The Many Masks Of
By: D EL
Jer Ber Jones is preparing for a show in San Francisco, just across the erector set from me, and stopped in Oakland for a hello (and to drop off her daughter Berlinda). She’s touring work from the new CD “Jer Ber Jones: Masked”, a collection of cover songs that has been in heavy rotation not only in my house, but on the general compound we live on (we’re not in a cult but do live on a compound and are totally looking into setting something up, so…)
I was nervous to have Jerilyn Jones, a drag legend and good Mormon mother of two, arriving to the dirt of our urban farm, a place of feral cats, pans of oil, opossums with albinism (OWAs), wild birds hopping in and out the back kitchen, smashed things with guts, and then all of us humans maneuvering like bugs inside of it. I worried it would be like when Donald and Donna Dasher visited Dawn Davenport for dinner, the scene flipping on a loop in my head as I vacuumed. “And I bet you cleaned, just for us.” “Well… I did tidy up.” Taffy throwing the spaghetti at the wall. The whole bit. My worries washed away as Jer Ber walked in the door and kicked off her flip flops, SO sensible, just “voila”, ya know?
This Mormon Mom sensibility is the root of the art and music Jer Ber creates, and the cover songs on “Masked” hardly read as covers, in the good direction. These are the songs I grew up with. All A-sides. To hear them assembled so sweetly is evocative, my cells reminded that these were, in fact, songs I knew. A few are songs I could not have cared less about (Cher’s “Believe”, for example) yet now I can’t seem to get enough of them.
“There’s something in it,” I said, “something in the music. I don’t know what it is…” She denies this, but I swear, whatever she’s adding makes what Gaga used seem like crosstops.
“It’s only disco,” said Jer Ber, waving it off. But it’s not just disco. It has a dark drive that underscores much of the work Jer Ber produces, a spooky realness that hits at the spine. These covers are everything I’d imagine Marilyn Manson was shooting for on the “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” cover, but where I think Manson fell flat, Jer Ber Jones has created covers that are addictive and unnerving, while seeming completely new.
It may even be this deliberate lack of pretense in delivery, the absence of “I’m Trying So Hard To Shock You” snarling, blood-spitting or any of the boring shock/shlok that we’ve all seen before and are all seeing again, on repeat, that makes what Jer Ber Jones does so interesting: it’s opposite of what others are doing to shock. It’s not literal, all spelled out under the umbrella of performance, and completely void of typical drag cliché. Drag is not the first thing I think of when I think of Jer Ber Jones. Music is. This is not lip synch. This is a true artist, prolific and ever producing. While these tracks are not trying to shock, they hold shocking beauty at times, with a reverb so thick and layered it would make Ivo Watts-Russell stop to listen. [Psst…hey, Ivo…]
The Amy Winehouse “Back to Black” cover is haunting, and I say with conviction that Winehouse herself would be proud. The track is so dark and twisted that it seems personal, like there’s a personal vendetta inside of it. The same pride goes double for the cover of Laura Branigan’s 80’s smash “Self Control”, boiled down and is rendered into a completely new animal. I love it, listen to it here:
A collaboration with Kristian Hoffman , who has worked with Klaus Nomi, Rufus Wainright, and Ann Magnuson, re-creates the Boy George/Culture Club classic "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" and offers an electro-alien growl, changing everything.
These collaborations abound. Paul Roessler (Nina Hagen's longtime producer and collaborator, original member of the punk band The Screamers, 45 Grave) - co-produced and played music on "Private Dancer" (the Tina Turner song) and created one of my favorites of all the covers: a dreamy guitar version of Eurythmics "Love is a Stranger", with vocals by Jer Ber's ex-husband Mike.
A tribal/percussion tribute is given to fellow Los Angeles blonde Belinda Carlisle (daughter Berlinda’s namesake) with the Go-Go's “We Got the Beat”; an alternate “man” versions of Cher’s “Believe” makes me well up, with beautiful piano and vocals, and once again, I can’t get enough of it. I’m not sure if the singer on the man version is Mike or not. Listen here:
We can learn more about Jer Ber, Mike, and the kids by looking further into the mystery that is Jerilyn Jones at her main website. Who is this Mormon, ex-polygamist drag icon? And this personal vendetta I spoke of earlier, with Back to Black? Is it related to some lingering bitterness around Mike? has all the info you need on the history of the family tree.
Not only do the individual tracks feel like homage, the sound of the whole record has a feeling of nostalgia for me, something subtle and hard to pin down. It feels like the good parts of so many things: 4AD, dark wave, dance music and Rohypnol (of course Rohypnol has good parts; don’t be so judgey!)
The music of Jer Ber Jones is evolving. The 11 tracks on “Masked” were assembled over a three year period, as part of the elaborate cabaret act that makes for an exciting live show. Six costume changes in 45 minutes don’t shake her. Jer Ber’s own perfectionism and professionalism is always in place; she really wants the best for her audience. Jer Ber Jones will be headlining the grand opening of the genius new Slipper Room Victorian cabaret in NYC in July/August.
You can buy the CD, with its beautiful cover art by Jim Winters, a San Francisco artist who has a running series of “Jerilyn Masking” pieces. Try to figure out the enigma of Jer Ber Jones, the story keeps going; I haven’t even discussed the Guten Morgen Fairchild project. I can’t explain. You can find answers online. It’s like a treasure hunt, to watch the evolution of Jer Ber Jones. This new music is clearly a harbinger of what’s to come next for Jer Ber Jones and company. More layers, more piano, more reverb. More music.
Even though I can’t explain it, I love what Jer Ber Jones is creating. Like when the neighbor says “She was such a nice lady…kept to herself…we never expected this… never in a million years” and you know that somewhere in your own life there is a powder keg, and through this common outreaching you feel it, and suddenly you’re in your filthy living room, shimmying on the shag to “Believe” by Cher.
For all things Jer Ber, visit these sites:
Official website:
The Official Jer Ber Fan Page:
Jer Ber Jones on Youtube: