Behind the scenes with The Fabulous Vuarnettes
photography: courtesy Vuarnettes
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Over the years, the Vuarnettes’ songs have evolved—or should we say matured?—from songs picking on men to songs lamenting midlife crises to songs bemoaning the ravages of age.
Just look what they did to the song “Hair,” for instance:
“I’ve got hair in my nose. Hair between my toes …”
Or “Kokomo,” retooled from their already retooled O.J. song:
“Chronic gas-teritis. She has paddlitis.
“Nocturnal emissions. Can’t stand that condition.
“Cere-beral thrombosis. Arterioschlerosis …”
When one of the Vuarnettes became frustrated trying to figure out how to use a computer, she did more than gripe about it. She wrote a song about it, transforming Herman’s Hermits’ “(What a) Wonderful World (It Could Be)” into “(What a) Wonderful Nerd (I Could Be).”
“Don’t know much about cyberspace
“Don’t know what it means to interface
“Got a virus thought that I was sick
“All I had to do was drag and click …”
When another had had it up to her quirky little brain with telemarketers, she retaliated with:
“Don’t hang up. Oh no.
“Don’t hang up.
“I called to help you lose some weight.
“I know your dinner will be late.
Don’t hang up.”
“We get our ideas from girl talk. Generally, one of us writes a song and the group tears it apart and makes it a song again. And then we all nitpick at it until we’re so tired of it that we sing it,” says Linda Badell, who joined the group in 1986. “Actually, our best material never makes it to the stage. We take it all the way to the place it shouldn’t be and then we dial it back.
“After all, we do make an effort to be semi-politically correct.”
One thing’s for sure. The girls never lack for material.
They poke fun at Sun Valley’s mountain-high real estate prices via Smokey Robinson’s “(Better) Shop Around”:
“Unless they have a million-two, drive them down to Belle-vue.”
And when the Ketchum City Council began debating the merits of paid parking to discourage down-Valley commuters from driving to Ketchum, the Vuarnettes reached for the Beatles’ “Drive My Car”:
“Baby you can park your car.
“But you’re gonna walk real far …”
In between songs, the Vuarnettes volley jokes around stage like ping-pong balls, addressing such universal concerns as big butts, receding hairlines, flabby arms, plastic surgery, and hair coloring.
“Know how many divorced guys it takes to change a light bulb? None. They don’t get the house.”
“You can tell he’s a local by the $3,000 mountain bike on top of his $500 truck.”
“We swear by the five basic food groups: Fat, sugar, alcohol, anti-depressants, and caffeine.”
And, “Girls, there are enough roots out there in the audience to make Alex Haley roll over in his grave.”
Their props are just as outrageous—and certainly not for those prone to blush. They’ve used a giant slinky to represent an IUD. And they’ve turned a garbage can lid into a diaphragm—or, as they call it, “a manhole cover.” Even metal walkers adorned with Vuarnette license plates have been worked into the act, promoting “better living through chemistry”—Metamucil, that is.
Despite the group’s tight harmonies, Badell is the only one who had ever sung professionally before becoming a Vuarnette. A realtor whose stage name is Fern Fein D’Buck, she performed in a folk-singing group called The Tribe at coffeehouses and other venues in California during the ’60s.
Galpin, or Cheetah Velveeta, sang in her high school choir, but has since made her living by teaching snowboarding and as a monotype artist. Cherie Kessler, who goes by the pseudonym Kitty Litter, has spent her time raising two children, acting in a few community plays, and singing in the Valley’s select Anam Cara chamber choir and Caritas Chorale.
And Heidi Bates-Hogan, alias Ruby Rose Hips, is a headhunter-turned-mom. But she has good genes backing her up—her grandmother was longtime Sun Valley resident and TV star Ann Sothern. The newest member of the group, Bates used to sneak into bars to see the Vuarnettes when she was just 16.
When she auditioned to fill an empty poodle skirt a few years ago, the gang’s first impulse was to reject Bates for being “too young.” But she won them over by returning for a second audition in a huge padded foam butt, a bathrobe, fuzzy slippers, a gray wig, and granny glasses. Her shaking hand held a list of the Top 10 reasons why she should be chosen, à la David Letterman: “Choosing me would be better than getting hit by a bus,” she opined.
That did it. She was hired. And, as a reward, the others made her perform a parody of a Britney Spears song: “Ooops! I did it again. I sure do believe I need some Depends.”
Bates found that a small price to pay. “It’s a very special act to be part of,” she says. “I don’t think any other act in town has lasted this many years.”
Badell was just glad to get the act up and running again. “It was depressing when Viagra came out and I had no venue to sing my retooled version of Three Dog Night’s ‘(It’s Not) Easy to Be Hard.’”
Galpin says she’s “beyond amazed” that a younger set hasn’t come along to usurp the Vuarnettes: “I wanted to quit when I was 30—after all, I can’t be an embarrassment to both my kids and my parents at the same time.”
But Badell is just happy that the V’s are still getting up on stage, playing to Sun Valley’s après-ski crowd. “For me, this is anti-aging therapy. Actually, it’s cheaper than therapy. And, besides, where else can you get paid for offending people?”
Karen Bossick wishes she could be a Vuarnette. But, alas, she can’t carry a tune, and couldn’t wear a cornucopia of kitsch on her head without tipping over. Bossick writes about the arts for the Wood River Journal and is a frequent contributor to Sun Valley Magazine.