It’s not like she was the erotic star of my adolescence or nothing but it only took Sophie B. Hawkins four minutes to ruin all other women for me. She wasn’t even on my radar until “Damn I Wish I was Your Lover” hit it big and then she was all over magazines and MTV with that bugged out white girl hippie stare. She looked like she just got high as a kite and was thinking about the iChing or sex on a mountaintop or yoga or something. Then I saw the video, the original one you can’t find anymore, and that changed everything.
If you haven’t heard the song allow me to summarize: Sophie has someone in her sights but he (or she) is involved with some non-Sophie type chick. That’s no obstacle to our girl because this other woman–by virtue of not being a pop sex goddess–is clearly a prudish bore. “Damn,” Sophie sings, “I wish I was your lover.” She then proceeds to explain exactly why this would be beneficial to all parties involved.
“I had a dream I was your hero,” she declares.
She spends the PG-13 video rolling the floor with a band of East Village types who are clearly only pretending to play their instruments. But in the original too-hot-for-MTV version she’s wrapped in white drapes, writhing her hips around, suspended in some kind of borderless ether where you just know a whole bunch of zero gravity fucking is going on off camera. She’s a siren, all curls and side-glances and gyration but as suggestive as that video was, I think the TV-safe version is the one that really gets the point of the song.
So-phie. Even her name was erotic. You could stretch it like elastic in your mouth. Sooooooo-phie. She didn’t need half-assed pornography. She was no empty vessel in a lonely room waiting to be taken–no, she was working herself up until she was the one “getting on [a] camel and riding uptown.”
I guess it’s a little unfair to compare real women to such a manufactured fantasy. But hey, I employ no double standards. In fact I don’t think I can respect a woman who doesn’t have her own pop sex god for me to fall short against. My money would on Prince as the category front-runner. He and Sophie were kindred spirits who spent the bulk of their careers curing us of our Americanized repression. Whereas Prince challenged us to not look away, to embrace our weird, Sophie was more elemental. “I’m going to open up,” she sang, “I’m going to come inside, I’m going to fill you up, I’m going to make you cry.”
That’s a long way from “open your heart to me, I’ll hold the lock if you’ll be the key.” If Prince freed our minds it was Sophie who invited us to free our wants.
She challenged us to believe that a crazed, all-consuming desire isn’t just the right of whoever can wear the least clothing, or dance the best. Shit, she spends the entire video in baggy jeans and sleeveless flannel doing some sort of spastic rain dance and I can’t take my eyes off her. In fact being unremarkable is the whole point. She’s an everywoman here to teach us that no one should be left to writhe on the floor of a warehouse while a bunch of backup singers fake play the key-tar.
Sometimes when I’m feeling lonely I throw that record on and imagine myself next to her on a street corner, both of us waiting for our luck to change. The taxis pass us by, the crossing light changes, I breathe in and say hello.