On Becoming Toni Basil
In 1982, when I was 10 years old, one of the most popular songs on the radio was “Mickey.” My peers will need no further information in order to have the tune firmly lodged in their heads for the next several hours (you’re welcome), but for you young whipper-snappers who were born long after the song came out, here’s a refresher course:
It’s been 30 years since I first heard that song and saw the video on the brand-spanking-new music channel, but I can still recall seeing the video as a ten-year-old and thinking, “I never want to become that.”
Let me explain.
We all have moments of clarity in our lives, moments when we see things in a new way or with deeper understanding. These moments can spring to mind when we’re faced with difficult decisions, serving as guides through murky waters. They can help shape the course of our lives, either as incentives or deterrents. These are our touchstones.
Toni Basil’s “Mickey” video is one of my touchstones.
I have held onto the image of a woman well beyond her high school years dressing up as a cheerleader, and measured myself against it in many a department store dressing room. I’ve tried to avoid too-short skirts, too-much makeup, too-tight jeans – all in an effort to not look like I’m trying too hard. For many years, I’ve tried to walk the very fine line of not being a 20-something anymore and yet not being ready for retirement. I’m telling you, that middle ground seems perilously difficult to negotiate at times.
Basil made that video in 1980, when she was 37. She had already established herself as a successful dancer and choreographer in the 1960s before trying her hand at singing. “Mickey” routinely makes those “One Hit Wonder” countdowns (usually near or at number one), because although Basil’s recording career spans several decades, this is the only song anyone outside her immediate family knows.
If you’re paying attention, you’ll have noticed that Basil made the “Mickey” video – which, yes, she also choreographed – before MTV was even a thing. Her choreography career had included several films by that point, so I’m sure it seemed only natural to turn the song into a video. And, I’ll admit, the song itself has cheerleader elements to it, which no doubt made the video’s theme obvious to Basil even before she started filming.
What I’m saying is that Toni Basil was, by her late 30s, already a successful woman in four separate areas of show business by the time I saw “Mickey.” What embedded itself in my ten-year-old brain, however, was simply this: That woman is too old to be dressing like a cheerleader.
Back then, even if I had known her age, I likely would have said 37 was too old for that kind of getup. My mother was 40 that year, and she certainly didn’t dress like that. Today, at age 40, I cringe a little to realize she was, at the time, younger than I am now.
In truth, I hadn’t seen that video in probably 15 years before hunting it down to include in this post. Watching it today, and finding out Basil was 37 when she filmed it, have me questioning my formerly sacred touchstone. I still think the video is amateurish and overly silly – and yet I think the silliness is a damn sight better than all those musicians who take themselves too seriously (and, hello, it was 1980). I still wouldn’t want to be in public (or, jeez, on film) wearing a cheerleader outfit – and yet I understand now that musicians in videos are playing a role, not really being themselves. I still want very much to avoid looking like I’m trying to be someone I most definitely am not – and yet I’m also trying to learn not to concern myself as much with what other people think (it’s an extremely hard lesson to learn).
Basil, now age 69, was apparently asked not long ago about that famous cheerleader costume, and she said she still had it. I’d like to imagine that she still puts it on every now and then, all pom-pom shoes and pigtails, and bops around her house. While she folds the laundry or checks her email.
I have said, more times than I can count, “I live in fear of becoming Toni Basil.” I know what I once meant by that, and to a certain extent what I still mean, but I think I need a new touchstone. In fact, I might need a cheerleader costume. It would go nicely with the sparkly blue nail polish I’m currently wearing, and the blonde streaks I just had put in my hair.
Clearly, becoming Toni Basil would have been a pretty decent – not to mention prescient – goal for my ten-year-old self.