Sam Kinison Reaches for a New Low

There was a time--distant as it now seems--that when a celebrity was going to be bad, the folks at home could at least rest assured he’d only be bad in one medium, which could then be dutifully avoided. No more. Take the case of comedian Sam Kinison, whose once funny and now exasperating screaming shtick, detestable AIDS jokes and embarrassing heavy-metal sycophancy positively can’t be avoided these days--least of all on cable music channel MTV.

Kinison is determined to be the ultimate “rock ‘n’ roll comedian,” and early in his career seemed to have the potential to be just that, touching raw nerves the way rock always has. Nowadays, though, “rock ‘n’ roll” seems for Kinison to have less and less to do with exploring root emotions in a volatile way and more and more to do with loudness for loudness’ sake and endless, expedient hype. Most curiously, for someone who strikes so defiant and outlaw-like a tone, Kinison has become a groupie, kissing up (for the cameras, at least) to the most inane hard-rock acts to which he can attach his mug.

Kinison’s comedy is supposed to be about anger, but the rock acts he latches onto are suspiciously mild. Does he hang out with Suicidal Tendencies? Not popular enough. Try something a little tamer--and chart-topping--like Bon Jovi. (Boy, there’s a fellow “cutting-edge” act, Sam!) By making a cameo appearance in a Bon Jovi clip as well as starring in his own first music video, Kinison’s considerable girth sits on two rungs on the bottom of the ladder in this month’s Sound & Vision, where current music videos are rated on a 0-100 scale.

The comedian’s defenders can call him the new Lenny Bruce till kingdom come, and might even be able to make a case that had Bruce survived into the ‘80s, he too would be cracking AIDS jokes (the same two or three over and over, in Kinison’s case), be ridiculing the poor, the downtrodden and the dying, and yes, maybe even be making rock videos.


But seriously, seriously, folks--if Lenny Bruce were alive today, would he guest-host “Head-banger’s Ball”?

VID CLIP PICKED TO CLICK: Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” (Director: Colin Chilvers.) With tens of millions in album sales even this year, it’s not that Jackson is exactly in need of a comeback. But for the considerable portion of his American fans who thought he’d lost some of his sparkle--especially in the video medium, with such witless recent clips as “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Dirty Diana"--he regains it with this nearly 10-minute song-and-dance extravaganza, excerpted from a 40-minute segment in Jackson’s upcoming “Moonwalker” videocassette release.

The comparisons between Jackson and Fred Astaire have often seemed overstated, with the Gloved One too often relying on the same moves (the moonwalk, the crotch-grab) and utterances (“Oooh!”). But the correlation makes perfect sense here--not just because Jackson seems to be taking off from the film noir parody segment of Astaire’s “The Band Wagon” with an updated gangster ballet, but especially because he seems to have rediscovered grace . Marching, sulking and lightly traipsing through a speak easy, Jackson and his dancers keep you riveted to the screen for all 10 minutes--even on repeated viewings--with a mixture of jerky syncopation and slow, eerie ease.

True, the clip has nothing to do with the song, one of Sound & Vision’s most frequent complaints about pop videos. Given that the lyrics seem to be about the smooth modern criminal of the title raping and killing a woman in her apartment, though, hey, we’ll take Fred Astaire. 93

WORTH A LOOK AND A LISTEN: L’Trimm’s “Cars with the Boom.” (Director: Jane Simpson.) One of the dumber rap songs to come down the pike lately, this ode to noise pollution is also the most irresistible. The two gals who make up L’Trimm, Bunny and Tigra (are we cuted out yet?), tell us repeatedly that they only like guys whose cars have “the boom"--that is, numerous and/or massive bass speakers (they can do without treble). Unlike the Bangles, Tigra and Bunny stress that they don’t want to go up to your room; they just want to be on Hollywood Blvd. throbbing to portable Sensurround. Stick this one in the 1988 time capsule. 68

Hugh Cornwell’s “Another Kind of Love.” (Director: Jan Svankmajer.) Fans of Peter Gabriel’s clay-animation videos will want to check out this one, in which the face of Stranglers leader Cornwell metamorphoses into various beastly visages and back again, while his patent-leather shoes grow teeth and a tongue snaps out of the toes. As a love interest, there’s the female mannequin who melds with the wall before the clay Cornwell melds with the wall and her. A fun song and a visual treat. 65

GAMMA RAY ROT: Night Ranger’s “I Did It for Love.” (Director: Penelope Spheeris.) Night Ranger? Directed by Penelope Spheeris (“The Decline of Western Civilization”)? No comment. 30

Eddie Money’s “Walk on Water.” (Director: Peter Care.) This month’s winner of the award for Best Fabulous Babe Walking Around Outdoors in Her Lingerie While Pouting Over Her Rock Star. 15


Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing.” (Director: Tamara Davis.) First, rising rap singer Tone Loc rips off the title of the old Troggs’ classic for his own banal little ditty about indiscriminate sex with strangers. (Like Kinison, whose own “Wild Thing” is a remake of the Troggs’ hit, Tone Loc apparently feels that AIDS is a disease heterosexuals need not worry themselves about.) Then, for his video, he appropriates the stone-faced model/musicians from Robert Palmer’s famous clips. No, he doesn’t parody, as you initially hope--just steals. Whatever happened to the good old days when white artists used to steal from black culture? 5

Sam Kinison’s “Wild Thing.” (Director: Marty Callner.) Of all the many things Jim Bakker may have to feel guilty about setting in motion, this video should be among the foremost: Jessica Hahn co-stars as the title “thing,” finally reaching the ultimate lower rung in public self-degradation. Hahn’s role here is mostly to act as a poster girl for plastic surgery and writhe around in a pit, surrounded by a crowd of leering rock stars (including Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and--the ultimate sad self-caricature--Billy Idol). Occasionally she is joined on the floor by Kinison for some suggestive wrasslin’, much to the delight of the comedian’s cheering rock pals, while Kinison is heard to sing on the sound track about what evil demons from hell women are. It’s difficult to believe there could be a step down from housegirl at the Playboy Mansion for Hahn, but this pit is it. 3

Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine.” (Director: Wayne Isham.) The conceit here--as explained by none other than cheerleader Kinison in the opening segment--is that instead of relying on an established video director, why not give a gaggle of female teens a set of cameras and let them roam around the stage shooting our handsome hunks? What it proves, of course, is that untried amateurs can make a lip-sync performance video just as badly as the pros. 2