Eleganza: The Best-Dressed List

THERE ARE absolutes in fashion. For instance, flare-legged trousers are absolutely more flattering to the vast majority of people than straight-legged trousers, since they make the feet look smaller and the hips slimmer.

And the voguish look for gals in the mid-’50s was absolutely awful, since it required that they wear their skirts too long and their hair not only too short, but also unbecomingly permed. Men got theirs in the early ’60s, when fashion dictated hideous wingtipped shoes, ugly glasses, and hair so short as to suggest that we were ashamed to have any.

Even while men looked worse than at any other time in their history, though, women were going through a terribly sexy period. They teased their hair in an absolutely flattering way and wore absolutely terrific dagger-toed, stiletto-heeled shoes of the sort Eleganza likes best. They elongated their eyes with eyeliner in a way that made them look almost feline.

They looked a lot like America’s best-dressed rock ‘n’ roll woman, Josie Cotton, looks today.

If there were any justice in the world, Josie would be where the Go-Go’s are, for she looks positively brilliant – sort of like Elizabeth Taylor around the time of Butterfield 8. And her Convertible Music album, in spite of what highly situated sources at this very magazine may tell you, was every bit as good as the Go-Go’s bathtub album, and 35 trillion times better than Vacation. If ‘No Pictures Of Dad’, for instance doesn’t shatter your heart into a trillion little pieces, it can only be because your heart’s made of stone.

In the age in which the likes of Dale Bozzio, that insufferable little twerp in Soft Cell, David Lee Roth, that insufferable little twerp in Duran Duran, Kim Carnes, Joan Jett, and the Clash’s Mick Jones (in comparison to whom Al Stewart, for instance, sounds like Paul Rodgers) not only aren’t forbidden to open their yaps anywhere near a microphone, but actually paid fortunes to squeak, mewl, whine, rasp and moan in the gruesome ways they do, Josie’s that rarest of treats – a wonderful, musical singer.

And her producer/sweetheart does to her voice in the recording studio what Quincy Jones did to Lesley Gore’s on ‘You Don’t Own Me’. It rarely sounds as though fewer than nine of Josie are singing along with one another! I know that there are those who’ll renounce me as sexist vermin for having noticed, but Ms. Cotton’s undoubtedly the most…voluptuous woman in rock ‘n’ roll since that Englishwoman, Judy Whatever-her-name-was, the one you never heard of anywhere but in this magazine. (Where’s the harm in having noticed, particularly when Josie’s clearly so pleased with them herself, and dresses so as to make her pleasure manifest clear to the cheap seats?)

We also think Adam Ant’s the bee’s knees.

America was too smart for T. Rex. We weren’t going to be taken in by such patent nonsense as that, were we? Let England keep its bopping elf and his infantile Chuck Berry cops, we said. And what did we get? Kansas. The Bee Gees. Fleetwood Mac. Adult rock. Adult rock!

Well, it’s not going to happen again – not as long as Eleganza has something to say about it! Of course Adam Ant’s songs have nothing to do with anything at all. But neither did Marc Bolan’s, and just consider how wonderful they seem now in retrospect, in the clear light of which we recognize (and are duly humbled by the realization) that they were the first rock songs ever written for pretentious six-year-olds.

Boy, I’m so impassioned this month, and using so many italics. But who can blame me? Josie Cotton is being virtually ignored while patent crap, pernicious, contemptible nonsense like The Clash is clasped to the national bosom.

Getting back to Ant, he looks brilliant in his swashbuckling regalia and moves as well as any white pop star since Bowie. And in an age in which the airwaves are clogged with the awful tuneless squeaking, mewling, whining, and moaning of Dale Bozzio, that insufferable little twerp in Soft Cell, Joan Jett, David Lee Roth, that insufferable little twerp in Duran Duran, and The Clash’s Mick Jones, he even sings in tune.

In much the same way that they disdain Ant, many people believe Cliff Richard to be just slightly hipper than, oh, John Davidson. Many people are incorrigible assholes. There is no more graceful a white pop singer anywhere in the world than Cliff, nor one who manages to convey more soul with so pale and incorrigibly pleasant a voice. Such is his charisma and grace that he makes whatever he wears look good. I am proud to say that I proposed to my present wife while he was on stage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Combining elements of the looks of Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix (at Monterey), and Sly Stone, Prince’s False-eyelashed Flasher in Fuchsia Lame (as in la-me) may be the most wonderful new physical image in American pop since Bob Dylan’s Electric-haired Troubadour in Winklepickers period of the mid-’60s.

That isn’t saying as much as one wishes it were. In Britain, it’s generally thought the sacred duty of the artiste to tart himself up to perform. In America, tarting up is generally viewed as tantamount to an admission that The Music Itself doesn’t cut it. Consequently, Americans have long seemed woefully unimaginative in comparison to the British.

As far as rock ‘n’ roll is concerned, Britons invented long hair. And short hair. And glitter. And Space Age. And punk. And the New Romance. And the New Depression. America, over the same time span, has come up with Hippie and Devo and a lot of feeble adaptations of British looks.

All of which, incidentally, points up another reason that America ought to be clasping Josie Cotton to its breast with all its might. In the first such case in recent memory, she vastly surpasses a British counterpart with the same idea. (Mari Wilson, if you must know.)

But let’s talk about you and me. Having just returned from his first basketball arena concert in not long enough (and very possibly his last ever), and having noted with vast melancholy that 99 percent of the audience looked indistinguishably ignorant of how witless, slovenly, and anonymous it looked, one calls upon all Eleganza readers to help buck the trend.

Dare to do with that pair of jeans you’ve been wearing every day for the past eight months what you know in your heart that you should – use them to apply wax to your auto! Dare not to wear jeans and running shoes and either a knit pullover or a baseball undershirt with your favorite group’s logo on the front! Dare not to look like everyone else. Dare instead to have style, to have pizzazz, to have flair! Dare to be…Eleganza!

It’s inevitable, of course – unless you’re Boy George, and you’re not – that you’ll look like someone else, but don’t be disheartened by that ploy the forces of white bread and repression used so effectively in the ’50s – “If beatniks are non-conformists, how come they all look like each other?” Let this be the Eleganza credo: It’s infinitely preferable to look very much like someone with flair and pizzazz than it is not to look like much of anything at all.

Patricia of Gun Club, the latest and most lurid incarnation of a tradition that dates back to the Ronettes – that of rock ‘n’ roll woman as raven-haired slut – knows these truths to be self-evident. There are those who might gaze upon her and think to themselves, “Oh, yeah – the Hollywood Blvd. at 1:00 a.m. on a weeknight look.” That perception certainly has lotsa basis in reality. At the same time, though, how could any heterosexual American boy gaze upon her and not marvel to himself, “Ah, what bizarre passions she arouses?”

Everything that Eleganza yearns to be – lurid, extreme, utterly unignorable – Patricia of Gun Club is, and in spades.

© John MendelsohnCreem, September 1983

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