By Brad Lopez
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"I might have to go all of a sudden," Holly Golightly says by way of introduction. "I've got food in the oven."
Golightly has cooked from a musical perspective since at least 1991, when she made her first impact on the global garage-rock scene. Still, it's difficult to reconcile the black-clad-boho look she effects on the cover of Truly She Is None Other, the latest in her series of first-rate solo recordings, with the picture of domestic tranquility she paints from her home in England. "I'm making chicken," she notes in a working-class Sussex accent. "I've done it with honey and lemon and garlic. And I'm also making potatoes and a spinach salad."
Then again, the simplicity of this meal seems perfectly in tune with Golightly's personality, which remains thoroughly uncomplicated despite the hype that's come her way of late. The White Stripes' Jack White has emerged as her most energetic patron; he put her at the center of "It's True That We Love One Another," which concludes the Stripes' platinum-selling CD Elephant, and penned a gushy appreciation for Truly's liner notes. ("Miss Holly Golightly comes to my house sometimes on Sunday, beautiful as the wind that blew her in," he writes.) Nonetheless, Golightly appears not to have noticed any uptick in the amount of attention being paid her as a result of White's boosterism. "I don't know what it'll be like in the States, because I haven't been there yet, have I?" she says -- and while she's gotten more bookings than usual lately in her home country and elsewhere in Europe, she hasn't seen "a massive amount of change. I put on shows and people come and dance, so I suppose it must be going all right."
These comments are typical of Golightly's conversational concision. She prefers Hemingway-esque declarations to rambling narratives and is rather stingy with biographical information, as White points out in "It's True That We Love One Another." After she sings "I love Jack White like a little brother," he counters with "Well, Holly, I love you, too. But there's just so much that I don't know about you." She even plays coy with her legal identity. "Holly" and "Golightly" are her given first and middle names, she says; her mother was reading the Truman Capote novel Breakfast at Tiffany's during her pregnancy and fell in love with the like-monikered protagonist, portrayed in the 1961 film version by Audrey Hepburn. However, Golightly keeps her last name to herself. "There's absolutely no mystery about a lot of people," she allows. "I wouldn't know what it would be like if people knew everything about me. I'm not sure I would like it very much."
After a bit of prodding, though, Golightly provides a few snippets about her background. A London native, she was essentially raised as an only child -- she has two half-brothers much younger than she is -- and grew up listening to a mix of pop and rock. (Her mother liked the Beach Boys and the Pointer Sisters; her dad preferred the Rolling Stones.) Early on, she learned the basics of guitar and piano but was initially more interested in watching others perform than in doing so herself. She regularly attended gigs by underground garage-rock acts that never got within shooting distance of the commercial mainstream, including the likes of Turkey Bones & the Wild Dog. But her favorite combo was the Milkshakes, which featured drummer Bruce Brand, who became her main squeeze, and starred vocalist Billy Childish.
A writer, painter and published poet in addition to his accomplishments as a musician, Childish has been characterized by some observers as Golightly's Svengali. This characterization severely underestimates Golightly, who more than holds her own with Childish on In Blood, a bang-up duet disc put out by Massachusetts's Wabana Records in 1999. Childish wrote all the material for Blood, which certainly reflects his rough-hewn musical ethic; its subtitle proclaims "One chord! One song! One sound!" Even so, their vocals on "Demolition Girl," "Upside Mine" and ten other tracks are effective because neither singer trumps the other.
Not that Golightly is shy about giving Childish the credit he's owed. "I can't think of another person who would have been a bigger influence on me," she says. "I've known him since I was fifteen. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if it wasn't for being around Billy all these years, and I have absolutely no problem saying that at all. It's the truth."
Over time, the hyper-prolific Childish has led or worked with a dizzying array of musical acts. In the '80s he decided to pair one of these ensembles, dubbed Thee Mighty Caesars, with an all-female outfit he called the Delmonas; shortly thereafter, in typically restless fashion, he rechristened the former group Thee Headcoats and the latter Thee Headcoatees. At one Headcoatees performance, Golightly went from being an audience member to a bandmate in a matter of moments, starting her on a road she'd given no thought to taking.
"When I was younger, I could have thought of a thousand things I'd have wanted to be, and none of them would have been a musician," she says. "I could have been a truck driver; I could have worked outdoors if I'd have wanted to. I went about becoming a musician haphazardly, with no particular strategy. It just happened."