Monday, 8 August 2022

Celebrity Jukebox #19: Sean Penn

Alyson recently convinced me to re-watch Fast Times At Ridgemont High, a movie I haven't seen in at least 35 years, and probably the one that helped cement Sean Penn's reputation as a young actor when he played Jeff Spicoli, the surfer dude template for Keanu Reeves's entire career. After that he worked very hard off-screen cementing the bad boy reputation that was obviously a big draw for Madonna... until they tore each other apart, putting on a quite a show for the tabloids in the process. Sean's since navigated a lengthy on again / off again marriage with Robin Wright, as well as dating Charlize Theron and Jewel... makes you wonder how he ever managed to find time for acting? Though he did win two best actor Oscars, so he must have done something right.

When not chasing starlets or punching paparazzi, Sean's also been politically active, standing up to George W. Bush and Donald Trump, doing aid work following Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, and recently filming a documentary in the Ukraine about the Russian invasion.

Back in the 80s, I never really cared for Sean Penn. However, I've grown to respect him more in recent years, and his recent cameo in Licorice Pizza was one of the high points of that movie. Meanwhile, if you stick his name in a search engine, you'll find dozens of musical mentions, though many of them are by artists I've never heard of before... and never want to hear from again. 

These are the ones from my own record collection, starting with ten minutes of typical stream-of-consciousness rambling from the wonderful Mark Kozelek...

Woke up, went to the studio
Came back and turned on the CNN
David Bowie had died, there's a picture of El Chapo shaking hands with Sean Penn
Goddamn, like I said, we watched The Falcon and the Snowman the night before
With Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton
Bowie song played while the falcon soared
This isn't America, oh
This isn't America, oh

In 2016, Penn interviewed Mexican drug lord El Chapo for Rolling Stone, hoping to kickstart a debate about the efficacy of the war on drugs. He largely failed in that, though the drug lord was eventually captured and imprisoned. I blame Mark Kozelek for making me have to research all that.

When I look at women what I see is other men
Fallen just like cattle, fallen like Sean Penn

I'm too tired to research that one.

This, on the other hand, is pretty self-explanatory...

Well, as self-explanatory as any Thurston Moore lyric could ever be.

I'm sure there are quite a few Madonna songs that were written with Sean in mind. The album True Blue was dedicated to him, but that was in the good times of their relationship. If she's taken a lyrical hatchet to him since, she's not made it explicit. (Which shows a great deal of reserve on Madonna's part, given how explicit she's been in most other areas of her life.)

All of which leads us to the most obvious choice for a Sean Penn song, written in 1987 when Madonna and Sean were still very much an item...

The Western Minnesota Intercollegiate Circle
Telephoned, they said,
"Hey, Sean, could you mosey on down to our gala ball?"
It says 'Mister Madonna kicks some beat poetry'

If I could, I would, I would, I swear I would be better
But it seems I am just a natural no good
And what's more, I like living like that

However, the final word on Sean Penn, considering where we came in, must go to Scroobius Pip...

Now what's the point I'm making? Why I am saying this out loud?
Am I convincing myself or pandering to the crowd?
You can hear every word, you would still never know me
Like Sean Penn could win 10 Oscars but he'll still be Spicoli

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post and selection, Rol. I get where you're coming from with n ot caring much for Sean Penn in the 1980s. However, I did see Shanghai Surprise - my parents were avid VHS renters so we saw pretty much everything that was available at our local shop* - and I begrudgingly admitted that he was the best thing about an otherwise poor film. It was seeing Scarface that convinced me that he could act, though.

    * though not Fast Times At Ridgemont High, oddly enough.


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