Jennifer Anderson, a musician, writer, and model whose doll-like looks and seductive voice helped make a name for pioneering San Francisco punk band the Nuns, died last month in New York City of complications from cancer. She was 54.
Anderson, also known as Jennifer Miro or Mistress Jennifer, had been diagnosed with both liver and breast cancer, according to her neighbor, Jill Lamar, who helped care for Anderson in the final months of her life. Refusing standard treatments and hospitalization for her illness, Anderson lived out her last months in her Manhattan studio apartment, aided by visiting nurses and Lamar. She passed away Dec. 16, 2011, at Bellevue Hospital in New York, where she had been admitted several weeks earlier for hospice care.
"She really suffered," Lamar says of Anderson. "She really had nobody around her when she was dying."
Anderson was born May 3, 1957, and raised in the Marin suburb of Mill Valley. Her father, the artist Jeremy Anderson, is considered one of the founding fathers of Bay Area sculpture and has work in the Oakland Museum.
In 1975, Anderson met Alejandro Escovedo and Jeff Olener -- who were then film students at the College of Marin -- in a Terra Linda rehearsal space. Unhappy with the Doobie Brothers cover band she'd been performing in, Anderson quickly joined the pair, contributing keyboards and vocals to what would become the Nuns.
Although they struggled to find acceptance at first, the Nuns became a mainstay of the San Francisco punk scene in the mid-70's, performing regularly at venues like the Mabuhay Gardens. Along with the Avengers, another important S.F. band of the time, the Nuns opened for the Sex Pistols at Winterland on January 14, 1978 -- the final show of the Sex Pistols' original career. For a brief time, the band was even managed by live music impresario Bill Graham, but the two parties split over Graham's offense at the Nuns' single "Decadent Jew." The band also helped launch Escovedo's ongoing career as a singer-songwriter.
With her lithe figure, long blonde hair, and elegant countenance -- she claimed to have descended from Welsh royalty -- Anderson helped make the Nuns an especially memorable addition to the S.F. scene. Even after the band first broke up in 1979 (and went on to periodically reform over the next few decades), her looks helped Anderson find work as a model -- particularly in the fetish and S&M worlds, which fascinated Anderson and inspired much of the imagery for the Nuns' album art and later live performances.
After reforming in the mid-'80s, the band left its rough-hewn punk sound behind for the more ethereal, gothy style showcased on 1986's Rumania. With Anderson's magisterial keyboard work and the distant pulse of a drum machine, Rumania is more like morbidly obsessed New Wave than gritty guitar-rock. Later reformations saw the band play even more off of Anderson's persona as a fetish model, although the band never attained mainstream popularity.
"She's always been into that [fetish] imagery, both in the music and the visual art, but that's not her," says Anderson's friend and confidant Peter Young, who knew Anderson from the early days of the Nuns and spoke with her regularly until her death. "A lot of people think of her that way, but that's not who she really is."
He says Anderson's beauty concealed a sparkling mind as well. "Obviously what was striking about Jennifer was her model looks, but there was a very pronounced wit and intelligence behind it that she often did her best to cover up," Young says. "She had much broader interests in art and even in things like medicine than people realized."