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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Oh, you Hansen devil!

I would imagine that all of the Streetlamp's readers are familiar with the work of anti-folk colossus Beck. How many of you, though, are familiar with his impressive counter-culture ancestry and, in particular, the wild life and times of his mother, Bibbe Hansen. Never heard of her? Good, because the Streetlamp is here to bring you some charming, girl-group music from the early 60s and to take you on a journey through the history of US alternative art and music along the way.

 Bibbe Hansen was born in New York City in 1953 and right from the start she had impeccable Bohemian credentials. Her father was Fluxus artist Al Hansen and her mother was the actress/model/dancer/stripper/poet Audrey Hansen. Bibbe began performing as a child, often participating in her father's avant-garde theater pieces called "Happenings". At the same time, she performed with mainstream theatre companies in New York City and sang in an Elizabethan music group, studied dance with Phoebe Neville and Lucinda Childs, and was filmed by "the godfather of American avant-garde cinema" Jonas Mekas.

In 1964, at the tender age of eleven, Bibbe was leading the typical life of the 'problem child', skipping school, shoplifting, and hanging out in New York panhandling with her similarly wild and crazy friends Charlotte Rosenthal and Janet Kerouac  (yep, the daughter of the legendary beat poet and novelist Jack Kerouac). Anyway, by chance, the intrepid trio of juvenile delinquents accidentally met songwriter Neil Levinson (writer of  the Randy & The Rainbows' 1963 hit "Denise", later covered by Blondie) and hustled busfare from him. On the bus journey, the girls and Levinson began chatting. The Beatles had just spearheaded the British Invasion of the US pop charts and, in an attempt to cash in on the hysteria, Levinson had written a girl-song response to 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. All he needed now was a girl-group to record it, and so, later that day at Steinway Studios on 57th Street, Levinson and the girls recorded 'I Want To Talk With You'. Have a listen, its a classic slice of early 60s girl group pop.

Incredibly, within weeks, the trio, now called The Whippets, were signed to Columbia's Colpix label and the single was pressed up with the strange and silly 'Go Go Go With Ringo', complete with faux English accents, on the b-side. Have a listen:

The record was released and, apart from making a very small dent in the single's chart in Canada, disappeared without trace.

Shortly thereafter, Bibbe became a “guest” of the State of New York, and spent some time in Spofford Street Youth House and several other NY institutions for child criminals. Upon her release, Bibbe met Andy Warhol when her father took her to Stark’s coffee shop, where the art crowd gathered on Saturdays.
 “And what do you do?” Warhol asked her.
Her father piped up proudly, “I just sprung her from jail.”

Suitably impressed, Warhol suggested they collaborate on a film about her recent experiences. The film was called Prison and also features Marie Menken and Edie Sedgwick. Bibbe went on to make three other films with Warhol and also danced briefly with the Velvet Underground.

Eventually, events brought Bibbe to the west coast of the US and she settled in Los Angeles where she founded a theater company, acted in "B" movies and participated in the local punk scene as musician, and documenteur. Nowadays, Bibbe and her husband Sean are the directors of the Al Hansen Archive, continuing exhibitions of her father's work, performing and lecturing at museums, galleries and universities around the world. You can find out more about Bibbe at her website 'here'.

If you enjoyed The Whippets' songs then you can freely download them as MP3 files from Bibbe's page.


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