It’s (not) a shame about Polly

It’s (not) a shame about Polly

If you think about it, something that has always been very well taken care of since the beginning of Lemonheads‘ existence were the covers of each album. The only rule is that there are no rules: the non-standardization of the band’s cover art brought us gems like the two kids from “Hate your Friends” and, of course, the legendary cover of “It’s a shame about Ray” which certainly served to make it one of their best albums of the band even more celebrated.

And something that I, as well as many Lemonheads fans, have wondered about is the woman on the cover, captured without her eyes. Could she be the “Ray” of the title? Could it be a relative of Evan Dando? Maybe Juliana Hatfield? In fact, it is actress Polly Noonan, who, when partying with the band, little did she know that she was about to become an icon of American alternative rock. “When Jesse (Peretz) took the cover photo we were in Andersonville standing outside of a great old vintage store called George’s. We had no idea he was taking the cover photo we were just having fun”, remembers Polly.

It doesn’t really feel like it’s me.

Polly Noonan about being on “It’s a shame about Ray” cover

The fun part is that, during his last trip to the United States, for shows at Evanston Space, Evan not only reunited with Polly, but invited her on stage to revival her own backing vocals in “Bit part”: “to be across the alley from my childhood home shouting the opening to Bit Part and singing back up while also banging on a pot to celebrate the new year, I don’t think there could be anything better”, says Polly (check her interview bellow). Definitely, Polly wasn’t ashamed that night.

Photo by: Antonia Teixeira

2 5 Things about Polly Noonan

RC – Hello Polly. To start, tell us, Lemonheads fans, a little about your background as an artist-actress.

PN – I have had bit parts in films, but most of my work has been on the stage. It’s loads of fun working in theatre. I have worked numerous times with Sarah Ruhl, an extraordinary playwright who I met while working with Joyce Piven at the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston where we grew up. Sarah’s mom, Kathy Ruhl, is a great actor and I worked with her before Sarah and I got a chance to work together. Sarah has written many plays and kept me thriving. I’d love to work more in film. A bit part I had that people tend to remember is at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

RC- As you may know, “It’s a shame about ray” is an absolute classic not only in the Lemonheads discography, but also in alternative rock made in the 90s. Tell us a little about the feeling of having your face on the cover.

PN – I like it—and it doesn’t really feel like it’s me. Original Lemonheads bass player Jesse Peretz took those photos on a visit to Chicago. I love to drive and Chicago is a great driving city. That’s my first car in the photo behind me, a Checker Marathon. It had opera windows in the back and was thing of beauty. When you were in front the back seat felt like it was a million miles away. When Jesse took the cover photo we were in Andersonville standing outside of a great old vintage store called George’s. We had no idea he was taking the cover photo we were just having fun. We probably also spent some time in Evanston at 1224 Hinman Ave, my old childhood address.

When the band came through town they sometimes stayed over. My childhood home is pretty much across the alley and down a few houses from Space (the club where Lemonheads just had the New Year’s Eve residency). So the whole thing felt like a homecoming. We used to laugh remembering my dad stepping over a duffle in the front hallway of my house saying “who is Ben Deilly” in a deep voice like a newscaster. I can’t remember whether Ben slept over too or if Evan had his bag. I think my dad also might have said “who is Evan Dando?” Anyway, he was reading aloud from the luggage tags. Jesse also stayed over but I don’t think he left his bag in the middle of the front hall. My dad was pretty funny about it. He also made everybody pancakes.

What a great band, what a great bunch of people. And what a great album—I was newly living in Los Angeles when the Lemonhead’s were recording and it was a lot of fun to hang around. I can remember riding around in the Lemonheads rental convertible with Evan, and drummer Dave Ryan and a friend of mine, Sarah DeVincentis—Evan had a tape of the rough mix and it was fun to just drive around and listen to the tape and think about the music and enjoy the california warmth. Juliana was in town only briefly, so I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her. She’s a knockout and an icon. I think Jesse was in school which is why he only came to LA for part of the time. And also to shoot the video. Which we made somewhere outside of Palmdale, I think.

RC – On the cover, we don’t see your eyes, which naturally leads many people to speculate about the identity of the woman in It’s a shame about Ray. Have you ever been recognized on the street, for example? Have you ever heard crazy stories about the “woman on the cover”?

PN – I don’t really remember being recognized. Maybe at some point. My cousin shouted when he heard my voice on the album, then he called and told me. My cousin recognized me on the cover, he is one of the few people that knew it was me. Last week at Space a few people figured it out.

For two summers I went on the European leg of the tour with the band and sold merch. It’s a Shame About Ray was out so the album cover was on a bunch of the tee shirts. Most fans thought the photo was of Juliana, I think she’s prettier than that. I have no idea whether she got asked about it. I know I did. Anyway, when people asked, most of the time I would tell them. Every now and then I let it slide.

You’ll have to ask Jesse why he chose the photos he did for the cover. I’d love to hear what he has to say. At the time, I think he said that he wanted the triptych to tell a story and have an element of mystery, which the third photo has. It’s dreamy and a little bit scary. The second photo was taken on Lakeshore Drive headed north near the Edgewater Beach Apartments. Jesse can tell you where the third photo was taken.

Photos by: Jim Ryan

RC – You were invited by Evan to participate in his last show in which you even sang… what was that experience like after so long?

PN – Incredible. It still makes me laugh. It’s so fun to see old friends and remember earlier parts of your life. It was great to be back onstage with Evan for a minute.

Also, it’s been a rough couple of years for me (and also for so many), so it was a real joy to scream my way into the new year. Each time I yell the opening to Bit Part it takes me back to the happiness I felt recording the yell at the studio in LA. It was great to see Evan and Antonia (his fiancé) who is amazing. Also, the band sounds incredible. Farley and John are great guys—pretty much everyone around was lovely to get to know. Reed, the tour manager, was a champ and he and Antonia even let me work the merch table for a little bit on Friday night for old time’s sake.

Look, to be across the alley from my childhood home shouting the opening to Bit Part and singing back up while also banging on a pot to celebrate the new year, I don’t think there could be anything better. I’m so happy. Evan and the band sounded amazing three nights in a row and Evan also played acoustic sets that were sublime. It’s inspiring to see him forge ahead. A three night residency is a great idea and I wish it happened more frequently. Shout out to Evanston’s Space for a great idea. And it was fun to meet the people who came in from all over the world (like Glasgow) to be there for all three shows.

RC – As a rock album cover model, I’d like to know which other album from the Lemonheads discography you think is as cool as “It’s a shame about Ray”.

PN – Hate Your Friends is perfect. And Creator is genius. Have you met Ivan, star of that cover?  I like the new albums, too. Varshons, Come on Feel, Lick, Lovey, The Lemonheads. The Lick album cover is uncomfortably good. When you like your friends you tend to like what they make. Have you seen Evan’s paintings? They are amazing. The painting on the cover of the new release Fear of Living is so beautiful. I hear Evan is about to cut a new album, so the best might be yet to come.

Marcos Tadeu

Marcos Tadeu

Jornalista, idealizador e apresentador do Rock Cabeça na 100,9 FM, Rádio Inconfidência FM (MG) desde 2016. Acima de tudo, um fã de rock gringo.