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Because after watching tonight’s “Disco Explosion” pledge drive on PBS, I feel compelled to give the man his due. Because even those whose greatest achievements are accomplished behind the scenes instead of at the mic or before the camera are worthy of homage. Because his name is just so goddamn cool. If you spent time in the industrialized world anytime between 1975 and 1990, you know his work. Below is a partial discography:
Love to Love You Baby, I Feel Love, Hot Stuff, Last Dance, On the Radio, Bad Girls – Donna Summer
Call Me – Blondie
Flashdance (What A Feeling) – Irene Cara
The NeverEnding Story – Limahl
Take My Breath Away – Berlin
Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
You can see even from the above list that Moroder had one foot in the world of the discotheque and the other in motion pictures. So even if you avoided the radio in the 1980s, you certainly would have heard some of the tunes that GM wrote, produced or both in big-ass movies of the day, like (duh) Flashdance and Top Gun. Of course, as busy a guy as he was, he was bound to get involved in some fiascos. So for every Oscar-winner like Midnight Express, there was a (cough) lesser work like Over the Top; for every classic like Scarface, an acquired taste like Electric Dreams. As an ethnic German born in the Italian Alps (his real first name is Hansjörg), he rocks an all-purpose Euro-identity which continues to be chic even today; however, his 1960s relocation to Munich, smack in the bosom of Hitlerland, might give one pause, especially considering some of his most Germanic projects: not only did he create a synth-pop score for Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent Metropolis, he composed the score for the final film of onetime Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. (For the record, it was a nature doc.) Well, I suppose keyboards know no politics.
It took me about an hour to realize that VH1-Classic had programmed the videos in alphabetical order (cut me some slack, I’m coming down with a cold), but the juxtaposition of Kool Moe Dee and Kraftwerk was a powerful wake-up call…so to speak. This must have been what Mike Myers was watching when he came up with the “Sprockets” sketch. Speaking of disturbing, what’s up with only one Kool Moe Dee clip? No “Wild Wild West”? For heaven’s sake, even the Kinks got two!
No commentary required. Just watch:
Earlier this evening I was out at a bar. For reasons I can no longer recall (probably because earlier this evening I was out at a bar), the conversation turned to how Radiohead, once an “alternative” band, has in recent years become popular with frat types. I then began reminiscing about the days when They Might Be Giants was a band no one outside of the northeast had heard of, in spite of having recorded three albums and playing live almost constantly, and bemoaning the fact that their shows are now overrun with douchebags.
“Are you a music snob?” my companion asked me. A snob? I thought. Not at all. After all, on my way to the bar I had been listening to Mariah Carey on my iPod. (C’mon now, you know “We Belong Together” is irresistible.) In spite of everything, I still like Madonna. I just don’t like asswipes…so when they show up at the same venues I frequent, I am quite reasonably distressed. However, later in the evening, when I expressed my delight to hear old chestnuts by Erasure and Big Audio Dynamite, the aforementioned companion nodded. “Music snob,” he remarked once more, with a smirk.
What? I’m a snob because I like music you have never heard of? Oh woe is me. Jesus, having owned a copy of “The Innocents” is hardly a sign of erudition.
Okay, what? Before today, I had never seen more than a basic-cable moment or two of the Tom Hanks K-9 buddy comedy Turner and Hooch, but, like many of you, I had laughed at it (I mean, Hanks bellowing “Hooooch!” at the top of his lungs is a cheap and easy laugh, right?). Earlier this evening, I happened upon it playing on Comedy Central – and was shocked to find myself watching as Hanks lifted an injured Hooch out of the back of his car and rushed him into vet Mare Winningham’s office. Imagine my horror as the camera revealed a deep, bloody wound in Hooch’s chest! It looked like a gunshot – had the butt of so many Hollywood jokes actually taken a bullet for his A-list partner? As the vet tried to stabilize him and Hanks’ character stroked his head and reassured him he would be going home, the jowly co-star looked up at them with wet, sad eyes, which eventually closed. Winningham pronounced Hooch dead, Hanks broke down…and I shrieked “No!” in disbelief. What kind of sick, demented people end a man’s best friend comedy with the best friend in question going into rigor mortis? Even out of context, this is easily the most sadistic plot twist imaginable. Even Haley Joel Osment’s death in Pay It Forward makes more sense.
This installment of Gen-X-cavation was thrust upon me, as it were, from a few different directions. First came word of my Hollywood playa friend jetting off to Vegas to see the big GM himself live in concert. Meanwhile, here in the East, I overheard one of my 18-year-old coworkers blithely singing “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” (duet with Aretha Franklin), a song that was released before she was even born. And of course, it’s Pride. What better time to celebrate the career of a man who was the last one on earth to know he was in fact gay?
I admit, I was kind of slow on the uptake on the subject of George’s orientation, but I think I can be forgiven. First of all, I was eleven when Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” was released in the U.S. (I can still remember a friend’s slumber party and the screams of joy that erupted every time they played it on the radio). My gaydar was not yet switched on. Secondly, I was actually more into Andrew Ridgeley (to the point of trying to make out with the TV when the video for “Everything She Wants” came on). Most crucially, George did a hell of a job playing it straight – when he growled, “You’re my lady/I’m your fool,” you could sense he meant business, highlights or no highlights. Then again, the next big Wham! hit, “Careless Whisper,” is suspiciously gender-neutral (perhaps those feet were guilty in more ways than one). Maybe if American fans had been more aware of the band’s earlier work, they might have had more suspicions about George’s interests:
Having some fun
Crazy ladies keep ’em on the run
Wise guys realize there’s danger in emotional ties
See me, single and free
No tears, no fears, what I want to be
One, two, take a look at you
Death by matrimony!
One man’s “Bros before hos” is another man’s “On the down-low.”
Listening to later Wham! songs and the Faith album, one can now sense the desperation with which George tried to keep the bad thoughts from taking over. As his lyrics become rougher and dirtier (“You know I wouldn’t hurt you/Unless you wanted me to,” for example, or “Huh! Sex! I’m not your father”), he just looks and sounds more and more like a leather daddy. The identity crisis reached its peak with “Freedom ’90,” whose video George could not even bring himself to appear in, substituting fashion models and a leather jacket going up in flames:
I think there’s something you should know
I think it’s time I stopped the show
There’s something deep inside of me
There’s someone I forgot to be
If that’s not a coming-out letter addressed to one’s parents, I don’t know what is.
Sadly, since coming out (or rather, since being caught soliciting a hummer in a men’s room), George’s musical output has been somewhat lackluster. Perhaps the drama of the closet lit a spark in him that the bright light of day (or is that Doris Day?) could not recreate. Even worse, being honest doesn’t seem to have improved his personal life either, unless multiple arrests for public lewdness and/or DUI are signs of emotional growth:
To the heart and mind
Ignorance is kind
Hopefully, GM will dance again.
When you want your music to do all the work for you, to provide you not only with pleasant sounds, but also with an entire set of predigested emotions, you can depend on one – or both – of these two groups. Musically they are pretty distinct: Journey is actually a full band with a rock base, whereas Air Supply is two guys (one tall one, one short one) with some really good keyboards. But the Bay City rockers and the Down Under duo have a surprising amount in common: both feature male singers with a vocal range to rival Mariah’s, singing songs about love…and love…and love.
Now hold on, you’re saying: isn’t love pop music’s favorite topic? That’s true, but every once in a while, even the cheesiest pop stars put romance aside for headier topics, like fame, money, or starving children. The men of Air Supply are way, way too focused on making sweet aural love to you for any of that, as songs like “Lost in Love,” “The One That You Love,” “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” and “All Out of Love” demonstrate. They clearly aspire to be the gentlest lover you’ve ever had, even when they are “mak[ing] all the stadiums rock.” (FYI that lyric was written by Jim Steinman, the man who gave Meat Loaf a career.) Journey has a few more moves in their seduction repertoire, from the bedroom confession of “Open Arms” to the headbanging heartbreak of “Separate Ways.” Even the songs that are not explicitly about love per se have been adopted into the soundtrack of American romantic life – like “Lights,” a sentimental ballad about San Fran that became the early-80’s theme song of high school freshmen copping a feel at the school dance.
Ironic, isn’t it, that these intensely amorous men could never, ever win the hearts of women today, being that they are homely in the extreme? (Unless they made a deal with the devil, like Kid Rock.) Steve Perry has a certain boyish, mulleted charm, but next to more recent smoove-out artists like Justin “SexyBack” Timberlake and John “Wonderland” Mayer, he looks like the weird guy who kept asking your cousin out all summer long. Even the goofy-looking singers of today have the sense to dress up and do their hair nice; post-British invasion and pre-MTV, the face of pop/rock music was, oftentimes, a downright ugly one (Boston? Toto? REO Speedwagon, anyone?). Whatever havoc Music Television may have wrought on the recording industry, at least it succeeded in getting musical dudes to shave and put on a nice shirt.
“Can you feel the beat within my heart?
Can’t you see my love shine through the dark?”
Lisa Lisa – the New York-bred boriqua so nice, they named her twice. I heard once that she graduated from the same high school as Lauren Bacall. One alma mater, two showbiz icons: from Betty Perske to Lisa Velez, a tradition of beautiful broads who are pretty sure they don’t need you.
Don’t get me wrong – Lisa Lisa isn’t made of stone. Though she may be best known for the bouncy, Latin-y beats of “Head to Toe” and “Lost in Emotion,” LL also gives voice to the deep shit that homegirls suffer at the hands of trifling men. Don’t know whether the decision to lighten up was due to a change for the better in Lisa’s life or just the friendly suggestion of a record exec, but something was definitely lost when the extremes of “All Cried Out” (“Apology not accepted, add me to the broken hearts you’ve collected!”) gave way to “Que sera que sera!” If the above lyric from “Can You Feel the Beat” – sung in LL’s lowest register, with big, fat beats pounding away beneath it – doesn’t give you a dance-floor shiver…well, I don’t know what to say to you.
Like Miss Jackson, Lisa’s not a prude – she just wants some respect. In the same musical moment that saw Salt-n-Pepa inviting – nay, commanding – the guys to “Push It,” LL is telling them to hold up: “I wonder if I take you home/Would you still be in love baby?” S-n-P may have made more money (and ended up on their own VH-1 reality show 20 years later), but it’s Lisa Lisa’s music I’ll be putting on a Sweet Sixteen birthday mix for my future daughter.
Why? Because I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.
Because I went to London and died.
Because the life I’ve had could make a good man turn bad.
Because I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of.
Because pretty girls make graves.
Because heaven knows I’m miserable now.
Because if it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that will bring us together.
Because that joke isn’t funny anymore.
Because now I know how Joan of Arc felt.
Because I was bored before I even began.
Because you must stay on your own for slightly longer.
Because she could have been a poet or she could have been a fool.
Because there is a light that never goes out.
And you could meet somebody who really loves you.
Happy birthday to me!
Unless you were raised in a commune, you probably watched Sesame Street as a kid. Those of a certain age should remember the Amerindian song stylings of Buffy Sainte-Marie, who, like John Denver, was part of the Henson folk-music crew. This would be enough to earn anyone a special place in the hearts of children raised on Free to Be…You and Me and “Disco Pooh” – but Buffy’s achievements go beyond hangin’ with Russell Means and playing guitar with Big Bird. She is an Oscar winner! If you’ve ever found yourself watching An Officer and a Gentleman on cable on a lazy Saturday, or imitating Joe Cocker and/or Jennifer Warnes in the shower, then you appreciate the significance of Buffy’s contribution to Gen-X culture as the co-writer of lite-radio staple “Up Where We Belong.” I am humbled. I am awed. I am definitely getting tickets the next time Sainte-Marie plays the Highline Ballroom.