A Land of Both Shado and Substance

(Cue Twilight Zone theme music. Enter Rod Serling.) "Meet Sophie B. Hawkins, age 25. Ms. Hawkins is a native of New York, the daughter of a writer mother and a lawyer father. At the age of fourteen she began taking lessons on African drums and moved in with her teacher. She went on to play percussion with Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. Ms. Hawkins now has an album of her own, Tongues and Tails. The problem is this: Ms. Hawkins describes herself as `omnisexual,' which in this age of AIDS would probably make more sense in...the Twilight Zone."

Okay Rod, thanks for the intro. It isn't often you find a singer who, with one song, can effectively reflect a current social trend that is strange and ponderous at most, and worth a page or two to explore at least. That song? "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover."

The Illusion: The packaging of a singer has almost as much to do with a song's success as the music does, but in Sophie B. Hawkins's case, she's one butterfly not eager to be pinned.

MTV is usually the first time you get a gander at who's making the music you like. Hawkins's first video version of "Damn" makes one wonder how these things get past the meeting stages. Sophie, made up to look like any of a million other "chick" singers, writhed around a bunch of dancers wearing what looked an awful lot like a gauze diaper. One of the few times this version was seen on MTV was during a "House of Style" segment in which the diaper was cited as a fashion don't.

The second version, someone's demand to get as far away from the original as possible, also turned out to be, not surprisingly, far less interesting. Shot in grainy black-and-white (now there's a new one!), Sophie this time writhed around her band, exhibiting all the fashion sense of Stubby, your local auto mechanic: a sleeveless flannel shirt hanging outside torn jeans.

There's nothing wrong with either of these choices, though the diaper is somewhat impractical. But which was the real Hawkins?

The innersleeve of Tongues and Tails offered a third option (Hawkins in menswear), but it's her expression that gets the most notice. In most of the photos, Hawkins's full lips are pursed somewhere between a smooch and an "oooh." In one, this pooching is justified by the fact that she's exhaling smoke, but this might just be Sophie's idea of a sexy look. The only non-oooh photo is of Hawkins lying naked on a rock. Nudity, apparently, needs no oooh for its oomph.

The Aural Sex: "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" is one of those songs you turn up to eleven in the car. It's not just a melodic tune, it's got some wicked rhythms and a catchy chorus that comes back after a sonically cool false stop. Besides, how many other hit singles contain the word "shucks"?

Lyrically, "Damn" is, at first listen, just another sexy request for sex, all breathy vocals and hot-n-bothered squeals. You can practically hear college boys atEgoiste drooling it to girls in black minidresses: "Damn, honey, I wish I was your lover!"

Bet those college boys' salivating mouths will drop open when they find out that "Damn" is a song about a woman who falls in love with her man's mistress. Oooh, indeed.

If you're wondering about the rest of Tongues and Tails, it gave me the same feeling some women get right before they decide to fake it: A burning desire to get it over with. (Ever mindful that my word is hardly the last, I will point out that Tongues and Tails was given an admirable three stars in a Rolling Stone review.)

The Intricacy: Sure, "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" could have been left as nothing more than a song about sex, but these days it seems much more fun to peel away layers. It's about sex, yeah, but it's also about affairs, social taboos, openness. Not breaking rules, just ignoring them. "If you get to that level where you really feel sexual, the ego will not be involved, and all society's constraints fall away," Hawkins has said. So it's not about stepping on toes so much as sucking them?

Ya gotta wonder. This is still the age of AIDS (isn't it?), where one of our most primal instincts, to mate (often), is being held in check by another, the survival instinct: fear of death. But you'd never know there was the slightest problem in view of the overriding message being sent, with a few exceptions, by the media.

Consider Basic Instinct, one of the hottest (in terms of sales and sex) movies of the year. After the principles partake of an encounter so steamy it left audiences blushing, Michael Douglas's character chuckles to a buddy: "Guess I shoulda used a condom." Duh-hur!

After their condomless coitus, Michael Douglas compliments Sharon Stone's character, a bisexual with little patience for underwear, as being "the fuck of the century." Stone smiles, "I thought it was good for starters." Damn!

Basic Instinct and "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" share a thread in that sex itself is almost not titillating enough any more, which seems kind of odd at a time when sexual freedom is at its most restrained.

The Irony: Sophie B. Hawkins is not responsible for any of the irresponsibility in Basic Instinct, but both she and it are barometers of the new sexual freedom flying in the face of caution. Or maybe they're just trying to provide us with a vicarious thrill. In any case, the ultimate irony here is that Sophie B. Hawkins had a song about a bisexual love affair in the Top 5. She gets the last laugh, and probably gives a gauze diaper about what anybody thinks.

SOPHIE B. HAWKINS performs, with the Bellefires, after 8:00 p.m. Sunday at the Button South, 100 Ansin Blvd, Hallandale, 454-0001. Tickets cost $7 and $9.

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Suzan Colon