Suspenders And The Pout: Farewell, Chrissy Amphlett

Yesterday brought the sad news that Christina Amphlett, lead singer of the Divinyls, had died, succumbing to a combination of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. My initial reaction was shock that there was any illness and then sadness that she was gone. She was only 53. When you’re about to tick over to 40 like me, 53 is way too fucking young.

I want to write about Chrissy because she was something of a feminist, sexual icon. Not just to Australians but to people all over the world, thanks to the ground-breaking single I Touch Myself, one of the first songs to openly broach the topic of female masturbation. For that alone, we should be thankful..

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To those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, Chrissy was also a symbol of rebellous, angry sexuality. Her on-stage uniform of ultra-short school dress, ripped stockings and suspenders, combined with a lethal pout, was an in-your-face example of raw sex and pure attitude. This piece in the SMH talks about how Chrissy was one of the few women in an incredibly male-dominated music industry and how she held her own.

Amphlett was dangerous and fearless and confounding because she didn’t follow the rules.

As a kid, I was both mesmerized and repelled by her. I knew that suspenders were rude – my illicit viewings of porn magazines had taught me that – so seeing them on Countdown at 6pm on the ABC was a bit of a shock -but also incredibly sexy (and the Hot Gossip dance troupe on Kenny Everett cemented that fascination for me).

At the same time, she wasn’t a nice girl. She never smiled at the camera, she took up space on the stage, she danced in a crazy way. Her songs were loud and wild, her hair was messed. She squatted over grates so the camera could look up her dress. It went against all the things I’d been taught about how women should behave and my pre-teen self was scandalized.

Now, of course, I look at Chrissy and can only admire her stage presence. That woman knew how to exude power and strength at the same time that she exuded sex.

I recommend reading this piece: How Chrissy Amphlett decided she was the monster that Australia needed. A great first-hand account from Chrissy about how and why she developed the school girl persona. Some quotes:

I cherished that schoolgirl. She did people’s heads in. Being her gave me a freedom I’d never known. I owned that stage – and, whether they liked it or not, the audience in front of it. Up there I could do as I pleased. I could be as frenzied, demented and scary as I wanted to be. It was as if I were a marionette whose strings were being jerked by malevolent goblins…

There was something about my body and my sexuality, my physicality, that threatened audiences. Looking as I did made my performances more confronting. Mine was not a safe body, not a doll’s body. It was real. I had large breasts, I had long legs, and though small I was fit and powerful. My fringe, my pout, my outfit, my voice … the uniform, the threatening props…

I could explore my emotions and my sexual fantasies onstage and in turn the audience explored theirs through me, although I never consciously used sex to manipulate an audience response. my sexuality is tied up with expressing myself through music, which is connected to the spirit. When I performed, sexuality naturally burst out. I don’t apologise. Evoking sex and danger is better than evoking boredom.

Farewell, Chrissy.

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