Adele Bertei

 

 

Adele Bertei was born in Cleveland, Ohio, daughter of an Italian immigrant and a ballroom dance instructor. She became a ward of the state in 1967, with the rest of her childhood years spent in foster homes and reformatories in the greater Cleveland area. Emancipated at 17, she worked a series of jobs including OT assistant at a Veteran’s Hospital, and as one of the first women to work on the assembly line at the Ford Motors plant in Lorain, Ohio in 1973. Her career in music began as singer/guitarist in a rock band called Peter and the Wolves, performing at longshoremen and biker bars in Cleveland. The premature death of bandmate, the legendary Peter Laughner of Pere Ubu resulted in Bertei’s move to New York in 1977, where she quickly became a pivotal figure in a counter-cultural movement of art, film, music, and literature. She was an original member of the critically lauded Contortions, produced by Brian Eno on the seminal No New York record. Reading prose and poetry, she opened for writers such as William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Kathy Acker among many others. Bertei acted in several underground films, including a lead role in Born In Flames by Lizzie Borden, films by Scott & Beth B., and films by Irish filmmaker Vivienne Dick. She’s been the subject of artists and photographers Kiki Smith, Richard Prince, Nan Goldin, Zoe Leonard, and David La Chappelle. Bertei has toured the world as a musician with her band, the Bloods – one of America’s first all-girl bands – and as backing singer with Tears for Fears. She has performed and recorded as a backing vocalist for artists such as Thomas Dolby, Culture Club, Whitney Houston, Sandra Bernhard, and Matthew Sweet among others. She released records as a solo artist with both the Geffen and Chrysalis labels and has had international dance and pop hits with Thomas Dolby (“Hyperactive!”) and Jellybean (“Just a Mirage”). Bertei has written songs for artists as diverse as Peter Laughner, Thomas Dolby, Scritti Politti, Sheena Easton, Arthur Baker, Jamaladeen Tacuma, Matthew Sweet, Lydia Lunch, the Pointer Sisters, and Jellybean Benitez. After relocating to Los Angeles, Bertei worked as a behind-the-scenes director and ghostwriter, contributing ideas to hundreds of successful advertising campaigns. Her stories have appeared in the now defunct New York Rocker, the Caribbean magazine 6 Carlos, Vibe magazine and the Huffington Post. Her stories and essays have been included in compilations published by Semiotext(e) The New Fuck You; Adventures in Lesbian Reading (edited by Eileen Myles) and It’s So You edited by Michelle Tea for Seal Press, as well as Evelyn McDonnell’s Women Who Rock, published by Black Dog & Leventhal. She was granted two residencies at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts to work on her memoir manuscript, Twist (American Girl). She studied with Gordon Lish in NYC at his infamous summer writing workshop in 2010, and was awarded the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation fellowship at Tomales Bay in conjunction with UC Davis for Dorothy Allison’s writing workshop. Bertei has created and facilitated songwriting workshops for homeless youth at My Friend’s Place in Hollywood, and as a member of Wayne Kramer’s Jail Guitar Doors, teaching songwriting to the incarcerated at the Twin Towers facility in downtown LA, and at Century Women’s Regional Center at Lynwood, the largest women’s jail in the nation. She created a collective called WREN, Women’s Re-Entry Network to help alleviate the challenges of women being ereleased from jails and prisons. WREN’S first action was a series of release-care packages for women transitioning from jails into housing and help at Susan Burton’s A New Way of Life re-entry project. Bertei works as a writer, director, performer, and musician, and resides in Los Angeles, CA. As author, her first book Peter and the Wolves is a short memoir of her rock and roll education via legendary Cleveland musician Peter Laughner, to be released by Smog Veil Records in November, 2020. Why Labelle Matters will be published by the University of Texas Press in March, 2021. She continues to perform original music, most recently at Club Salo in Paris, MoMA’s Club 57 exhibition in November of 2017, L.A.’s Bootleg Theater, and Florence’s Queer Festival in 2018, where she screened her surrealist short film, The Littlest Trampette. MoMA recently acquired films of Bertei reading her poem The Ragazzi Manifesto in 1978, and The Offenders, directed by Scott and Beth B., in which Bertei plays the lead.

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