My friend, Merton (pronounced Mare-tah(n) — with a silent “n” because it’s French), called me in near hysterics last night. “You forgot to post Joan Jett’s birthday Monday on your Facebook Page!” he shrieked. “And you also didn’t mention Toni Basil. What’s wrong with you? Those girls are goddesses.”
Ashamed, I explained that it was also Ray Charles’ birthday on Monday, and he himself had told me not to post more than once a day, and twice only in case of an emergency.
“Ray Charles is dead,” Merton said. “Joan Jett and Toni Basil are alive and well, and you learned all about wearing eye liner from them so you should have recognized them.”
It’s true-ish. I certainly learned a lot about eye liner from them. But I was also a little bit scared of Joan Jett and Toni Basil. I was a little bit afraid of all those bad-ass ladies of the 80s.
At least Toni Basil was a little bit approachable: She had those perky pigtails and was a cheerleader.
Much as I loved Joan Jett, her hair frightened me. I didn’t understand it. I was also afraid of Tina Turner’s hair.
And Annie Lenox‘s hair.
And Grace Jones’ hair.
I didn’t understand anyone who purposely made themselves what I considered “ugly.”
Of course, as an adult, I realize my definitions of pretty and ugly were based exclusively on Disney’s imagery, but back then that’s what I thought, and I’m admitting it here because … we’re all friends, right?
Lying on my bedroom floor as a young girl, I studied the album covers of all those iconic rockers and wondered about their mothers. Did Debbie Harry’s mother feel sad that her daughter never smiled?
I liked Pat Benatar so much I covered “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” on my album Swingin’ from the Hip (which you can listen to here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klmA_RiSIJI ) – but why was she so angry? Were these women allergic to smiling, or did they just have bad teeth?
Even Madonna, whom I worshipped (and still do!), made her gorgeous hair all ratty. I didn’t get it!
And why did Cyndi Lauper shave half her head and not the other? Was this essential for girls to do if they wanted to have fun? If I didn’t do it, was I missing out, I wondered?
Though I loved the music of the angry girls with eyeliner and attitude, I related more to Chaka Kahn, Irene Cara, Whitney Houston, and Gloria Estefan: girls who smiled and didn’t frighten me. How I loved those girl from the B52s! They looked like they were having a blast!
And Sade— wasn’t she elegant?
I liked the Go Go’s, rocking the face masks. They wanted to look pretty and they had the beat!
But who didn’t imitate Madonna? Or Cyndi? Or Janet? I had rubber bracelets. I wore shoulder pads. (My friend Tabitha proofread this post and told me not to admit that).
I think what can be learned from all these ladies of the ’80s is that fierceness comes in all shapes and sizes! Even tough-looking Madonna, Joan, Cyndi, Pat, and Annie had a soft, vulnerable side.
And I didn’t understand that their toughness was a direct response to all the years women were told to look soft and vulnerable. Those ’80s bad asses were revolutionaries!!!
Here’s to all of them: the fierce girls and the pretty ones, the edgy ones, and the soft ones. I salute them all, and for god’s sake, if I forget someones birthday just write to me on Facebook at Isabel Rose Music and let me know!