Sonic Reducer

By Kimberly Chun

Shake your loins

MAYBE THE SLAPHAPPY neo-Bohème cast of Rent dropped some happy, song-and-dance pills in the water. But last week everything old suddenly seemed bright and new. Everything sleazy seemed startlingly fresh and easy, like the glittery "snow" dusting Sixth Street, the carefully tweaked signage ("San Francisco Barber College" became "Sal Fancisco," or were those the E goggles?), and the newly modified candy-colored marquee on Club Six, masquerading as a beloved Lower East Side tranny cranny, where the Rent-ers, including Rosario Dawson as stricken stripper Mimi, assemble for heart-to-hearts. Sixth Street was a little sweeter, and it seemed just a little harder to get some privacy to quietly smoke a crack pipe on Jessie alley, I thought, doing a drive-by on the way to chat with musical theater maven and former pop sensation Deborah, a.k.a. Debbie, Gibson. In another turnabout, the once-squeaky-clean teen queen has been taking a walk on the naked side, shaking her love in the almost-altogether in last month's just-mulched issue of Playboy.

I confess I was never a major Gibson fan – her determinedly innocent 'tude seemed like an aberrant throwback to a more conservative Reaganite, or even Eisenhowerish, era. But, perusing Gibson's high-gloss, well-Photoshopped, and almost David LaChapelle-fashiony images, I still had to wonder about that predictability factor. At this late date, in this relatively new century, why do women still have to get nekkid in order to make a splash or further their ambitions? Why does a "Lookee here!" spread in Playboy continue to usher in an "adult," a.k.a. "serious," career? Picture Hilary, Avril, Britney, Brittany, Mary-Kate, Ashley, Ashlee, and Ashlie dropping thong in the coming decades, in last-ditch ploys for publicity, parts, bucks, etc.? You are getting sleepy, sleepy ... so sleepy.

Hey, wake up.

Gibson is deadly serious – about torpedoing her virginal old image, touting a new dance-pop-rock single (appropriately titled "Naked"), and readying herself for an in-store at Tower Records and a pop 'n' musical theater show at Cafe du Nord. "There are ways to do Playboy," she said, sounding friendly but brisk and resolute on the phone last week. "Definitely, for me, it's a part of my evolution, as opposed to coming out of nowhere."

Uh, you mean, Out of the Blue, right? C'mon, Debonator. Get with your own discography.

"That's where Kim Basinger was with it and Sharon Stone ... I never tried to consciously do anything in my career. Everything I did came from inside. I tried out for Les Mis when I was 15 and did it when I was 21, and everyone said, 'What a brilliant career move.' What career move?!"

Playboy had been asking her to pose for years, she explained, but only now, after the iron popster had taken on Sally Bowles in Cabaret and the title role in Gypsy and feels comfy in sexually aggro roles, has she seen fit to grin widely and bare it tastefully. "I had to really own my sexuality," she said. "Growing up, I was almost the antisexuality girl, a late bloomer. I used to proclaim when I was younger, 'I'd never do this and that.' It's just interesting when I don't have issues with something and to watch what other people have issues with. If you can't get over it, that's fine," she said. "I took being a role model very seriously as kid, but I'm not 10 anymore."

She chatted about battling Doug Morris and Ahmet Ertegun, the pooh-bahs at Atlantic Records who signed her, over singing her own songs, written from the perspective of a teen (and leading to her status as one of the youngest multiplatinum artists ever), rather than those penned by a "40-year-old man." "There was definitely an innocence and purity that I worked really hard to preserve," she explained. "I was performing in sneakers and shorts. That was my little form of rebellion."

Gibson is bent on a comeback, Tina Turner- or Cher-style; she's developing a nonreality TV series ("They've come to me many times with that. I don't know how Nick and Jessica do it") and has written the lyrics and music to two musicals. And if Beck can return to two turntables (otherwise known as the Dust Brothers) and a microphone at 34 (the same age as Debomatic – and they seem like they're from such different pop galaxies), why couldn't she give Britney a good run up the charts?

And speaking of Ms. Spears ... "Obviously, when she first came out, I thought she was Mini Me," Gibson mused. "But that changed in an album, and she was doing it with a sexual edge that I didn't do it with. If she feels it and owns it, that's her, but a lot of the girls that project a highly sexual image now, they don't understand what energy that brings on, when men view them in certain way, when really they're just little girls. No one was following me with a camera when I was going to Starbucks in the morning. For some reason 30-year-olds reading US really care."

Going, going, gone ... Peanuts Bay Area noise-rock combo Greenlight the Bombers have broken up, and also R.I.P. Guitar Wolf bassist Hideaki Sekiguchi.... Nuance totally rocks. And It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, Palookaville, and Clyde Fans cartoonist Seth makes some of the most subtle, beautifully written fiction around – with the special added bonus of wonderful, utterly distinctive illustrated panels. They call them "graphic novels," eh? The Drawn and Quarterly artist makes the southwesterly journey to our WonderCon Jr., our comic book geekathon, the Alternative Press Expo, April 9, to discuss the state of the art, sign copies of The Complete Peanuts series (which he designed), and greet the fanboy/-girl masses alongside O-town Ghost World creator Dan Clowes. Pester them about the date of their next issue, OK?

Speaking from his home in Guelph, outside Toronto, Seth kindly took time from the inking of his next installment of Clyde Fans to talk about late North Bay artist Charles M. Schulz and the Fantagraphics Peanuts series, a massive undertaking that will involve 50 years of art and two books a year for more than 12 years. It's his dream project. "I always wanted to do this as a reader, just to get ahold of the strips I had never seen," Seth explained. "He didn't like a lot of his stuff, and I'd say he had a pretty good eye, but there's great stuff he left out of the books, and it's exciting to see it repackaged, but it's also interesting to see it in chronological order. Especially in the early years, it's a very different work."

Seth, a self-portrait
Known for his historian's eye for cartoons and illustrations – and the creator of some moving comics on cartoonists time forgot – Seth did his time analyzing Peanuts when he was first starting out. "When you read 20 years of the strip, you can see it's such a personal work, though it's disguised with a veneer of professionalism like most comics. It's deeper than any other strip in the 20th century, except Krazy Kat. But in a sense it became so ubiquitous, you think it doesn't deserve looking at."

As for the state of the graphic novel art, he's puzzled by a recent surge of attention, which has included mainstream publishing's new appetite for graphic novels and his own appearance in last year's New York Times Magazine cover story on cartoonists. Can one chalk up the attention to champions of the medium like Terry Zwigoff and Michael Chabon? "I'm not sure why it's happened," Seth said. "Everyone's working along, building up, but somehow in the past few years, there's an awareness of what we're doing. Ten years ago, using comic books to tell a story was a stupider idea. Now it's a mundane fact. You don't have to sell it to anyone anymore, that you're not just an idiot for working on this."

Too bad the hunger for "product" can't be speedily met by artists accustomed to working by themselves at a certain slow, old-world pace for their longtime publishers. "I think," he added matter-of-factly, "there's going to be a pile of bad graphic novels in the next couple years." Deborah Gibson performs with Jefrodisiac April 13, 9:30 p.m., Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, S.F. $30. (415) 861-5016. She also appears April 13, 5 p.m., Tower Records, 119 Market, S.F. Free. (415) 621-0588. Seth speaks Sat/9, 1:45 p.m., and signs at 5 p.m. at the Alternative Press Expo, Concourse Exhibition Center, 620 Seventh St., S.F. Expo runs through Sun/10. $7-$10. Andrew Bird plays Thurs/7, 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission, S.F. Call for time and price. (415) 970-9777. Motörhead and Corrosion of Conformity perform Fri/8, Warfield, 982 Market, S.F. Call for time and price. (415) 775-7722. The Graze perform Mon/11, 9 p.m., Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., S.F. $6. (415) 647-2888. Oslo perform Tues/12, Blake's, 2367 Telegraph, Berk. Call for time and price. (510) 848-0886. Also April 13, Bourbon Street, 2765 Clayton, Concord. Call for time and price. (925) 676-7272.

Pop, yes; pop-ups, no.

Email Kimberly Chun