INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS BY IVORY SERRA
A princess, a queen, a mom… A rocker, a model, a singer… Live, like you know what is best for you. Sing what it is that you know, and love what you know, and the rest will show what it is that you’re speaking of… When you are, what you are, the rest follows suit, wear it on your sleeve… and believe…“On any given night, there would be Jane Fonda in one corner, Alice Cooper in the other corner, Warhol in another with David Bowie thrown in. It was just different because it all mixed and meshed together.”
Hi, you crazy boy! Are you ready now?
Baby, I was born ready, just the same as you.
I can’t help that the telecommunications program is not 100% in the Route 66 area, but it’s beyond my control.
Well, I’m glad we’re finally speaking. Let’s hit it.
Yes. I’m going to ask questions that I probably know the answers to for the readers. I’ll just go crazy and go all over the place, so don’t think it’s an uncontrolled interview.
I’m just clarifying so you don’t think I’m some college student guy.
No. I don’t think you';re a college student. I do a lot of college radio. It’s fun. So what are we doing here?
We’re doing an interview on you? What’s your name?
[Laughs] What’s my name? Come on, sweetie.
[Laughs] How did you get the name Bebe?
Actually, it was a nickname that stuck. I didn’t get a name until I was three weeks old, so they just called me Bebe, which means baby.
I guess it’s French, but I’m not French.
Are you an American?
Yes. I am. I’m German American.
Were you born in the states?
Yes. My grandparents were German.
How is this new record coming?
It’s finished. It’s mixed. The only things we’re mixing right now are some of the special tracks for DJs.
Are you excited about it?
Yes. It’s a labor of love. It’s been a lot of work. We’ve got 12 songs. Getting it ready to do live has been a lot of work, but it’s good work. I’m loving every minute of it.
Where did you grow up, Bebe?
I grew up in Virginia.
Are you a military girl?
Yes, I am. I’m a military girl. My father and my stepfather were both military men. I’ve lived on bases like Camp Lejeune and Quantico.
Did you bounce around when you were a kid?
Not as much as some of the kids do. I was in Virginia until I was in the ninth grade, and then we went to Newport, RI, and then Quantico. I also lived in Camp Lejeune. There was a tiny bit of jumping around, but not tons, not a horrible amount. It certainly wasn’t disruptive. I liked it. Everywhere we moved was right on the ocean, which is always great. I grew up near the ocean. I ended up in New York City, the second I graduated from high school.
New York City was just calling you?
How did you ever get into rock n roll?
I don’t ever remember not being into music, even as a little kid. It’s part of who I am. It’s in my DNA. There’s not a starting point. If there was, it would have been the Rolling Stones in 1963.
That was it. It gave you that energy and you were like, “This is me.”
Music does something different for everybody. For me, it was about rebellion, individuality, art and fashion. It was all entwined. It was really my cup of tea. It struck a nerve.
When you went to New York, did you immediately search out the music scene?
No, I went to New York as a model and fell into the whole music scene. It’s much like it is today: models and rock stars kind of flock together. Where I hung out, at Max’s Kansas City, it was different, because it wasn’t just models and rock stars. It was also poets, artists, actors, actresses, Warhol people, jewelry designers, painters, sculptors, everybody hung out together in one group. It was a smorgasbord of art. It wasn’t that important what you did, but just that you did it passionately. That was the difference. People seem to hang out more in groups and little cliques nowadays of certain types of people. On any given night, there would be Jane Fonda in one corner, Alice Cooper in the other corner, Warhol in another with David Bowie thrown in. It was just different because it all mixed and meshed together.
Were you around when Jayne County started spinning as the DJ there?
Of course. I first saw Jayne County as an artist, as a singer, when it was Wayne County and the Electric Chairs. I adore Jayne. Jayne is just wonderful, and quite brilliant, as far as entertainment goes. She’s an incredible entertainer and innovator. I remember when KISS opened up for Jayne. Jayne is very important in the whole timeline of what went down in New York in the early ’70s.
It seems like those days were just amazing. I was too young.
Well, I say to everyone that missed it, I feel sorry for you. There was never anything like it again. At the same time, I’m not the type of person that dwells on anything.
No. It just seems like it was an amazing time of creativity, going on in every circle.
It was definitely different. You have to remember, back then New York wasn’t quite as crowded. There was this terrible, horrible early ’70s recession going on. Garbage was piled to the sky. It was a real urban scary place. The places that everyone lives now, like the Bowery and the East Side, was dangerous territory. We’d go running down the middle of the streets in our platform boots, an army of us together. That was the only way you traveled back then was in packs. It’s really different in New York now. You can’t go down to 42nd Street anymore and go watch five kung fu movies in a row for a dollar. That was fun. Get high and go watch kung fu movies.
[Laughs] Do you ever miss those old days?
No, I don’t. You live through something, you do it and it’s done. You have to find new adventures. I had never been to St. Barts in the ’70s and I’m going there now. I’m happy with that. I’m happy with the new things I’m doing, that I’m sure I’ll look back on in 20 years and say, “That was great too.”
How many records have you done before this one?
My first record was Covers Girl for Rhino in 1981, which was produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars. Rick Derringer did two of the songs on that. Then I did A Side of the B-Sides, which was produced by Todd Rundgren. Then I did a couple of singles with my next band, the Gargoyles, after the B-Sides. In ’94, I put out Retrosexual on a French label called Sky Dog, which you can still get. Then I did Free to Rock in 2000, which was produced by Don Fleming. And now this is my first record since then.
Nice. Is this your best record?
I think so. I don’t like to use terms like “best”, because I really like all my records. They are part of what I did and they’re like landmarks in my life. I’m happy with all of the stuff that I’ve done in my life, but this record is different. It’s very autobiographical, but it’s also a pretty huge departure from anything I’ve ever done.
Yeah, it’s a completely personal record.
Yeah, isn’t that because you keep growing in life? You sing, write and express.
You definitely have a lot more to say as you see more. And there’s a lot more going on in the world right now. There’s a lot to talk about. What a crazy time.
It’s one of the craziest times yet.
Yes. I’m not sure what we’re witnessing. I don’t want to say what it is, but it’s definitely challenging, whatever we’re all going through, so we all have to be good to each other. We all have to live our dreams and be supportive. If there’s ever that thing that you wanted to do in your life, but you haven’t done it, go do it. I happen to make music, and that’s the only thing that makes me happy, besides the obvious things like children, dogs and husbands. That’s the only thing that really does it for me.
This is a time from a Mayan Indian message, that it’s now becoming a time of healing.
I hope that’s right. I would love that to be the case. I just hope Mother Nature isn’t too pissed off at us, and it’s going to do a pole shift or something, just to sort things out a little.
Mother Nature controls all.
I don’t know if you were a George Carlin fan but I was.
I was too.
You know that wonderful monologue he gave about how a little plastic isn’t going to upset Mother Nature. When she decides she’s had enough of us, she’ll just shake us off like we’re fleas. She’ll flip around a couple of times and start over again. The planet will always be in charge. We’re not in charge of the planet. If we keep suffocating the planet, the planet will do things like, melt the glaciers, and grow more trees, so we can have more oxygen. It’s just going to get warmer. People will have to realize what they’re doing. It’s in our hands to a certain extent, but I’m not sure the damage is repairable at this point. I think we might have already gone too far. That’s what I’m worried about, but I’m still going to keep living. I’m going to keep doing my part.
I met you years ago when I was kid up at the Mabuhay Gardens, through Ginger Coyote.
You did? Oh, my darling Ginger. Well, Ginger is still one of my best friends, to this day. She’s probably the only person I speak to every day of my life, at least once a day. I really love Ginger. Ginger is great. You know Punk Globe is back. She’s doing well.
Are you a debutante?
No, I’m not a debutante. You mean a White Trash Debutante?
You mean Ginger’s band? No, I’m not part of that band. I’ve seen the White Trash Debutantes in several incarnations though.
Tell me how you approach making a record?
Well, it usually starts with lyrics, poems, things you keep in your journal, concepts, song titles. My husband Jim [Wallerstein] and his partner Bobbie [Rae], who is also my drummer, get the music together. They lay down tracks and then I put my lyrics to the music and it becomes a song. We give birth. There it is. Sometimes I come up with the hook or the melody or the chorus.
Do you write music?
No. I don’t need to. My process is really lyrical. Because I live with the guitar player, I’m able to hum a melody and manifest what I need and he can put it down exactly like I want it very quickly.
My shows are very physical. I would love to blow everybody’s mind and get up there and play a few songs on guitar, but I really enjoy being a singer. I like being a front person. My mic stand is my weapon. Anybody that’s seen me can explain that to you. It’s just what I do. It’s my instrument. Some people just look at their mic stands or just sing into them. My mic stand is part of who I am on stage. The whole thing I do as a singer is my art. I would feel weighted down by a guitar.
How long have you been singing?
I’ve been singing since I was a kid. I was in choirs in Catholic school and being the super star alto in the band and all that stuff. I didn’t really start a band until I was in my 20s. I sang in a band real quick when I was 13, in some kid’s basement.
That was fun. Of course, they thought I was trying to hog the spotlight even then. I had lead singer’s disease even then.
So it would be safe to say that you’re an extrovert.
In some ways, I am, and in other ways I’m not. In some ways, I’m very reserved. I think like a lot of other singers, I become a different person on stage. I’m not the same person anymore.
It just takes over.
Yes. It’s a different thing. I find that happens to me when I do radio too, which I love. When I do radio, something happens there as well.
What do you think that something is though?
I guess that’s where they get the expression, “She’s on!” That little light switch or that thing that’s in you that opens up when you have to put yourself out there in front of a bunch of people. I don’t know if it’s adrenaline exactly, because it’s all there. When you first start entertaining people, it takes guts to get up there, because you’re going to get people that don’t like you and like you and all that. You work hard and you do it and you do it and then it doesn’t take guts anymore. It becomes like a necessity. If I didn’t do it, I would feel despondent and depressed.
Does it become like second nature to you?
Yes. I feed off live shows. I feed off playing for people.