Tuesday, August 07, 2012

In-the-closet gay girl, 1986

Not out of the closet for another 3 years, at 20 I only had "Following" and "September Gurls" to give me any sort of pop musical idea of feelings between women.

Both from The Bangles' 1986 album, "Different Light," both sung by bassist Michael Steele. (A girl, despite the "Michael." You know, like "Michael Learned" from the Waltons...)

A secret thrill to listen to; finally, my own exact feelings on a mainstream album. (Though, interestingly, "September Gurls" was written by a BOY! Big Star's Alex Chilton. The "I was your Butch" part from the original, the Bangles had to take off, with record-company pressure. No honest ambiguity allowed.)

As a 20-year-old in 1986, I had the following lesbian/bisexual role models thus far: Lana Turner's out gay daughter Cheryl Crane appearing on Phil Donahue in the early '80s; movie stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich; a poetry professor at college saying that my work reminded him of Djuna Barnes (which made me seek her work out); and songs like this. Thrilling to me as a youngster, sure. But... I also got the message of "shamefulness" and "weirdness" and "secrecy." Cheryl Crane, who'd murdered someone as a troubled teen, the only "out" lesbian. All the movie stars closeted, despite their overt multiple-partner heterosexuality, and their covert affairs with women. The lesbian Djuna Barnes completely cloaking everything she wrote. These Bangles songs cloaked.

All a dumb, young, hopeful kid could do was try to read around the insinuations. Knowing, but not knowing. Nothing free and clear and happy. No bursting out with a big, public, joyful "I LOVE YOU!" or "I really like you" as relations between two people should be at the beginning.

It makes me sad that a whole formative chunk of gay people's lives has been taken away from them like this. We never got the chance to be innocent and "fall in love" as teenagers. We, for necessary self-preservation, are usually forced to repress every primal spiritual/sexual urge, only finally coming out in bars (the only place available to us) in our 20s or 30s, amid a bunch of older addicts and vultures (most decidedly "UN-spiritual"). It's a real life-warping horror and shame.



You think I'm crazy or something
Always following you around
You say I'm a hopeless case
Run an obsession into the ground

You call me a loser
You call me a shadowing fool
Look over your shoulder
And you say I'm haunting you

So why do you call me
Why do you look for me
Why do your eyes follow me the way they do

You hold me responsible
Yeah, so I stand accused
Of causing all the trouble
After high school
(Between him and you)

You call me a loser
You call me a shadowing fool
But I was a good girl
Yeah, 'till you taught me
What it means to be true

Why do you call me
I know you look for me
Why do your eyes follow me the way they do

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[original lyrics by Alex Chilton, 1974; the Bangles' version "cleaned up" the "Butch" and other gender-inappropriate references upon the 1986 release]

September girls do so much
I was your Butch and you were touched
I loved you, well, never mind
I've been crying all the time
December boys got it bad
December boys got it bad

September girls, I don't know why
How can I deny what's inside
Even though I'll keep away
They we'll love all our days
December boys got it bad
December boys got it bad

When I get to bed, late at night
That's the time she makes things right
Ooh when she makes love to me

September girls do so much
I was your Butch and you were touched
I loved you, well, never mind
I've been crying all the time
December boys got it bad
December boys got it bad
December boys got it bad, woo ooo

5 comments:

Shane said...

Interesting post! I co-author a site on Michael's career (www.mickisteele.net), and I'm glad that even if 'cloaked' by record label pressure, the songs were there to help with hearing your feelings at the time, especially with how you put the media/culture of the time in context.

You might also be interested to know that some later live versions of September Gurls are sung with the original lyrics, and are better for it, I think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2pVw7hU9CU A friend of mine who saw the band play live a couple of times in the 80s also claims that Michael tended to roll her eyes while singing the changed lyrics parts.

Beth Austin said...

Shane, just clicked on the YouTube link you posted (thanks): exactly the same non-original lyrics... As for seeing them live: Why, even live, just "eye-rolling" and not the real lyrics?

p.s. Is Michael Steele gay or not? I couldn't tell from her/your website. The "cloaked" stuff was helpful when I was 20 (and she was just a few years above 20), but 25 years later... that's the time to be real and end the constant coding, cloaking, what-have-you. Give gay teenagers today a break so they don't have to grow up like I did.

Shane said...

If you listen closely, on that live version I linked she sings 'when she makes love to me' instead of changing it to 'he' like on the album. As for the 80s concerts, I imagine the eye rolling was probably the most she felt she could get away with at the time.

As for the question of whether she's gay or not, sorry to say but I honestly don't know. I've heard multiple interpretations from different sources (some say heterosexual, some say gay, some say bi...), and its never been officially confirmed one way or the other. So it wouldn't really be my place to say, and that's part of why we don't talk about her sexuality on the site. (On the upshot, I guess you can at least say that teenagers today have more visible models than in the 80s.)

Derlin Clair said...

Whatever she is,Michael " Micki Steele was a very lovely,pretty young girl who made them world a much nicer,better place with her beautiful songs.God bless her,and her dear pets,and kindly keep them both well.

Derlin Clair said...

Whatever she is,Michael " Micki Steele was a very lovely,pretty young girl who made them world a much nicer,better place with her beautiful songs.God bless her,and her dear pets,and kindly keep them both well.