Friday, April 26, 2013

Chrissy Amphlett, 1959-2013

For 'music night' this evening at The Wild Reed I celebrate the life and music of Australian rocker Chrissy Amphlett, who died this past Monday, aged 53, after a long struggle with both multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. My previous post, Divinyls' Chrissy Amphlett: She'll "Deal With It", is currently The Wild Reed's most popular post.

Following, with added images and links, is an article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Monique Ross on the death of Chrissy Amphlett.

Australian rock legend Chrissy Amphlett, best known as the singer of the Divinyls, has died in New York aged 53. The charismatic frontwoman was surrounded by family and friends at her home when she died on Monday morning.

Her husband of 14 years, former Divinyls drummer Charley Drayton, says Amphlett died of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. In a statement released by ARIA, he added she had fought the diseases with "exceptional bravery and dignity".

"Chrissy's light burns so very brightly. Hers was a life of passion and creativity; she always lived it to the fullest," the statement said. "With her force of character and vocal strength she paved the way for strong, sexy, outspoken women."

Christine Joy Amphlett was born in Geelong, Victoria, in 1959. She gained fans for her energetic performances, complete with a signature outfit of a school uniform and fishnet stockings.

Amphlett revealed her fight against multiple sclerosis in 2007 and in 2010 announced she had breast cancer. In March this year she shared an insight into her health troubles via her official Facebook page.

"Unfortunately the last 18 months have been a real challenge for me having breast cancer and MS and all the new places that will take you," she wrote. "You become sadly a patient in a world of waiting rooms, waiting sometimes hours for a result or an appointment.

"You spend a lot time in cold machines... hospital beds, on your knees praying for miracles, operating rooms, tests after tests, looking at healthy people skip down the street like you once did and you took it all for granted and now wish you could do that.

"I have not stopped singing throughout all this in my dreams and to be once again performing and doing what I love to do."

Amphlett formed the Divinyls with Jeremy Paul after meeting guitarist Mark McEntee at the Sydney Opera House in the early 1980s.

"She was courageous, she was original, she was a great poet. She had an incredible voice that was instantly recognisable, and she was, underneath all that, delicate," McEntee said.

Despite an ever-changing line-up, the band released six albums between 1982 and 1996. The 1991 single "I Touch Myself" marked the group's highest point. The song reached number one on Australian charts and also found success in the US and UK.

"Everybody has always seen it in one way, but I see the beauty of this song," Amphlett said of the song while speaking to Enough Rope host Andrew Denton in 2006. "It's about both of those sides, our higher self and our lower self and our sexuality and everything."

Drayton says Amphlett hoped the song would also inspire women to a more serious task.

"Chrissy expressed hope that her worldwide hit "I Touch Myself" would remind women to perform annual breast examinations," he said in a statement. "Chrissy was a true pioneer and a treasure to all whose lives her music and spirit touched." . . .

To read Monique Ross' article in its entirety, click here.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties in Australia, the Divinyls' What a Life! (1985) was one of my favorite albums. Its opening track, "Pleasure and Pain" is an Australian rock classic! It's also the title of Amphlett's 2005 autobiography. Here's the music video for "Pleasure and Pain" . . .

. . . Sooner or later, I'll find my place,
Find my body, better fix my face.
Please don't ask me how I've been getting off.
No, please don't ask me how I've been getting off.

It's a fine line between pleasure and pain,
You've done it once, you can do it again.
Whatever you done don't try to explain,
It's a fine, fine line between pleasure and pain,
It's all the same . . .

Another great track from What a Life! is "Old Radios," which, for some strange reason, never made it to the U.S. version of the album! You can hear it, however, by clicking here.

I conclude this special post by sharing Chloe Angyal's insightful tribute to Chrissy Amphlett, one that focuses on the cultural significance of her "pleasure anthem," the 1991 hit "I Touch Myself."


Chrissy Amphlett's Pleasure Anthem

By Chloe Angyal

The Nation
April 22, 2013

Decades before Britney Spears danced through the hallways of a high school in a little plaid skirt, Chrissy Amphlett was making a scene on stage in a school uniform and fishnet stockings. Long before Rihanna sang about the appeals of S&M, Amphlett was crooning about the fine line between pleasure and pain, asking us to please not ask her how she’s been getting off. And years before rappers like Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj were rhyming about taking their sexual pleasure into their own hands, Amphlett was serenading the object of her affection with “when I think about you, I touch myself.”

Amphlett, the lead singer of Divinyls, one of Australia’s best-loved rock bands, died in New York City yesterday after a long battle with cancer and multiple sclerosis. She was 53.

Growing up in Australia in the 1990s, I heard a lot of Divinyls music, most of it in the car. My parents had raised us – my sister and me – on classical music and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and didn’t expose us to much pop music (though my mother did teach me the names of the fifty United States with the aid of “California Girls”). When I was 6 or 7, though, they hired a new nanny, one who had very different tastes in music. She listened to rock, and so whenever she and my sister and I were in the car, the radio was tuned to Sydney’s rock station. New names entered my vocabulary: Bon Jovi, Cold Chisel, Screaming Jets, Midnight Oil, AC/DC, INXS. I wasn’t terribly good at distinguishing these bands – they all sounded the same to my young and uninitiated ears, and I took to simply asking, “Is this Cold Chisel?” every time a song came on, much to my sister’s irritation. But I never had any trouble identifying Divinyls, partly because Amphlett’s was one of the few women’s voices you could hear on rock radio in the mid-nineties.

Two decades after Divinyls made it big (in 1991, “I Touch Myself” went to No. 1 in Australia, No. 4 in the US, and No. 10 in the UK), there are more women’s voices to be found in mainstream rock, though not as many as I’d like. And in part because singers like Rihanna and Spears, as well as Janet Jackson and Pink, have recently penned and performed songs about masturbation, it’s easy to forget how shocking those lyrics were when the song was released. But in 1991, it was still remarkable for a woman to talk openly about masturbation, let alone sing about it loudly and proudly with the full backing of a band to boot. By the early 1990s, the second wave of feminism had well and truly crested, and the backlash against it was in full swing. It was one thing to be a woman in a man’s game, but for that woman to stand on stage and enumerate her various sexual fantasies, well, that was still revolutionary.

Later in her life, Amphlett expressed the wish that “I Touch Myself” serve as a reminder to women that they should get annual breast exams, so that they might catch breast cancer early. And so it should, but of course, those exams don’t involve touching yourself. As we contemplate Amphlett’s legacy, we should also remember the power of women’s pleasure – and consider the sobering fact that it is still shocking to hear a woman talk, or sing, about masturbation.

Related Off-site Links:
Chrissy Amphlett: Remembering Australia's First Lady of Rock – Joanna Holcombe (The Hype, April 22, 2013).
Divinyls Singer Christina Amphlett Dies at Age 53 – Lyndsey Parker (Yahoo! News, April 22, 2013).
R.I.P Divinyls Singer Chrissy Amphlett – Laura Snapes (Pitchfork, April 22, 2013).
Divinyls' Chrissy Amphlett Paved the Way for Women in Rock Says Baby Animals Singer Suze DeMarchi – Cameron Adams (Herald Sun, April 25, 2013).
Friends Pay Tribute to Chrissy AmphlettABC Radio (April 23, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Divinyls' Chrissy Amphlett: She'll "Deal With It"

Opening image: Tracey Nearmy (AAP).

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