Friday, October 29, 2010


Time flies. So did Jane Dornacker until the accident that happened 24 years ago this month, when she helicoptered into the Hudson River.

Jane called herself Leila for that all-girl group, and while the remnants of the rock group Fanny put out an album called "Rock and Roll Survivors," Leila's choice of anthem was "Rock and Roll Weirdos." It was released as a single and is a fairly rare collectors item these days.

Also in the golden era of the late 70's, Jane guested with R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders for the lead vocal on "Christopher Columbus." She and Illfolks-fave Ron Nagle wrote one of the best of The Tubes' non-hits, the legendary "Don't Touch Me There." She would memorably tour with The Tubes, and then veer off into improv comedy,and work at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. In an interesting segue, the woman who rarely had a song on AM-radio became the radio traffic reporter for KFRC. She then flew to the East Coast to join WNBC, where Joey Reynolds was the afternoon mouth. Joey's still on the air locally in New York.

Jane (October 1, 1947-October 22 1986) was in the traffic helicopter as usual, and at about a quarter to five, was getting set for that hectic time when people were leaving work and wanting to know the best ways to get the hell out of NYC, and if it would be the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel, or the GWB. Six months earlier, the helicopter malfunctioned, but Jane and her pilot made a safe landing in the water and were even able to swim to safety. This time, her calm report on Holland Tunnel and Lincoln Tunnel traffic suddenly changed: "Hit the water!" she suddenly called out, "Hit the water! Hit the water!"

Then there was silence. Even worse, there was a song by Huey Lewis and the News, as Joey Reynolds vowed to keep the music playing, while calling, "Find out what's going on with the helicopter. Something happened there. It's quarter of five…I hope nothing happened with Jane…say a little prayer, hope nothing's wrong…that's really…that's a hard, hard job…"

A malfunction sent the helicopter on a tilt, nose-diving downward. They were close to the shore line, and Jane was praying that her pilot could make a safe landing in the water. Instead, he hit a fence at the pier. And then the helicopter keeled over into the drink. The injured pilot was taken to a local hospital and survived. It was too late for Jane. The hard-luck punk-rocker and traffic reporter was a recent widow…and now her 16 year-old daughter was an orphan. The girl received a rather small ($325,000) settlement from the helicopter company.

While this is sometimes a tasteless and morbid blog (now is where the "Dead as a Dornacker" phrase sneaks in), it only reflects human nature. Some of you are thinking, "Wouldn't it be wicked cool if there was actually a tape of Jane Dornacker's last broadcast? I'd love to hear it." And for you, just cut and paste this link:

As Jane's co-write for The Tubes is easily available, as is R. Crumb's Cheapsuit music, here's "Rock and Roll Weirdos," which should still serve as an inspiration for all…and harken back to a time of light-hearted dark humor, non-pushy rebellion and a celebration of simply being different and a free-thinker in ways that don't harm anyone else.

LEILA AND THE SNAKES: ROCK AND ROLL WEIRDOS Instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads, Paypal donation pleas or wait time.


Ken Carr said...

Leila and the Snakes was a great band. I saw them at the Shady Grove on Haight Street. I lived on Ashbury and Jane lived in the Haight. We used used to see her riding her bike in the neighborhood. Leila and the Snakes consisted of Jane on keyboards and vocals, Pearl Harbor on vocals, , the Stench Brothers on drums and bass and a guy named Miles on guitar. They were very strong musically. Jane incorporated videos she made into the songs so they became little performance pieces-very clever and well done. Pearl Harbor later left and formed her own band with the Stench Brothers and Peter Bilt on guitar-Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. They were big in the San Francisco club scene and put out a good record with the minor hit Shut Up and Dance. They were very popular but broke up suddenly just as they started to break out. Jane's death was very sad. She was a very talented lady.

Paolo Gianni said...

I'm glad that someone else remembers Jane. She was a sweetheart. One year, just before leaving for NYC, she was the MC for a local Academy Awards event/party for which I did some artwork, namely a couple of giant "Oscars" about 6 feet tall. It was a rush job and they came out pretty crappy really. As the evening rolled along Jane relaxed with a few cocktails and had great fun insulting my work describing them as (what else) giant dildos and made us all laugh. It was high praise. I'll always miss her.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks, Paolo. Great story.