Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sarah Brightman Lost Her Heart to a Starship Trooper

Sometimes, the line between kitsch and camp is blurred.

In 1978, a very young Sarah Brightman, then still in her teens, was chosen to sing with the British dance troupe Hot Gossip. Together, they created a disco single intended to make the latter a legitimate musical act. Hot Gossip is known to nostalgic Brits as being one of the first successful ventures for late 80s pop sensation Sinetta, AKA Simon Cowell’s girlfriend before he became famous. The resulting single, light years (pun intended) away from Brightman’s future classical music output and stint as the original Christine in Phantom of the Opera, was “I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper”.

The single is a frothy disco track that opens with a rather cheeky sample of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. It then spins a tale of intergalactic love / booty call between a supple young woman and the unseen “Captain Strange”, presumably a cross between Captain Kirk, Han Solo and / or Luke Skywalker. Given that the single was released in 1978, it is no coincidence that this was thematically produced to cash in on the Star Wars craze. For the purposes of this article only, I will refer to the speaker as “Lana”.

Having been lustily rejected (in both senses of the word) by Darth Vader and Flash Gordon, Lana is for some reason aching for a moment of intense passion with the Captain before Starfleet Command finds out where they are and, one presumes, summons them back to work. This is all set to a series of danceable bleeps and bloops and then-fashionable “futuristic” laser keyboard emissions. “Starship Trooper” contains much innuendo, a sample of which is contained here:

Space suit is lying on control room floor
Pulse rate increasing as the heat factor soars
Take me, make me feel The Force
Ignore the computers, we’re locked on course

Altogether now
Unmistakably, at no point is Lana referring to doing intergalactic battle anywhere outside of her inner space.

The single was a massive success in the UK, reaching as high as number six on the pop music charts and selling a half-million copies. Sadly, follow-up singles failed to replicate the success of the first and we are left to ponder Brightman’s lost career as a lovelorn disco diva. But somehow, the Blogger senses she is doing just fine.

Back to my opening line: apparently, the difference between kitsch and camp is that the former is accepted bad art that is sincere and unaware of the fact that it is a poor replication of an original. Think of those horrid little religious icons at tacky gift shops in Lourdes that claim to sell alleged Holy Water. The latter is knowingly bad art that, by virtue of its self-knowledge, is immediately considered good art because it was created with a sense of humour. I’m still debating whether “Starship Trooper” was not just “on course”, but on purpose.

Your future screensaver
“Starship Trooper” also leaves a camp – or is that kitsch? – legacy thanks to its seminal music video. This four-minute visual essay must be seen to be believed. It consists of Sarah et. Al. encased in shiny catsuits, not unlike this, posing and dancing awkwardly in what can only be described as Martha Graham’s space cadet boot camp. This is a strange, hypnotic clip whose unintended effect was to create the forerunner of the modern exercise video. If you don’t believe me, take note that the dancers move about with their arms slightly akimbo with shake weights. Yes: shake weights. The leotards are not unlike what Jane Fonda would wear and introduce to the world just a few years later in her best-selling home exercise tape, although the tinfoil couture here might look better on your conspiracy-theorist neighbour. There’s also a curious motif of having dancers move their bodies in half-time robotic jerks, randomly interrupted by provocative hair tousles and head tosses (the hair pull at the 2:12 mark is magical). One wonders if this is perhaps the distant cousin of Adriano Celentano’s “Prisencolinensinainciusol” clip or might serve as an inspiration for Bjork.

The Blogger must now stop writing this and cue up the dry ice to recreate this video in his living room, and suggests that you do the same.