Frankie goes to pot
Before and after sexcess: the post platinum platitudes of the ZTT boy wonders. Betty Page reveals the great FGTH cop-out.
Remember seeing Frankie on ‘The Tube’ some 18 months ago? I do. I remember having my temperature rise and the juices jockey like they hadn’t done since Prince did unspeakable things with his guitar at the Lyceum three years ago. Boys in leather; girls with whips; threatening sexuality; naughtiness; sauciness; raunchiness; spice… just what we’d all been missing, something brazen.
The exceptionally titillating photograph. reproduced here is of that vintage, part of a session Holly and friends did for a designer based in London’s premier gay haunt, Heaven. Brilliant. Who’d have imagined a record company touching Frankie with a bent stick? It’s an image designed expressly to put the fear of God into repressed executives, unmarketable for an industry that can only handle sex in a sanitised form, glossily untouchable and suitably, ahem, heterosexual.
When ZTT finally plucked Frankie from impending obscurity, a certain establishment-shaking playfulness was assured. ‘Relax’ fulfilled that early promise, image-wise: skilful S&M teasing, saucy sleeve notes featuring prime shock-shudder eroticisms… disciplining, incision, tumescence, sadism, masochism… oh, really! Paul and Holly became every boy’s dream clone ranger, every taboo imaginable was being hauled out of the closet and into the pop frying pan, putting the foot right in the groin and wiggling the toes. Tut tut!
But the feet were already beginning to turn cold. Having lived it back in Liverpool for so long and now that media attention was skydiving in on the 30% solid gold gay leather aspects, Frankie sat on the fence. Oh, it was all too good to be true. ‘Relax’ was causing minor waves but erstwhile sporter of leather jockstrap Holly Johnson was already hedging. Last November he told RM: “The S&M image was just part of the Frankie saga. We’re just a bunch of theatricals.”
But whose saga? Who writes the scripts and finds the new costumes? By Christmas Paul and Holly were still rubbing up the wrong way, parading their shiny Expectations S&M gear, advising partygoers that leatherwear was out, rubberwear in. Not the kind of attitude you’d expect from boys who were out simply to attract attention: they know too much to be flirts.
And what about the video? Rampant leathermen, trannies, tigers, a threatened climax featuring a Ken Russellesque giant phallus —
But the biggest post-ban cop-out was the tenuous idea that ‘Relax’ wasn’t about sex: “‘Relax’ wasn’t a sexual innuendo,” claimed Holly in March. “That was put upon later.” True, maybe it wasn’t innuendo, but it was pure sex. Said Paul: “I think we hit a far more radical stance by touching on sex —
SO WERE they afraid that people knew they lived it? Afraid that they’d be branded perverts and relegated to the bargain bin? Shame, shame shame —
When asked if ‘Two Tribes’ could be about sex, Holly said: “It could be, it could be. They wouldn’t let me bring it out like that…” Is that telling or is that telling? So then the Beeb fell over themselves to saturate the airwaves, Frankie went on TOTP every week in inoffensive clothing, bore, bore, bore. Now they’ve lost that sex mystery totally, the awesome devilish power that sex imbues in a performer, lost forever.
OK, so we all know Paul and Holly are gay, but no-one mentions it any more. They look dead normal and Holly looks positively cuddly in his Suggs-style clown suits and cheeky chappy grin. Can this malleable Mumsy boy who poses with kids for the NSPCC and ra-ra girls for Razzmatazz be the same Holly who once bleached his barnet and bonded his thighs? Why did it all have to go off at half cock?
Has success really spoilt them? Does modern pop theory dictate that an excessively sexual image and longevity just don’t go hand in glove? Then how come the Stones still make people blush when they’re in their forties?
Man cannot live by sex alone, but that’s no excuse for neutering a very successfully provocative, stimulating image. And posing with chainsaws doth not a threatening image make. So what’s next? Selections from ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’ rendered in slicked back hair and tuxedos? Dead exciting.
The future does not look rosy, as they now announce the coming of ‘Hollywogs’ —
If Frankie won’t come out to play any more, Im going to find alternative funsters with a bit more balls. How long before everyone else thinks the same?