When “Super Freak” Usurped “America”

A stroll down memory lane — featuring a soundtrack from the days of yore when video killed the radio star — with a sentimental reminder that the only constant in life is change…

by: Carolynn Kingyens

It was music that first spawned my love of poetry, moving me in a way that was unexpected, and often profound. In a weird way, music can be viewed as its own virtual time capsule. It holds all the remember-whens?

I remember when my family and I went to our fundamental Baptist church’s “Monday Night Skate” (think Footloose) at Cornwell Heights Skating Rink, located in a small suburb outside of Philadelphia. In between Amy Grant and “The Hokey Pokey,” a daring DJ slipped in Rick James’ “Super Freak.” I am sure he threw this song in the mix for his own amusement, yet I skated around that rink bobbing my Pez-head to the most badass song a seven-year-old had ever heard up to that point. Prior to “Super Freak,” it was Neil Diamond’s “America” that had my heart. That night, though, “Super Freak” usurped “America” decisively. How could it not with these lyrics:

“That girl is pretty kinky/

The girl’s a super freak /

I’d really like to taste her/

Every time we meet /

She’s all right /

she’s all right /

That girl’s all right with me/ yeah.

She’s a super freak /super freak/

She’s super freaky, 

Temptations sing!”

Because of my age, I am First Generation-MTV, it’s inception being August 1, 1981 at 12:01am. The first video to ever play on the 24-hour music channel was Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Talk about a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But all Buggles needed was the book, The Secret to help guide him away from his eventual nosedive into obscurity. If there was such a book back then, maybe Buggles would have changed his song title to “Video Made the Radio Star.” We will never know. Nonetheless, I appreciated his self-deprecation, and clever use of irony.

More one hit wonders would follow, then in 1984, there was the first annual, MTV Music Video Awards. Who could forget a relatively unknown Madonna’s hyper-sexualized performance of “Like a Virgin?” I won’t. At the ripe age of ten, I was a little confused by her weird gyrating movements, but I remember really liking her pretty white, party dress.

MTV continued to run parallel to my life in high school, and later, at university. Time seemed to move slower back then, and easily traceable by the music. However, somewhere in the early 2000’s, I realized my generation, X, was being unceremoniously dumped for a younger one called Y, The Mighty Millennial. MTV was just not that into us anymore.

Today, I listen mostly to music from a bygone era — my own. When Michael Jackson died in 2009, and later, Prince, in 2016, I finally understood that far away look on my father’s face whenever he’d heard someone from his generation had passed away. Sometimes he would let out an audible sigh. I get it, Pop. I get it now.

 We mourned the only way we knew how: rolling down car windows and blasting their unforgettable, “remember when” songs like “Thriller” and “Kiss.”. Back in the mid-80’s, it seemed you were either a MJ or Prince fan, Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, but rarely all four at the same time. Interestingly enough, the only ones left standing today are the original divas.

In the beginning of this article, I noted that music was the reason for my lifelong love of  poetry. Fascinating to think this infatuation was birthed by “teachers” such as Tori Amos, Muddy Waters, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Ani Difranco, Radiohead, Tom Waits, the Talking Heads, and the Counting Crows. One of my favorite Counting Crows’ songs is “Anna Begins” from August and Everything After. These simple lyrics hold the answer to quasi-existential crises, like the time I realized MTV was the love-them-and-leave them type:

“Oh,” she said, You’re changing.

But we’re always changing.”

 

Carolynn Kingyens has a forthcoming debut book of poetry – Before the Big Bang Makes a Sound, Spring 2020. The collective voice in the collection is intuitive, an outsider and observer, navigating a way through heartbreak, anxiety, freakish accidents, ghosts, regret, illness, set against the beautiful-gritty landscape of New York City. Carolynn lives in New York City with her husband, and two kind, funny, and super creative daughters.

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