Disclaimer: Jem and all related elements, characters and indicia © Hasbro Inc., Sunbow Entertainment, Marvel Productions Ltd. 1985-2009. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situations—save those created by the authors for use solely on this website—are copyright Hasbro Inc., Marvel Productions Ltd., Sunbow Entertainment © 1985-2009.
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Author's Note: Written for tolakasa for the Yuletide 2007 Challenge.
When Katie McCall joined the staff of the hottest rock magazine to come along since Rolling Stone and Spin (or so her editor claimed they were destined to be) she did it because she wanted to meet rock stars.
She could have made up some bullshit about how she had worked hard at her craft, and wanted to be a hard-hitting journalist probing the seedy underbelly of the music business, and see if it was all really sex, drugs, hookers and tramps.
But really, it was all about wanting to meet rock stars.
Shallow, but true. Like every other kid from suburbia who grew up in the 1970s, her bedroom walls had been lined with LP sleeves, though unlike her brothers (KISS, The Clash, The Ramones, Pink Floyd) her faded yellow striped wallpaper was hidden beneath Queen, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno.
She liked the glitter and the gold lamé, sexually ambiguous beautiful men and women with hair like exotic tropical birds and names like Souixie.
She liked big hair, and mosh pits, and long black limousines. Glitter kids, and heroin-chic, and CBGB t-shirts with ripped jeans that hadn't come that way from a Beverly Hills boutique.
Katie McCall wanted to meet rock stars.
Storm Phillips was not what she expected.
For one thing, the address Katie's editor had given her was for a little bungalow in Sherman Oaks. She'd stared incredulously at the row after row of single family homes, bikes in the drive-ways, sprinklers darkening the pavement in rhythmic waves, back and forth like metronomes.
She rang the bell, and waited. Glancing at her watch, she rang it again, and was about to go when the door flew open, revealing a slender woman with close-cropped black hair. She was wearing a wrinkled white tuxedo shirt over a faded band t-shirt that read "Blue Bloods", and black skinny jeans. Her feet were bare.
"Hi! Sorry, I was in the studio. Didn't hear the bell."
"I'm sorry, I'm looking for—"
"Mary Phillips," the woman said, extended a hand. "You're from Danny's new rag, right? C'mon in. Lemme just put a pot of coffee on."
Katie was ushered into a cozy living room with faded blue sofas that looked like they would be heaven for a drummer to crash on, an acoustic guitar leaning up against the wall in one corner. The only sign that she was in a bona fide rock star's home was a row of platinum albums framed along one wall. Back 2 Back, Flying Solo, Electric Blue, The Return of the Blue and the Wild Red, Show's Over. All the albums that had made headlines as the 1980s became the 1990s. As Phillips went from "that chick with the blue hair in that girl band" to Storm Phillips, head of an indie rock empire.
Katie sat down on the sofa, and fished her minicassette recorder out of her bag. She placed it on the glass coffee table, next to an empty mug that read "Instant Human: Just Add Coffee" and a rainbow smattering of brightly-colored guitar picks.
Phillips came back from the kitchen with two steaming mugs. Both had plenty of cream, and when Katie sipped hers, it was very sweet. She drank it anyway, as it was still before noon on a Saturday and she would need a gallon of the stuff before she became recognisably human.
"You know, when you answered the door, I didn't recognize you. You look... different."
"It's okay. You were going to say 'normal', weren't you." Phillips laughed, running her hand through the short black hair. "I never get stopped on the street anymore. That's for sure."
Rock stars were supposed to live in palacial homes, and be eccentric. They were supposed to wear leather pants 24/7 and have interesting fishtanks. Katie had MTV. She had a finely honed sense of what a rock star should be.
Storm Phillips looked like a regular woman in her early thirties, albeit it was Southern California so she was toned and tanned and could still probably pass for 25 in a dark club. But if it wasn't for her trademark beauty mark just above the corner of her mouth, Katie never would have connected the woman sitting on the sofa opposite her with the snarling Misfit in ripped fishnets and four inch stilettos, her hair teased and sprayed into a riot of blue curls eight inches from her scalp.
"God, this isn't going well at all, is it," Katie said before she could stop herself. She felt stupid and embarassed, but her host just smiled at her affectionately.
"It's okay. That's not on yet, is it?"
"No. Not yet. I should do that, huh?"
Katie sipped her coffee, and tried to get her shit together. She pulled her notebook—a dozen questions scrawled in her unreadable handwriting, some doodles in the margins. She clicked on the tape recorder, and leaned back in her chair.
"So...um, this is for the January issue."
"So you're doing a whole Millenium thing."
"Yeah. I mean, except it's not actually the millenium until next year, but..."
"But we're rock stars. Not math wizzes. I get it."
"So... how did it start? And why did it end?"
Phillips sat in the overstuffed armchair closest to the coffee table without even asking if that was where Katie would need her, for the mic to pick her up. She tucked her bare feet under her, sitting cross-legged, her coffee mug balanced on the arm of the chair.
"God, I'm trying to remember. It's so weird—you'd have thought everybody would have been way more interested in stuff like the wall coming down, or Freddie dying of AIDS. Not what happened to a bunch of pop stars."
"Danny's got Peter covering the social angle. The decade of change, all that stuff. But you were there. I mean, actually there."
By there, Katie meant the infamous Rock Music Awards of 1991. Infamous because during their live performance on stage, Jem and the Holograms had become, with no advance warning, Jerrica and the Holograms. In front of the entire music industry, live on television.
It had at first been Milli Vanilli all over again, with Starlight Music coming under fire from all sides despite the assurances from Jerrica Benton and the Starlight lawyers that no performances had ever been lip-synched. It was in fact Jerrica's voice on every recording, and she had been performing using the stage name "Jem" the entire time. Photos had been produced, which had been used to prove Jem and Jerrica had attended the same events, even been in the same room. This was explained—much to the public's dissatisfaction—as Jerrica employing a double for personal appearances only. The IRS had seized all of Starlight's financial records going back to 1981, trying to prove that the books had been altered to conceal "Jem"'s identity and more importantly, claimed earnings, and that Starlight had been involved in massive fraud and financial misconduct. While almost all of the charges were later dropped, it had resulted in Stinger Sound having to fire co-founder Eric Raymond, when evidence of his embezzling came to light.
Social Services had threatened to revoke Starlight House's status as a foster home for girls, and that was where the real battles were fought. The ones that mattered. In the end, Starlight House was allowed to remain open so long as Jerrica stepped down, and a board was established. Shana Julian took it over, and Jerrica Benton disappeared from public life.
Jerrica Benton appeared on Lindsey Pierce's show in an historic hour-long interview, explaining how she had begun performing as "Jem" solely to support her parents' foster home. Former Starlight Girls like UCLA junior Leela Robinson, and Ba Nee O'Carolan who had been reunited with her father, a Vietnam veteran, also appeared and were interviewed about life during the five years Jem and the Holograms had existed. Former boyband heartthrobs Jason and Thomas Long, of the Fifth Avenue Boys, gave testimonials.
But it was Pizzazz of the Misfits whose brief—30 seconds at best, with the profanity bleeped out—appearance that summed up the whole experience.
"I mean, who really cares? Seriously. Sure, I'd always suspected. I knew Jem had to have a secret, why else all the f—-ing hype? You know? it's all just f—-ing bull—-t that no one really cares about, that stuff. What mattered was the music. Was it fun, seeing prissy little Jerrica Benton fall flat on her face on live television? F—k yeah. Jesus, I'd have to be dead not to have laughed my head off. But the pink princess turning out to be wimpy little Jerrica? Not that big a deal. I'll tell ya, it made sense, when you think about it. She'd been f—-ing that road manager of hers for years as both Jem and Jerrica, and none ever seemed to think it was a big deal, so he musta known the whole time. What's the big f——ing deal? Now get that God——- camera out of my face."
What mattered was the music was the bit that ended up on tee-shirts, in the papers, sound bytes circling the globe three times over.
"The music really was what mattered, you know," Phillips said as she laid her empty mug on the tabletop, running a finger down its side. "That was when Kimber went solo. But Starlight Music—that company was founded for her mom, Jacqui Benton."
"The crash of flight 909. We actually did a story on it last year."
"Yeah. Kimber's dad, Emmett, he wanted Kimber to record when she got good enough. That was always the plan, and the Holograms was just a stopgap thing, really. Nobody really knew Kimber as Kimber, until after '91. And even then, I think she got lost in the whole pack of mall tours for a while—you know, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Heather Wells. When we decided to do Return, I was outselling her two to one. It was weird, 'cause that was the total opposite of what it had been the first time we did it. When we did Back 2 Back. But I think Return is a better album. We had more time to work on it—it was actually two years in development."
"But you formed Blue Storm Records to release it? Why, when you had Stinger Sound?"
"I wanted to record on a smaller label, since my solo stuff didn't really fit with the rest of the Stinger Sound catalogue. Rory Llewellan was a big help on Flying, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't have been able to pull it off, if I hadn't done it at Stingers Sound. I was still really green. Being in the Misfits had been like a practice run, I guess you'd say. We were in the big time for a while, but it was still really packaged. We'd been put together by Eric and Phyllis to be a specific sound, for a specific time. But nobody wanted to see an all chick hair band playing the same stuff forever. We weren't Madonna, you know? We couldn't really reinvent ourselves so easily, to keep up with the market. And after Jem came out—"
"It's funny you say that, 'came out'."
"Well, that's sort of what it was. After that, there was a big backlash against that kind of group for a while. And the kids who'd grown up on the Holograms and the Misfits weren't kids anymore. They didn't want bubblegum pop, and they didn't want the kind of tame punk—that's what Roxy used to call it. That kind of packaged sound anymore. They wanted Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam. And you can't really blame them. There were always going to be kids who wanted New Kids on the Block or the Starlights. But we couldn't keep doing that over and over. And we sure as hell weren't going to be Pearl Jam."
"Why do you think the Misfits couldn't survive the backlash?"
"I think we needed to have the Holograms, in a way. In those first few years, it was the rivalry that really kept both bands going. I don't think Jerrica would ever have done a second album as Jem, if it weren't for Phyllis calling her out publicly at the Glitter and Gold record store thing. I really don't."
"Roxy Pelligrini is more famous now for her clothing line than she ever was as a singer. What do you think people will say, in the next millenium, about Storm Phillips?"
"Oh God, I don't know. I never really got into this business to do the whole large venue tour thing. I mean, yeah I liked touring. I liked playing all those different cities. I saw the world, all before I was twenty-two. That's a really amazing thing, for a kid who grew up in a double-wide in the middle of cornfields. But my brother did that, busking back in the 80s. He didn't have a recording contract until he joined the Blue Bloods. So it's not like I couldn't have done that without the Misfits. But I wouldn't have wanted to do it, if I couldn't have done it with Pizzazz, and Roxy and Sheila. It was like a slumber party that never ended."
"Except it did end, when you left the band."
"I wasn't the only one who wanted to go, though. Pizzazz had left once before—so did Roxy. I was the first, but I think we knew the Misfits were over even before Jerrica, you know..." She leaned back in her chair, stretching one leg out to rest her heel on the coffee table. Her toenails were painted blue. "The Misfits was an amazing time in my life, but it wasn't as creative satisfying as the stuff I started producing when I did Solo, and then Return. We'd always had a really strict hierarchy—I would write the music, Pizzazz and I did lyrics, and sometimes Roxy would. She wrote three hit songs, you know. By the end of it, each of us had at least one hit to our names. But it was still... just not the same."
"With the fifteenth anniversary edition of The Misfits Movie about to come out on DVD... what do you think the Misfits music says to modern audiences?"
"That you really can't go wrong with really huge hair. The movie may have bombed big time when it came out, but I think the whole Rocky Horror thing they do with it on college campuses is what people will remember, when they think of the Misfits. I saw the show in new York last Christmas, actually. The girl playing me had a fantastic wig."
"Speaking of Rory Llewellan, why do you think the Stingers, out of the pack of hair bands from the 80s, managed to survive?"
"I don't know if you've ever met Rory, but remember what I said about Madonna? How she survived by constantly reinventing herself for new audiences? Rory's like Madonna with a dick."
Katie had to swallow her laughter, because she didn't really want that showing up on the tape for Danny and the entire office to hear. "Can I quote you on that?"
"I'd really prefer there be no more quotes from me about Rory's equipment. And as crazy as it sounds, we're still friends."
"Friends, but not..."
"Is there someone?"
"That's so weird. No-one ever asks, like, Ozzie if there's 'someone'."
"Ozzie has Sharon."
"Making music isn't about who you're fucking." Her tone was light, but her meaning was clear.
"God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"
"No, no, it's okay. I just mean... I do what I do because I love it. I always have. From the first time my mom sat me down at the piano, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. And I know that people read the tabloids to see if Lena Lerner's had work done, or who Tommy Lee's currently shacking up with. But that's never really been something I'm interested in. And I can't see anybody buying Cool Trash to see who I'm making out with at Fashion Week, you know?"
Katie flipped through two pages of notes, still trying to regain her composure. "Have you ever thought about having a family?"
"My brother's kids are more than enough for me. I can be crazy Aunt Stormer, and spoil them and fill them full of sugar, and then hand them back to their mom."
"But their mom is Aja Leith, former bass player for the Holograms."
"Yeah, but Aja and Craig... they took a long time to get there. And it was the place for them, but I don't know if it's the place for me. Not yet. So, you got everything you need?"
Katie blinked, flustered. "Um, yeah. I mean, I guess so."
Phillips escorted her to the door. Without her four inch heels, Katie was shocked to realise how tiny she was.
"Thanks so much for your time."
Stormer waited until the car pulled away, and disappeared around the bend completely. She took the two coffee mugs over to the kitchen, rinsed them, but didn't bother setting them in the dishwasher rack.
Instead she took the basement stairs two at a time, her bare feet thumping on the carpeted steps leading to her studio.
"I thought she'd never leave," came a voice from the cavernous sofa in the corner of the studio. Rows of diet coke cans were arranged in geometric patterns around stacks of music paper, and an empty box of Kristy Kremes.
"Sorry! Sorry! It was Danny's new girl," Stormer said as she dropped down beside Kimber on the sofa, kicking over a stack of coke cans as she landed. "They're doing the whole Millenium thing. I bet they call you next."
"So what was it like?"
"She was okay. I think I scared her."
"Good for you."
"Were you good while I was gone?"
"I was very good."
"I finished the second verse of 'Someday'."
"You were only two lines away from that when I went upstairs."
"Yeah, but there's two really great lines. Wanna see?"
She leaned over and kissed her, taking her time.
Because in the end, it wasn't only the music that had mattered.