Pretty Baby

Do only men get to push the boundaries of decency by lusting after adolescent girls? No, not if that girl is Brooke Shields. Pretty Baby, of course, is the once-controversial 1978 movie is which then 12-year-old Shields played a child prostitute turned child bride. Shields was the Lolita of the 70’s & 80’s, known for appearing in risque movies and photoshoots from a shockingly early age. Needless to say, she inspired untold numbers of statutorily illegal boners. Debbie Harry, meanwhile, made her songwriting mettle by gleefully satirizing every creepy and gross gender convention that pop music took for granted. Blondie’s first single was called Sex Offender, after all, and their catalog is full of songs about following some hapless sap’s car downtown and similar escapades. So, of course Debbie Harry had to pay winking tribute to the nubile ingenue who was the toast of the jet set and the subject of pearl-clutching outrage. I get that it’s a parody of a gross pop song, but the element of satire slightly lightens it. It’s still, if you think about it, one of the queasiest pop songs ever. Remember, Brooke Shields was 12 years old, and Deborah Harry was a grown-ass woman who would later come out as bisexual. Obviously, the two knew each other, and all things considered, a lighthearted song about being the object of desire by an older woman who most likely probably didn’t mean it was the least creepy thing Brooke Shields had to deal with. The broader social context, as usual, is gross beyond belief, because yeah, precocious teenagers exist to be sexual chum in the eyes of the world, and the best anyone can seem to do with it is wink and shrug.

Picture This

“Picture this, a sky full of thunder/Picture this, my telephone number”

Even in the  most tender love song, Debbie Harry shows her craziness. She wants to sit and watch her man shower; she teases him for working in a garage. Those aren’t particularly weird things, but those are weird things to put in a love song. It’s a tone markedly different from the established one. It may not even be a love song, really. She wants him but she may not even like him. She certainly doesn’t look up to him, or need him. She’s a girl who sets the pace and knows what she wants. She’s the kind of a woman who walks up to men in bars, I bet. She’s the type who  throws your number away and never explains why. In short, Debbie Harry is the kind of a woman who really doesn’t care about roles and boundaries, even when she cares a lot about people.

One Way or Another

Apparently Debbie Harry wrote this after having a stalker of her very own, but most people don’t know that. Since she wrote it in the first person, it sounds like she is the creepy one. And it’s not the only time. I’ve noticed before that stalking is, in fact, a favorite theme for Debbie. Obviously, being who she is and being on the receiving end of unwanted attention, she would know all about it, but she never takes the tone of a victim – not one smidge. She seems to identify more with the creepy side of the equation. Clearly, being creepy and obsessed knows no boundaries, and even rock’n’roll’s greatest bombshell sometimes feels that she has to follow some guy downtown just to see what he’s up to. Of course, it’s all in fun, and you can take it as a winky-eyed commentary on whiny passive-girl song tropes. It’s a commentary on romantic song tropes in general, and gender roles, and double standards, and all of those weighty things (if you want it to be.) Or it may be a lesson that if someone ignores you, you should definitely follow them downtown. Or it’s a joke, the punchline being, this woman was stalked by a former lover and wrote a hit song about it and now she never has to take the E Train again.