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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Grammys are tonight and Eminem’s “Berzerk” is nominated for Best Rap Performance. I hope rocker Billy Squier has been making mad money from that song, which samples Squier’s 1981 hit, “The Stroke.” Billy deserves it!

I have been meaning to write about Billy for years. I didn’t see him perform live in his heyday, but I’ve caught him twice more recently when he toured with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. The last time I saw him — in 2008 — Billy kicked ass on stage. I loved his performance, which reminded me I loved his videos in the ’80s, so I jumped on the computer as soon as I got home to download his music. “The Stroke” is a great song, but my favorite has always been 1984′s “Rock Me Tonite.” Never heard much of Billy after that one, and I didn’t know why at the time. But, when I looked it up, I found it was the video for “Rock Me Tonight” that caused Billy’s skyrocketing career to crash and burn. Where did it go wrong? The blame has been cast on satin sheets, Billy’s sex kitten-ish dancing, his pink tank top, and that majorly awesome matching pink guitar. Basically, it was “too gay” for some uptight folks.

The career-ruining power of the video has bothered me since I read about it in 2008, for a variety of reasons. In the first place, it isn’t the gayest video of all time. That is the 1985 Mick Jagger and David Bowie clip for “Dancing in the Street.” Family Guy said it, so case closed.

And, speaking of Mick and Bowie, they are two of the examples I’ve provided before about the kind of performer that young girls had crushes on in the 1970s and 1980s. Let’s take a look at these flamboyantly dressed fellas (and a few more) again. Some of these guys were straight, some were straight but possibly open-minded, some were bisexual, some wouldn’t answer the question a la Ricky Martin decades later, some of them make you think “are people fucking blind?” — didn’t matter! They were all potential marriage material for lovestruck teens.

Back in 1972 — years before I could appreciate it — dancin’ Mick Jagger strutted his stuff in skimpy jumpsuits by my favorite vintage designer, Ossie Clark.

thatisnosockjagger

But I was right on time for Mick’s teeny, decollete t-shirt in 1981′s “Start Me Up” video.

As for Bowie, it’s hard to settle on just one of the gender-bending costumes that he wore while promoting his 1972 Ziggy Stardust album. I’ll go with this leotard.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

In the later ’70s, Freddie Mercury was perceived as straight while wearing this.

FreddieMercuryNov1978

Not much different from Mick in the costume department, right? And I know it wasn’t just the girls thinking Freddie was straight, because plenty of homophobic guys were huge fans of “We Will Rock You.” Not even Queen guitarist Brian May initially knew that Freddie was attracted to men as well as women, and Brian’s a real-live rocket scientist!

In the ’80s — Billy Squier’s era — all the hot boys wore makeup and frilly clothes. Adam Ant was totally a ladies’ man.

adam-ant

When a group of friends adored Duran Duran, the polite thing to do was divide up the band, so no one would get jealous of anyone else’s imaginary boyfriend. I was all about John Taylor, especially during his burgundy hair phase. OMG.

duranduran

I was initially interested in Nick Rhodes too, but I had to let my friend have him.

Prince wasn’t an English “New Romantic,” as Duran Duran and Adam were labeled, but he sure looked the part, with the eyeliner, ruffles and high heels.

Purple-Rain-10

Pre-surgery Pete Burns from Dead or Alive was married to a woman with matching hair! The luckiest woman in the world! Who wouldn’t want to be the wife with matching hair?

lynn

Then there was Boy George. Parents were suspicious of him right away: “He might be gay!” But we girls held out some hope at first, imagining ourselves sharing makeup and hair ribbons with him.

BOY GEORGE

With all of these peacocks gyrating in skin-tight clothes (excluding George) and/or flaunting luxurious hair and heavily-applied makeup — why did poor Billy Squier suffer for his pink t-shirt video? This is the question that has tormented me. Maybe he didn’t go far enough. He was neither the dude next door nor the over-the-top showman. If you’re going to go there, you better go all the way, I guess. He had the hair for a glam-rock Marc Bolan look, for sure. After the video disaster, sales kept declining and Billy stepped away from the music business in 1996. But he seems to be having fun with it now, so good for you, Billy Squier! I hope you kept that cool pink guitar.

Billy wasn’t the only one of Ringo Starr’s buddies to pop up on Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, for which “Berzerk” was the first single. I saw Rod Argent of the 1960s group the Zombies during the All-Starr Band’s 2006 tour. The audience went wild at the first notes of the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” Last year, Argent told Rolling Stone that he was happy that the song was sampled on MMLP2′s “Rhyme or Reason.” That 2006 Ringo show sent me running home to download the Zombies and, if I recall correctly, “Time of the Season” was available but my favorite song, “She’s Not There,” wasn’t for sale on iTunes for years. I checked for it regularly, and when I finally found it, I felt like a major mission had been accomplished. Another good Argent song is from his post-Zombies band (which was called “Argent”) — 1972′s “Hold Your Head Up.” I find it weirdly hypnotic.

So Ringo Starr was connected by degrees to Eminem’s album and therefore to the Grammys even before it was announced that he will perform with my almost-husband Paul McCartney to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first concert in the U.S. Ringo has been on my mind a lot lately, not only because his All Starrs keep turning up in hip-hop, but because I’m reading Mark Lewisohn’s hefty Tune In, the first of a trilogy on the Beatles. This book doesn’t even get them to America. It ends in 1962, after going in-depth into their childhoods and early days performing in Hamburg. The stories about the band members’ families are fascinating — I’m impressed by how many out-of-wedlock children there were among the grandparents and great-grandparents. You’d think the good old days were so conservative, but there was some wild stuff going on in the late 1800s and early 1900s. As for Ringo, he almost died of illnesses twice as a child and he’s been through some more shit since then, so he’s a tough guy.

Ringo was at a pre-Grammy lifetime achievement ceremony with Beatles wives Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, but his former bandmate, my almost-husband, was tied up with rehearsals. (Ringo is so fantastic he doesn’t have to rehearse!) Paul did attend the star-studded Beats Music launch party Friday night, where Elliott Wilson Instagrammed this photo of Sir Paul and Ringo’s musical beneficiary of sorts, Eminem.

empaul

The lady on the left is my almost-husband’s actual wife, Nancy Shevell. Don’t worry, I gave her my blessing! I believe the lady on the right is Liberty Ross, the girlfriend of Beats and Interscope executive Jimmy Iovine. Liberty Ross had some personal upheaval prior to Jimmy, and if I wanted to keep doing the Ringo Starr connection game, I could link him to the Twilight franchise. But I don’t think I need to continue. Isn’t it obvious that it’s Ringo’s world and we just live in it? Do not stare too intently at this photo, or you will do his bidding forevermore.

ringo

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18 Responses to “For Grammy Night: Six Degrees of Ringo Starr”

  1. John Taylor forever.

    In his 20s,Mr C wore little gold-rimmed eyeglasses and was more than a few times in his native NYC mistaken for a youthful John Lennon/Lennon’s son. So six degrees of separation there . . .

  2. I can’t believe what Pete Burns did to himself, he was so pretty, now he looks a horror!

    It was sweet seeing Ringo and Paul perform together, but I was brought to tears during Macklemore’s performance when Queen Latifah came out & married all those couples. That was so beautiful and unexpected.

    BTW Brian May isn’t a rocket scientist, he’s an astrophysicist. Two completely different sciences. Simply put, a rocket scientist is basically concerned with rocket propulsion whereas a astrophysicist studies the physics of the universe (more to it on both but that’s the gist for each.) I have quite a fascination with rocket science & have read loads of books on it, there are a few quirky ones concernlng Jack Parsons, who is considered the father of rocket science (some of his inventions are still used today on modern rocket ships). Quite a character, involved with Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard, crazy stuff! XXX

    • WendyB
      Twitter: WendyBrandes
      says:

      I should have known a smartypants like you was gonna call me out on my lazy-ass rocket scientist joke!

      • I do believe you have the distinction of being the first person to call me “smartypants” in quite some time. I’m usually percieved as a pink headed ditz! It wasn’t lazy, its often confused, most people have heard of rocket scientists but not astrophysicists. XXX

      • WendyB
        Twitter: WendyBrandes
        says:

        It just wouldn’t have the same flair, to say “and he’s a real-live astrophysicist,” would it? Hmmm, maybe it would?

      • I think it would since people usually have no clue what astrophysics is! You’d leave them scratching their heads or the more curious looking it up & learning something new! I love telling people it, I guess I get a kind of schadenfreude out of watching the expressions on their faces! (; XXX
        PS was never a big Beatles fan, but I think you are right, looking at that photo of Ringo too long is making me want to do his bidding! Oh no Ringo minions!
        PPS I just realised I have six degrees of separation from Ringo!

      • WendyB
        Twitter: WendyBrandes
        says:

        Everyone is connected to Ringo, some of them just don’t realize it yet!

    • Haha perhaps you are right! I didn’t remember until I was hypnotised by his photo!

  3. HelOnWheels
    Twitter: HelOnWheels
    says:

    Curse you and thank you for taking me WAAAAYYYYY down memory lane. Oh, John Taylor. I too had dibs on him! I still adore him but, yes, the maroon hair period was a favorite. I have always wanted to tell him that I didn’t do a lot of stupid stuff during jr. high and high school partially because I was saving myself for him. I doubt that would be the first time he’d heard that.

  4. stacy says:

    This is such a good post. Loved reading it.
    Were we all in complete denial in the 80′s? I mean… Boy George? How did we not know? Bowie’s leotard was definitely the right choice. He looks like a young Ukrainian gymnast. Freddie… um, hello people! I was so in love with Mick when I saw the Start Me Up video. What an impression he made on my 10 yr old self. I love that you are so fair with doling out the Duran boys. I was partial to Nick… the gayest looking of the bunch. He was so dreamy and beautiful. Ringo is a genius. He also seems like one of the coolest guys ever. I’m happy to be living in “his” world.

  5. stacy says:

    Oh, one more thing. Why did people discriminate against Billy Squier and not Rod Stewart? They were basically doing the same thing at the same time.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    This was great. Thanks for educating me about Argent. I always knew Argent did “Hold Your Head Up,” but I never knew where Argent came from.

    I remember my group of friends divided bands up, too, except the Beatles, which was a free-for-all. We doubled up on Paul and John, but poor George and Ringo didn’t get much interest.

    In all our conversations, we never talked about music. I could go on and on. Someday . . . .