It was 1984 and Venus Fly Trap (Soozie Tyrell, myself and Lisa Lowell) had just arrived back in NYC from the streets of France, England and Italy where we mesmerized crowds with our incessant …
It was 1984 and Venus Fly Trap (Soozie Tyrell, myself and Lisa Lowell) had just arrived back in NYC from the streets of France, England and Italy where we mesmerized crowds with our incessant four-song repertoire.
Singing the same original tunes, “Love’s Akimbo,” Push Button Drive,” “I Wanna be Your Girlfriend,” and “Day of the Crane” over and over surely did polish-up our trio like a shiny apple. However, not everyone was impressed. In Italy, for example, someone shouted, “When are you going to learn some new songs?” That person, it turned out, lived in Soho where we practiced relentlessly said same songs on the same corner always under the same window before shoving off to Europe.
Written by Lisa, “Day of the Crane” was my favorite because it was about a bunch of construction cranes walking off the job. While singing the song, Lisa did a crane dance of her own invention. Her outstretched arms jerked straight up and down as you might imagine a malfunctioning crane fed up with working conditions might do. Added to this odd but captivating gesture, she bandied about the street in a stilted-tilted walk. Perhaps in honor of birds that are also cranes, at the end of the song, she sometimes pretended to lay eggs in a hat. (I remember her doing this while Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin looked on with a devilish grin). Lisa’s antic annoyed Soozie to no end, however, it amused me as did frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea with these two very polar divas.
Back in NYC, we took up singing on the streets of Soho again plus we supported former NY Dolls front man, David Johansen with our vocal performances both before and during his shows. We also played at art gallery openings and for free dinners at posh restaurants throughout the better parts of Manhattan. One stand-out gig, however, occurred at Rahway State Prison in NJ where, at the time, famed Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (whom Bob Dylan immortalized in the song “Hurricane”) was incarcerated.
At Rahway, we were thoroughly frisked before being escorted through numerous locked metal doors and bars to a room with a small platform surrounded by folding chairs. Eager prisoners occupied each and every chair, all of them itching to hear Free Bird. Venus Fly Trap, however, only played quirky original material, which didn’t go over too well with these hardcore occupants. Luckily, we were three leggy girls. Well, two of us were leggy (one of us was short) and that had some prisoners clapping politely. The others just sat there with a menacing stare.
Post show, Venus Fly Trap was invited, I mean coerced, to lunch with the inmates in the open yard surrounded by barbed wire and gunman. Have you ever had prison food? I have. It all looked like either gray or beige mush, and it was piled upon our plates in generous mounds by the jailbird cook who proclaimed proudly how he made it. I spent a good deal of the time getting rid of it by spooning it inconspicuously into the earth along the prison walls.
While corralled in the pen hobnobbing with rapscallions galore, some of the outlaws secretly instructed me on how to smuggle drugs into the clink. I won’t say how. Just know that it’s been added to my resume among my many other skills.
Finally, it was time to pack-up and being girls who couldn’t afford roadies, we alone began to move our gear from inside the joint to where freedom lay. Suddenly, we noticed a helping hand. It was one of the prisoners and he was very much outside the slammer where he wasn’t supposed to be. He was about to jump in our van when alarms sounded and guards with big guns rushed out to grab him. It was a good try. Just like our gig in front of those under lock and key who, btw, all claimed to be innocent; a good try.
RAMONA JAN is the Founder and Director of Yarnslingers, a storytelling group that tells tales both fantastic and true. She is also the roving historian for Callicoon, NY and is often seen giving tours around town. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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