Because it’s time…
Let’s go back to 1985. I was in my mid-twenties, living in Boston and busy not making a living as a music critic for several publications in the city, including Sweet Potato, the Boston Herald, and my local favorite, Boston Rock, for which I wrote a monthly column, “Cave 76” (lifting the title from a Mel Brooks-Carl Reiner 2000 Year Old Man routine), plus occasional side excursions for the likes of the Illinois Entertainer and Spin magazine. I also took it into my head to put out the first issue of my own zine, X It Out. My brain was bubbling with ideas, not always good ones, but I enjoyed stretching my writing wings, fiddling with the forms, seeing what was possible and what I could do. It was a heady time.
So one day a record came in to the Boston Rock offices: I’m Your Woman, the debut album from the hip comedian Sandra Bernhard. I don’t remember whether the editor suggested it to me or I asked to review it, but ultimately, I wrote the following review for the mag. To the credit of the editor, Billie Best, she ran it verbatim, as follows:
I’m Your Woman
Talk about your concept albums — part of the joke is this sardonic, juicy comedienne’s making a record at all. Bernhard’s not really a singer, but she had a dream: spoken-word monologues of varying length fitted between mainstream soul-ish, pop-ish numbers of varying tempo (nothing too fast), written by the artiste with varying collaborators. Commend her for adventuring. If most songs are lachrymose and ill-structured, most of the raps rate five stars for dry wit delivered by one of the world’s most drippingly sexy speaking voices. Bernhard’s mock narcissism is arousingly cute; so are her monologues on lovers’ baby talk, fantasies about your best friend dying in a plane crash, and the starfucking lyrics of “Near the Top.” Bernhard is a thinking man’s wet dream. I want to fuck this woman.
“I want to fuck this woman.”
Now, I really didn’t (to the best of my recollection) want to fuck Sandra Bernhard. (Yes, I know she’s bisexual/lesbian, doesn’t matter, who cares.) The reason I included it in the review was that I had in my head, “What if a record reviewer really said what he was thinking…that he wanted to fuck the artist he was reviewing, but of course wasn’t going to come out and actually say it…but what if, in this one instance…”
In other words: It was meta. Playful.
It was about fucking with the form, not wanting to fuck the singer. Big difference. And though I’m not calling myself the rockcrit version of Andy Kaufman, there was something of the same spirit behind this particular stunt. Bratty, yes, but original, as far as I could tell.
Although in 1985 the concept of “meta”was hardly unknown, it was perhaps not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. You might say the same about Sandra Bernhard — although this was her debut album, she was already 30 years old and no ingenue; two years had passed since she first gained significant notice in the film The King of Comedy, in which she co-starred with Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis. Hipsters and critics were aware, most were fans.
I didn’t tell a soul about my actual reason behind the last line in the review. Billie, who, although she took her job as a music-mag editor seriously, usually had a high sense of humor about it all, made some wry remark (we had a teasing relationship whenever I’d show up in the office, but I appreciated that she, on some level, appreciated how my mind worked) and let it go.
When, some time later, I met some fellow rockcrits down at the Rat, they were highly amused at the review, since Sandra Bernhard was soon coming to town to perform: “Give her the review and say, don’t read the last line!” said the Globe freelancer, gleefully.
These days, according to Wikipedia, Bernhard’s original LP “is considered highly collectible and often fetches upwards of $100 at auction.” It probably doesn’t hurt that she poses in her underwear on the front cover (raising an electric guitar high above her head) and on the back cover, assumes a come-hither pose between silk sheets.
No, I don’t pine for Sandra as what-might-have-been, but I’m glad it’s all worked out for her.
Oh, I still have the LP. Not for sale.