first round game
(7) nelson, "(can't live without your) love and affection"
(10) femme fatale, "falling in and out of love"
and will play in the second round
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/7.
joni tevis on nelson's "(can't live without your) love and affection"
Begin in black and white, two brothers fooling around with guitars in a plain room. One’s distracted, daydreaming about the girl on the magazine cover. Okay. This one’s for her. And we fade into Technicolor, a bigger room with furnishings lavish and eccentric. Persian rug on the floor, silks in pink and orange and poppy red draped from the ceiling. Here she comes. Mmm, just like an angel.
The camera pans up through grasses, seedheads, wisps of smoke. Two singers, three guitarists, a drummer, and a white grand piano that nobody plays. You work ten years to get your big break and it all comes down to a bored teenager holding the remote control. You’ve got a split second to catch her eye.
Let’s talk about the clothes for a second. Specifically, 1:32. One brother wears a denim jacket in a pale wash with striped lapels, and blue jeans, also very pale, and very tight. So tight. These jeans are a legitimate avenue of inquiry. Back then Levi’s manufactured their jeans in Southern textile mills, which matters, because the acrobatics demanded by this shoot will require durable denim. Over these impressive jeans, he wears crimson above-the-knee boots in suede, or maybe velvet.—Wait! I think those are spats! A woman twirls past in a bikini, yellow on her front and pink behind. Move it, bikini lady! I need to see if those are spats.
He looks great. I can’t lie. They both do. The denim jacket the other brother wears is a deeper indigo, and the top button of his white shirt is undone. His jeans—pale but not as pale as his brother’s, and tight, but ditto not as tight—are ripped at the knees, and the fringe of their rip echoes the fringe on his jacket. His pointy-toe boots are black. How can you smile while singing?
The year is 1990. Nelson Mandela, released from prison, goes on a tour of the United States, to great acclaim. Germany reunifies. Jim Henson and Sammy Davis, Jr., die on the same day. The first Gulf War begins, the number of librarians in the United States peaks, the Chunnel is completed, and on June 26, when the mercury in Phoenix hits 122 degrees, Nelson releases their first album, After the Rain.
This video, for “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection,” is the first video the brothers have ever made, and their label hires a bigtime director to shoot. There’s a lot to see. Two staircases that lead nowhere, a TV screen showing a giant blue eyeball, shafts of light sluicing down from spot bulbs overhead. It is a bright bubble of a scene, “Alice in Wonderland,” said Gunnar on the phone recently when we (thrillingly!) discussed this. Nine big speakers at least. Footage sped up and slowed down to emphasize the joy and ridiculousness of all our movements. This is the world, the video says, and the plants are artificial and the girl lip synchs and the wind blowing their fabulous white-gold hair comes from a fan offstage, but the joy is real. Oh yeah. Filmed in a windowless hangar, so the heat and smog outside, the crushed paper cup from Burger King skipping along in the gritty exhaust thrown out by the city bus with a page of classified ads clinging to its mesh intake, none of that can intrude on this world. Which makes this a perfect teenage song, a hermetic daydream where the atmosphere is lust of a kind that admits no actual bodied life. At the end of the video, snow falls upward, and linked halos of light float over the brothers.
And it works. Their playing to the camera, their hijinks on the Stairs to Nowhere. Said Gunnar, “It snapped, it popped, it floated from the radio for a reason.” This song, their debut single, hits #1, and After the Rain goes double platinum, which means it sells two million copies. To put that into perspective, in 1990 two million people lived in Detroit and Dallas put together. A copy of this album for every man, woman, and child in those towns. Two million copies, friends. One of those copies belonged to me.
Back then I was a freshman at Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina. I babysat for pocket money, $1.50 per hour per kid, work I did not enjoy. I played French horn in the school band. I went to prom with Steve, who I’m pretty sure was gay, but this didn’t dawn on me until years later. In English class, we read a one-page synopsis of The Scarlet Letter. In French class, the boys annoyed Dr. Chivers by poking a hole in Mont Blanc on his big rubberized topo map of France. Wrote Bruce Britt in the LA Daily News in 1991, “The duo’s hummable first single, ‘(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection’ is so potently romantic it brings dormant prom-night memories rushing back.”
It doesn’t feel like heavy metal, in part because it’s so sunny. “What we grew up listening to wasn’t blues,” said Gunnar. “It’s pretty easy to make a rock song sound tough when your DNA is the blues. But when your DNA is folk, it’s harder.” How do we trawl the ocean floor to remember who we used to be? After the Rain was one of the first albums I chose for myself; I got it through the Columbia Record Club, where you could get twelve tapes for the price of one.
Gunnar and Matthew Nelson are the twin sons of Kristin Harmon and Rick Nelson. Growing up, thanks to my mom, I knew Rick Nelson’s Greatest Hits by heart. “Travelin’ Man,” “Hello Mary Lou,” “Poor Little Fool,” “It’s Late,” “You Are the Only One.” Speaking their names puts me back in my parents’ car, driving home from town on a summer night, but since we had this album in vinyl we couldn’t have listened to it there. I must have had the songs running a loop through my head. Well, they were catchy.
And of all Rick Nelson’s songs, “Garden Party” is my favorite. Released when he was 32 years old, in some ways it’s a commentary on his childhood fame as the younger son on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet with his parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, as well as his stint as a teen idol, a term originally coined to describe him. The intensity of his fans’ adulation might be best illustrated by this quote from a May 1960 interview: “Perhaps the most embarrassing moment in my career was when six girls tried to fling themselves under my car, and shouted to me to run over them,” Rick Nelson said. “That sort of thing can be very frightening!”
“Garden Party” marked an artistic shift for Rick, and I asked Gunnar about it. “He’d always wanted to play at Madison Square Garden,” he said. It seemed his dream had come true when a promoter contacted him about doing a show there, but the audience had more of a throwback in mind. “So he gets there and it’s 22,000 poodle skirts and saddle shoes. He could feel the unease building,” Gunnar said. “When you’re on TV it tends to burn you into people’s minds at a certain time.” Those TV characters, he said, “gave you comfort. You could rely on that. But he’s doing his own thing.”
Together, over the phone in my office, we repeat the lines:
I said hello to “Mary Lou,” she belongs to me
When I sang a song about a honky tonk, it was time to leave.
Which is about Rick singing a cover of the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” and the audience booing him off the stage, a significant distance from fans begging you to run over them with your car. That gets me thinking about artistic reinvention, about the clash between creation and commerce. We won’t allow famous people to age; it’s something we can’t forgive. We say, rock or country, which is it, stay in your lane. We sing along. We say, I had your poster on my wall. We ink your doodles on our forearms, our shoulders, as once we drew them on the cardboard covers of our notebooks during Algebra II.
We think we know you. We think you owe us something. On New Year’s Eve in 1985, Rick Nelson’s plane crashed in a cow pasture northeast of Dallas, killing him. The twins were 18 years old. He was 45. I remember how stunned we were when we heard the news, and even now, all these years later, it grieves me to write the words.
BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS
Let’s watch the video again. I know it will help me feel better. By 1:43, there’s been a costume change, and THE DUSTER appears. New clothes! But the same guitars, which helps you tell them apart. Gunnar: Slightly darker jeans than before, but THE DUSTER is the main event, and it’s amazing, cut close to the body and sewn from a rose brocade figured with flowers and lined with velvet. Matthew wears skintight black leather pants, or possibly chaps, with lace-up detailing on the sides of thighs, along with a long-sleeved tie-dye shirt.
By comparison, the dress their crush wears is a snooze. Sleeveless ivory, sequined, sweetheart neckline, fringe. And she’s serious in her dark lipstick. She doesn’t get to shred on the guitar like the guys in the band do, although at one point she stands in a golden chiffon shift like Winged Mercury carved on a ship’s prow. She’s the muse, the imagined listener who inspires the writing of the song. The audience of one.
I ask Gunnar about the clothes in the video, and what he says warrants a block quote:
We went to Western Costume and pulled some things, old military uniforms. We’d been reading Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey. There was a theme to what we were pulling. We took it to (costume designer) Diane Estelle. We took half of our publishing advance and self-financed the costumes. Everyone had a look. We had a band meeting, and we asked everyone, what would you like to see in your stage costume? Symbols—like the bird flying through the cloud, for “After the Rain”—all the symbols are in white in the liner of the pale blue duster. If you freeze-frame the video, you can see them. People all around the country have tattoos of those symbols.
And I love the attention paid to the artifice of the video, how the film speeds up and slows down so you notice the filmed quality of it. “Visually it was stunning,” said Gunnar, “but it was also very funny.” There’s a moment when everything slows down around them, but the brothers keep singing at the normal rate of the music. For that, they had to learn to play the music at twice the speed so they would look natural when the rest of the scene was slowed. In order for the bird to fly backward and the snow to fall up at the end of the video, he said, “we had to learn that music backwards.” So that the filmmaker could reverse the film and make the bird fly up while the brothers played in what looked like a natural way.
“The whole philosophy of the trip,” Gunnar said, “is that nothing is left to chance.”
“Ecstasy” comes from the Greek “ekstasis,” which means “standing outside of oneself.” I mention this because if you still the video at 1:28 you see the drummer, Bobby Rock, in a state of complete ecstasy, head thrown back, mouth open, eyes half-shut, mane of dark hair flung behind him, arms half-bent and raised with sticks in each hand, biceps swollen—he’s wearing a red muscle tee so you can see what you’re dealing with here—and the shirt is very revealing, weirdly this feels more revealing than the woman jete’ing past in her bikini, maybe because we’re more inured to seeing women scantily clad? Or maybe because he just looks more mammalian. You can see a lot of dark chest hair, and the fringe that hangs down behind his arm looks like a swatch of armpit hair, though it probably isn’t. Around his neck he wears a gold chain, and the force of his drumming has slung it aside.
Look at his mouth. Half-open, lips curved in in a faint smile. He’s not playing to the camera—he just loves this fill. This shot lasts for a fraction of a second but it’s enough. The smooth alabaster of his enormous biceps, the attitude of surrender in his raised arms. He’d be doing this if nobody were watching; it’s a gig, but he’s playing this music for himself. We don’t often see ourselves in a moment of unguarded release, which is why it’s so striking to see him here, naked in a way, taken, joyous.
And of course I think of Bernini’s sculpture St. Teresa in Ecstasy, completed in 1652, in which the saint’s mouth hangs open and her eyes flutter shut, overcome by the power of God’s love, personified by a minxy cherub holding a fistful of golden arrows. Arrows that gleam like the cymbals of hammered brass in Bobby Rock’s drum kit, arrows brilliant as the sheets of white-bright hair the brothers toss, so smooth and straight I wonder if they ironed them. The cast of St. Teresa’s face is more serious, yes, but erase the body hair (just a detail anyway) and the expression is the same.
Note the theatricality of both video and sculpture—shafts of light, white dove flying toward the rafters, theater-curtain velvet lining those fabulous dusters. But the best part of the link is the ferocity of desire, whether for Cindy Crawford or the divine. Said St. Teresa in her Autobiography: “The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.”
Let’s talk about inheritance, debt. Let’s talk about Buddy Holly. You don’t like crazy music. You don’t like rockin’ bands. You’re so square. But I don’t care. All six of the band members gather in a tight cluster next to the grassy pond: Matthew Nelson, Gunnar Nelson, Joey Cathcart, Brett Garsed, Paul Mirkovich, Bobby Rock air-drumming with his sticks. By the last chorus The Girl’s smiling, hair pulled up in a side pony as she lip synchs “Baby!”
ONE THING THAT I KNOW FOR SURE
It is 1990. As Nelson and Winnie Mandela wave to the crowd in Boston, in DC, in New York. The day the song hits number one, the twins turn 22, having endured family-shattering tragedy, and despite that writing this glad, yearning song. There is grief and pain in life, and sometimes too there is relief. Said Gunnar, “When I have done my best as an artist, it’s been living that philosophy—‘you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.’” Said Gunnar, “’Love and Affection’ would not have existed if ‘Garden Party’ had not come first.”
And under the mucky seabed, under the heavy water, the great earthmovers slowly approach each other. And Checkpoint Charlie becomes a museum I will visit in 1998, and where in the gift shop you can buy pens that write with disappearing ink. The twirling bikini girl’s name is Judie Aronson, and on her Twitter bio she describes herself as “One of the lucky ones.” Bobby Rock, currently on tour with Lita Ford, likes to post articles about weight-lifting routines for drummers, and pictures from the vantage point of his drum kit—arena empty at sound check, flashy with lights during the show. When my husband and I made a deed change on our house not long ago, the contract read “five dollars, plus love and affection.” “Love us or hate us, you’re gonna know who we are,” Gunnar said. “We didn’t want to be Bon Jovi. We didn’t want to be Skid Row. We didn’t want to be Warrant. We wanted to be us.” Begins one translation of the Odyssey, “Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel.” “What is creation, anyway?” writes novelist Miguel de Unamuno. “Go as far as you possibly can,” Gunnar told me on the phone. “Dare to go there. Dare to be stupid. It is fucking liberating.”
Joni Tevis is the author of two books of essays, most recently The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse. Her essays have appeared in Orion, Oxford American, Poets & Writers, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. She teaches at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.
Leah Sottile on Femme Fatale's “Falling In and Out of Love”
Thighs: two slim white legs crammed into Daisy Dukes that have been hacked and sewn back together with black laces up the sides.
Hands: red mesh Madonna gloves cover fingers tugging at those short-shorts, as if to say, dear God would someone please rip these damn things off of me, already?
This is Femme Fatale, and these are the legs and hands of Lorraine Lewis, the band’s singer, on-stage twirler, tambourine player, giver of interviews, mimicker of other big-haired singers of 1988 and the band’s Ass-in-Chief.
And here’s Lorraine, warbling the first words of the hair-metal turd, “Falling In and Out of Love”:
Can't you just take me and love me the way that I am?
Some things don't matter
It's all just part of a plan
It’s a song that slipped in the backdoor of the genre with its requisite AquaNetted hair and goofy-sex appeal.
There isn’t much to the “Falling In and Out of Love” video than Lorraine. Lorraine’s ass. The camera only shows flashes of the other band members before moving back to the herky-jerky dancing of Lorraine, who punctuates song-changes with tight shots of her slapping her own ass, body bent slightly forward. There are ten times as many shots of Lorraine’s ass than her drummer’s face.
This, like many hair metal tracks of the era, is a pop song—a song that takes no risks, where guitars never squeal too long and vocals that never float too high. If there is “metal” safe enough to play inside dressing rooms at The Gap, this is that.
It is designed to make no enemies.
Excerpt from an interview with Lorraine Lewis, circa 1988:
“I want to be the most hit-on, talked about, plastered on the wall rock and roll chick there ever was or will be. … I just want people to take notice, I’m a little girl from Albuquerque. I was a fat teenager… I used to sell donuts. … There’s this person in me that just wants people to know I worked really hard and I worked really long, you know, in the gym, or at my craft, at my voice, just trying to get better. Just trying to be the best Lorraine I can be.”
The best Lorraine.
A hot Lorraine.
Not a donut Lorraine.
I was a donut Lorraine. An ice cream Lorraine.
In the summer of 1997, newly 16, my best friend and I got our first jobs together at the Baskin-Robbins inside a mall in Tigard, Oregon, where at each shift I would “dare” my co-workers to sample all 36 flavors with me. No one else was ever as enthusiastic about this plan, and I was the only one who ever really gave the task any effort. My friend was more diligent—eager to please the franchise owner by mopping down the counters, looking busy when no customers were around
I was there for free ice cream. She was there to make money and meet boys at the mall. After I realized that, the job wasn’t so fun anymore. I quit when I heard the manager was going to fire me.
I had always been a donut Lorraine—and by that, I don’t mean a girl people called fat or chubby. That’s not my story. What I mean is I was a girl who wouldn’t have known even if I did have a weight problem. This was a trend in my life: I was oblivious—the kid who agreed to wear an eye patch over my lazy eye until I was 10, a crude but effective way of correcting my vision. I decorated the round Band-Aid-like patches with stickers. Stars. Cats.
Age 10 was when I noticed people staring. I think they were trying to figure out this strange pride I had around wearing it.
What I mean by donut Lorraine is someone who is just happy to be who they are: impervious to shame, blind to the societal expectations that we all eventually shoulder.
Don't turn away from what's real
Though I held onto a lot of that innocence far into my teenage years, I remember one big moment when I realized people judged me for the way I was. It was fifth grade—elementary school. This boy named Nathan who always teased me called me a prude. I can’t remember why, but the word stung even though I didn’t know what it meant. When I found out, I didn’t even understand why I shouldn’t want to be prude.
The teacher scolded him, of course. But I remember the boy’s confusion, the guilty look on his face after. I remembered thinking prude must be a kind of complex swear word I hadn’t learned yet. Probably worse than I thought. And Nathan, he seemed confused, too. Like … didn’t I know yet that girls have to change to make boys feel better? That’s how this whole thing works.
The years that followed—middle school, high school, college—made me learn that being a girl or a young woman means actively and aggressively seeking something to hate about yourself, especially if someone (men) may find that thing undesirable. To succeed on this wild ride called womanhood, you must adapt. Fit an agreed-upon image.
To resist is to be radical.
To be radical is to imprison yourself in a cage of your own self-righteousness.
To be a girl who stands out is to be a horse grazing until the end of its days in a pasture, never to be ridden.
You are a show dog who won’t perform.
So I did it. I changed.
Eye shadow. Lip gloss. Bras worn less for function than form. Legs shaved for years, ready just in case a boy decided to touch one.
Being a girl came with hard, fast and ever-shifting rules—things you just do and things you just don’t. Even if you are me—surrounded by love and encouragement—you must find the one voice of dissent in your life and cherish it. Stoke that fire. Make the thing that you’re not the thing that defines you.
If you’re awkward, change. Immature: grow up. Do it faster—hurry. Don’t think you won’t be left behind.
The last goddamn thing on this planet you want to be is you.
Take us back to a time
What was yours became mine
We were young but our hearts
They grew old
Here I am now: late 30s, so far down the path of not giving a shit about what people want of me, it’s almost hard to remember how trapped I felt for so long.
I am not alone, obviously, in remembering all the times in my life that it just sucked to be a girl, a woman. It sucks for so many other people way, way worse than it has for me, but thing that’s sure about femininity is that there is always a firehose of shit waiting to blast you backwards around the corner.
But what I know now about myself is this: I didn’t realize it too late. All those years I was abiding by the rules, I was building the foundation for not giving a shit later.
At my Catholic high school, we weren’t allowed to pierce our eyebrows or dye our hair, or show up to school with a band tshirt on. I would never look the part of a punk, but I traded mixtapes between classes filled with songs I had waited for days to record off AM radio. I called that station often to say hi to the DJs, to request for more Dandy Warhols, more Kula Shaker, Jane’s Addiction songs that weren’t “Jane Says.” I told the DJ I loved him.
After college, another Catholic institution, I stopped following the rules. Degree in hand, poised for success, I chose me. My job didn’t pay a lot—never would—but it made me happy. I met a man who cheered on who I really was—who told me to stop holding myself back to make other people happy. To make other people comfortable.
I’d always had music, but it was around then I really found what it was to me. I’d always liked heavy music, but listening to metal truly became a part of who I was. To see it live, to be there and feel the music pass through me—it felt like an expression of what I’d always wanted to say, of all these years of trying to conform and then, very suddenly, stopping.
It was cathartic standing in rooms of people who knew the very same seething I was feeling. We’d all been told this music was too loud, too dark at one point or another, and we all kept listening because it meant something to us.
My bands got darker and heavier and scarier and faster. I stood my ground in the middle of the floor at a High on Fire show as the men tumbled around me. I got knocked around a little, but I didn’t move because it felt good to finally stand firm in the middle of a cyclone and truly believe that I could not be touched. It was the best show I’ve ever been to.
I found Kylesa. I found Neurosis. I found Om and Sleep and the Melvins. Buzzoven, Swans, Godflesh.
At shows I would see other female faces amongst the din of beards. We’d nod to each other, but we didn’t need to say anything to know we shared the same feeling—that we were once girls who were told we shouldn’t be in places like this. By being here, rules didn’t apply to us anymore. Here together, we were free.
In punk and metal I met women whose simple existence pushed me to be truer to myself. The grandmother who fronted a band of men and rolled and the stage, bound by microphone cords, eyes blank and face blind to the fact that anyone was watching. She screamed for her and her alone.
I met a photographer and drummer who was an OG hesher, who knew more about music than I ever could. Early in our friendship she handed me two mix CDs filled with artists who mattered to her in the 1980s and 90s—and many were women who pushed her out of the world of expectation, beyond the trappings of what men wanted.
Femme Fatale was not on that CD.
In fact, when I told her I was writing about this band, this song, we had a long online conversation about how “Falling In and Out of Love” feels like a great loss. Lorraine Lewis feels like one more woman who did what she was supposed to, even though she was trying so hard to make it look like the opposite.
In Femme Fatale, Lorraine was a hot piece of ass—she said it herself in that interview. She worked hard to improve herself—that’s a good thing. I’m glad she was proud of her new self. But the band’s short-lived career, the interviews she gave that focused on her hot body and not on the ideas or the sound—that feels like music that comes from a world that told her she needed to change.
That a donut Lorraine couldn’t be loved.
And you know what? I wish that maybe Lorraine hadn’t stopped eating donuts.
That the music she made would have come from a place of pain, or a place of honesty. As it stands, Femme Fatale just leaves me wondering: who are you really, Lorraine?
Girls like me needed more donut Lorraines. More Kathleen Hannas, Kim Gordons. More Phantom Blues and Lita Fords.
Women who can show girls that are a little weird and a little innocent that falling in love with yourself first means you will never, ever fall out of love again.
Leah Sottile is a freelance journalist, whose features, profiles and investigations have been featured by the Washington Post, Playboy, California Sunday Magazine, Outside, The Atlantic, Vice and several other outlets. She is an occasional writer of short fiction and essays, a one-time comic strip author, and the former host of two very, very late-night heavy metal radio programs. She lives in Portland, Oregon. She misses Ronnie James Dio.