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Alicia Silverstone was The Aerosmith Girl and people were weird about it [October 31, 1993]
Cryin' by Aerosmith; plus, Sepultura's Chaos A.D.
Hey, welcome to This Week In The 90s where we tell stories loosely based on what was in the UK charts 30 years ago.
This week, we’re talking about the song that was at Number 21 on October 21, 1993…
When Rolling Stone made Alicia Silverstone a cover star in 1995, journalist Rich Cohen didn’t try to be coy about her appeal. “Alicia Silverstone,” he says in his opening paragraph, “is a kittenish 18-year-old movie star whom lots of men want to sleep with.”
He carries on like this for the next 2,000 words, mentioning her padding around in her socks (one of many Lolita references that followed Silverstone at the time), describing her as “a knocked-out, dreamy-eyed little Rapunzel” with “a mouth that people describe in ways that she finds inappropriate.”
Cohen lets Silverstone talk about how being sexualised makes her uncomfortable. Someone on the Internet (which is so new that the Rolling Stone subeditors are still capitalising “Internet”) has been setting up fake porn profiles with her image, “saying lewd things in my name. ‘Come and get me’ and other stuff I don’t want to repeat.” She doesn’t understand why people find her sexy.
But others do. Cohen quotes her Cluless co-star, Paul Rudd, who said:
“Alicia has a seductive quality that goes way beyond her years. Off-camera she’s this silly 18-year-old, but that other thing is always there.”
At age 18, Alicia Silverstone was the hottest star in the world. Clueless was a smash, Columbia-Tristar Pictures offered her a lucrative deal, and everyone wanted to see what she would do next. But she was also a locked in a battle to control her own image, to be seen as a talented actress rather than “an 18-year-old whom lots of men want to sleep with.”
This was a battle she’d been fighting her whole life.
You're heading out to Hollywood
Monty Silverstone is a larger-than-life figure, a London real estate mogul with a passion for gambling. In the mid-70s, he moved to California with Deirdre Radford, a Pan Am flight attendant from Scotland, and the couple had two kids, Alicia and David.
(Monty also had another daughter in the UK, Kezi Silverstone. She grew up in the British care system and became an actress, only meeting her American half-siblings when they were teenagers.)
When Alicia was six, Monty took a series of glamour shots of her in a bikini, which were so questionable that even Rolling Stone’s Rich Cohen describes them as “photos that bring to mind underground rings and police sting operations”. Monty sent the pictures to modelling agencies, and soon she was appearing in pizza commercials.
She was also managing her own income and putting some aside in a savings account. “Even at 8,” she said, “I was a business lady and knew I needed money for the future.”
At 14, she started high school and was instantly popular with the older boys. She went to a Senior party and spent the evening lecturing teenagers on the dangers of alcohol; the next day, the school grapevine accused her of participating in an orgy. This event, she later said, taught her a lesson about what people are willing to believe, especially about someone that makes them horny.
Silverstone first real acting job was a role as Kevin’s girl-of-the-week in The Wonder Years. It was a small role, but it got her cast in an upcoming thriller called The Crush. The only problem was that she was 15, and California’s child protection laws meant that she couldn’t work a full-time schedule.
The producers had a bright idea: emancipation.
Emancipation is intended for people like Macauley Culkin and Drew Barrymore who needed to disentangle themselves from abusive family members. Silverstone had a happy family life, but emancipation would mean that she was legally considered an adult, and could therefore drop out of school and work on the movie.
And so, Silverstone and her family lied to a judge and got her emancipated. She was free to start working on The Crush.
The Crush is Lolita meets Fatal Attraction, minus the subtlety of both. Cary Elwes plays a writer who befriends his neighbour’s daughter Darian (Alicia Silverstone), only to discover that she’s obsessive and prone to violence.
(Screenwriter Alan Shapiro based on a story from his own life. He got sued because the real person’s name is Darian. The VHS version is dubbed to change Silverstone’s character’s name to Adrian.)
The Crush is not good and got critically panned. However, it made a ton of money and Silverstone became something of a sensation. Interview magazine ran a cover feature with Silverstone in her underwear holding a teddy bear, looking both child-like and sexy (Rolling Stone used a similar photo).
Graham Fuller’s feature opens like this:
Play Scrabble with the letters in Alicia Silverstone’s name and you get all sorts of appropriate words: actress, cat, carnal, Eve, silence, salivate, sin, sincere, Lolita. And innocent? Nearly, but not quite. There are centuries of seduction in the scornful eyes and bee-stung lips of this hypnotic ingénue—and considerably more ingenuity than ingenuousness.
Meanwhile in Hollywood, Marty Calliner was planning his next project. Calliner is a veteran music video director, the auteur behind classics like Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and Cher’s ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’. He’s best known as Aerosmith’s video guy, having made MTV-friendly clips like ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’, ‘Love In An Elevator’ and 'Sweet Emotion’.
Calliner’s most recent project was ‘Livin On The Edge’ a big-budget epic starring Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong. It was supposed to drive Aerosmith’s big post-grunge comeback… but it had flopped, as had Aerosmith’s album, Get A Grip.
Aerosmith were in serious danger of becoming hair-metal has-beens, buried among all the other dinosaurs. They needed a Hail Mary, something epic to save Get A Grip and keep Aerosmith relevant.
And that’s when Marty Calliner watched The Crush.
I feel like the color blue
Alicia Silverstone made three Aerosmith videos, each connected by a loose story. Fans refer to them as The Aliciad.
The first video, ‘Crazy’, sees Silverstone dating a dirtbag (Stephen Dorff). They fight, they make out in his car, she gets her belly button pierced to piss him off. Towards the end of the video, Silverstone jumps off a bridge while Dorff watches. When he rushes to the railing, he sees her safely dangling from a bungee cord, giving him the finger.
After ‘Crazy’ hit MTV, sales of Get A Grip tripled.
The next video, ‘Amazing’, is a bit meta and involves this new thing called the Internet. There’s a geeky guy with a virtual reality headset. He loads the ‘Cryin’ video into his computer and steps into the metaverse, where a digital Alicia Silverstone is waiting for him. He can do anything he wants to her, even changing her outfit with a single click.
They have digital adventures together involving motorbikes and skydiving. They make out a lot. But a plot twist at the end suggests that Alicia was the one in cyberspace and he was the digital avatar. It…doesn’t make a lot of sense.
By now, Silverstone was an MTV icon, firmly entrenched in the public mind as “The Aerosmith Girl”. But nobody was prepared for the final instalment of The Aliciad, in which Silverstone’s love interest was…
Steve Tyler’s daughter.
‘Crazy’ sees Silverstone and Liv Tyler ditching school to go on a Thelma and Louise-style road trip. They shoplift from a gas station, distracting the attendant (Pauly Shore) with nudes taken in the photo booth. Silverstone puts on a suit and takes Tyler to amateur night at the local strip club, where Liv wins first prize. The next day, they seduce a handsome farm hand and take him skinny dipping.
(The boy from ‘Amazing’ appears briefly at the end, raising the possibility that we’re still in cyberspace.)
The Aliciad changed the lives of all involved. Liv Tyler soon became a huge star in her own right, while Aerosmith entered their most commercially successful era ever.
Meanwhile, Fast Times At Ridgemont High director Amy Heckerling say the ‘Crazy’ video and decided she must have Silverstone for her next project, a Beverley Hills 90210-meets-Jane Austen high school comedy called Clueless. When Clueless was a smash, it seemed inevitable that Silverstone would become our biggest movie star.
So, what happened?
And it's all a show, yeah!
Silverstone never again reached the heights of Clueless. She failed to make an impact with her next projects: Blast From The Past (which is fun) and Excess Baggage (less so).
The nadir was 1997’s Batman & Robin, in which she played Batgirl opposite George Clooney’s nipples.
Batman & Robin was so toxic that it tainted everyone involved—poor Chris O’Donnell’s career never recovered. But Silverstone got an extra layer of misogynistic abuse from the media, who decided that she was not something worse than talentless: she was fat.
After the 1996 Oscars, Entertainment Weekly said she was “more Babe [the pig] than babe”. The media taunted her for months, and when Batman & Robin tanked, they started singing “na-na na-na na-na FAT-GIRL” at her.
Looking back in 2020, she said:
“It was hurtful but I knew they were wrong. I wasn’t confused. I knew that it was not right to make fun of someone’s body shape, that doesn’t seem like the right thing to be doing to a human.”
Which is an admirably zen response to a horrible situation.
Silverstone’s career highs and lows are due to many things: luck, talent, good and bad decisions. But the fact is, a lot of her fame was due to being a “kittenish 18-year-old whom lots of men want to sleep with.” The media decided that she was The Lolita It’s Okay To Be Publically Weird About, and when she betrayed them by growing up, they turned on her.
Fortunately, it all seems to have worked out okay for Silverstone. Her current public image seems carefully curated now: she’s a mom, an influencer, a serious stage actor, and is best known these days for her work in veganism and animal rights. People are, finally, seeing her as she wants to be seen.
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New in this week’s charts
Some of the latest hits (from 30 years ago…)
11—Time Frequency, ‘Real Love’
This one had dancing robots on Top Of The Pops. Hard to explain how exciting that was in 1993. Still a little exciting in 2023, to be honest.
14—Whitney Houston, ‘Queen Of The Night’
The 83rd single (or thereabouts) from The Bodyguard soundtrack. Also another Top 40 songwriting credit for Babyface, who has been on an incredible run recently with hits like ‘End Of The Road’ and ‘Humpin Around’.
26—Faith No More & Boo Ya Tribe, ‘Another Body Murdered’
Taken from the Judgment Night OST, and it’s a good choice for a single. Faith No More sit perfectly into the hip-hop style without going nu-metal.
25—Pauline Henry, ‘Feel Like Making Love’
Pauline Henry is best known for cover versions such as ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and this Bad Company track. She’s left the music business and is now a lawyer specialising in…Intellectual Property!
27—Future Sound of London, ‘Cascade’
Beautiful, slightly new age track from FSOL. This will eventually become the opening track of 1994’s Lifeforms.
Hear all of this week’s new tracks in the ever-growing 1993 playlist!
Album of the Week
Sepultura, Chaos A.D.
Heavy metal was, famously, in a bad place in the early 90s. The dinosaurs had gone extinct, Metallica had gone platinum, and nobody was quite sure about the future of our loudest genre. Pantera struck gold in 1992 with their groove metal masterpiece, Vulgar Display Of Power; 1993 saw Brazillian band Sepultura follow in their footsteps.
Not to suggest that Chaos A.D. is derivative. It definitely crosses paths with Vulgar Display on tracks like the ‘Slave New World’, where Max Cavalera barks “WE ARE NOT SLAVES/WE ARE FREE” over a surprisingly sexy bassline. But Sepultura carry the groove metal idea into brand new territories, mixing in other elements like punk and new wave (their New Model Army cover, ‘The Hunt’, is excellent.)
This is an album full of wild experiments, and Sepultura land them all perfectly, with the two biggest gambles being the highlights. Jello Biafra joins them on anti-technology rant, ‘Biotech Is Godzilla’, which could have sounded a bit silly if it were delivered by anyone but Max.
The other gamble is ‘Kaiowas’, a Led Zepplin-ish acoustic piece with complex drumming, written in tribute to an Amazonian tribe that committed suicide rather than surrender to property developers. ‘Kaiowas’ could have come off as filler. It ends up being one of the highlights of Sepultura’s discography (and a live favourite).
Chaos A.D. feels like a huge leap forward, both for the band and the genre. Suddenly, metal’s future looked bright.