orn in 1956, Don Letts was a founder member of Big Audio Dynamite and manager of punk band The Slits. An acclaimed filmmaker, he won a Grammy for his documentary on The Clash, `Westway To The World‘, in 2003. Don lives in west London with his wife and has two children.
London-born Wendy James, 39, joined Transvision Vamp when she was just 16. After hits such as `Baby I Don’t Care’, Wendy left the band in 1993 to work on solo projects. She is currently making music under the name Racine, is single, and lives in New York.
We met such a long time ago, late 1980s. She wasn’t famous then; I think she’s still working on that. It was probably at a Big Audio Dynamite gig and I think Wendy was dressed up. It was that bubbling little scene happening in west London; I was living there, Wendy was living there.
I did think “hot chick” when I met her and I still think she’s a hot chick. We all looked at Wendy and wanted to shag her, of course. But what’s always been said about Wendy is that she’s not just a pretty face, and that’s how we became friends. There was definitely something going on, a curiosity. Her attitude was just as attractive as her looks, if not more. I was always better at hiding my feelings with Wendy. While all the other guys would stand there with their tongues hanging out, I was a bit more discreet. But women were always threatened by Wendy.
We used to live near to each other, so we were in each other’s pockets. But we didn’t really go round each other’s houses. I don’t think my old lady would have liked that! I do remember one time trying to ask her out when I was between relationships but she was in one, and it wasn’t the best of ideas. She’s always been upright and proper from my perspective, as opposed to horizontal and improper.
We are both products of that punk generation where it was more important to stand for something than to fall for it. You got into the music to be anti-establishment, whereas now people get into the industry to be in the establishment. I think Wendy carved out her own space. Punk had morphed into a lot of different things. Wendy had been brought up on punk and saw a way that she could use that education differently.
That’s the sort of thing we talk about: the state of our surroundings, what’s turning us on culturally. We open each other up to things that we might not have seen or heard. I’ve just finished a massive project, a documentary, and I remember running the thesis past Wendy to get her opinion. But we don’t need to agree on everything, that’s part of friendship.
Recently, she asked me to do her new video for a grand, and I said that wouldn’t pay for the plane ticket. Mind you, a lot of the most interesting things I’ve done have had the least funds. Wendy still has that DIY spirit. Basically she’s not thick enough to work with the established business. It’s like we speak the same kind of language and it’s an unspoken language, just something that’s instinctive.
We first met before Transvision Vamp even had a record deal. I was 16 and very exuberant: we had a little demo tape and I’d walked in off the street to [Talking Heads and Ramones manager] Gary Kurfirst’s office to tell him he should manage us, which takes a certain amount of gumption when you’re 16 years old. He had told me to check out Big Audio Dynamite. BAD had all of London in love with them at the time.
I kept going along to the shows and I always ended up backstage. A lot of the boys didn’t understand I was there for the rock’n’roll rather than sex. I can actually remember one of them calling me a bitch and Mick [Jones, ex-Clash] intervening. Through that, me and Don just started to become friends. Not only would we see each other at gigs, we would also bump into each other on Portobello Road.
Me and Don have got closer in the past few years. I always go to Notting Hill Carnival and Don has a famous barbecue. I never once got any impression of lust from Don; I always got the vibe that he was looking out for me. The reason we stayed friends is because it never transcended into mucky business. We’ve been drunk many a time but nothing really happens, we just voice our opinions more. Don always speaks his mind and I’ve got no problem with that. But if you think about it, that’s the criticism people made about me in the early days. I think the nasty people are the people that don’t speak up to someone and bitch behind their back instead.
We’ve never had a row. The only thing I could ever criticise is he makes me eat too much. But it’s not as if we’re living in the same building and seeing each other’s bad habits. Every time we spend time with each other it’s a pleasure.
I love Don’s wife. The last time I saw her was when I came over with Jim [Jarmusch, film director] when he was filming Ghost Dog. We have quite a few friends in common, even though there is an age gap; we all kind of know the same people, and that spreads from New York to London and Paris.
You know instantly when people are going to be around for years and years. With me, many people get cut loose very quickly. The reason we are friends is because we share a world view. Mind you, I don’t know if we agree politically. I don’t know what his politics are.
There’s a real serendipity to the way we are connected. Like I went to see the Black British Style exhibition at the V&A and there was this fantastic bit of movie from Ladbroke Grove and I was like, “God I love that film stock, this is amazing! Who shot this?” And it was Don. n
Don Letts’ TV documentary on musician Sun Ra is expected this spring. `Racine Number One’, the first record from Wendy James’ project Racine, is out on 4 April. There will also be a UK tour in April.
” There was never any lust there… “
SPACE IS THE PLACE.
No Lust There.
D R Y B A B Y