w/the Kills, Ko and the Knockouts
Fri Sept 26, Crocodile, 8 pm, $12 (18+).
A delightful sense of mystery surrounds Holly Golightly, former lead vocalist with arch garage girl group Thee Headcoatees, and stylish doyen of '50s-style fashion and raw rock 'n' roll. No one, it seems, knows much about her.
"There's just so much I don't know about you," sings Jack White in a line from his duet with Holly, "It's True That We Love One Another" (from the White Stripes' newest album, Elephant). Like the best humor, the lyric resonates because it's true.
We know that Holly has made about 10 exquisitely crafted, simple rock 'n' roll albums since leaving Thee Headcoatees sometime in 1997, some with her muse Billy Childish, to whose Lee Hazelwood she plays a dirtier, seedier Nancy Sinatra. We know that she's able to turn out a finely poised, near laconic love or rock song with an almost arrogant ease. But how is she able to write so prolifically, and to such high standards? The lady herself isn't forthcoming.
"Thank you very much... that's so sweet of you," she writes via e-mail, in response to the second half of the query (an interview in which I also learn her idea of beauty is "horses," and that Thee Headcoatees broke up in a bizarre shopping accident). "I don't write half as much as I'd like to," she continues. "It is something I intend to spend more time doing just as soon as I'm able."
So what do we know about Holly? She hails from Medway, the meanest streets in south England. "It's scarier [there] than anyone could imagine," she recounts. "They bite each other's ears off on Friday nights." She's played with artists as diverse as Mudhoney, London card Sexton Ming (who guests on "Walk a Mile," the B-side of her new seven-inch), Rocket from the Crypt, long-term drummer Bruce Brand, and Detroit garage-rock band the Greenhornes, and she recently took on the role of guitarist Poison Ivy, psychobilly '80s femme fatale, at a live reenactment of the Cramps' legendary "mental hospital" gig at London's ICA. But what are her co-conspirators like? Childish is "quite tall," Brand "can sleep with one eye open," and Ming's attraction lies in "his legs."
Ah, that helps. Not.
So let's dwell on her new solo album, Truly She Is None Other, instead--13 fully rounded, dryly emotional songs, with a voice like honeyed gravel and a low-end production like Ringo given full rein on the early Beatles recordings. It's so brilliantly simple and direct that it makes you wonder why all rock isn't this great. There are two Kinks covers ("Time Will Tell," "Tell Me Now So I Know") and an old gospel song thrown in (the echoed, spooky "Black Night," written by a woman in 1938 but never previously recorded with a female vocal). That leaves mostly originals, all sparkling and slightly scuffed-up, pure garage nirvana like Mark Arm understands it. Or punk rock, as Joey Ramone wrote it. It also encapsulates the spirit of Dave (Kinks) Davies, Arthur Brown, and Peggy Lee--Holly's three Chosen Ones from the '60s.
As sleeve-notes writer Jack White puts it, "She seems not to need all six strings, she don't need a hundred watts, she don't want 24 hours, she must want it black and white." Absolutely.
Beyond the warm music, facts get sketchy. Her name is identical to that of Audrey Hepburn's dreamy dilettante in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but that apparently is coincidence. "I didn't choose it," she pouts, "my mother did." Holly may've had her start on the grimy stages of London as part of a splinter group from Childish's Thee Headcoats--who would play, and play, and play, until even the most hardcore fan would be losing interest, and then Holly and her girls would come on and the party would start again--but she is definitely a rock diva in the making.
"I'd like to think of myself as cock rock," she grins.
Once, I interviewed Dinosaur Jr. on top of a mountain in Vermont--well, in a ski chalet at its base, anyway--and the legendarily recalcitrant J Mascis stonewalled 60 questions in under five minutes. Holly ain't quite in that league, but she certainly knows how to build mystery around herself: I throw 23 questions her way during the course of our correspondence, and all but two of the answers are under 10 words long. (Sample: What do you think about on stage? "Pastry classes with Margaret. Tapestry. And horses.") But, as both Jack White and I know, that's all part of Holly's charm, her gentle mystique. She doesn't try to build up her music because she doesn't need to.
She's a real craftswoman. She plays uncomplicated, cheap, dirty, attitudinal, punk-rock rock 'n' roll of the highest order.
And that's more than enough for us.