JANICE TUMONIS: AN APPRECIATION AND REMEMBRANCE
by David Bieber
Janice Tumonis from Brockton. But really, where did she come from? How did she land, fully formed, in our midst?
She was a muse to many. For a moment, she was the Girl of the Year, our 1980s version of Edie Sedgwick, our “it” girl. Platinum hair, midnight motorcycle jacket, four-inch black pumps and a whirlwind strut that would turn a fashion runway or an ordinary street into the pace of a marathon route. And fortunately for us, the smarts and sensitivity and substance exceeded the well-styled façade. Woman-child/wild-child in the Promised Land.
Good god, she was a handful. She was not like the dismissible hyphens who inhabit our current pop culture-music worlds. Oh sure, Janice was a gifted actress-model-ballet dancer. Equally proficient in roles ranging from Desdemona in Othello to Detective Arbogast in Psycho. A singer-songwriter of Patti Smith-ferocity in the 1990s band the Goddamn Nixons.
She ricocheted through other connections and affiliations: narrator for symphonic productions such as Peter and the Wolf; assistant to historian/activist Howard Zinn; herbal medicine expert; supporter and participant in 4-H; high school senior class president. An inspiration and a mentor, Janice showed up in so many communities.
Then, one day, she disappeared. Two days, three days. She died in late January, 2015. We were just in time to be too late. Her heart, always too big, did not continue. Her broken-hearted friends are now sharing their singular and overlapping memories, true tall tales and unforgettable high jinks. She loved the stage of our world, and we were all co-stars, but last month, she took her exit.
It’s always too soon when someone you love dies. The mold is broken; our hearts are broken. “There goes the night; here comes the light. And it’s all too much too soon. Wherever you are; you’re going too far. But I’m still waiting here for you; waiting for you here. I’m waiting on the moon; I’m still waiting on the moon.”—Peter Wolf
Now, in her absence, we grab for the intellectual and spiritual strands she left behind; loving Janice was realizing what it’s like to be human, at its best. I cherished her; she drove me happily crazy in the process.
This, however, is a celebration of a beautiful life, a unique mind, a fascinating performance artist. For those of us who were enthralled by Janice, this what we treasured. For those of you who didn’t know her, here is what you missed.
* She could give us mental whiplash, she was so fearless. People would say, “You can’t do that;” she’d say, “Let’s try.”
* Dini-and-Windle became one word whenever she talked about how Human Sexual Response practically raised her in the early 1980s.
* Nobody made her laugh more than Kevin Meaney, unless it was Bill Hicks, or Groucho Marks, or The Golden Girls, or Bob Newhart, or Barry Crimmins, or Jimmy Tingle, or Fawlty Towers. She did a perfect John Pinette. She never tired of delivering the routine, “Rosemary Clooney! It’s toilet paper; it has no value.”
* Who could see the word “organic” and not think of her? Her friend Peter Wolf would joke about her unselfconscious quest for organic wine. Janice was well known for often settling for four or five glasses of lesser pedigree.
* With all good humor and mischief, she’d repeat the joke about Ric Ocasek, “When exactly did he realize that his mother had mated with a praying mantis?” She adored The Cars, hung with them in the Synchro Sound era, and made worlds collide when she brought her father (a bank president) to the studio to hang with the band and RTB (Roy Thomas Baker), their producer. Years ago, when I showed her the personally handwritten autobiographies of Ric and Ben Orr, recollections filled her eyes with tears, and she handled the sheets like Dead Sea Scrolls.
* She could fix anything, except lottery scratch tickets, which she chanted over for a payoff. “Nom-myoho-renge-kyo.” So much for the power of prayer.
* Jeep Holland’s nickname for her was “Legs.”
* In the worst R&B accent, she’d ask me, “Is you is, or is you ain’t my baby?” and frequently extolled the virtues of the Great Googly Moogly.
* She referred to “The Fog Years” of her life. Was that when she was in New York, Venice, South America, Los Angeles? Maddeningly vague, she was often a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
* She knew and loved her regular cab drivers, her fellow volunteers at Cambridge Cares About AIDS and the Boston Medical Center and the overnight produce shelf stockers at Star Market in Porter Square. They meant as much to her as the marquee names she also knew and loved…Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Iggy Pop, Bryan Ferry, Robin Zander (with whom she had interchangeable hair). “Oh, it’s such a perfect day; I’m glad I spent it with you.”—Lou Reed
* She always knew which dog was cheating in the famous canine poker game portrait.
* Concerned for his health and well-being, she admonished Joey Ramone for not regularly changing his socks.
* Janice melted the heart of Mitch whenever she showed up at the front door of the Rat. He always became a little more courtly, was even more of a gentleman, when she appeared at the entrance. To him, she was warm, witty and full of wonder.
* Decades before Google and YouTube and streaming stations, she was the human equivalent of a college radio station melted into a punk rock jukebox. From Nick Drake’s “Pink, pink, pink, pink moon” to Captain Sensible’s “He said captain, I said wot,” Buzzcocks to Daved Hild, Neil Young to David Bowie, The Coolies to The Cramps, Gene Pitney to Dean and Gene, her life and adventures and friends were lifted from the pages ofMojo and Boston Rock, Punk and The Noise.
* She would have four opinions about a three-word sentence.
* She loved her sister scenesters-in-crime, Jennet Cook, Carol Sadick and Molly Saccardo, as much as her real life sisters, Anne and Elaine. She always meant to call them back.
* Moxie, her dog, and Manny and Evie, her cats, were little bits of heaven and are resting among the lilacs and rose bushes in Massachusetts. She saw delight in every creature (except for a few moths) and saved so many as an animal shelter volunteer.
* You wouldn’t (although I did) bring Janice to a live-cast Mike Tyson heavyweight championship fight (Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks, June 27, 1988). First round knockouts lose their drama when you’re an hour late.
* Beedi cigarette in hand, for a few years she seemed to live on Twizzlers, Starbursts, blue Peeps and Guru energy drinks. Then, she flipped the switch and started making gourmet dinners for the two of us.
* She asked, “What is wit nit?” in a Lithuanian accent. She teased her loving friend Jim Sullivan about being from Bangor, Maine, if only to say, “Bangor…I hardly know her.”
* Her biggest complaint was that something was, “A pebble in my shoe.” Her marching orders were, “Pay attention.” Janice said, “Every day is a bright experiment in passion and patience. And fun. And chance.”
* Johnny Thunders sang, “You can’t put your arms around a memory.” I don’t believe him.
* She knew everyone from Isaac Stern (of Carnegie Hall) to Rick Blaze (of the Ballbusters).
* Janice and I sat with Joe Strummer on a bright day on a dirty curb in front of the HoJos on Boylston Street and commiserated about the sad, declining state of radio, in the shadow of WBCN.
* Of course, she was left-handed.
* She was an expert on serial killers and psychopaths, Abe Lincoln and UFOs.
* She memorized the PDR drug guide. There wasn’t a pill that she couldn’t ID at 10 paces. Every day was an enactment of “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.” She adored Bette Davis.
* In the 1990s, I was driving her to a Goddamn Nixons show at Ralph’s in Worcester. En route, she was learning the new lyrics to the set via a rough cassette (“Fat Man” was exceptional). Late as usual. Both of us realizing we were in trouble when the road sign said, “Welcome to Connecticut.” Later than usual. 85 MPH to get to a $25 gig. Into the parking lot and Brian Packard and the Cuneo brothers, David, Chris and Michael, were already playing. Janice was a blur, zooming directly to the stage before I could get out of the car, slamming out “Horses.”
* Monday morning, 9 a.m. December 1988. I got her phone call. She was crying. “Roy died.” We had just shook the white-on-white hand of Orbison after he had shook the earth at the Channel four nights previously. She hated the common reference of “Roy the Boy.” “The Big O” was okay.
* She was not all unicorns and rainbows, but she did have her “heart over the i” moments. She was bemused that as a child, she had traded her superior bedroom to her sister Anne for a stick of gum.
* I was picking her up in front of the Ritz Hotel. She was holding my copy of LIE, the Charles Manson LP. Heading for the car, she dropped the album…then said to the doorman, “He’s going to kill me!” Retrieving the record from the ground, she laughed and pointed at me…”Him, not Charlie.”
* Janice lived in cinemas. A Fassbinder fanatic. She mimicked the voice of “Your Humble Narrator” from A Clockwork Orange. She partnered with film critic Jay Carr to do a weekly review segment on Cha-Chi Loprete’s TV show, Your Mother’s on the Roof. You always felt they were talking about two different films… in a surrealistically good way. Beauty and the Beast. The Babble and the Brain. They really liked each other. She wrote a glorious remembrance about Jay after he died last year.
* Like all damaged women, her stuffed animals had human names and personalities. Sherry, Timmy, dozens more. Her favorite from childhood was Tearful Earful. Even her space heater had a name. Dobie.
* She struggled with her demons (who doesn’t?). Was fragile for awhile, then rebounded for years. She had a bedside manner that she acquired from Dr. Benjamin White, who inspired her and generously gave her several lifelines. Her sister Elaine once came to visit Janice in the hospital and found her quietly consoling an unconscious patient in an adjacent room. Janice’s medical knowledge saved more than a few. Her friend Jim Robbins claims he wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t acted swiftly and with wisdom when he was having a stroke. She further paid it forward by shepherding her father through the medical community bureaucracy and helping to add 10 bonus years to his life.
* She asked, “Am I cute?” light years before “cute” became an assembly line commodity. One moment she’d be a hyperactive, hyper-curious six-year-old. Then, intense sophistication. Next, brilliant insight. After any 10-minute conversation, she was everybody’s new best friend. She kept us on our toes, as we danced to her tunes and her stories. Fact? Fiction? Who could figure? A kaleidoscope, always semi-fractured, viewed through the dual lens of wit and wisdom.
Janice was the love of my life; sometimes I wished that she had been more of a love of her own life. I always believed that if I met a woman who was smarter, funnier and blonder than I, well… I would fall in love. Initially friends; ultimately, life partners. It was the magic of fate. I was captivated by her indomitable spirit, her beaming, eager face gushing with laughter, the words coming in torrents. She was complex. She was cryptic. She always dove in the deep end. No net and nothing but net. She was crazy brilliant, like everyone’s friend, Billy Ruane, flying in her own unique orbit, hearing and heeding her own celestial drummer. And now she is released. “Seen a shooting star tonight slip away. Tomorrow will be another day.”—Bob Dylan
I look at my many hundreds of photos of Janice… so refreshing, so curious, so loving, so challenging. She wore both masks of the theater; comedy and tragedy, laughter and pain.
Her white-hot moments lasted for years. And with her gifts and talents, she brought us all into Janice-Land. And just as she enhanced our lives for decades, now our lives are permanently diminished.
We shall not see the likes of her again. As Catherine Ringer of Les Rita Mitsouko once said to her at the end of a club night, “Bye bye beauty.”
As she so often said of those she loved, now sadly we say this of her, with eternal love: “Good night, sweet princess, may hosts of angels sing you to sleep.”—William Shakespeare
Janice Tumonis Memorial Services
Saturday, March 7, 2015
10:30 AM – NOON
Waitt Funeral Home
850 N. Main St.
Brockton, MA 02301
St. Michael’s Church
87 N. Main St.
Avon, MA 02322