Cosmo Gal 

Richmond composer Jamie K. Sims recalls her wild days with The Cosmopolitans.

click to enlarge art19.lede.sims.148.jpg

Actually, she doesn't remember any pompoms — that's just how the Village Voice described her New York-based party rock combo, The Cosmopolitans, in the early '80s, as "New Wave pom pom girls with brains."

Although Sims has been living in the Museum District since 1993, operating a small piano studio for adults and working as a composer-in-residence at schools around Virginia, she has her own little place in the history of the New York club scene.

Creating an infectious update of humorous garage rock around the same time as the similar-sounding B-52's, The Cosmopolitans made their mark with several radio hits and some wildly entertaining shows at legendary clubs around New York such as CBGB's, Max's Kansas City and The Mudd Club.

Following renewed interest on the Internet and props from modernist female groups including Le Tigre — which, Sims has been told, counts her band as an influence — a new retrospective CD, "Wild Moose Party," was recently released on Dionysus Records. It could introduce Sims' band to a whole new generation of fans.

Lately, Sims has been having a ball going through her memories and souvenirs from that period in her life — like the old concert flyers and photos covering a table in her townhouse.

"It was cheap then because New York was going bankrupt," she says. "You could work a part-time job and still survive." Musically, she says, "it was just a wide-open world. There was a lot happening."

A former honors student in composition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Sims originally conceived of The Cosmopolitans in the mid-1970s as a rogue comedy/dance group. By the end of that decade, she'd moved with then-boyfriend, producer and musician Chris Stamey (of The dBs), to New York.

"We drove straight to Blondie's first album release party," she recalls.

The Cosmopolitans didn't become a band until a 1979 benefit concert for the struggling dance group at CBGB's. The bill included Bobby "Boris" ("Monster Mash") Pickett, as well as Sims' friends, The dBs and The Fleshtones (her all-time favorite band). During the show, the troupe performed an impromptu song that went over big.

As creative founder, Sims began writing songs, playing vintage keyboards, singing, dancing and pounding toy hammers mainly with friend Nel Moore, who backed her up on harmonica and vocals. Together they forged a sound that was part '60s girl group (think Shangri-Las) and part R&B garage (think Sam the Sham), with "Hullabaloo"-like dance moves.

The girls began recording for NYC's Shake Records with their friend Mitch Easter (later known for his work with R.E.M.), who played on several tracks, as well as drummer Will Rigby, who now performs with Steve Earle.

The song for which The Cosmopolitans are most well-known is an energetic, instructional exercise/dance number "(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy," which features deadpan checklist lyrics such as "(2) If you must work, try to arrange it so you're home first. … (6) Bright smile and morning coffee! … (8) Excess fat — taboo!"

The New York Times described it as "a funny dance number [with] originality and wit," and the song received international airplay from Europe to South America and became especially popular on BBC's Radio 1.

During this time, Sims remembers often seeing a pre-fame Madonna, who was in a dance class with Moore, when the material girl used to frequent The Cosmopolitans' dirty practice building to visit her boyfriend.

Unfortunately, Sims was stricken with Epstein-Barr virus, which she likens to mono or chronic fatigue syndrome, and had to quit performing live in 1982.

So she began recording as a solo musician and found work as a studio manager at Chelsea Sound, eventually joining a newly formed studio alongside noted producer Gary Katz and Steely Dan's Donald Fagen.

An Alabama native, Sims always yearned to return to the South, so she and her husband, Errol, decided to relocate to Richmond in 1993.

Since then she's kept busy working on chamber music, pieces for off-Broadway performances, sacred compositions, and music for dance and films. She plays a lovely piano piece she composed for an upcoming local film documentary about a Japanese peace activist (as well as a couple of moving pieces written for former pets that have died — Sims loves animals).

One of her latest works is a recently premiered choral piece, "God's Love Unbroken," in support of gay and lesbian inclusion in the sacraments of the Episcopal Church. The St. Mark's Episcopal Church choir performed it in Richmond.

It was the fall of 2003 when Sims heard from Lee Joseph with Dionysus Records.

"A guy named Jason Rerun was playing the [Cosmopolitans] record on his KDHX show, 'Scene of the Crime,'" Joseph says via e-mail, "and I poked around a bit and found Jamie."

Sims still enjoys both classical and "beat" music, particularly older R&B and Motown records. And she adds that there's a chance The Cosmopolitans might reunite for a show.

"It all boils down to, we were having fun and making the music we wanted to hear," she says. "If you're playing from the right place, no matter how simple it is — you're going to reach people." S



The Cosmopolitans' "Wild Moose Party: New Wave Pom Pom Girls Gone Go-Go, NYC 1980-1981" is available at Plan 9, or at Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, CD Universe and Amazon.com.



  • Click here for more Arts & Culture






    Comments

    Subscribe to this thread:

    Add a comment

  • Re: Toy Maven: An Antique Plaything Specialist Talks About the Joys of Collecting

    • Very nice article. I'm not surprised and still impressed with your continual desire to Learn…

    • on December 3, 2016
  • Re: Five Questions for the New President of the Virginia Historical Society

    • Watchthisspace, see answer to your question from Bosket posted above. Thanks for the comment.

    • on December 2, 2016
  • Re: Five Questions for the New President of the Virginia Historical Society

    • He is so Handsome!

    • on December 2, 2016
  • More »
  • More by Brent Baldwin

    Copyright © 2016 Style Weekly
    Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
    All rights reserved
    Powered by Foundation