jungr.
John Lydon: A Compendium Of Thoughts On The Icon Of An Era
Paperback, £12.99 ISBN: 1842403605) www.chromedreams.co.uk
Extract’s from Judy’s essay.
Judy – “I had been in
On Punk - “My dole check was a bit better than most because I had already worked at a reasonable wage. In spite of having a continual cold and never enough money to even pay on the bus, I remember this period as one with a lot of joyful moments. The Snatch single Stanley b/w IRT actually came out the week before The Damn’s first single and hearing it played for the first time over the sound system at the Roxy was one of life’s great moments. My memories of the whole Punk period are coloured by the fact I’m female. I remember time as a textural field in which the details are more important because they make it real. The “personal and emotional” and tend to chart punk more precisely than the “timeline” because the days were far from routine it was hard to know what was important while it was happening. So far, other than Caroline Coon’s book which anticipates the importance of punk, all of the actually histories of Punk are written by men. Context is everything; cultural events overlap. For instance, I don’t remember meeting people usually, but I clearly knew Viv Westwood before her store was the Sex shop because I remember wearing a pair to faux leather Oxford bags from Let It Rock that she had given me when I was directing the building of the indoor beach, holding a megaphone from the mezzanine level of the photo studio. The same trousers next show up on John Cale in the photo on the cover of his “Helen Of
“Punk is an ongoing guerrilla war for the mass mind, the movement in mid to late 70s
“There was a lot going on. We had no time to do anything but live in the present. We all lived so closely though, that a ‘bleed through’ of memories was inevitable. There are several good books on the punk era, by people with more feel for research than interpretation. These state just the bare bones of fact; I refer to them too and I was there, but the way the dots of fact connect when you include the memories of more people is something else. Ultimately this is more interesting to me”
On John Lydon: “You can’t make an iconoclast with new clothes and a bit of second hand philosophy. Fully realized, iconoclasts have no need to re-invent themselves. They need only to never flinch. Clearly, John Lydon is an Iconoclast.“
“Stop anyone on the street and say, “ Name a “punk.” and they will most likely say “Johnny Rotten” or possibly ‘Sid Vicious’ if they saw the movie “Sid and Nancy”. To look at it all through Lydon is to regard the glass as half full. There was always something hopeful in John’s vision; an insistence that wrong might be righted if you don’t cave in. As the Pistols’ lyricist, he wrote out universal thoughts in a very local language. There was always a pecking order in a ‘Lord of the Flies’ sort of way to London punk; if you could gather a hundred or so people who lived through it as part of the ‘inner circle’, they will almost certainly agree that John stood front and centre because he was the ‘flack catcher’ as much as Sid was the ‘sacrifice’.”
“Johnny was never ageist and even before he had much mileage himself it was clear that he had no fear of experience. John chose Nora as his partner. He chose, not some punky version of a “dolly bird”, but a rather stunning, athletic looking, tall blond, European woman who spoke several languages, did not need financial support and was impervious to the petty imbroglios of the punk crowd. It was an unusual, somewhat daring choice for an 18-year-old boy from
“Rotten could hang around doing nothing like nobody else. He was not the life and soul of the party, but he was wide open and he was fun. I have a soft, tender memory of Lydon, John Gray, Patti Palladin and myself dancing on the backbeat, reggae booming in Patti’s tiny flat. The space was only about 10’ square and dark for a lack of electrical outlets; a run down dollhouse in a mews lit at street level with a single light on wet cobblestone. It was like an empty movie set once the garage downstairs locked up at 6 P.M. The analog home studio was stacked around the room and a spaghetti ball of cords ran behind everything. It was a punk clubhouse, one of a few; we all made the rounds to each of them. To this day I remember the location of every cigarette machine in a one-mile radius of that mews. John and whomever he was running with functioned like an off-stage clack, providing a distracting and running commentary. It was smart and droll, like Beckett; it filled in the hours of nothing to do, while holding endless cups of tea.”
(If Judy’s piece is an example of the standard of writing is anything to go by this is a fabulous book)
Photo: A double take of Judy by Peter Gravelle
Mel - Finally what direction do you see yourself heading into, what is next for Judy? Any plans to take it easy and relax, indeed how do you relax?
I’ve never really changed artistic direction. When I’m stopped, I just live, believing that none of it is unrelated, until I can continue. A tag cloud of my interests looks like Borges's map as big as the world. I exist in a cat’s cradle of friends reflecting those interests and relax by spending time with them. It doesn’t really matter where; it can be a couch on the other side of town or a palace on the other side of the world.
Thank you Judy for such an entertaining interview, and allowing us to reprint from the book. I’m gonna buy it!
Blast from the past - Pattis sings 'Jailhouse Rock'
Check out Judy Nylon on MySpace: www.myspace.com/judynylon
Credits for use of photos:
Peter ‘Kodick’ Gravelle - Contact: P1@Gravelle.biz
Lisa Genet - Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Judy Nylon for the use of photos from her personal collection
Thanks to Judy & Rob Johnstone for the extract from John Lydon - Contact: www.chrome Dreams.co.uk
Interview by Mel 16.04.09
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