It doesn’t look as though Kristen Wiig is up for a sequel to Bridesmaids, which given the amount of cash that would be thrown at her feet is a position of admirable restraint, but midway through The Skeleton Twins she and Bill Hader have a routine that rivals the Wiig-Maya Rudolph “Hold On” lip-sync duet. Now I’m up for Wiig including one of these scenes in every movie she does, even though that’s unfeasible (but how great would it be if she were one of the female Ghostbusters in the coming reboot and there were an opportunity for her and her fellow GB’s to lip-sync the Ray Parker Jr. title song?). In The Skeleton Twins, the song is Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” like “Hold On” a archetypical piece of empowered cheese from that late-’80s/early ‘90s era that was filled with pop bombast.
I read an article this week on the Rolling Stone website that calls 1984 pop’s greatest year and did a double-take: that “8” had to have been a typo, right? No, the piece is serious. There apparently is a strain of real 1980s nostalgia, some of it good (The Replacements), some of it semi-ironic (Hall & Oates), some of it just baffling. ‘84 was ok, I suppose – Purple Rain, Like A Virgin and all that — but Born In The U.S.A. is my least-played 20th century Springsteen album because it sounds so much like the 1980s, beefed-up and synthetic. It was tough for anyone, Dylan (Knocked Out Loaded), The Stones (Dirty Work), McCartney (‘84’s Give My Regards To Broad Street), Stevie Wonder (‘84’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You”) to get out of the ‘80s with their artistic reputation untainted (Springsteen recovered with Tunnel of Love). 1984 was the year of Footloose, “Radio Ga Ga,” Barry Manilow singing Jim Steinman, Toto and Lionel Richie. Rolling Stone thinks it’s the greatest pop year ever. Ponder for a moment.
But back to The Skeleton Twins, and Starship. When music nerds debate what rock star with bona fide credibility did the best job of sabotaging a distinguished career, the topic usually circles around to Rod Stewart, and there’s a case to be made, especially since he sleepwalked through standards on a series of albums that, if anything, made you forgive his disco phase as mere youthful folly. My nominee is Grace Slick. Granted, her career was not as outstanding as Stewart’s — there’s no Gasoline Alley or Every Picture Tells A Story in her solo catalog, and much of Jefferson Airplane/Starship’s discography hasn’t weathered the decades that well — but there was a moment, around 1967-1969, when she was arguably the biggest female artist in rock. Her voice was icy, but flexible, all steely restraint while Janis Joplin’s was filled with swagger. In another era, Slick might have wandered up to North Beach to sing cool jazz, and made men weak.
Unlike Janis, Grace didn’t have to carry all the weight: the Airplane had multiple personalities with different musical agendas. When the band was firing, it really was, as the kids would say, a trip. That only lasted a few years, and then it all went to splinters, and in the ‘70s it was anyone’s guess who was in the Airplane/Starship at any given time: the band went through something like a half-dozen personnel permutations in seven years. By the time of The Greatest Pop Year Ever, Jefferson Starship was recording their last “Jefferson” album (Nuclear Furniture), and Grace had released the solo album Software. You don’t know those albums, nor should you want to.
The Starship album No Protection came out two decades after the Airplane broke through in the Summer of Love (give it up for a woman in her late forties who could hang in there in the era of MTV), and here’s where “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” comes into the picture, featured on that LP and on the soundtrack to the film Mannequin. This is what 1987 was like. A romantic comedy in which the titular character (well, not “character,” exactly, window display), played by Kim Cattrall, magically comes to life to hang out with Andrew McCarthy. And James Spader is in it. Starship’s two lead singers, Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas (imagine Steve Perry crossed with Michael Bolton), bolstered by Narada Michael Walden’s arena-synth-rock production, shout the (Oscar-nominated!) Albert Hammond-Diane Warren song at each other:
Let them say we’re crazy, I don’t care about that
Put your hand in my hand, baby, don’t ever look back
Assume that this is a declaration of mutual love between a boy and a department-store dummy: “If this world runs out of lovers, we’ll still have each other.” First of all, was there some impending lover-depletion in 1987? And to get analytical for a second, wouldn’t falling for a woman molded out of plastic be a sign of intimacy issues? Have you ever seen an unclothed mannequin?
Wiig and Hader’s choreographed “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” is a goofy highpoint of The Skeleton Twins, and it’s an example of how the cultural wheel spins: if the film catches on, expect the song to return to high rotation at a karaoke bar near you. I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy hearing the Starship record, or that I’d ever be doing a Starship search on YouTube and reliving the moment in musical history when Grace Slick and Kim Cattrall intersected. I’m fairly certain that Slick would rather be remembered for her contributions to Crown of Creation than for anything on No Protection, but pop doesn’t work that way. Even your most embarrassing incidents are up for grabs. Starship chased a pop hit, caught one, and now it’s back. Everyone sing along, “And we can build this dream together….”.