Shit I Didn’t Get (1980’s kid edition)
The video for Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is”.
It was 1985, and radio-friendly rockers Foreigner were starting to wear out their welcome. It was an era dominated by comparatively edgier artists like Madonna, Billy Idol, and Prince, so Foreigner was getting in touch with their softer side, probably to attract more female fans (for a similar example, see REO Speedwagon and “Can’t Fight This Feeling”). Foreigner pulled out all the stops with this power ballad, complete with lots of keyboards, croon-y vocals, and super sensitive lyrics: “Now this mountain I must climb/Feels like the world upon my shoulders/Through the clouds I see love shine/It keeps me warm as life grows colder”. The capper was the gospel choir they trotted out to belt the chorus mid-way through the song, as Lou Gramm lets loose with “I wanna feel what love is, I know you can show me…” (um—no thanks, dude).
I was 11 years old when this song and video were in heavy rotation. While 11-year-olds in post-Britney 2010 are considerably more advanced than we were back then, I was pretty naïve, even for the time. Although I was officially a pre-teen—-the annoying term “tween” hadn’t yet been coined—-I was a very young pre-teen. Most of the other girls in my fifth grade class had discovered eye shadow, curling irons, and boys, but I was still a horse-crazy tomboy, climbing trees, running around barefoot outside, and obsessing over reruns of “The Adventures of Black Beauty” on Nickelodeon. In other words, I had quite a ways to go before I caught up with my peers. My emotional immaturity probably had a lot to do with my complete misinterpretation of this video’s storyline, making all the nuances about singer Lou Gramm’s romantic woes (as you’ll see) fly right over my head.
The video starts off with a very constipated-looking Lou Gramm in a recording studio, laying down some vocals. We also get shots of Mick Jones, the band’s guitarist, rubbing his face a lot and appearing vaguely concerned. Then comes footage of some city folk going about their day, including a black construction worker who lifts a beam onto his shoulder in slow motion. Then, in a dark room somewhere, a girl wakes up, gets out of bed, and takes a shower. Cut to a black woman working in a restaurant or a dry cleaners (can’t tell which, but it’s a very steamy room). Lou Gramm sits at a desk and talks on the phone with the aforementioned girl, who is now all blow-dried and dressed and silhouetted in a dimly-lit room. They appear to be having an argument. Then Lou Gramm rides in a car and stares gloomily out the window. An apathetic looking Mick Jones is sitting next to him, staring out the window on his side. A lot of black people—-including the construction worker from before and the woman from the steamy room-—board some bus and greet one another warmly. (Note: the black working-class people in this video are a lot livelier and seem way happier than the rich white rock stars. I think that’s intentional.) The glum white musicians and the cheery urban people from the bus converge at another recording studio somewhere. There are hugs and handshakes all around, and the white musicians’ moods all seem to lighten as they get down to the business of recording the chorus of their sensitive hit single. Cut to the girl from before, who is dressed like Mary Tyler Moore for some reason. She walks—-then runs—-down a city sidewalk. At the studio, the white rockers seem much happier now as they play their instruments and Lou Gramm sings along with the assembled choir. Everybody's feeling it. The girl appears at the top of the stairway and gazes down at the recording session. She spots Lou Gramm, who also notices her. The song continues and the girl runs down the stairs towards Lou, who’s suddenly so into the song that he doesn’t see her coming. She runs over and throws her arms around Lou, literally shoving him away from the microphone. He seems surprised but not irritated that his girlfriend has interrupted this important recording session. He hugs her tightly, and then…freeze frame.
My interpretation of the video now—-one that I think is pretty much in line with the director’s vision—-is that Lou Gramm and the guys are getting bogged down with all the stress that comes along with being rich white musicians. Lou Gramm seems to be experiencing some additional emotional turmoil, what with arguing over the phone with his lady, who probably doesn’t understand the pressures of being in a famous rock band. The band’s troubles are forgotten when they start jamming with the upbeat working-class gospel choir, proving that music—-as Madonna would later sing—-makes the people come together. Then Lou’s girlfriend comes to her senses and forgives him for whatever they were arguing about earlier. The End.
My interpretation as an 11 year old: Lou Gramm’s girlfriend is prejudiced against black people. (I thought “prejudiced,” by the way, because the term “racist” wasn’t thrown about as freely as it is now and I don’t think I'd even heard that word at the time.) Prejudiced people are icky, which is why Lou Gramm looks so upset about spending time with black people while the mean woman he loves hangs around the house being mad at him for it. The band goes to the studio to record with the black people, who turn out to be really nice. The girlfriend walks the streets and thinks about things for a while, then she comes to the studio and sees how cool the black choir is. She runs down the stairs and hugs Lou Gramm, because she isn’t prejudiced anymore. The End.
Fun Fact: Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones is the stepfather of Samantha Ronson, the popular club DJ best known as Lindsay Lohan’s lesbian squeeze.
Next time: More shit from my childhood that I didn’t get. Check back soon, my memory is long and I’m feeling inspired.