Rock and Roll Fable Disable.
Everything you know is fake. Everything you believe is wrong.
STREETS OF FIRE taught me this. In one crushing swoop, everything I believed about the movie’s finale song, Dan Hartman’s I Can Dream About You, was shattered. Allow me to digress…
The movie itself is an unsuccessful stab at cult musical-actioner, with comicbook visuals set in an idealized version of 1950’s America. Touting itself as a “rock and roll fable” (embarrassing!), a biker gang headed by Willem Dafoe kidnaps rock and roll chick Diane Lane, whose ex-boyfriend (Michael Pare) and a tomboy (Amy Madigan) toughly carve through the bikers to get her back. Like one of the songs that salubrious Diane Lane lip-syncs, the movie goes Nowhere Fast.
I didn’t see STREETS OF FIRE during its release in Australia 1984, but was bombarded with Dan Hartman’s single from the movie, I Can Dream About You, and its attendant video. Dan Hartman onstage was inspiring; he was a crystalline vocalist, he was an awesome dancer, he was a catchy songwriter – and he was black.
Twenty years later, I would discover Dan Hartman isn’t black. Everything I knew was fake. Everything I believed was wrong.
This is the video that everyone who watched music programs in Australia was sold:
For 1984, it was smoooove. In 2011, it hasn’t dated. It was nostalgic back then and it’s nostalgic now. A great piece of work, singing, dancing, songwriting, production, direction.
We took it for granted the singer was “Dan Hartman” and this was a band much like The Four Tops or The Drifters. The music programs (like “Molly Meldrum’s Countdown” or “Sounds”) that featured this video never told us otherwise. These guys were cake, and “Dan Hartman” had an unstoppable moonwalk…
20 YEARS LATER:
I actually view STREETS OF FIRE in full for the first time – and I “know” movies now, I “know” actors, I “know” rock and roll, and I “know” that media is rarely truth.
And I was stunned to see “Dan Hartman’s” band, The Sorels, in STREETS OF FIRE. Oh, I knew this was where that song came from, but now I somehow “know” the names of “Hartman’s” vocal group – even though I’ve never followed “Hartman’s” career. Because they’re all ACTORS! And 20 years ago, they were just outa the gate and had done hardly anything on film, but now I’ve seen them in supporting roles throughout my film-viewing life: I “know” Mykelti Williamson (FORREST GUMP), I “know” Grand L. Bush (DIE HARD), I “know” Robert Townsend (METEOR MAN); and the man who was “Dan Hartman” to me for two decades is Stoney Jackson (ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD) doing a sensational lip-sync.
My chest felt weak. Everything I know is fake. Everything I believe is wrong.
Back in ’84, there was no internet, no instantaneous information retrieval; all we had were TV music programs, music magazines and gossipy friends, all of which had incomplete and slanted views on music.
Then there is the OTHER “fakery” about this song: In the MOVIE itself (not the video clip) the vocal is performed by Winston Ford!
Maybe I’m nitpicking details – anyone involved in the entertainment industry knows that every single song in every single movie goes through the same melodrama for various reasons, political, musical, contractual, etc. – but what bugs me is that I feel like I’m one of those guys who wakes up and realizes his whole identity is a CIA construct or that he is suddenly a super spy with no wife and kids; a toppling of values, a questioning of motivations – a “What the–?” moment of grand proportions: You mean to tell me that for TWENTY YEARS I’ve lived under the falsehood that Stoney Jackson was Dan Hartman?; that when I was 19, I was inspired to be “in a band” by a FAKE BAND? that this song that kept me going, that helped me to understand song construction, with the best moonwalking this side of Michael Jackson – was all CHARADE? (Ha ha! Charade you are!)
Will The Real Dan Hartman Please Stand Up?… and stop dancing…
Watching Dan Hartman actually performing I Can Dream About You in his own video is one of the greatest examples of how optics matter so much. I won’t summarily dismiss Caucasian Hartman as a talentless git because I really never knew him (only after his death in 1994 from AIDS did the public discover he was gay) – but he couldn’t dance to save his faux-Hasselhoff helmet. He should be eternally thankful at how those Actors did his song visual swingin’ justice! I’ll assume Hartman was not thinking about moonwalking when he wrote the lyric, “moving sidewalk, I don’t see under my feet,” but it’s also obvious he never comprehended how his song could translate to dancing at all – watching his whitey bartender in the video doing that Daryl Hall whiteboy pony-step stomp, we realize why they Milli-Vanilli-ed some black guys to do the dancing FOR him…
The Sorels performing I Can Dream About You could have been a powerful end to a crappy movie, but director-writer Walter Hill diluted the STREETS OF FIRE climax with Diane Lane (albeit very young and sexy) taking the stage once more and lip-synching to Jim Steinman’s Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young, looking like she should be 300 lbs and named Meat Loaf.
Maybe 20 years from now, I’ll find out she IS.