Being Human

We are sensual beings. We are sexual beings. We are joyous beings, if we let ourselves be. Being gay is just one way to be human. Based on the evidence, LGBTQ+ people are a useful and important part of the human species. [Gay people’s] experience is valuable — not just for ourselves, but because we are a way for others to learn more about what it means to be truly awake and aware and human.

David Gerrold, science-fiction writer, commenting on Pride Month

For the record, I am not gay myself. I’m about as cis-hetero as they come, aside from a teeny little man-crush on Chris Hemsworth. Once upon a time, as shameful as it is to admit this, I probably would’ve qualified as a homophobe. Back in the Awesome ’80s, when I was a painfully insecure teenage boy, I routinely used the word “fag” as an insult and pronounced things as “gay” when I meant “uncool,” the same as all the other insecure teen boys of that era. But here’s the thing: I didn’t actually know any gay people then, at least none that I realized were gay. (Even now, I have a fairly wonky sense of “gaydar.” Often, I just can’t tell until someone does something really gay.) I don’t think I even fully understood what “gay” meant. I was speaking and acting from a place of ignorance.

The first time I was aware of being in a gay man’s company was… uncomfortable. Especially when he remarked how well I filled out a pair of jeans. But you know what? It wasn’t that uncomfortable, and I later realized he wasn’t hitting on me as I’d initially believed, he was just giving me a compliment, and what was so terrible about that? I had to admit to myself that it wasn’t terrible at all; it was flattering. As the years went by, I had more experiences with gay people, and a few trans people as well, and none of those experiences were terrible either. I worked with them, I friended them, I shopped in their stores, and I went to parties at their homes. I became a fan of Armistead Maupin and his very gay Tales of the City books. I saw Brokeback Mountain and Milk and was deeply moved by both. In 2008, Anne and I had an incredible vacation in San Francisco, and you want to know what our favorite neighborhood was? The Castro… the notorious gay neighborhood, the one where we were the exception, the token straight couple. And in 2015, I cheered when gay people finally won the right to marry those they love.

I’m not recounting all of this to make myself look good. I know that I’m no hero. I am, by my own admission, a guy who used to be a bit of a jerk, if never a truly malignant one. But I also know that I’ve become a better person, a better human, because of my interactions with LGBTQ people and a growing understanding of their struggles. (I still have a long way to go on that front, but I am trying.) I’m a bigger, more compassionate person than I used to be, I’m a lot more comfortable with myself, and I find that my world has more colors in it than it used to.

In other words, I am what Mr. Gerrold is talking about in the final sentence of that quote at the top of this post. A quote that resonates strongly with this old Star Trek fan, and not just because Gerrold wrote a popular episode of that show. At its core, Star Trek — true Star Trek, not the watered-down action-oriented product that it’s become — was about the way fear and prejudice disappears when you get to know other people. About human beings evolving beyond their petty, childish fears of “the other.” Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

I believe in that slogan more now than at any other point in my life. It’s a shame there are still so many who don’t.

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Friday Evening Videos: “Kristina” (Orchestral Version)

So, my main man Rick Springfield has a new album out that I’ve really been enjoying for the past couple weeks. It’s called Orchestrating My Life, a collection of 10 hits, two beloved album cuts, and a new song Rick wrote when his mom passed away, all of them recorded with a symphony orchestra accompanying Rick’s band. The cynical might sniff that the symphony thing is just a gimmicky way to repackage the same old tunes, but I’m finding that the symphonic accompaniment lends a great deal of depth and freshness to some very familiar material.

Consider “Kristina,” for example, a cut from his 1982 album Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet. Although it was never released as a single, it’s become a fan favorite over the years and is always a highlight of Rick’s live performances. It’s one of my personal favorites as well, with its infectious guitar hook, a throbbing bass line that encourages you to nod your head and pump your fist, and lyrics that play with two of my favorite subjects, cars and sex. As much as I love it, though, it’s… well, it’s familiar. Adding the symphony takes a straight-ahead rocker of which I know every note and fills it with sheer unadulterated joy. This version of the song is just plain fun to listen to.

Turn it up loud, kids, and have a great holiday weekend…

(The original recording is here, if you want to compare.)

 

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“She May Not Look Like Much, But She’s Got It Where It Counts…”

We’re about to go deep into the nerdy weeds here, kids, so consider yourself warned.

Still with me? Okay then. You must be my kinda people.

So, anyhow, earlier tonight I was reading a Star Wars comic book, one of the new series that began in 2015 when Marvel reacquired the license for the first time since the 1980s. The story was all right, building pretty organically from the end of the original movie and featuring decent artwork, imaginative set-pieces, good banter between Han and Leia, and some spooky Darth Vader action. (Let’s just say things don’t go well for the stormtrooper who accidentally sees the Dark Lord without his helmet!). But there was something bugging me throughout the story, which was this: the Millennium Falcon is disabled and Leia keeps making little jibes about the ship being unreliable.

But Bennion, you’re saying, that’s the Falcon. That’s the running gag in Star Wars, right, that the Falcon is a piece of junk? Um, no, actually, it’s not. The gag is that she looks like a pile of junk but isn’t really. “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.” That’s how Han Solo responds when Luke Skywalker first lays eyes on the ship that made the Kessel Run. And for a change, he’s not boasting. She performs flawlessly throughout the film. In the six movies in which the Falcon prominently appears, she’s only majorly on the fritz in one, The Empire Strikes Back, and that’s only because Han and Chewie were in the middle of an overhaul and had to throw her back together in about an hour instead of being able to take their time.

Even in The Force Awakens, when she’s been parked in the Jakku scrapyard for who knows how long, there’s nothing seriously wrong with her that a quick rewiring on the fly doesn’t solve. (I have major issues with that scene, by the way, but that’s a rant for another time; you know, like the tale of how Anakin Skywalker’s old lightsaber, which should have been in about a million pieces at the bottom of Cloud City, instead ended up in a weird old lady’s steamer trunk on a completely different planet. Friggin’ JJ Abrams.)

It’s not even a running gag among the characters. In the entire saga, I can think of only four times — four — when people put down the Millennium Falcon: Luke calls her a piece of junk when he first lays eyes on her; Leia says, “You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought!”; and Rey calls her “garbage” in a deliberate callback to Luke’s first reaction. In all three of those cases, they’re proven wrong almost immediately. The fourth example is Lando calling her “the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy,” and that’s obviously an affectionate comment from someone who knows what she’s really capable of.

And yet, it’s become a trope, a cliche even, that the Falcon is always breaking down or threatening to. It was a constant thing in the Expanded Universe novels and comics that Disney has now reclassified as apocryphal “Legends,” and it always drove me crazy because it just wasn’t accurate to what we actually see in the movies.

See, here’s the thing: The Millennium Falcon is the equivalent of what car enthusiasts call a “rat rod.” That’s a hot rod that’s specifically built to look like it was cobbled together out of random bits of found machinery. The creativity in their physical appearances can be truly inspiring, especially in the ones that look the worst, if that makes sense. They’re usually painted in drab colors or left with a natural patina of rust. Dents and even bullet holes are part of the look. But if you get one built by someone who knows what they’re doing, they’re ungodly powerful racers. Sound familiar? I wish more Star Wars writers understood the Falcon in those terms…

It’s just a peeve of mine. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

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It Is Not Okay

Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat from California and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, responded today to Republican calls that he resign for supposedly spreading conspiracy theories against the man in the White House. His defiant words are nothing short of inspiring:

My colleagues might think it’s okay that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for president as part of what’s described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign. You might think that’s okay. My colleagues might think it’s okay that when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the president’s son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help — no, instead that son said he would ‘love’ the help with the Russians.

You might think it was okay that he took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that the president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that they concealed it from the public. You might think it’s okay that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think it’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that, when it was discovered a year later that they had lied about that meeting and said it was about adoptions, you might think it’s okay that the president is reported to have helped dictate that lie. You might think it’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that the campaign chairman of a presidential campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian oligarch in exchange for money or debt forgiveness. You might think that’s okay. I don’t. You might think it’s okay that that campaign chairman offered polling data, campaign polling data, to someone linked to Russian intelligence. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think it’s okay if that the president himself called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails, if they were listening. You might think it’s okay that, later that day, the Russians in fact attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think that it’s okay that the president’s son-in-law sought to establish a secret back-channel of communication with Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think it’s okay that an associate of the president made direct contact with the GRU through Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks, that is considered a hostile intelligence agency. You might think it’s okay that a senior campaign official was instructed to reach that associate and find out what that hostile intelligence agency had to say, in terms of dirt on his opponent.

You might think it’s okay that the national security adviser-designate secretly conferred with a Russian ambassador about undermining U.S. sanctions, and you might think it’s okay he lied about it to the FBI.

You might say that’s all okay. You might say that’s just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s okay. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic and, yes, I think it’s corrupt, and evidence of collusion.

Now, I have always said that whether this amounts to proof of conspiracy was another matter. Whether the special counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the proof of that crime was up to the special counsel and that I would accept his decision, and I do. He is a good an honorable man and he is a good prosecutor.

But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is okay. And the day we do think that’s okay is the day we will look back and say, that is the day America lost its way.

And I’ll tell you one more thing that is apropos of the hearing today. I don’t think it’s okay that during a presidential campaign Mr. Trump sought the Kremlin’s help to consummate a real estate deal in Moscow that would make him a fortune. According to the special counsel, hundreds of millions of dollars. I don’t think it’s okay that he concealed it from the public. don’t think it’s okay he advocated a new and more favorable policy towards the Russians, even as he was seeking the Russian’s help, the Kremlin’s help, to make money.

<End quote>

All of that happened. It’s real. It’s on the record. Like I said the other day, maybe Mueller couldn’t connect the dots to make a legal case (or maybe he wasn’t given the time he needed to make the connections, which is what I strongly suspect), but that doesn’t mean the dots aren’t there, or that they don’t stink.

See, here’s the thing: I make no secret of the fact that I’m a liberal Democrat. Many people would take that fact and assume that my feelings about the man currently occupying the Oval Office are simply partisan, that I must hate Trump because he is a Republican. Not so. I would despise Donald Trump regardless of what party he ostensibly belonged to, and in fact I did despise him long before this national nightmare ever began. I despise him because he is so transparently corrupt, so transparently hungry for power, so proudly ignorant, and so thoroughly lacking in empathy or anything resembling grace, class or dignity.

But you know what? I think I despise the Congressional Republicans who are defending him even more. Because they know what he is and what he’s doing, and they don’t care. These same Republicans who genuflect to the Constitution, who weep at the sight of the flag, these upstanding “family values” people who are so quick to weaponize the smallest transgression made by a Democrat and who will not ever let go of anything… these same people turn a blind eye to the sins of Donald J Trump. They claim that any question at all about the man’s behavior is all “conspiracy theories” and sour grapes for a lost election. “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” they call it.

Nope.You’ve got that wrong, guys.

What has us liberals so angry is the goddamn double standard that Republicans so easily traffic in… that, and the stink of corruption that Donald Trump has carried into the White House like dogshit on his shoes, and the stench of decay that’s growing stronger day by day as it oozes across our entire nation.

I try to be optimistic about the future, about the institutions and ideals that knit this scattered collection of populations and geographies into the thing we call America, but I have to be honest: I just don’t know how we’re going to come back from this. The America I thought I knew when I was young began to die when those idiots drove their planes into the towers. The bleeding accelerated when Americans cheered at the invasion of a country that hadn’t attacked us, chuckled at the images of people being tortured and scoffed at the thought that the Geneva conventions actually applied to us. I naively thought the fever might be breaking with the election of Barack Obama and the strides toward a more truly equal nation that were made under his administration. But then came the backlash. Then came Trump. Then came the racists and the homophobes and the gun-nuts and god-knows how many other kinds of reactionaries and regressives. And now the gleeful nihilists who read Ayn Rand in their teens and took her warped selfishness to heart are knocking out the pillars that hold everything up and half the population actually thinks it’s a good idea.

I’ve said it before many times, usually in reference to my feelings of having taken a wrong turn in my own life, but I’d really like to know just when and where I stepped through that wormhole into a parallel universe. And how the hell can I get back?

I want my country back.

No comments on this one. Not that I ever get any these days, but… yeah. No comments.

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Nothing Has Changed

Today the president’s supporters are practically orgasmic with their gloating and trolling, while Democrats are rending their garments, shaking their fists at the unfair heavens, and crying out, “Why? Why?!” But the truth is, nothing has really changed. No, really, it hasn’t. We still don’t know what’s actually in the Mueller report. We’ve just been given a summary of what it supposedly contains, a summary that was crafted by a political appointee who got the job after writing the president a letter about how terrible the Mueller investigation was. So… yeah. Not the most trustworthy intermediary, in my opinion. Until the American people actually see the full report with our own eyes, I’m not changing my opinion that, for someone who’s supposedly done nothing wrong, the president certainly acts like a man with something to hide. Consider these reminders from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo:

Based on the publicly available information, the President betrayed his country and serially lied about his involvement with Russia and his knowledge about the Russian interference campaign. We know that despite all denials, throughout the campaign the President was trying to land a multi-hundred million dollar real estate deal that required the assistance of the President of Russia, one that required the end of sanctions. We know his campaign manager was handing over campaign data to a man the FBI judged was a Russian intelligence asset. We know his campaign had a back channel to Wikileaks and appears to have coordinated the timing of the leaks. We know that his top campaign officials had numerous contacts with Russian officials and intermediaries offering campaign assistance and welcomed the assistance. Finally, we know the transition [team] worked with Russia to undermine the sanctions intended to punish the interference campaign.

By any standard, simply these known facts are profoundly damning and constitute a massive national betrayal. The Trump campaign knew about, profited from and encouraged Russian assistance. Putin also appears to have been dangling a massive payoff in front of him the whole time. Russia helped Trump; Trump helped Russia; they were in contact via intermediaries throughout the campaign.

Presumably the report explains the details of these dealings and how they did not constitute either conspiracy or coordination. That is the information, the analysis we need to see. I’d suggest we know very little until we see this information, which is to say, until we see the report.

Mueller may not have been able to connect all the dots within his mandate, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump is sitting in the Oval Office (when he bothers to go into work, that is) because of the Russians. Yeah, yeah, Hillary was a less-than-ideal candidate, and Democratic infighting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the vagaries of the electoral college all played a role, but the thumb on the scale that tilted things over the line belonged to Putin. Whether he made an actual deal with the Russians or not, they did everything they could to install him in the White House, either in hopes that he’d quid-pro-quo away those sanctions or just because they knew he’d generate so much barking chaos that it would tear the U.S. to pieces. Well, mission fucking accomplished, comrades.

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Friday Evening Videos: “Thing Called Love”

For her first 18 years as a recording artist, roots rocker Bonnie Raitt was essentially a cult act. The critics loved her but few people beyond a small circle of hardcore fans had even heard of her. That all changed with the release of her tenth album, Nick of Time, her first on the Capitol Records label and also the first that she made while sober (according to Bonnie herself).

Nick of Time would hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart within months of its release, and go on to sell some five million copies. It earned Bonnie Raitt four hit singles and four Grammy Awards, but more importantly, it rescued her flagging career. Nick of Time was my introduction to Bonnie, who became one of my favorite musicians of the ’90s, and its mixture of authentic, analog-style R&B, blues, pop and country pointed the way ahead for my musical interests when the pop music of the ’80s morphed into something that no longer spoke to me, and grunge emerged from the shadows to kill off rock and roll.

The album also became an unlikely soundtrack for one of the most pivotal years of my life. I was 19 going on 20 in the summer of 1989. I started my first real (and in many ways still my best) job, working at that infamous multiplex movie theater I’ve mentioned so many times. I was making new friends, I still believed in my dreams for my future… and I was in love. The first single from Nick of Time, “Thing Called Love,” was the background for these good times. And then later that year, when the weather grew cooler and the good times started to curdle, the plaintive sounds of the album’s second single “Have a Heart” articulated all too keenly what I was feeling. So keenly in fact, that I had to stop listening to Nick of Time for a while.

But let’s not dwell on that. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Nick of Time — good lord, how can it be 30 years since that summer?! — let’s instead listen to “Thing Called Love.” This was actually a cover of a John Hiatt song, but Bonnie takes full possession of it through her sassy delivery and slinky slide-guitar playing. It was her biggest hit to that point, peaking at number 11 on the rock charts. I imagine the video added a bit of lift, thanks to an unexpected appearance by Hollywood hunk Dennis Quaid and the joyful, flirtatious energy passing between him and Bonnie. God, how I loved this song. On the strength of this one song, I went to see Bonnie Raitt live that summer, when she opened for the Steve Miller Band at an outdoor show that was cut short by a torrential rainstorm. I didn’t buy the full album until after that, from what I recall.

One final observation: in the video, Quaid wears a t-shirt that sports the logo of Sun Records, which is of course the legendary Memphis recording studio that hosted Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. Quaid would star as Jerry Lee Lewis in the biopic Great Balls of Fire later in that very same summer of 1989. Everything is connected, man…

If I’ve piqued your interest at all with my little rambling here, I recommend this oral history that’s all about how Nick of Time came to be… fascinating stuff for a true music lover!

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Happy 88!

Another year, another birthday for the one and only William Shatner, 88 years young today.

Although his latest television series Better Late Than Never (which I wrote about on his birthday last year, and from which today’s photo was snatched) was cancelled after two seasons, the irrepressible man of the hour isn’t letting that slow him down. He’s a force to reckoned with on Twitter; his annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show is coming up in June; he’s hosting screenings of The Wrath of Khan at various locations around the country (sadly, none in Salt Lake!); and he has a number of conventions on the calendar, as well as a Star Trek cruise a year from now in March 2020. As I’ve said before, I admire his vitality and drive to stay engaged, to stay curious, and to keep having fun. I hope I age with a fraction of that grace.

So happy birthday to the once and future Captain Kirk… and as always, my offer to buy him a celebratory drink applies any time he (a) hears about it and (b) wants to take me up on it.

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Ripley

Sometime tonight, hopefully, SpaceX will launch its latest innovation, the so-called Crew Dragon (aka Dragon 2). This is a variant of the reusable Dragon capsule that’s been ferrying supplies to the International Space Station for several years, but in this case, the intended cargo will be human beings. There won’t be any actual people on board tonight, though; this is only a test flight. But if it’s successful, Crew Dragon could be carrying real-live astronauts into space before the end of the year… the first time Americans will fly on an American spaceship since the shuttles were retired in 2011. I’m not generally prone to nationalism, but it can’t come soon enough in my view. It’s been a long eight years.

Although Crew Dragon isn’t carrying a real crew tonight, it won’t be flying empty. There’s a mannequin on board, dressed in one of SpaceX’s sleek ‘n’ fancy pressure suits, and equipped with various sensors to verify the forces a human body will be subjected to by this new ship. And you’ll never guess what SpaceX’s eccentric gazillionaire founder Elon Musk has dubbed the dummy: Ripley.

As in the heroine of the Alien film franchise.

He may be walk on an entirely different plane of existence than you and me, but when you get right down to it, he’s just a geek like the rest of us. Say it with me, kids:

One of us, one of us, one us…

 

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Quick Takes: Cutter’s Way

One of several noir-ish thrillers Jeff Bridges made in the early ’80s, Cutter’s Way is a bit confounding in the way it keeps refusing to be quite what you expect it to be. It’s not the murder mystery it initially appears, because the protagonists reach their conclusion quickly and that conclusion is never questioned. It’s not the Hitchcockian case of mistaken identity it has the potential to become, because Bridges never gets accused of the killing that sets everything off, and the maybe-villain never denies he did it (nor does the audience ever find out for sure if he did). It’s not even a satisfying revenge flick because the vengeance, when it comes, is perfunctory and open-ended. It’s a film noir that’s not especially interested in the usual trappings of noir. What keeps the film interesting is the characters.

Jeff Bridges is Richard Bone, a feckless young man going nowhere fast, who might in fact be a gigolo based on the first scene where we encounter him. Bridges’ youthful good looks and rangy build, so different from the grizzled “Dude” persona we’re so familiar with now, were perfect for this role. He even sports a ’70s porn-stache to complete the look. But he also uses his considerable skill to create a character whose main attribute is indecision.

On the other hand, Bone’s buddy Alex Cutter is reckless and impulsive, making decisions in the blink of an eye and then refusing to back down from them. Played by John Heard, Cutter is a Vietnam vet who was badly injured in the war. Heard is simply mesmerizing, a ball of barely contained rage and self-pity that dominates the screen whenever he appears, swaggering, drunk, hateful, and yet also magnetic and in a weird sense, heroic. Heard’s performance is fearless, and all the more remarkable in that he convincingly plays a man with only one arm and an artificial leg long before CGI was available to create those illusions.

Finally, there is Mo, played by Lisa Eichhorn, Cutter’s long-suffering wife who’s been thoroughly drained by the constant stress of putting up with Alex and his tantrums.

All three of these characters are drifters of one sort or another, moving through their lives like ghosts as they nurse their various hurts. They’re the last people who should be trying to solve a mystery… but then, like I said, this movie isn’t much interested in that mystery. I kept watching to see what happened to Cutter, Bone, and Mo, and what they said along the way.

 

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Friday Evening Videos: “If I Could Turn Back Time”

After spending a good part of the preceding decade proving her acting chops in well-regarded films like Silkwood, Mask, and Moonstruck (for which she won an Academy Award), the legendary Cher came roaring back to the music world in 1987 with a self-titled album and a new sound that was more rock-oriented than what she’d been doing in the ’70s. (No doubt having Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora coproduce the album had something to do with that!) I liked the big single from that album, “I Found Someone.” But I loved the one that came from her follow-up Heart of Stone a year and a half later.

“If I Could Turn Back Time” was well-nigh inescapable during the summer and fall of 1989, peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and coming in 35th on the year-end chart. If anything, “Time” was even more bombastic and dramatic than “I Found Someone,” and that was just perfect for where I was and what I was feeling around the time of my twentieth birthday. It was one of those songs that comes along at just the right moment and clicks into your life as if someone is programming your own personal soundtrack.

As much as I liked the song, though, I honestly hadn’t thought about it in a very long time. It’s not in rotation on the classic-rock radio stations I follow, and my iTunes hasn’t chosen to shuffle it up in, well, a very long time. Earlier this week, however, I ran across a clip from last month’s Kennedy Center Honors ceremony at which Cher, along with country singer Reba McEntire, composer Philip Glass, and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, were given the prestigious lifetime achievement award. Cher’s friend and fellow ’80s icon Cyndi Lauper performed the song to honor her, and I thought it was pretty awesome. So here it is to help you start your weekend:

And just for fun, here’s the original:

Cher strutting around the decks of the battleship Missouri in a little bit of nothing, with a bunch of sailors and their giant, erect… um… cannons… looming overhead… that was 1989 for you.

Incidentally, this video was hugely controversial at the time; MTV initially banned it, then relented but would only show it after 9 PM. Meanwhile, the US Navy caught quite a lot of flack and hasn’t allowed any music videos to be filmed aboard its ships since. Rock and roll!

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