Rotten Reputation's Headless Mascot Nancy Wards Away and Attracts Sexism

Rotten Reputation
Rotten Reputation Tom Murphy
A group of near-strangers formed the punk outfit Rotten Reputation in January 2016 after a mutual friend had posted on social media about the lack of women in bands in Denver's music scene.

In the comments section on the post, Lola Marie mentioned she wanted to form an act of her own. Kyle Wilde, who had played keyboard with Solarfall but had taken a four-year break from playing his primary instrument, the drums, in any serious way, signed on. Similarly, guitarist Kevin Dallis, who plays in the pop-oriented, technically sophisticated band Discount Cinema, "wanted to do something raw and more straightforward," so he joined up. Marie recruited bass player Zach Barrera, and her band was born.

The band's name, Rotten Reputation, came together when Marie was listening to music with her former bandmate Sam Rucker, and Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" played over the P.A. Marie latched onto the name, but decided "Bad" was not enough for her act and preferred "Rotten," which also evoked early punk-rock icon Johnny Rotten.

By the time Rotten Reputation played its first show in March 2016, the bandmates had become close friends. The group connected over a shared mission: delivering honest, emotional expression and unapologetic social critique. Those impulses led to an early single by the band, "Don't Vote for Donald Trump," which appeared on the 2016 Major Letdown compilation Rock Against Trump. The lyrics are a refreshing bit of invective against the orange president.

The group adopted an unusual mascot, a dumpstered mannequin dubbed Nancy, with no arms, legs or head. It called to Marie, "So I brought her inside and painted pasties on her and put blood on her neck."

The mannequin became not just an eccentric mascot but almost a totemic figure. The group's debut album is called Nancy, in honor of the mannequin.

"At our first shows, since I'm a girl in a band, people would come up to me and be creepy and weird," says Marie. "Then when we started bringing out Nancy, people stopped doing it to me and started doing it to her – like grabbing her inappropriately. I wouldn't get talked to at shows anymore, which I was fine with. But we all looked at it as this kind of weird, cool social experiment in how women are treated, and you treat women as you would treat an object. That's kind of the message of this whole album. We had a bunch of fans pose as Nancy to show that nobody looks like a mannequin, and we're not objects. We're people, and we have feelings."

The musicians invite fans to take pictures with Nancy and post them on social media, says Wilde.

"Kevin pointed out that usually it'll be the women in the crowd who will cover up and try to look more modest with Nancy, and it was the guys that would do the sexy poses and the creepy poses."

The band had tapped into a subconscious strain of sexism that, given Trump's election, has surfaced across the country.

"I tried to get stickers of Nancy, the logo on the album, and the guy called because I messed up the design, and he called to just talk about it," says Marie. "He was like, 'Oh yeah, that's the tits, man! Ha ha ha. She's got tits on her,' being really unprofessional for the situation and also really disgusting in how he was talking about it. Like we're a cool band because we have this naked mannequin. But he was taking it as the opposite of the message we're trying to put across. So I cancelled the order and we don't have stickers, but we'll figure that out. The message of course is don't objectify people, and he's objectifying them in a professional transaction."

Rotten Reputation with Sharone & The Wind, Flower Crown Me a Queen and The Ghoulies, 7 p.m., Friday, June 30, Marquis Theater, 303-487-0111, $10, all ages

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.