Jane Nye, barber who befriended and styled punk, Goth, glam clients, dead at 65
‘She was like a godmother to a lot of people,’ especially members of the LGBTQ community, says record dealer Ric Addy, former owner of Shake Rattle & Read bookstore.
During a sweltering concert at the Riviera Theatre in Uptown, Jane Nye flourished one of her accessories to provide a cool breeze for the sticky crowd.
“She pulls out this fan made of ostrich feathers,” said her friend Juliet Weber. “And one sweep of that fan, and the whole row is glad we were there. She just had a style.”
A barber who cut and colored generations of punk, Goth, rock and glam hairstyles, Ms. Nye died Feb. 18 of cardiovascular problems at her home in Andersonville at 65.
She was a lean and angular presence, with stick–straight hair that floated down her back and a wardrobe that was Stygian black and heavy on skulls.
“She had the coolest clothes,” said Leanne Murray, drummer for The Beer Nuts. “She dressed really fun and dangerous.”
People told Ms. Nye she looked like Iggy Pop’s sister. When bassist Charles Levi introduced them after Pop performed at Metro, he told the rock legend, “Here’s your long-lost sister.”
“They looked at each other, and he started laughing,” said Levi, who’s performed with the bands Urban Soundtrack, Pigface and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. Pop invited them to hang out on his tour bus.
She also got to know the Ramones and would spend time with them and other bands, sometimes taking rockers clothes-shopping when they toured Chicago.
“She has been an icon in the Chicago music scene,” her friend Jody Cox said.
Depending which week you caught her, her hair might be purple, black, blond, silver-streaked or two-tone.
“She was coloring her hair back when you would get beat up for it,” said clothing dealer Mick Levine, who’s operated the Atomicfireball Etsy site and the old 99th Floor punk and industrial-look boutique on the North Side.
Ms. Nye didn’t have a car. She’d tool around on her single-speed red bicycle, complete with streamers, bell and basket. She’d bike to Barberella, a salon she owned near Irving Park Road and Broadway that advertised “mild to wild” looks.
“Kind of like a punk-rock Floyd’s Barbershop,” said Levine, referring to the town gathering place on the 1960s-era TV series “The Andy Griffith Show.”
After work, she might bike over to Delilah’s to play pinball or hit a show at the Aragon, the Double Door, Exit, Limelight, Neo, O’Banions or the Wrigleyville Tap.
“Jane would be on the dance floor of O’Banion’s, very pregnant,” Levine said.
Ms. Nye rarely had to pay for a concert. Thanks to friends and clients, she usually would be on the guest list.
And she had the ability to eel with confidence past doors that were closed to others.
“My mom would be backstage, at the side of the stage — pretty much anywhere except in the audience,” according to her son Wesley Nye.
People were attracted to Ms. Nye’s loyalty, generosity and carefree acceptance. In a voice raspy from all the Camels she smoked, she’d wisecrack and turn conversations back toward people, saying, “Well, how are YOU doing?”
If money was tight and a friend treated her to a good dinner, she’d hand the leftovers to a needy person on the street, Weber said.
“When something bad happened, Jane was kind of the one you hung with to reassure you that everything was going to be OK,” Levine said. “She was the wise woman.”
“She was like a godmother to a lot of people,” especially members of the LGBTQ community, according to record dealer Ric Addy, former owner of Shake Rattle & Read bookstore.
“She was everybody’s mom,” her son said.
One night at the Liar’s Club, “This great big drunk guy who I had previously had an order of protection against came up behind me,” said Maralyn Owen, a friend. “She warned me that he was behind me and stood up and gave him the evil eye and told him to leave me alone. This guy weighed about 260, and Jane could not have weighed 100 pounds.”
A few months after Steven Whitney lost his mother, he met Ms. Nye at a party. Seven hours later, they were still talking.
He remembers telling her, “ ‘Oh, my God, my mom sent you to me.’ I always called her ‘Ma Jane.’ ”
She loved New Orleans, so he and his husband Lonnie Carrick invited her to go there with them, pushing her around in a wheelchair when her arthritis was bad.
Ms. Nye once looked at New Orleans real estate but decided to hold off on buying because she got a bad feeling, Levine said. “Three days later,” he said, Hurricane “Katrina hit, and the property she looked at was 20 feet underwater.”
She grew up in Skokie, the daughter of Loretta and George Nye. Her father suffered serious combat injuries while serving on the USS Wadsworth in World War II.
“He was in a wheelchair since 18,” said her brother George “Rusty” Nye.
Whenever her father would go to Hines VA Hospital for treatment, young Jane would visit him there. She also accompanied him when he took part in bowling tournaments sponsored by the American Wheelchair Bowling Association, a group he helped found.
“She cared about everybody,” Rusty Nye said.
Ms. Nye put herself through Weedens Barber College on Milwaukee Avenue. Besides Barberella, she worked in Andersonville at Salon Shine, Styles and Salon 10.
One time, Weber remembers, a little girl studied Ms. Nye’s face and asked why she had so many lines.
“Jane didn’t blink an eye,” she said. “She told her, ‘It’s from smiling and laughing so much.’ ”
David Bowie was her favorite musician. Her front room was decorated with a large portrait of Bowie in a fedora. She named her cat Lazurus after one of his last singles.
She liked the shrimp scampi at Calo Ristorante. And if somebody gave her a mimosa, she’d say, “Too much vitamin C, give me something else,” according to the veteran stagehand who goes by the name Jolly Roger.
She was dressed in her skull hoodie when she was cremated. A small memorial has been held, and, when the pandemic eases, a larger celebration of life is planned, her son said.
“The world’s not as cool now, without Jane,” Weber said.