erasing clouds

Hey, Linda Perry, What's Going On?

essay by Matthew Webber

Pink is my new favorite obsession. Pink, it's not even a question. I like the girl with the hair that's as pink as crayon, as pink as the sheets that we lay on. Although I still love Aerosmith (I even, somehow, love "Jaded," just because I'm predisposed to, I guess); today, I'm loving Pink's "Don't Let Me Get Me."

--Which isn't written and produced by Linda Perry, although "Let's Get This Party Started" is, which I also love. So, at this point, all discussion of Aerosmith ends (Pink performed during the band's MTV Icon program, you see), and discussion of Linda Perry and her former band, 4 Non Blondes (in case you were wondering who the hell she was) begins.

After 25 years of life and still trying to climb that great big hill of hope for a destination, Perry's band fell down and broke their crowns and nobody cared to tumble after. For children of a certain, approximately eighth-grade-class-of-'93 generation, 4 Non Blondes' only remembered song, "What's Up," was truly one-hit wonderful. A staple of junior high church mixers and recorded-from-the-radio mix tapes, a photographic memorized lyric sheet to rival at least that of Wreckx-N-Effect's "Rump Shaker" or Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now," this song about waking up the morning and getting "real high" was as cool as our Umbro-clad selves longed to one day be. It was cool like Zack Morris from Saved By the Bell , cool like the boy who boxed up his baseball card collection and claimed to have French kissed a girl before anyone else, cool because the lead singer was a white chick with dreadlocks who looked all artsy and like she could kick our asses in the video. It was a salute to those of us who were only about to rock. We wouldn't be ready for Nirvana and Pearl Jam until everybody else was - which doesn't make us hipsters, it just means we were New Kids fans.

(But a funny thing happened on the way down memory lane. My hindsight isn't 20/20; rather, it's as near-sighted as I. The last two sentences of the preceding paragraph bugged me enough to make me save my draft, leave my computer, and find my 4 Non Blondes CD just to double-check when it was released. Its 1992 copyright places it after "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which must have been played in junior high as well. The chronology of pop is a thing that makes me go hmmm, but I'm sure the song was pre-dated by Extreme's "More Than Words.")

Had compilations such as Now and Totally Hits been available in America in the early '90s, they would have comprised the bulk of my cassette collection. Since they weren't, and since I didn't have an allowance or any other disposable income to spend on music anyhow, the only way I could hear a song after it had been bumped out of heavy rotation was to tape it while it was still a hit.

This means I didn't hear another Linda Perry composition until I was in college, when I finally purchased Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, the album on which "What's Up" appears, for something like $2.99 because the Hastings in Kirksville, Mo., had over twenty used copies in stock. I'm not sure I even heard "What's Up" in that time, as I had thrown away or re-recorded all of my mix tapes sometime after Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" came out and I didn't think I'd ever again be shocked by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "You Saw My Blinker, Bitch," and as radio stations weren't yet broadcasting a retro-'80s format. I bought the 4 Non Blondes album like I bought used CDs by Nada Surf (of "Popular" infamy) and Tripping Daisy ("I Got a Girl"): as a single with ten or twelve B-sides. I didn't expect to like the other songs, because the "B-sides" of too many other "singles" I'd purchased in this manner (see Nada Surf and Tripping Daisy) were filler. Although there was filler, there also much to like: Perry's overbearing voice, the rolling of "Train," and the extraterrestrialism of "Spaceman" among them. Her band deserved what white-as-snow rapper Snow didn't (Remember "Girl I've Been Hurt"? Probably not.): another hit.

(Am I only remembering what I wish to be true? I listened to "What's Up" often in these years, or at least as often as anything else I owned on cassette rather than on CD. A high school friend of mine actually had the album, and I borrowed it and dubbed half of the songs onto a mix tape among excerpts from Live's Throwing Copper and the Breeders' Last Splash. Now that I'm thinking about it, I remember this friend, my past and present bandmate, chuckling and saying something like, "I thought you were joking," when I reminded him to loan me his copy. [I really did destroy all of my junior high mix tapes, though, one my life's most regrettable actions.] Isn't it ironic - don't you think? A little too ironic, yeah, I really do think- that we're planning on covering "What's Up" at our next show? Will I forget this in another ten years? Will the song morph into something by Alanis Morissette? Hmmm.)

For the next ten years, Linda Perry did what other authors and performers of wonderful one hits do: Nobody knows. Maybe she wrote hundreds of songs that nobody wanted to publish. ("Sorry, Linda, the kids want to hear gangsta rap right now, and you're not exactly from 'the LBC.' Your 'getting high' is cool though. Write another song about that.") Maybe she joined a professional motorcross association, had a near death experience on heroin, and studied yoga. Whatever else she did, she sank into the obscurity that VH1's Where Are They Now loves to profile.

Exactly where is she now? Resurrecting her career by writing and producing songs for the likes of Pink and Christina Aguilera.

A Perry composition, "Let's Get This Party Started," was Pink's first single from her image-recasting second album, Missundaztood - a record some Rolling Stone writer called"teen pop's In Utero." I don't know about all that, having only heard Pink's two singles, but Pink's new rock star pose does ring more authentic than Britney's or 'N Sync's grown-up pop star play-acting. (If you need further proof of Pink new rock star cred, she's opening for Lenny Kravitz this summer. If you need proof of Lenny's rock star cred, recall about two albums ago.)

Due to declining record sales for pop albums, the aging of their target audience, more business-savvy managing, and their striving for longevity and acclaim as well as Teen People covers rather than just the Teen People covers, these and other supposed former disposability junkies are all reinventing themselves in 2002 - but it's Pink who seems most certain about what is her role. As she sings in "Don't Let Me Get Me," she's sick and tired of being compared to "damn Britney Spears": "She's so pretty. That just ain't me."

Even Britney's sick and tired of being compared to Britney nowadays, but when each successive Britney video begs you to measure the inches between the bottom of her bra and the top of her low-riding jeans to see how much more flesh is exposed than thelast time, you can't help but compare/contrast her navel's work there to it's appearances in "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know." Her own (Max Martin's) intertextuality further dooms Britney to an image inertia, as she was, is, and probably always will be in some "not a girl, not yet a woman" stage of development.

In "Pop," 'N Sync asked, "What's the deal with this pop life and when is it gonna fade out?" ignoring the signs that say it already has. Then, for post-pop life insurance, they featured Nelly on their later single, "Girlfriend," - so, just in case their fans' turning fourteen mutates them into Busta-loving rhymers, at least hip-hop radio formats will still spin their product.

Meanwhile, the Neptunes, the Cal Ripkens of music production, are producing songs for these two acts and everybody else, which means that instead of Britney and 'N Sync sounding like everybody else, they now sound like, um, everybody else. Their songs no longer sound like "I Want It That Way"; instead, they sound like "Shake Ya Ass." They've merely traded one subgenre of pop (teen) for another (urban), and will probably trade it again when a different one (surf? skiffle?) emerges. They're not yet creative, not yet boring; and they'll remain popular for as long as they balance these scales.

Pink's not yet creative, but her music's becoming more exciting. I might be able to name a pre-Missundaztood! Pink ditty (er, "There You Go"?), but I know I wouldn't beable to sing any of it; whereas I like her two new singles enough to hope I'll find them on the radio when I'm aimlessly changing channels. The same slam I made against Britney and 'N Sync, that their songs sound like everything else I might hear during my channel-changing, I can (and should, and will) levy against Pink. But she has cooler influences, and she chooses her producers more thoughtfully. "Let's Get This Party Started" sounds different enough within the strict confines of its Top Forty conformity to have become somewhat of a truism: It became a hit because it is as different as it can be while still sounding exactly the same as everything you'll hear in the next thirty minutes - and its singer no longer sounds like damn Britney Spears! It's certainly disposable, but its born-on date is later than that of a "new" Britney single like "Overprotected." It's a rock song (different) about partying (same) with the slickest in pop production (identical).

My logic is circular, or maybe even illogical, but to me it makes sense that these new Pink songs are great. I'm being redundant, and I'm being simplistic - so I'm mimicking the style my subject matter fancies. Different, the same - does pop make such distinctions? Disposable, great - correlation, causation?

What is it I hear that makes these new Pink tunes so memorable?

I think what I hear is Linda Perry's attitude, and her flirting with greatness in an earlier decade. In this new millennium, greatness (or at least a career) are flirting back, and if favors such "Let's Get This Party Started" are the offspring of such a seduction, then long may they buy each other drinks.

Knowing that Perry wrote such a song is trivia. It is also quite relevatory for an eighth-grade-class-of-'93er. She once seemed so alternative, so rough, so scary. How did she go from "getting high" to starting parties? How did she go from Non Blonde to Pink? From a joke to at least a non sequitur? From rags to radio to rags back to radio? Now she seems mainstream… and I guess that's because she is. Linda Perry is a living, Justin Timberlake- or J.C. Chasez-sung lyric.

And when did some of my own musical preferences begin such a similar, tragic trajectory? Where they, or she, ever really different? (There's that word again.) Or did it just seem that way in 1992? Wasn't every artist I used to love "alternative"?

Obviously not. But that didn't stop me from loving all of them, even those who only had one hit. Please forgive me if the reason I love a 2002 pop song is for nostalgia, for recognizing a Linda Perry melody and imaging it was she wailing the lyrics instead of Pink as soon as I learned it was Perry who wrote the song. Forgive me for loving Perry's trainwreck of a voice. Forgive me if I'm crediting Pink with more gumption than she deserves, for believing her spoken desire to now sing songs with meaning. Forgive me for believing she's a rock star now, just because she's opening for Lenny, admiring Linda, and admitting being as embarrassed by her Lady Marmalade malarkey as the rest of us. Forgive me for believing that lightning can strike Sponge ("Plowed" and "Molly" - a two-hit wonder!), Spacehog ("In the Meantime"), and the Toadies ("Possum Kingdom") again. Forgive me for hoping Christina Aguilera's next album produces as many hit singles as did her first - if only her singles are the songs written by Perry.

Please don't begrudge my wishing Linda Perry a sustained second career.

Now, I'm going to try to fall asleep. Tomorrow, I'm gonna wake in the morning, step outside, take a deep breath, and drive to work. Hearing "Let's Get This Party Started" on the Top Forty station would allow me to breathe a little deeper; hearing "What's Up" on the '80s-and-'90s station would get me a little high. Forgive me for screaming it at the top of my lungs.

{Email me your comments, thoughts, questions, etc. at}

Issue 10, July 2002 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds