Sunday, May 25, 2014

Actually, Fun Is Only One Of Many Things Girls Want To Have, But ... You Know What She Means

Thanks to Cyndi Lauper, for my entire adult life, I have lived under the mistaken impression that all members of the female gender only wanted to have what you might call "fun." This has turned out to be a gross exaggeration. To think - the many, many embarrassing evenings I might have been spared.

Let's try this again. There are great '80s singles, and then there's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."

Fortunately, we live in a world where there's no need to name the greatest '80s song of all time, but if you said "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," I don't know if you would be wrong.

Let's lay out the case: 1) It is slightly feminist and political, but not too feminist and political, 2) It is really, really catchy, 3) It is so absolutely, unmistakably '80s.

Interestingly, it is also not a song that was written by Cyndi Lauper. Although it's hard to imagine, "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" was actually written by a man, in 1979 no less, but Lauper revised the lyrics and turned what might have been a complaint song into a celebration song. To arguably state the obvious, I don't think she means "fun" so much as "independence" or "freedom." It's sort of an odd feminist declaration of victory in a way. Perhaps by 1983, women had earned a different kind of right: the right to not have to be so serious all the freaking time. Or the right to get dirty like the guys:
Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they want to have fun
If, as Cat Stevens once said, "Ooh baby baby it's a wild world," Cyndi is not afraid.

And with a song this catchy, why should she be? I don't think I could ever get sick of hearing "Girls Just Want To Have Fun." They could tie me to a chair, lock me in a cell in Guantanamo Bay, and attempt to torture me by playing the song over and over again for weeks on end, but after every spin, as the spit and blood dribbled down my chapped lips, I think I'd still be ready for more. Things that make this song great:
  1. Her voice. She sounds like a gangster's moll from a '40s movie. She sounds like Judy Holliday or Eartha Kitt. When she holds a note, near the end she slips into a little yelp. Every now and then she sounds like she's coming down with the hiccups. Her voice is kind of screechy and whiny, but somehow not irritating.
  2. The opening. It's just a synthesizer glissando that travels across the stereo channels, but really, what could beat it?
  3. The quasi-reggae production. No one ever thinks of it as such, but "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" is basically a reggae song. Jah mon. It has this kitschy keyboard on the right channel that bounces on the off-beat, and a funky guitar which plinks and plucks over on the left channel. I think this is what gives the song its groove. And don't forget the reverb-heavy electric guitar and piercing synthesizer, lumped together in the center channel, which grab a little more attention as they punctuate the end of the chorus.
  4. The solo. This is perhaps the greatest moment of all, played by what sounds like a keyboard made out of dripping linoleum faucets?
Notice, too, that the song pretty much ends by the 2:35 mark, and yet there's a whole extra two minutes of coda, because hey, when you're having fun, you're having fun.

I'm probably incriminating myself again, but until about three years ago, I don't think I'd ever seen the video for this song. Before I typed the title into YouTube's search field, I thought to myself, "This video better be fun. If the video for 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' isn't actually fun, then what is the point of it all?" Thankfully I don't have to renounce my faith in whatever deity I'm supposed to believe in, because this video is so much fun, even the film negative had a good time. Hell, just take the first five shots:
  1. A frazzled, put-upon, prototypically New York woman (who is apparently Cyndi Lauper's real-life mother), sitting at a kitchen table, monotonously cracking eggs and looking at her watch in exasperation, while scratchy vaudevillian piano plays in the background.
  2. A cheap stop-motion special effect of Cyndi Lauper flying across a New York street, timed to the opening keyboard glissando.
  3. A wide shot of Yer Generic New York street, slick with recent rain, and Cyndi Lauper bopping along without a single care in the world.
  4. A cut back to the exasperated mother.
  5. A medium dolly shot of Cyndi in Official Cyndi Wardrobe (pink dress, fur scarf, enough bracelets to open her own pawn shop), still bopping along vigorously, saying hello to a man with a dog by forcefully tapping her hat (I should try this sometime). You have to wonder: when the camera wasn't rolling, did she just walk down the street like this all the time?
More ways in which this video is fun:
  • (0:49) A shot of Cyndi's hand clutching a rotary phone, halted by a larger, hairier hand: her father! (played by wrestler Captain Lou Albano).
  • (0:54) Her father shakes his finger and mouths the words "what'choo gonna do with your life" while Cyndi very obviously continues to the sing the words on the actual soundtrack.
  • (1:01) She (impressively) manages to pin her father against the wall, he stumbles away in defeat, she picks up the phone, realizes it's upside down, but hey, no matter, she's too busy having fun, she just flips it around and keeps on singing.
  • (1:12) The campy montage of Cyndi calling all her friends on the phone, straight out of a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie.
  • (1:33) I guess the director didn't know what to do during the dripping faucet solo, so he just shows Cyndi and her friends bouncing around inside a ... glass sphere? Which then breaks into a thousand pieces and joins back together again, while other little multi-colored balls flow upwards in the background, because, you know, multi-colored balls. Despite major advancements in special effects technology since then, I don't think this could actually be improved upon.
  • (1:53) A clip of some silent movie where a caveman appears to be bringing a woman to his dungeon?
  • (1:57) The close-up of Cyndi when she sings "I want to be the one to walk in the sun" ... there's something almost chilling about it. It feels so ... iconic. The way she tilts her head, and puts those sunglasses on, with the lip stick, and those earrings ... it's like the very primal essence of youth and joy.
  • (2:52) Of course, no '80s video is complete without a scene of people dancing in the middle of the street for no reason, and "Girls" does not disappoint. But how many of those videos have a Groucho Marx lookalike (according to Wikipedia, Cyndi Lauper's attorney) being dragged along into the mayhem?
So yes, I know that girls want to have more than just fun. But from the looks of it, Lauper and her cohorts pretty much had fun, and nothing else.

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