There’s something gloriously timely about the release of this generous pairing of a limited-edition 11-inch vinyl picture disc and a two-hour documentary DVD, both celebrating the life and music of the late, great and eternally dangerous Wendy O Williams and her band, Plasmatics. We live in an age where genuine rock stars are few and far between, and those that have anything remotely subversive to contribute are even scarcer.
More than 30 years on from the New York band’s initial explosion into the public eye in the US, the Plasmatics still seem like a one-off: a band driven by the fierce focus and anti-establishment zeal of their eloquent but troubled leader, and one that set the rulebook ablaze with glee (not to mention a large number of cars and countless guitars).
Wendy O Williams was a revolutionary, and although her music seldom strayed from a cacophonous punk rock and lobotomised metal blueprint, it still sounds impossibly thrilling today. The record itself amounts to a brief but startling primer for the Wendy O catalogue, replete with classics like Butcher Baby and A Pig Is A Pig. But it’s the accompanying documentary that makes this release such a welcome blast of antagonistic fury.
Compared to the refined qualities of today’s rockumentary world, this two-hour compilation of historical narrative and rarely seen live footage is amateurish and clunky, with a narrator who sounds devoid of nuance, and numerous music biz talking heads veering from slender insights to vacuous twaddle. But they can’t lessen the impact of the story itself, wherein Wendy O takes a sledgehammer to rock music convention and spends a decade shoving an electric cattle prod up the industry’s holiest of holies, with all the cancelled gigs, confrontations with police and barely controlled chaos that surrounded the Plasmatics’ rise to prominence.
Most startling is the lost look in the eyes of Wendy herself. She took her own life in 1998, aged only 48, and when you gaze upon this heroic iconoclast, you can see that behind the brash exterior lay a poetic soul for whom this stupid world was simply too much to bear.