by Rob Walker
The Divinyls 1991 mega-selling earworm “I Touch Myself” has been crawling around my brain ever since I read the news last week of singer Chrissy Amphlett’s untimely passing, at age 53. I finally had to do something about this, and the process turned into an accidental journey through the evolution of music “discovery,” technology and memory.
“I Touch Myself” is a perfectly respectable pop song that I certainly don’t mind hearing, but when I think of the Divinyls I think first of the edgier iteration of the band that I stumbled upon somewhere around 1984. I was a small-town teenager then, a music fan slightly obsessed with unearthing bands that hadn’t made it to commercial radio. This was a common enough condition — and still is, I assume. The difference is that back then it was harder to do something about it. I knew about MTV but we didn’t have cable; I’m pretty sure the only music magazine I read was Rolling Stone; there was no web search.
I encountered the Divinyls by way of a show called Rock & Roll Tonite. Where I lived, it aired in the middle of the night, and basically consisted of short live sets by bands that hadn’t (yet, in some cases) gone mainstream. I remember learning of Sparks and the Plimsouls, among others, through that show. Amphlett made quite an impression on me, particularly in a set-closing performance of a song called “Boys In Town” — deadpan-tough stage demeanor, schoolgirl dress, lipstick smeared across her face and arms. Delightfully weird, in other words. I promptly tracked down the band’s first record, and remained a fan. That specific rendition of “Boys In Town,” however, remained available to me only by way of memory.
Until yesterday, of course. The truth is, I couldn’t quite recall the name of the song, how it went, or the title of the show where I saw the band perform it. I have magically recovered all those details in the paragraph above because — along with the restless music-loving teens of the 21st Century — I have near-instant access to a practically infinite entertainment data set.
First stop, Wikipedia: Naturally the complete discography is there, and I spent some happy minutes revisiting song titles that released fresh earworms to crowd out “I Touch Myself.” Nothing was quite ringing the proper bell, but feeding song titles into YouTube, and clicking on results connected to live performances, moved me down the path. This clip of the band performing “Boys In Town” live in 1983 confirmed that I had the right song — but, while a cool rendition, not the one in my memory.
Narrowing my search I found another live clip of the tune, performed on something called Nightmoves. Was this the show I watched as a kid? At first I thought so, but an attempt to confirm it via Google caused me to trip over a reference to Rock & Roll Tonite. And that sounded familiar! Back to YouTube. Bingo: This is what I remember. I was transported back to my parents’ living room in the wee small hours, marveling at the precise Amphlett performance that blew me away at 15.
Back then it seemed so exotic and surprising and ephemeral — a discovery. I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenage music nut today, but I wonder if the musical abundance at our fingertips today makes that sort of excitement more rare.
Still, does that mean I’m nostalgic? No way. I’m happy to have been around in the old days, so I can appreciate what we have now. But that doesn’t mean I miss the old days. How could I? They’re just a few clicks away — available anytime, on demand.