This was a bit of a dream gig. Back in 1980 I was 11 and just discovering New Wave. My collection of 45s started to stack up higher and higher (my allowance afforded me two per week) and from my room, the sounds of The B-52’s, Blondie, The Flying Lizards, Martha And The Muffins, M, The Buggles, The Motels, The Knack and The Cars would echo through my house.
One song you wouldn’t hear was Rough Trade’s High School Confidential. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the song, I loved it. I played it a lot. Just at a much lower volume. The lyrical content was WAY too sexual and I didn’t want my parents to hear it and take the record away from me. A year later they came out with an album called “For Those Who Think Young” and I bought the 7″ single for their song “All Touch No Contact.” If you followed my career closely, you might recognize “All Touch” as the name of a scene I shot for Cocksure Men starring John Magnum and Morgan Black. That’s where I got the name.
Rough Trade were a great band but I didn’t really now that, yet. All I knew is that they were a New Wave band with an androgynous female lead singer named Carole Pope who was both feminine and still tough, strong and fearless.
A year later after I’d added bands like Talking Heads, Missing Persons, The Police, The Tubes, X and XTC to my collection and would dutifully get my allowance on Saturday and take it directly to the record store to buy… a record. Or two.
One of those Saturday shopping excursions brought me to the Sam The Record Man in Moncton, New Brunswick and staring directly at me was the new Rough Trade album “Shaking The Foundations.” The cover was bold and shocking… taking the “knocked over martini glass” image from their first album and incorporating it with an image that appeared to show a 50s mom aiming a shotgun at her husband’s head. The symbolism of that cover with the album’s name perfectly summed up how I saw the world and felt about my place in a straight world that expected me to just be like everyone else. I was 13 by this point and finding my inner edgy biker. Instead of buying the 7″ of the first single “Crimes Of Passion,” I just bought that album. It became my personal soundtrack for that year.
Crimes Of Passion was a very sexual song. Even more than High School Confidential. It was also the first time I ever heard anyone singing about gay male sex and sexuality. Yes, the story ended with the jilted lover one of the men holding the other one at knifepoint, but before that they were just “Johnny and Eddy laying in bed” with their legs entwined looking like two young gods. I had never heard gay men referred to as “gods” before, either. Even with the violent tone of the song, I found an odd pride in knowing that gay men could be godly… could be masculine and strong. The video didn’t hesitate to show a live-action depiction of the men in bed together, either… that for me was huge. Probably part of the reason I wanted to become a porn director even back then… I wanted to make movies that would evoke that shocking sexuality.
Side note… one of the lines mentions the “sickly sweet smell of amyl.” Being 13 and living in a very remote farming village I had never heard of poppers or amyl nitrate so I thought they line was “sticky sweet smell of apple.” I thought they were burning incense. Meh… I was 13.
For the first time I had an album by them and was able to get more of a handle on what “kind” of band they were. While their singles were all sexually-charged New Wave dance tracks, their albums showed a stunning breadth of styles. Much like Blondie… while the singles were all radio-friendly New Wave pop tunes, their albums showed the band were more of a cross-genre pop review. You’d get cabaret-style piano ballads, jazzy songs, haunting down-beat tracks, very theatrical songs that felt more like parts of musicals.
By 1983 I was in 9th grade and they came out with Weapons, probably my favorite album by them. It melded rock, synth-based dance tracks, a couple of vaudeville-like tracks (One of those called “On With The Show” didn’t surface until the CD reissue), melancholic ballads… They were solidified as one of my favorite bands ever with that album. I still, however, had to hide the albums from my parents who would have probably fainted at the cover art alone.
Carole and Kevin only released one more album (1984’s O Tempra O Mores) before splitting up and going their separate ways.
I followed Carole’s career since then. Many times I’d fight my way to the front of the crowd at her shows in Toronto and yell out “STELLA” at just the right time during High School Confidential.
And now, over 30 years since I first became a fan, I’ve finally had the chance to direct a video for Carole. This is her song Vagina Wolf, inspired by the movie of the same name. We had very little budget for this video, but we didn’t really feel we needed much. Since the movie is about making a movie, I thought that dressing her in black like a 40s movie theater usher and wrapping her in the red velvet curtains of a movie theater would look good. I brought in that artifacting of projector dust and light leaks. The gold mic was Carole’s idea. She wanted a bit of slightly campy glam to it. I think it works perfectly.
There were actually two separate cuts of this video. I had her do a few takes looking sad and dark; serious and intense. Then we did separate takes of her looking happy and smiling. I cut two separate videos, one with each emotion and after viewing a few times, we both agreed that the “campy glam” version fits the tone of the song better.
I also love her vocal performance of this song which was written to be a nod to the 60s Shirley Bassey bond themes.
So I can cross “direct a video for Carole Pope” off my to-do list. Although… I think you’ll see more collaborations in the future. We’re both happy with the end result and we had a great time doing this.
Hope you like it.