(7) lita ford, "kiss me deadly"
(14) bulletboys, "smooth up in ya"
and will play on in the elite 8
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 3/21.
BETH NGUYEN ON LITA FORD'S "KISS ME DEADLY"
I never learned the difference between heavy metal and hair metal, or any other kind of musical metal, because for years they all meant the same thing: screaming, unattractive white men with unwashed hair, with mouths that formed hideous shapes in order to emit their wails, matched by equally shrieking electric guitar sounds that absolutely had to be played at top volume. Back then, in the 1980s of my youth, I didn’t like anything about these guys. But my two older sisters did, and they had total control of the radio. School mornings, they’d wake up extra early to tease their bangs as high as they could get them. Their music would wear me down until I too knew all the songs by heart.
But every once in a while there would come a song and a singer that made me want to listen. “Kiss Me Deadly” by Lita Ford thrilled immediately with its opening lines. My sisters and I were growing up in a deeply conservative town in Michigan where many of our friends weren’t allowed to go out on Sundays, much less watch MTV or listen to lyrics like
I went to a party last Saturday night
I didn’t get laid, I got in a fight, uh huh
It ain’t no big thing
The first time I heard those lines I was thirteen, old enough to know that I would never in any way resemble a woman like Lita Ford. Not that I wanted to be her, any more than I wanted to be Madonna or Cyndi Lauper. But I was fascinated by these women, who were wild or outrageous in different ways. I loved watching them because—I only understand this now—they were interesting women in worlds that didn’t want them even to be. I could admire them, and root for them, without wanting to be them.
Lita Ford was a rare hair metal women among all those hair metal men. She wasn’t going to be in the background, playing a vacant-eyed sex object in some guy’s video. When Lita Ford sang and performed, you paid attention; she didn’t even have to scream and wail. Sure, she carried the look, with hair that went big rather than shiny, big and so full of spray that I knew if she whipped her head around and her hair hit you in the face, it would hurt. She wore black leather, tight; black eyeliner and frosted lipstick. I understood this was a uniform she was required to maintain. I was more interested in how she took control of the stage, the screen; she played guitar with a bravado I could not fathom, her body hunched, simultaneously concentrating and preparing to spring forth.
Nothing to eat and no TV
Looking in the mirror don’t get it for me, uh huh
It ain’t no big thing
I see Lita Ford at a party, dancing close with some guy. He’s no one special but it’s a dance, a song, something to do. Another girl tries to push her way in, but Lita isn’t going to stand for that. She elbows the girl away. The girl elbows back, using some shoulder. And that’s it. Lita turns and swings and they’re off, pulling each other’s hair and yelling. Then Lita is out on the rain-soaked sidewalk, alone, pulling her leather jacket over her shoulders. She needs a cigarette. She walks alone, angry at first and then—fuck them. She tosses the half cigarette toward the curb. She doesn’t care where it lands.
This isn’t her music video. It’s my devised narrative, starting where I was at age thirteen; it’s how Lita Ford has stayed in my mind all these years.
This is the life she’s ended up in—so what. The hair, the leather, the nights that don’t turn out the way she thought they could. The morning is always too bright. There’s nothing to eat in the house. She has to ask her dad for money and he argues with her. It’s the same thing she’s heard for years: what is she doing with her life, when is she going to get her act together, she’s a mess. He goes right to the edge of what he means to say, what men always end up saying: you look like a whore and you act like a bitch.
It ain’t no big thing, Lita says, to her friends, to herself. She gets another cigarette, puts on that same leather jacket.
Lita Ford finds her own way.
When I google Lita Ford in 2018, I discover that she’s been out of music for years, held back by her now ex-husband; they had a rancorous divorce and she hasn’t seen her two children in years. She says her ex has been keeping them from her, has turned them against her. Before the divorce, they’d been in talks for a reality TV show for E!.
I hesitate; I want to know more and yet I don’t want to know any more. I want Lita Ford to stay in mind as she was back in 1987. I suppose, in a way, that’s what we all want, those of us who like returning to another era, to the past that gets deeper, and want to keep it as it is but also let it bend to our own shifting gaze and perspective. I want Lita Ford to be the same but I want myself, my 1987 self, to be different.
What did I know at age thirteen? Almost nothing. I was used to whiteness, sure—raised in its world (this world). But I was also a child of Vietnamese refugees, myself a refugee. Someone who had learned to be careful. My life couldn’t have been farther from Lita Ford’s. I was never going to be someone who got into a fight at a party. Yet I could see her then, as I do now. I see her in the morning hours, that time of rethinking and possible regret. Lita Ford isn’t wasting time on regret. She isn’t waiting for some guy to choose her. If she doesn’t go home with someone it’s going to be her choice. She can hold her own in a fight just as well. It’s not a big thing. It merely exists in a series of continual maneuvers having to do with the body.
I remember saying to my sisters, back in 1987, what does she mean kiss me deadly? The adverb didn’t really follow, didn’t really make sense. It still doesn’t. Sometimes I want it to have a comma as in Kiss Me, Deadly; sometimes I change it to Kiss Me Deftly. Part of the joy of the song is that, like Lita Ford herself, it doesn’t care. It prefers action over talking. Come on, pretty baby. I sing with her every time.
Beth (Bich Minh) Nguyen is the author of the memoir Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, the novel Short Girls, and the novel Pioneer Girl. Her work has received an American Book Award and a PEN/Jerard Award, among other honors, and has been featured in numerous anthologies and university and community reads programs. She directs the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco, where she teaches fiction and creative nonfiction.
KATIE MOULTON ON BULLETBOYS' "SMOOTH UP IN YA"
Powerful. Aggressive. Sleazy. Putrid yet pleasant.
That’s how original bassist Lonnie Vencent described BulletBoys’ music in 1989, when the band was riding highest, at the crest of its popularity. “Putrid yet pleasant” sums up “Smooth Up In Ya”: Marq Torien’s snakey spandex, the thrumming bassline, the fat kick-and-snare, the guitar solo that lasts one very long minute yet never seems to resolve. The chorus lyric is a-sensical, yet the riff stays with you like a crusty stain. “Putrid yet pleasant” is the epitome of Shredness, which succeeds when it teases new heights of moronic, phallo-centric farce. “Smooth Up In Ya” is the platonic ideal of anti-intellectual, anti-human cock rock. It’s cock-a-doodle-douchebaggery! What more is there to think about?
Yet I did think harder. Listen deeper. And what I found up in “Smooth Up In Ya”—with its excess of style and dearth of critical thought and shirts—was a more expansive, even feminist, performance of desire and sexual negotiation.
“Smooth Up In Ya” squealed and thumped onto the airwaves in 1988. Back then, my family lived in a Missouri development of split-level homes, all middle-class linoleum and fake wood-grain. The backyards were tessellated chainlink. All the other moms on the block looked like they were auditioning for an off-brand Whitesnake video. A few of them looked like they would have been cast—rolling across the hood of a car or leaping off their front porch like “Daddy’s little cutie” to chase Steven Tyler down the street (barf). They dyed and teased and sprayed their hair. Their eyelashes were thick with mascara, their lipstick red and immoveable. They wore tied-up tank tops and acid-wash cut-offs. They looked nothing like my mom. I rejected them outright. I was a scared and therefore judgmental kid. These other moms swatted my fellow kids in public, but also ignored them totally, letting them run around screaming into the night and giving them sips off their Busch Light cans when they were thirsty. The other moms were all named Karen.
But they were hot. They could be ditzy and sharp, kind and loud, but never as loud as the men. Still, at countless driveway parties, they made known their preferred sex symbols: Dwight Yoakam in painted-on leather pants, Billy Ray Cyrus minus sleeves, and the wild-maned men of hair metal. So I tried to listen to “Smooth Up In Ya” as the other moms would have.
While “Smooth Up In Ya” appears to be another utterly crass hair-metal come-on, the song breaks the mold in its concern for the partner’s pleasure. Marq Torien addresses a woman under the assumption that she’s playing hard-to-get, but who may simply be uninterested in his serpentine preening. He flicks his hair and promises to “send shivers/ smooth up in ya (smooth up in ya) in ya.” The syntax is critical: It’s not Torien’s hypothetical cock that will be dispatched “smooth up in ya”; instead, it is “shivers” of pleasure! Whose pleasure? Not Torien’s, and not Mick Sweda’s, wanking off the guitar in the corner. It’s the subject’s pleasure! "Don’t let your lovin’ go to waste," he sings, "All it takes is just one taste"—which we must assume is his offer to apply his mouth to wherever his partner wishes. And just how are shivers sent, not down but up? The associative leap echoes Rilke: And we, who always think of happiness as a rising, would feel the emotion that almost overwhelms us— Because poetic association is required to describe the complex magic of the orgasm not only of the female, but of any person other than oneself! That shit requires an attuned empathy, brosef.
The other element that sets “Smooth Up In Ya” apart: While most of these frizzy peacocks must insist on their conquests, bang you over the head with claims that she totally wants it, there’s no confirmation that this lust is requited. There are two ways I like to imagine the song’s scenario playing out: First, the potential partner does not accept Torien’s invitation, and the extended guitar solo, its diddling and wailing, is a sonic metaphor for the speaker tending to his desire in the privacy of his tour-bus shower.
The second scenario I imagine is that the agent of desire decides to give the speaker and his shivers a chance, and the guitar solo is describing the length and intricacy of the oral sex he is performing. And maybe the partner is enjoying themself, and maybe their desires, like those of the moms on my block, are a little sleazy, putrid even—but pleasant.
Okay, I admit this is mostly bullshit. Dear reader, I listened to BulletBoys so you don’t have to. I researched this certified-platinum garbage. I know things I can’t un-know. For example, “Smooth Up In Ya” may be the least problematic original track the band recorded. Consider "Kissin' Kitty" and its admiration for "a pretty with a titty kissin' every dude in sight." (Dude just can't resist that internal rhyme!) Or "Hard As a Rock," which includes the very special lyrics "Give me the g-string shivers/ She's always in heat." In a 1988 live video of that song, even Marq Torien looks a little desperate in his kneepads and crop-top, belly rolling through every chorus as it develops its thesis (read this slowly): "Hard as a rock/ Hard as a rock/ You get me baby, hard as a rock/ Hard as a rock/ Hard as a rock…" Et cetera.
I know Marq Torien still tours as BulletBoys and has cycled through more than 30 band members. The band (with the exception of Torien’s voice) sounds just awful live, no matter its incarnation. I know Torien was an early Trump supporter and attempted to sell a pair of his own pants—worn—online for $7,000. Perhaps this was to raise funds for the child support he didn’t pay, and for which Torien was arrested in 2015—shirtless, naturally. No one even knows whether it’s The Bulletboys or just Bulletboys or BulletBoys. “Smooth Up In Ya” has zero annotations in Genius because it’s just that vapid. Mostly putrid.
No, this is probably not art worth examining. No, this analysis is not what (the) BulletBoys intended. But this is about fantasy as empowerment, as control. And hey, fuck Bulletboys! I want to argue for this song not just in spite of Bulletboys but to spite Bulletboys.
One night, our old block woke to squealing tires. One of the Karens and her husband Wally ran an unruly household at the bottom of the hill, and that night it burst out onto the street. There was shouting, slamming doors, honking, and a peel-out. Whatever Wally did, Karen wasn’t taking it. Maybe he pleaded, maybe he negged her, bluffed and blustered, maybe he tried to stop her going. Maybe he just didn’t get her off. The peel-out seemed to last forever, but really it lasted the length of an extended guitar solo: the time it took Karen to screech out of her driveway and burn rubber all the way up the block—dragging Wally behind her, flailing from the tailgate of her pickup.
I don’t know what happened to most of the other moms. There were divorces and deaths and babies having babies; there were happily-ever-afters, whatever that means. But I want to believe that these women were loved, but not only loved. I want to believe that they were sexually fulfilled. That they were listened to. That they got their shivers on their own terms.
Katie Moulton is a writer and music critic from St. Louis. She is currently the Hub City Writer-in-Residence working on a book called Dad Rock, and you can find more of her work here.