Jayne Mansfield

Jayne Mansfield was a brunette by birth, and a blonde by choice. Unlike me, however, la Mansfield thrived on the attention her blonde hair brought her. Oh, yeah, she probably garnered some attention for her 40" (or 44" or 46") bust as well as her platinum locks. My fascination with Jayne, however, originated not with her blonde hair or gigantic boobs but rather with her grisly death. Yes, it all started with Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon and its photos of the twisted wreckage of the car in which she'd been a passenger, a bunch of pale material on the hood looking sickeningly like Jayne's decapitated head to my teenage eyes. And then, a few pages later, came the equally shocking photo of her poor little dead doggie. It was years before I ever noticed Jayne was the book's cleavage-flashing cover girl, so thoroughly had the other photos distracted my attention.But her name and tragic end had been seared into my psyche. One day, when I was exercising my right as an undergraduate to cut classes whenever I damn well pleased, I found myself at the East Side Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library. I checked out Martha Saxton's Jayne Mansfield and the American Fifties (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975). My fascination with Jayne was assured after I read about their endless quest for publicity, her rotten marriages and long sad slide downhill.While Saxton's book threatens in parts to over-intellectualize Jayne's life, and her "victim feminism" is out of style, "Jayne Mansfield and the American Fifties is ultimately a good and thought-provoking read. Saxton's writing is intelligent and her commentary on the binds of female sexuality perceptive, but even she cannot raise Jayne's life story above the trashiest of celebrity biographies. Jayne chose to live her life in a self-manufactured spotlight of publicity, unencumbered by any limitations such as good taste. That's why she's so wonderful.It is also, of course, why her life story is ultimately so sad. Losing her bikini top in front of photographers prior to the January 1955 premiere of Howard Hughes' film Underwater was attention-getting in a playful sort of way. by the sixties, broken bra straps and split dresses having become a Mansfield stock in trade, similar antics were merely crass. It's as if Jayne, for all her self-disclosed IQ of 164, just wasn't smart enough to distinguish between good and bad publicity. Indeed, Jayne's life is a rebuttal to those who believe "there is no such thing as bad publicity." Then again, for an actress who died nearly thirty years ago after appearing in mostly grade-z films, Jayne has an enduring cult of admirers due to such "bad" publicity.Despite reports to the contrary, Jayne Mansfield did indeed write her autobiography. Published in 1963 by the less than reputable Hollowly House and modestly titled Jayne Mansfield's Wild, Wild World, it purports to be Jayne's story as written by her own hand. Assisted, that is, by first husband and Hungarian he-man, Mickey. While Jayne went on to another husband and many lovers, it is clear that only Mickey truly understood Jayne's philosophy of life. Consider, for example, his description of a quiet evening at home, chez Mansfield:Jayne and I sprawled on our thick, pink rug in front of the decorative blazing fireplace in the den of one of the 45 rooms in our $1,000,000 three-acre pink home in West Los Angeles. A baby ocelot bit playfully at Jayne's earlobe. Our youngest, Zoltan, could be heard squealing with joy from our heart-shaped, pink bathtub. Our other two children, Jayne Marie and Mickey were outside leaping in and out of our blue, heart-shaped swimming pool. Jayne had wanted heart-shaped pink toilet seats but the manufacturers couldn't supply them. The servants were preparing dinner featuring elephant meat a fan had shipped frozen from Bombay.Now that's good living and fine writing!Wild Wild World is prime Jayne, audaciously mixing manufactured quips with raw glimpses into what "taste" may have led others to consider "private." Thus, readers are given a tour of Jayne's astrological birth chart, and informed of her ten rules "that will help a girl be physically attractive":1. Yes, think sexy, that is important. It makes you walk, talk and be sexier.2. Dress sexy -- not obvious, but teasing.3. Create sexy incidents and conversations. Again not obvious but subtle. (Of course, subtlety is what we all associate with Jayne!)4. Be careful who you are with and where. They are your frame.5. Never hurry.6. Work towards good health.7. 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ainstream" can mean. So as wacko as Beck's noisy eclecticism may sound now, it deserves our attention. For if Mellow Gold was the wake-up call, Odelay will be the collection that tags pop music with Beck's looping spray-painted signature. This album, co-produced with the Dust Brothers (Paul's Boutique) keeps the loose danceable rhythms of Gold, but pushes the instrumental envelope to accommodate richer musical textures and more self-referential twists.On "Where It's At," for example, Beck kicks off the second verse with a singsong "That was a good drum break" -- and indeed it was. That vocal phrase spools off of a bouncing sample, as if Beck is fitting a gag voice balloon into a corner of a panel. Later the song's bi-tonal chorus (it's in two keys at once) is followed by an announcer wondering "What about those who swing both ways -- AC-DCs? "There are obvious jokes, like the emcee in "High Five" yelling "Turn that shit off, man! What's wrong with you, man? Get the other record!" to return the song to its chorus after Beck has drifted over too many self-indulgent bridges. And there are wittier ones -- the ridiculous electronic melody Beck is noodling before "Turn that shit off" is the exact solo from "Novacane" a few songs back.There's both musical satire (the Eddie Van Halen wannabe struggling through the first break in "Lord Only Knows") and musical absurdity (the minute-long death throes of "Minus"). But it all hangs together, every excess pitched toward a single vanishing point. In a way no one else could pull off, Beck manages to make us tap a foot and bust a gut at the same time.Throughout, Beck builds a "style" out of juxtaposing and inverting the cliches of blues/pop songwriting in lyrics as well as music. He strings together quasi-meaningless turns of phrase that stumble onto common but overlooked connections. Lines like "stealing kisses from the lepers' faces" and "don't call us when the New Age/gets old enough to drink" are almost completely predictable in their wordplay, but it took Beck to point that out.In cartoons, standard images are constantly stretched, distorted and exaggerated, to make a point and to make it fun to look at. In Beck's reactive pop, genres are stretched beyond belief and his voice is often distorted by vocoder or other method, fleshing out the characters he takes on. Musical content is so exaggerated that it comments on itself. (This CD's sonic theme includes some classic jokes for faithful LP devotees, e.g. the use of the sound of a needle on vinyl as a fadeout, an intro and a rhythmic device.)More than that, though, these distortions of his voice crop up so frequently that it sometimes seems Beck has no "real" voice. And his flagrant smooshing of musical genres makes his "style" impossible to describe. Who does he sound like? Who doesn't he sound like? Because his music is reduced to such basics, there are many doors of perception onto his sound. He's not a chameleon -- each song is definitely pure Beck -- but his best lines twist pop cliches into fresh universal hooks.So some comparisons are easier than others. In his audacity and willingness to combine insanely diverse elements, there's a big Brian Eno (especially Here Come the Warm Jets) effect. But you may hear Hank Williams or the Grateful Dead where I hear Raymond Scott or Rise Robots Rise -- or Pavement where my friend hears Parliament.All seem equally valid in Beck's scraggly tapestry, because he finds the point in each of these bands' sound where their influence connects to all the others. in the same way he dredges fun, catchy sounds out of some of the most butt-ugly noises you've ever heard. All that said, let me add that Beck is not the Messiah. He's put out a couple of really good albums, but he still has some room to grow. For one thing, his fixation on bones ("sweep up my lazy bones," "your old bones are on their own," "put your skeletons in jail," etc.), death and nihilism in general is a kind of thematic dead end: He's got the early Tom Waits apathy/despair mode down pat, but has yet to move into the tricker realm of dreams vs. struggle, wide-eyed hope vs. real loss (e.g. Frank's Wild Years).Likewise, his constantly hard-edged vocals suggest an excessive caution about exposing his singing voice -- only on rare occasions (the closing "Ramshackle," for instance) does he drop his supercocky pose for a hint of vulnerability. And in spite of his attempt to structure each song with enough weird angles to keep it off the Top 40 charts, he leans on some rituals like a crutch (like the gratuitous break between the first chorus and second verse).But make no mistake: Here's a guy to watch no matter which way he grows. Beck would probably have an impact on pop even if he never put out another album. His subversive casualness and fanatic attention to detail, the combination of which seems impossible until you actually hear what he's doing, suggest another way of putting together pop songs. Because of this, any analysis of Beck is absurdly tricky. Who knows which side, the casual or fanatical, has drawn a given line? Did he put a Major 3rd on top of a Minor 3rd throughout "Derelict" to make it eerier, or was he just clumsy in placing his fingers? With this guy you can almost always believe either. Beck has found a happy medium -- one where refined artistic "talent" and simpleton-style music spewing blend into each other perfectly. It's an idea whose time has obviously come, and isn't likely to go away any time soon.

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