Sex education with Sophie B Hawkins [July 26, 1992]
Plus: Nirvana, Enya, Siouxsie, and Sonic Youth
Greetings, Time Travellers! 👋 Welcome back to the week of July 26, 1992.
Here’s what’s happening in 1992:
📰 Michael Jackson sues the Daily Mirror for saying that plastic surgery ruined his face. 📽️ FernGully: The Last Rainforest hits the cinema, as does Cruise/Kidman vehicle Far And Away. 📺 On the telly, it’s all Barcelona Olympics all day.
🎶 Number One song in the UK Top 40 is still ‘Ain’t No Doubt’ by Jimmy Nail. But further down the charts, we have…
This week’s Number 14: ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’ — Sophie B Hawkins
In the early 90s, something changed. Our culture was fundamentally altered, and nothing was ever the same again. What changed was this:
Sex became cool again.
Not that sex was ever uncool. Since the dawn of time, sex has been just about the coolest thing a person can do, especially if they’re good at it (according to their local culture’s definition of being “good at sex”.)
But the 80s were a grim time for sex. AIDS was a genuinely terrifying epidemic, and casual sex started to feel like a high-risk activity. Pop songs began to shy away from overt celebrations of sex—and we even got the safety-through-abstinence anthem ‘We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off’ by Jermaine Stewart.
AIDS still hasn’t gone away, but the 90s saw two major breakthroughs. First, antiretroviral drugs meant that the disease was no longer a death sentence (for those with access to healthcare, at least.) Secondly, the overall incidence rates of HIV began to decline for the first time.
The panic was over. And you know what that means.
Time for pop music to get weirdly horny.
LaTour released their Fuck AIDS anthem ‘People Are Still Having Sex’. Color Me Badd offered to Sex You Up. The Divinyls couldn’t even wait for you to get here and had to touch themselves. Salt-N-Peppa asked us all to calm down and Talk About Sex like grown-ups.
The word “sex” appeared more frequently in the years 1990-1992 than at any other point in Top 40 history [citation needed, but it’s probably true].
As a 14-year-old, all this sex talk was a lot for me to take in.
Teenagers know an awful lot about horniness, but very little about the emotional complexities of sex (which is why we have age of consent laws, Libertarians).
That meant that a teenager can completely understand a nonsense phrase like “I wanna sex you up” or “we can do it till we both wake up” or whatever else Color Me Badd said. It’s about bonin’. Every mammal understands that.
But teens struggle with more nuanced details, like the spoken bit in ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’:
I mean, everybody should be makin' love
Come on, how many guys you know make love?
This raises SO MANY questions that weren’t being answered in rudimentary 90s sex ed classes.
Like: what’s the difference between having sex and making love? Is it that guys have sex and girls make love? Can a man make love? Can a woman have sex?
That’s before we even get into questions like, what happens when it’s sex between two men or two women?
You need answers to these things when you’re young. But nobody will tell you.
‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’ by Sophie B Hawkins is almost chaste by the standards of some other songs. It doesn’t explicitly mention sex, but you can hardly accuse Hawkins of being coy, with lyrics like:
Damn, I wish I was your lover
I'll rock you till the daylight comes
Make sure you are smilin' and warm
As a naive young person, I always felt there was something more in this song. Some kind of deeper meaning that was hiding in the shadows of the words and the rhythm. Clues to some of my unanswered questions about sex.
Looking back now, of course, there is a bunch of subtext in the lyrics that went sailing over my pimple-ridden head. The key line that I missed is in the bridge of the song, and goes:
I sat on a mountainside with peace of mind
And I lay by the ocean
Makin' love to her with visions clear
How did I not realise that Hawkins is singing about a woman?
Probably because it was 1992, and I wasn’t conditioned to habitually consider that girls sometimes like girls. We had only just gotten k.d. lang. This was all new to me.
Knowing it’s about a woman adds a whole new context to the opening verse, which goes:
That old dog has chained you up alright
Give you everything you need
To live inside a twisted cage
Sleep beside an empty rage
I had a dream I was your hero
So, this is not a song about sex as pleasure, but about sex as salvation. Hawkins sees a woman who’s trapped in a loveless (possibly abusive) relationship and thinks… damn. The two of us could be having such a good time together right now. We could help each other forget.
It’s not just about sex. It’s about something more complex. The dynamics of desire. Things you’ll spend most of your adult life trying to understand.
And sure, there’s a lot to unpack in these lyrics, like whether it’s okay to lust after someone who’s vulnerable.
But still. At least it’s some kind of education.
Of course, it’s all different now. Today’s kids know everything.
They are still learning most of it in the playground, as we did, except the playground is online and global. They’re exposed to a lot of information, which can be scary for parents. But they’re also really skilled at processing and evaluating that information.
Young people are, across the board, having less sex. I think they understand something we didn’t at their age.
Also, they’re all queer and genderfluid these days. I think this scares a lot of parents. Old people feel that concepts like sexuality and gender are too confusing for kids, and there’s too much risk of them being led astray by dangerous ideas.
And… maybe? There’s always a risk of any teenager going down the wrong path. That’s what adolescence is—a time for choosing your path. Not everyone chooses wisely.
But you have a better chance of choosing the right path if you understand your options.
I think Gen Z are right to take the approach they take. Spend some time figuring out your gender and sexuality first. Then, when you’re older and you know a little more about yourself, go and explore sex and relationships.
It’s better than the 90s way of doing things, which was to lose your virginity and hope you like it, all while searching through pop culture for tiny clues about how to be a person in this world.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 11 (↑ from 18): ‘Lithium’ — Nirvana
We talk about Ecstasy being a 90s drug, but of course the biggest drug to come out of that decade was Prozac (followed closely by Viagra).
Prozac was seen as something a wonder drug at the time, and a big improvement on old-fashioned mood stabilizers like lithium. Doctors—especially in the U.S.—started handing the stuff out so frequently that it became a kind of celebrity in itself, eventually becoming canonised/demonised in Elizabeth Wurtzel’s book Prozac Nation.
Number 19 (New Entry): ‘Book Of Days’ — Enya
It blows my mind that Enya is now extremely cool among Gen Z. She even appears in the latest Marvel movie.
This song is from Far And Away, which is a truly dreadful film. Song’s okay though.
Number 22 (↑ from 33): ‘Jesus He Knows Me’ — Genesis
I sometimes wonder why we get so caught up in the minutae of American life. Genesis are all from Surrey—why are they writing a song about something as uniquely American as Televangelists?
Imagine if Aerosmith wrote a song about how Ryanair keep pretending that Stansted is in London even though it’s clearly not in London? It’s would never happen* because they are Americans and they would leave that stuff to British people.
*Although if they did, they could call it ‘Missed My Flight Again (The Bishop’s Stortford Blues’).
Number 28 (↓ from 21): ‘Face To Face’ — Siouxsie & The Banshees
Recent miniseries Pistol was good fun for people who aren’t too bothered about historical accuracy.
My only gripe is that Siouxsie was essentially reduced to a non-speaking role, which is a shameful way to treat such a legend. ‘Face To Face’ is a late-career classic from the queen of punk.
Number 30 (New Entry): ‘Show You The Way To Go’ — Dannii Minogue
This didn’t perform all that well in the charts. Maybe people were bored of Jackson 5 cover versions after Mariah’s ‘I’ll Be There’?
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Album of the Week
Dirty — Sonic Youth
A cool indie band is like a cool indie bar. They don’t need an aggressive door policy. They just put out this extremely weird, alienating vibe that drives away the squares, townies and boring people.
I spent several years in the late 90s drinking in indie bar that had a massive hand-painted mural of the cover of Sonic Youth’s Goo. It helped drive away all the squares.
The idea of Sonic Youth making an accessible mainstream record as ridiculous as my old local trying to throw a 70s disco party. And yet, the way people talk about Dirty, you would think this record was Kim and Thurston’s Super Happy Drivetime Hits!
It’s true that Dirty is more commercial than any other album in the Sonic Youth discography. That’s mostly down to the snappy production by Butch Vig (fresh off producing Nevermind) and the fact that the band were willing to write some 4-minute songs with choruses.
The first track—also the lead single—does indeed sound like Sonic Youth might be trying to position themselves for a post-grunge audience. The video also feels like an almost self-conscious attempt to get featured on MTV’s 120 Minutes.
But let’s not ignore the fact that this song is good, and the guitar sound is complex, and the lyrics talk about a real-life murder.
There’s a lot of anger on Dirty, especially in Kim’s songs. In ‘Swimsuit Issue’ growls about sexual harassment in angry couplets (“Don’t touch my breast/I’m just working at my desk”), while the furious ‘Shoot’ talks about domestic violence and murder:
At times, the old Sonic Youth bursts through Vig’s slick sound. Closing track ‘Creme Brulee’ is based around the sound of Thurston’s amp malfunctioning, while ‘Theresa’s Sound-World’ channels the spirit of The Velvet Underground.
There’s a lot happening on Dirty. But let’s be clear about one thing. This is a really good record.
The people who hate Dirty seem to hate it because it appeals to people who aren’t cool enough to like Sonic Youth. However, those people are all in their 50s now, so fuck ‘em. If you’re looking for a jumping-on point with Sonic Youth, start here.
Vivaaaaaa [operatic warbling] BARCELOOOONA!!!
I had totally forgotten about Jesus He Knows Me! I likely didn't (couldn't!) fully appreciate then what genuinely really well put together and timely piece of satire it was and still is. It sounds & looks light and catchy yet the lyrics contain a lot & its video is really well executed. Phil's acting chops getting a good work out here too!
In general I find Phil Collins/Genesis a bit twee (not helped that his/their weaker songs appear all too often on the car radio!) but I really enjoyed this seeing this again - thank you!
"The people who hate Dirty seem to hate it because it appeals to people who aren’t cool enough to like Sonic Youth. However, those people are all in their 50s now, so fuck ‘em." I never really got into Sonic Youth but I never really didn't get into them either. I was too busy chasing Britpop and cute boys from Manchester. HOWEVER, I cannot believe you didn't mention 100%! Also, I take umbrage with the comment about fucking off 50 year olds. As a newly minted 50 year old, I still remain the same aging alternative icon I was when I was 40. :p