Throw Beck Thursday

Why People Once Thought I Looked Like Nicolas Cage

beckValley Girl opened the same weekend as The Hunger. I didn’t have any interest in seeing it. As far as I was concerned the film makers were morally destitute thieves who ripped off Frank Zappa, which was an even worse crime than Zappa making a hit record with his daughter.

Sherri wanted to see it, though, and the film critics on PBS gave it two thumbs up. That meant a lot, as the Eighties were a vast wasteland of crappy teen movies. On the plus side were the brilliant John Hughes films and Fast Times at Ridgemont High; in the middle of the curve were entertaining but vanilla studio fare like Karate Kid and War Games. Scraping the very bottom was the teen sex boom: Losing It, My Tutor, The Last American Virgin, Porky’s, etc. In all fairness, though, these promised bare breasts so they weren’t completely without merit.

Valley Girl looked more like a stupid teen sex movie than a John Hughes or Savage Steve Holland film, and it certainly has those subplots: The cougar chasing the delivery boy; the fantastically naked E.G. Daily being used by the Izod chump. That’s about where the similarities end, though.

Just one weekend earlier The Hunger momentarily moved me to Manhattan, where I was cosmopolitan and mysterious. Valley Girl brought me back to my California senses. That’s where all the good stuff happened — beaches and street life and cool clubs, hippy parents who said things like “Just be back by Tuesday.” California was the place with chicks like Julie, who was truly dazzlin’.

Not only did Valley Girl rekindle my California dreams, it brought The Plimsouls to sleepy Upstate South Carolina, and if that’s all that I got out of it (also, E.G. Daily naked) then it would still deserve its place on my all-time movie list. The Plimsouls were the band at Randy’s and Fred’s Hollywood hangout, where they play “Oldest Story In the World” and the classic “A Million Miles Away.” Both songs appear on their second album, Everywhere At Once, which is one of the truly great records of the last thirty years. Unfortunately you will never see it in those “best album” lists or VH1 retro shows because The Plimsouls never managed to crossover.

Sweet Nicky’s Shifting Hairline did I want to be at Randy’s and Fred’s dive bar, pogoing to the music and getting blown in the bathrooms. I wanted to be one of those freaks who was just being himself by looking exactly like every other freak in the club. I wanted to drink too much and fight and get tossed onto Hollywood Boulevard, where I knew everybody who was on the cruise. And when I was tired of that I could hop over the hill and find a Julie or make smart ass comments to a Tommy in a pink Izod.

Modern English figured heavily into Valley Girl, too. “I Melt With You” is so thoroughly fucked out at this point that it’s hard for me to remember how fresh it sounded at the time. That song was a pop music revelation, and it deserves its spot on the roster of Eighties mega-hits that were actually interesting songs. Now for God’s sake let’s call a fifteen year moratorium on the commercial use of “I Melt With You.” I promise I’ll buy a Whopper or whatever else you want, just stop beating that song to death.

That same weekend I went to the hair salon in the mall to get my coveted Bowie haircut. This was my first time there after walking past dozens of times. They had four chairs: three were operated by ladies with bleached asymmetrical ‘dos and the fourth by a dude who looked like the fifth member of Duran Duran. He even wore those little elf boots.

“What do you want me to do, hon?” She stood behind me, running her fingers through my collar-length hair while we looked at each other in the mirror.

“I want something different.”

“You want to look at a book?”

“No, just cut it like David Bowie’s.”

“You sure, hon? I can do it but you’re going to lose all of this length.”

That was when it hit me. I’d spent half of my life with long hair. I was the androgynous kid in the little league photos. My hair marked me as a Guy In Black Tee Shirt Who Jammed, and now it was going to be gone.

“Can you leave a little bit long behind my left ear? I’m going to braid it like Adam Ant’s.”

“That’s going to look totally awesome. You in a band?”

She chopped and buzzed and blow-dried, and all the while she talked about whatever hairdressers talk about to pass the time. It’s been twenty years since someone else buzzed my head, so I can’t even venture a guess regarding that conversation.  If it helps you get into the moment let’s say that she was talking about boys and high fiber diets.

She spun the chair around when she finished. Ziggy Stardust wasn’t staring back at me. I was sort of an ’80s Bowie, but if any thing my hair looked more like Duran Duran guy’s down on chair #4. It all worked out, though. My aborted Bowie ‘do coinciding with the theatrical release of Valley Girl was the beginning of several years of “Do you know who you look like? Nicolas Cage.” I didn’t feel so bad about my big nose, horse face or lanky build knowing that Nicky did okay with the same goods.  It certainly didn’t hurt that in those early years of his career Nic played a lot of awkward outcasts, either.

Incidentally, the “you look like Nic” era ended roughly twenty years later, when I was approached at a business function. “Do you know who you look like?” the young woman slurred in my general direction.

I smiled. “No, who?”

“You look like…Frank Zappa’s ugly son,” and with that she was off to the bar for another round.

It might have been worse. At least I’m a Zappa fan.

Categories: Throw Beck Thursday

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