“There is only one result with comedy, laughter. If you do something bizarre, you can justify any reaction.”
It’s hard to describe what exactly occurred on a rainy Thursday evening on Feb. 13 at the Kelly Writers House, as much as it is hard to describe fallen–then–revived rock matriarch Marianne Faithfull. It is even harder to describe the woman who has dedicated her life to impersonating her—Tammy Lang.
Lang’s twitter account refers to her as “Chanteuse/Provocateuse.” On some nights, the performer goes by her “photonegative of a country star” alter ego, Tammy Faye Starlite with a canon of songs such as “Don’t Make Me Pregnant” and “God Has Lodged A Tenant In My Uterus."
On other nights, she becomes Faithfull, an English singer known for her tempestuous involvement with the Rolling Stones, specifically as Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, and iconic role in the 1960s counterculture movement.
When asked what people think of her shows, Tammy proudly proclaims that people have not only walked out of her shows, but run out of them.
There were no runners at the KWH show. In a cozy, dimly–lit living room overlooking Locust, with an eclectic crowd of older alumni, professional middle–aged men, and young, music–obsessed students trickling in and out, heads turned when Lang–as–Faithfull made her entrance.
Descending the staircase was a character unrecognizable from her former self, complete with platinum blonde hair, thick eye makeup, and bright pink lipstick. She then nonchalantly strode in sipping a soda and immediately threw her purse on the lap of a severe–looking man in the front row (who she later bluntly referred to as the “man with the gray hair”).
For the next hour or so, the audience watched as Lang performed a concert as Faithfull. Using a posh British accent the entire time, she masterfully wove the relics of antiquated pop culture into modernity, simultaneously captivating and mocking every generation in the room.
Yes, Lang–as–Faithfull sang four Stones classics. But, she also used her persona to comment on the current political climate, scorn the contemporary music culture, and bring alive the often–forgotten legacy of the storied groupie. Simply put, she went beyond the simple promises of the Facebook invite.
Tenacious, vulgar, sarcastic, overly self–assured to a degree of facetiousness, she repeatedly interrupted her interviewer, music critic and Penn lecturer Anthony DeCurtis, to give close–eyed, mumbling impersonations of Billie Eilish (“No I don’t like her, open your mouth bitch," said Lang–as–Faithfull) or a mockingly high–pitched Adam Levine.
Nothing was off limits for Lang–as–Faithfull. She intentionally pushed the boundaries of what an academically–sponsored, early–evening–on–a–weekday show could be, bringing a taste of cabaret to Penn.
Apart from her bitterness towards Eilish, she made frequent references to politics: “[Amy Klobuchar] tells stories of her father being an alcoholic and having DUIs ... really funny Amy, good joke material,” and “Sorry, is that what you asked? I feel like I’m Joe Biden today, just going off."
Targeting DeCurtis for teaching a class dedicated solely to learning about the Rolling Stones, she remarked, “Australia’s burning, there’s a coronavirus, and you’re talking about the Rolling Stones .... Are you going to be teaching a class on Shawn Mendes next?”
Most importantly though, she gave the audience a much–savored, unfiltered glimpse into the life of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most complicated, understated, and controversial figures. Her covers of the songs were spot–on, and her expertise on even the smallest details of the Stones and Faithfull was impressive.
Lang never abandoned Faithfull’s pretentious, patronizing tone—“It's very burdensome to be so wise, but one must proceed." The whole performance felt surreal as she put a fresh spin on sacrosanct Stones history. For example, she spoke about the revered Jagger like he was a lost schoolboy.
At the end of the performance, the shaken yet energized audience came together again to sing along to Faithfull’s most famous song, “As Tears Go By.” A wine and cheese reception followed the show, as Lang–as–Faithfull circulated around the room.
Ultimately, Lang left the audience with a paradoxical mix of empathy for the talented singer who never really got her dues and annoyance at pretty much everything she stood for. It's unclear which feeling was more overpowering. But perhaps that's the point. It was certainly a "reaction."