I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On
Fuck. I used to want to be Robert Palmer.
Reading the stories of his passing this morning transported me back in time to another era, another Marc. As a child of the 80s, I was able to enjoy Palmer before he broke out as a solo artist, during his studio time with Power Station, and late through his last serious chart breakthroughs. In a decade marked by power pop from a man who would eventually go completely insane (see: Jackson, Michael) and hair-driven heavy metal (see: too goddamned many to count), Palmer stuck out like a sore thumb to me in the best possible way.
One thing that I think never changes for teenage boys, no matter the decade, is the desire to be in a band and achieve musical stardom. I think it’s imprinted in our genetic code; that, or it’s simply a response to the fact that guys in the band are the guys who get the girls, and that’s pretty much all we cared about. You can accept whichever excuse you like, but I was no different. In 1986, riding high on my newfound ability to drive an automobile, being a rock star was one of the things that really consumed me. If Hagar had decided to split with Van Halen after one album, I was fuckin’ ready, you dig? But then Palmer came along and my idea of the kind of rock star I wanted to be was forever changed.
Palmer was a man who seemingly didn’t know how to leave his house looking anything less than suave and cool. His sharp black suits and shiny shoes gave him the appearance of a singing James Bond; had he pulled out a PPK Walther and shot John Taylor in the video for “Some Like It Hot” it wouldn’t have been a shock. It would have looked as natural as him sitting down at the bar and ordering a cosmopolitan. But it was his videos for solo efforts such as “Addicted To Love” and “Simply Irresistible” that sealed his cachet. Those blank but gorgeous women playing as his band behind him not only held the attention of the viewer, but they locked you in to Palmer’s essence; you not only thought it was a great song, and that Palmer was a cool guy, but you couldn’t help but feel like it would have taken no effort for him to turn around after the cameras were off, grab a couple of the girls, and head off for the penthouse suite.
So what, you ask? Didn’t just about every rock star have that capability?
Sure. But Palmer was different. Your basic Vince Neil or David Lee Roth stood with their security guards and ordered up Heavy Metal Harlot #3 and Sister Skank #5 and slithered away to the back room, but that wasn’t who Palmer attracted. Palmer attracted women with a bit more of a mature and sophisticated nature, not ones you needed to de-louse upon stripping. It always struck me that Robert Palmer was the guy who’d play a club date and then wind up meeting the businesswoman and her friend who came to the show still dressed from that day’s meetings, and who then decided that they would try anything just once. Order that man another martini!
I also think that gave him the ability to sing his songs in a much more serious fashion than maybe others could have. Palmer could take a tune about turning down a woman for sex (“I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On”) and you believed that he was a guy who had to do it on more than one occasion. He was so sincere, and such a reservoir of cool, that there was no potential for self-mockery there, no falling into the trap that Dean Martin eventually set for himself.
So yeah, when I was 16, 17, 18-years old, I wanted to be in a band, and I wanted to be Robert Palmer. Eventually I let the dreams of music, but I never stopped being the guy who was attracted to mature and sensual looking women in great shoes. We all need something to carry us over, right? I’ve taken a few other things from him; you’ll rarely find me anywhere without the ability to groom myself. Change of clothes, mints, deodorant; it’s in my bag, baby, and it’s important to me. So today, I offer up a hearty thanks to Robert Palmer, and my best hopes for him in the afterlife. May he rest in peace. And may he look damned good in doing so.