35 years ago this week Get the Knack was released and the debut album by the Los Angeles-based foursome set the world on fire with a testosterone-fueled single "My Sharona."
While the Knack is no more, following the death of drummer Bruce Gary in 2006 from lymphoma and later singer/guitarist Doug Fieger of cancer in 2010, "My Sharona" and the woman that inspired it live on.
She is Sharona Alperin, a Los Angeles real estate agent who still embraces the aural love letter Fieger wrote for her when she was just 17.
When you visit Alperin's website — yes, it's mysharona.com — you'll hear that familiar tribal drumbeat, followed by Prescott Niles's thundering bass, Berton Averre's guitar, and Fieger's vocal, pleading, "Ooh my little pretty one, pretty one / When you gonna give me some time, Sharona?"
Turns out the song is 100% based on a real-life story. As she explains in a recent interview, Alperin was a teenager in Los Angeles who happened to be a fan of the up-and-coming new wave quartet at the time, and had the opportunity to meet the band at one of their gigs around town.
When Alperin, then a student at L.A's Fairfax High School, was first introduced to Fieger (by his then-girlfriend, no less!), she recalls the singer had "almost a physical reaction, I'll never forget."
A few weeks later, he invited her to see the band's showcase at local rehearsal and recording space SIR Studios. A month later, he invited Alperin to share a meal at a Melrose Avenue cafe, and confessed his feelings. Her response was not encouraging, to say the least.
"He said, 'I'm madly in love with you and one day we're going to be together,'" Alperin recalls. "And I said, 'Are you crazy? You've been with someone for nine years and I'm completely in love with my boyfriend.'"
At one point, Fieger, frustrated that Alperin wouldn't drop her boyfriend, banned her from coming to the Knack's shows, but that didn't last for long. He started singing her name while he was working on lyrics to accompany a two-year-old guitar riff Averre had kicking around.
"I started singing 'My Sharona,' and Berton said, 'You can't do that. You're living with someone else.'" Yet Fieger couldn't help himself. "After I met Sharona, I knew the feeling I had for her would translate well with the rhythm of that song," he told me in an interview conducted for The Billboard Book of Number One Albums.
Fieger was right. The song became the summer hit of 1979, pushing Get the Knack and the single itself to No. 1, and Sharona became his new girlfriend, but it didn't happen overnight.
Fieger finally decided to break up with his girlfriend, clearing the way for him to pursue Alperin. "I wasn't their groupie," she says. "It was more like he was my groupie." Alperin didn't give in to his advances, but she remained friends with the band, attending their shows and even their rehearsals.
One day on a lunch break from her job at a local clothing shop, she visited the band at SIR Studios where they were rehearsing. "I heard Doug say to Berton, 'Should we play it?' And Berton's like, 'If you want to.' I was alone, the band played it. All I could remember was driving back to work and thinking, 'Wait a minute, did I just hear a song with my name in it? Oh my God! Are you serious?'"
Fieger's lust/love song was steeped in the great rock tradition that dates back to Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and Ritchie Valens' "Donna," and continued years later with the Rolling Stones' "Angie." But he took things to a whole new level with his lustful lyrics. Not only did he confess that Sharona made his "motor run," Fieger, who was 11 years older than Alperin, sang the immortal lines: "Never gonna stop / Give it up / Such a dirty mind / Always get it up / For the touch / Of the younger kind."
For Alperin, it also brought back memories of her childhood. "When I was really young I remember sitting in the backseat of my mother's car and hearing 'Rhiannon' [by Fleetwood Mac] and thinking, 'God, I wonder what it's like to have a song written about you?' I guess I found out," she says.
Not only did Alperin inspire the Knack's biggest hit, she was also the muse behind several of the album's other songs, including "Frustrated" and "(She's So) Selfish." She appeared on the cover of the "My Sharona" 45 single, busty and braless, wearing button-down Levi's 501s and a sheer white tank top. (She also appeared on the cover of the Knack's second album, ...But the Little Girls Understand, in a candid photo taken while she was watching the band perform at the legendary Troubadour night club in West Hollywood.)
Eventually, Alperin left her boyfriend and got together with Fieger. She traveled the world with the band, including stops at Budokan in Japan, enjoying her newfound fame. "The best thing was that people knew how to pronounce my name," she says. When the song became omnipresent, she admits she "got sick of hearing it, but never got sick of the situation and what happened to me."
Her romantic relationship with Fieger ended by the time she turned 21. "It was time for me to be my Sharona," she says. "In the English language there isn't more of possessive or obsessive word than 'my,' but I wasn't really his. His thinking was that I was his everything, I was him in a woman, his soul mate, I was young."
After the breakup, the two remained friends. Alperin was with Fieger when he received his cancer diagnosis; at his bedside with friends, including Ringo Starr, in his final days, and at his funeral at the House of Blues, where she addressed Fieger's friends and family.
Today when she introduces herself to new acquaintances and potential clients, she sometimes catches their heads bopping as the song starts playing in their mind. "It's a guttural, natural reaction," she says. "And about 50% might say out loud, 'My Sharona.'"
Not always, but often Alperin will own up to the fact that she is that Sharona. When she does, "People have great memories to share," she says. "They tell me the first time they heard it. They remember who they were dating. They remember what they were wearing and who they were doing."
And when that happens, somewhere Doug Fieger is looking down, smiling.