It was 1980, and the New York hardcore scene was beginning to coalesce around venues like The A7 Club in the East Village. Hardcore was a faster, heavier, more violent sound that grew out of the first-wave CBGB punk of the late '70s. It took a few years to define itself — nobody knew what the rules were, or how the style was supposed to sound.
Carolyn was new in town, working for an answering service and as an occasional punk extra in clueless Hollywood versions of the Lower East Side. She spent the nights she wasn't working on the benches in Tompkins Square, or on the stoops around Stromboli's Pizza on St. Mark's Place. She didn't have enough cash to get into the clubs very often. Drink of choice: a forty-ounce Bud.
In 1981 she answered a newspaper ad and turned out to be just what guitarist Jet, bassist Kit, and drummer Bobby were looking for: a punk screamer who didn't sound like a "girl" — Penelope Houston rather than Debbie Harry. Click here for more on Killer Instinct.
X.K.I., Carolyn's second band, was the hardcore outfit formed from the remnants of Killer Instinct (ex-KIget it?) after that band broke up in 1982. Bands and fans were almost indistinguishable — a definite DIY scene — and the geographical center was the A7 club at Avenue A and 7th Street . The X.K.I. page is here.
Other Parts of the Story
David was a local musician and songwriter who had seen Carolyn sing with X.K.I. and told her he would pay her to sing several of his songs for a demo. She agreed, attended a few rehearsals, taped the session, and made $50. Witten appears on a cardboard Sears Silvertone guitar; the drummer was Ned from the False Prophets. The demo was supposed to go to the DeVinyls lead singer through an industry connection, though it's unclear that it ever did. The other songs recorded at this unknown midtown studio have not been located. "Kansas Cowgirl": music and lyrics by David Witten.
Wayne was a session bassist (with Mick Taylor's touring band in particular) living out of a storefront on E. 9th Street. He was a regular at Downtown Beirut located on 1st Avenue between 9th and 10th, a legendary locale worth an article on its own (and here are three: a eulogy by Rosie Schaap in The NY Times and two memoirs, one from former bartender Abby and another from former patron James Honzik). Carolyn held court behind the bar at Beirut on the many nights she was not performing. (Check out The Cocteau Twins' song, "Carolyn's Fingers", inspired by her work on the antique Beirut cash register.) When the gay-themed coming-of-age flick Fun Down There was put together in 1988, the film's director approached Wayne and asked for an original tune for the soundtrack. The result was "For You", recorded on a 4-track cassette in Wayne's storefront. Carolyn made $50.
Enright was a taxi driver, musician, and occasional recording engineer who had been on the East Village scene since 1979. He ran sound at the A7 Club for about a year in 1980-81, where he usually just turned up everything as loud as it could go and then went out to protect the equipment. He met Carolyn when he engineered the first Bad Tuna session at Byron's Henry St. studio, and later was a Downtown Beirut regular. Sister Isabelle was recorded in his 10th St. living-room with sequencing software linked to a Tascam 8-track deck. The tune is by Del Shannon, and was a minor hit for him in Australia.
Carolyn has recorded several other tracks with Enright over the years, but this is the only one where she sings lead. Check out his What You Want collection for the others.
After the BTE broke up Carolyn resumed her long-interrupted college career and graduated summa cum laude from Hunter College. She got married. She studied for a PhD in English (specializing in Medieval Germanic Languages), wrote grammar exercises for college textbooks, and appeared on Jeopardy. (She won the trip — not the money.)
Carolyn has a kid named Harriet, a house in the woods, and a job as an Executive Editor for a major textbook publisher in New York City. She watches a lot of Bollywood movies for Netflix (and blogs about them). Unlike many of her contemporaries on the Lower East Side, she survived. This is her hidden past.