Plasmatics – Live! Rod Swenson’s Lost Tapes 1978-81
starring the Plasmatics
I’ve always been conflicted about the Plasmatics. I’m a fan of strong women in the music business. Plasmatics front woman Wendy O. Williams was definitely a strong personality. Before joining the Plasmatics, she performed in Times Square live sex shows and appeared in the film Prisoner of Desire. She stomped on the stereotype of what a woman in rock is supposed to be. She was brash, crude, unashamedly sexual and an all around badass. She performed with her breasts exposed and was famously arrested in Milwaukee, charged with masturbating with a sledgehammer. On the other hand, the Plasmatics were always as much a performance art project of manager Rod Swenson as they were a band. They had the trappings of being a pre-fab punk band. Their fans were seen the way Hot Topic Goths are today; folks who picked up on punk as a fashion, not a movement.
The performances preserved in this collection trace the band’s development from punk rock riffing at CBGB’s to a fairly polished, highly theatrical metal band. Rod Swenson made recorded these performances but didn’t do anything with them. The tapes were recently rediscovered when the Plasmatics archives were being moved. The footage varies in quality. Some of the performances are essentially audience tapes with the sound recorded directly to the videotape. The later recordings have a more professional look and sound. What is preserved is a record of Wendy O. Williams as an energetic stage presence and the development of the band as a chaotic shock machine. We get to see the spectacle progress from Wendy bouncing around the tiny CBGB stage, to smashing TVs and chain sawing guitars on stage, to ultimately blowing up cars on stage.
The Plasmatics fit into a lineage of shock rock that includes Kiss, Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and even GG Allin. Williams was one of the first and only women to play hard and scary with their audience. The Genitortures and Rockbitch are among the few women-fronted bands to follow the Plasmatics lead.
Away from the stage, Wendy O. Williams, was a vegan and animal rights activist. She lived with her partner, Rod Swenson, until she committed suicide in 1998. This video collection serves as a testament to her passion and power as a performer and provocateur.