Tonawanda News

May 3, 2013

ADAMCZYK: The sort of thing that used to be illegal

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Like many of my age and speed, I browse the newspaper obituaries on a regular basis. No, not to see if I’m listed — when I die I’m confident I’ll be the first to know — but to learn if anyone who’s influenced me — friends, enemies, celebrities, authors — has gone on, and it’s a chance to ponder what that person and I shared and what it meant.

Hidden in the news stories of the busy past several weeks was word Christina Amphlett had died, at age 53, of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.

If you don’t know the name you may remember the MTV video, if the year was 1991 and you were male and with a pulse. Amphlett’s claim to fame was her involvement as lead singer of an Australian band, the Divinyls, whose hit “I Touch Myself” was, well, memorable.

“I Touch Myself” was about exactly what the title implied, and something of a love song as well (“I don’t want anybody else, when I think of you I touch myself”). The video was typical of the 1990s and featured attractive young women in poses and lingerie similar to the advertisements Victoria’s Secret offers these days, including Ms. Amphlett, who looked spectacular. And memorable, but I already mentioned that.

In 1991 the record and video caused more of a smirk than a scandal; radio stations whose format accommodated it were accustomed to music which pushed buttons as well as the envelope, and “I Touch Myself” remains something of a lightweight, sexy time capsule of a song (the chords of the song are interesting, though, and I urge any guitar player to try playing it).

So, in honor of the late, great Chrissy Amphlett I went to YouTube, the world’s jukebox, and found it, and there she was, in leather boots and lacy underthings, and so were her friends, explaining in song what she does when she thinks of me and I’m not around. She provides G-rated soft-core porn, evidently.

YouTube has a sidebar of sorts, offering material in a similar vein on the screen (i.e., if you liked that, you might like this), and scrolling down I found the song as presented by Scala, a group unknown to me.

It turns out Scala is a Belgian women’s vocal ensemble, and their version of “I Touch Myself” is performed solemnly, like a church hymn. To a somber piano accompaniment, about 30 female voices join in luscious harmony, a choir singing “I Touch Myself,” without winking, campiness or anything to suggest a good-natured joke is in progress.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, is that the members of Scala look like they’re each about 14 years old.

There is something vaguely jaw dropping about this. If Mutt and Jeff were here, this is the point their hats would fly off. If Popeye was here, his trademark pipe would simulate a steam whistle. If Mark Twain was here, he’d likely look on it favorably, think it part of the natural order of artistic progress and suggest there was a time this sort of thing was illegal.

There was an example of bumper sticker philosophy, a few years ago, reading “I used to be disgusted, now I’m just amused.” A benefit of our fifteen-minutes-of fame culture is that we recipients can be outraged or impressed, or both or in between, and then we move on. Fame is fleeting not because something better or more outrageous comes along, but because the beneficiaries of what fame-seekers offer have moved along. 

It’s why YouTube has many uses and one of them is as a history museum. 

When an X-rated supply shop opened in my hometown of Kenmore in the late 1970s, protesters walked the street outside it, some carrying placards depicting the Village’s innocent youth, about to be corrupted. A photograph from a protest showed that, according to one poster, Kenmore kids back then had pigtails, freckles and innocent, radiant smiles.

No they didn’t, and I suppose Kenmore’s first movie theater brought the same reaction in the 1920s (the porn store closed about two years ago, perhaps a victim of the competing Internet. The Kenmore Theater burned several times before it was razed). Somehow I doubt these slagheaps of depravity had much influence on the citizens at all.

The way a culture becomes incorruptible, I have observed, is for it to develop a sliding scale about corruption, the way tossing virgins over a waterfall to appease gods is either homicide or good religious practice.

I hope Christina Amphlett is resting, on the other side, more easily than her death suggests. And thanks, kid, for being an entertaining and striking piece in the cruel, crazy, beautiful puzzle of life. 

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears weekly in the Record-Advertiser. Contact him at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.