Amidst all the playing of “Billie Jean” in honor of the late Michael Jackson, let us not forget the other Billie Jean in pop culture in the 80s, namely The Legend of Billie Jean, from which we get the themesong “Invincible” by Pat Benatar. It’s odd that anyone would use the name Billie Jean just three years after it had become so closely associated with Michael Jackson (unless they were actually hoping to confuse people), but Jackson got a sort of (likely unintended) revenge sixteen years later, with the release of his album and song “Invincible.” What goes around comes around. (Remember to always think twice. Oo!)
Both my musical and romantic tastes may have been shaped by the fact that so many 80s acts I liked as a teen who weren’t robotic androgynes like Annie Lennox were instead (in some sense) impassioned tomboys: Pat Benatar, Kim Wilde, Patty Smyth (not Patti Smith, though she’d probably appear on some people’s list), Lita Ford doing “Kiss Me Deadly” (not necessarily anything else she did), the Motels, Heart, Joan Jett, Exene Cervenka, etc.
(It’s a wonder I didn’t end up a lesbian myself — or did I? Al Franken, who may yet be a senator, joked long ago that he thought of himself as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” Whether that means he should have been in the Gay Pride Parade making its way through Manhattan yesterday is debatable — and if you want to see Bryan Harris, who wrote a gay-friendly book mocking sexually-hypocritically politicians, debating the fate of the American economy against paleocon Richard Spencer, remember to join us this Wednesday at Lolita Bar.)
These musical acts at least tended toward the tough-of-demeanor and the husky-of-voice in a way that makes, say, Britney look very wimpy. It does not surprise me to hear of Patty Smyth holding her own in a marriage to notorious hothead John McEnroe, for instance — that’s no role for a wimpy girly-girl. And she is the Warrior, of course.
(A nerd aside: the star of The Legend of Billie Jean also had the title role in the Supergirl movie that you barely remember existed, and it just so happens that an interesting debate about Supergirl’s status as sexual icon cropped up in the comics world this month: specifically, whether to show her panties. My impression is that Third Wave feminist types tend to prefer the more overtly sexual — and at the same time more overtly muscled and masculine — Power Girl, a Supergirl doppelganger from an alternate universe. I don’t think you’ll hear any complaints about that from the boys — indeed, it often seems that the Third Wave’s odd primary contribution to gender relations has simply been to put the “hussy” back in “brazen,” while still acting as though they expect males to combat them on this. Everyone, male and female, seems to have headed to the strip club and ended up on the same page. The long historical digression that was feminism is thus over.)
While praising tough-sounding 80s broads, I should note that I’ve always thought the embarrassing song “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls has been unjustly elevated on the heavy-rotation lists above their far superior, darker, earlier, half-forgotten song “Pleasure and Pain.” It also seems that my favorite Go-Go’s songs aren’t the ones getting the most airplay years later — and one of those favorites happens to be the one with a video in which they’re in drag, “Turn to You” (though that doesn’t enhance my enjoyment of the song — nor does the cameo by a young Rob Lowe).
On another tomboyish front, Ayn Rand and the late Farrah Fawcett apparently admired each other so much that Fawcett consider playing Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, as noted by the Daily Beast (in an article by one of Katherine Taylor’s neighbors in L.A., which was in turn linked by another of their neighbors, Brian Doherty, on Reason.com and finally pointed out to me by Jacob Levy).
And if this whole entry sounds a bit too gender-bendy, this somewhat conservative Norm MacDonald audio sketch depicting the world’s first gay couple might serve as compensation (Note: It is not perfectly historically accurate). The reader who pointed it out to me shall remain anonymous, though I suspect said reader is likely to be present at Wednesday’s debate if you wish to express your outrage — we’re expanding the parameters of audience participation a bit this time.