Monday, June 29, 2009

Tomboys of the 80s


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 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.


jsg said...

The common factor here is Holly Knight. She wrote

“Pleasure and Pain”, “The Warrior”, “Invincible”, plus songs for Heart, Lita Ford, and Kim Wilde.

Todd Seavey said...

Holy crap! I didn’t know that! And Wiki. says she wrote “Simply the Best” by Tina Turner — and a song I thought no one but me ever even heard, let alone loved: “Hanging on a Heart Attack” (with her band Device), the video for which I saved on an old VHS somewhere.

Thank you! Now it all makes sense, and I’ve found my Holly Knight in shining armor.

Todd Seavey said...

…not to mention the theme to Joss Whedon’s vampire spin-off _Angel_ and, yes, co-writing “Better Be Good to Me,” the one song Tina did with…the Fixx. And so once more we travel afar to find our way home.

Todd Seavey said...

…and Holly Knight apparently wrote Animotion’s “Obsession” and my _favorite_ Tina Turner song, “One of the Living” (the _other_ song from _Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome_), and “Rag Doll,” the Aerosmith song I always point to as worthy of Irving Berlin.

And another Benatar song written by Knight that cannot go unmentioned is “Love Is a Battlefield.” Holly Knight built our world.

Todd Seavey said...

And though it has nothing to do with Holly Knight (to my knowledge — though nothing would surprise me now), I just want to mention with approval “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash while we’re at it.

And note that while Knight’s “Never” was a solid Heart song, I wish their transitional classic-rock/80s-rock “How Can I Refuse?” got played more.

Eric Hanneken said...

Somehow I’ve managed never to see The Legend of Billie Jean. To me, 1980s + movies + tomboys = Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful, John Hughes and Howard Deutch’s remake of their own Pretty In Pink, which had been released just one year earlier(!).

Todd Seavey said...

…a pair of films that were themselves noted in the second half of my Book Selections entry this month, for those keeping track:

Ali Kokmen said...

Extra nerd aside: The Legend of Billie Jean also starred Yeardley Smith, who would later go on to fame as the voice of Lisa Simpson. Should you see the movie again, it’s a little surprising to hear that familiar voice coming from a non-animated character…

Todd Seavey said...

Ah, something that film (which starred Helen Slater, I should say) has in common with the sitcom _Herman’s Head_ and this brief, slightly weird chat about teen anxiety (she looks oddly like a cartoon character in real life, actually):

Jacob T. Levy said...

I thought she was great on Herman’s Head, and generallyy enjoyed the hell out of that show.

My usually-irreproachable neighborhood video store has for some reason been featuring that godawful Supergirl movie in the front window for the past two weeks.

Would it be suitably Toddish to note that Angel, whose theme song was apparently written by Holly Knight, was a far superior version of the nonetheless-entertaining Canadian TV show Forever Knight?