Debbie Gibson

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Debbie GibsonThis is an edited and condensed transcript from a phone interview with Debbie Gibson in January 1993. (She is pictured at a movie premiere in 2001.)

It was a quiet time, and she had a new album to promote, Body Mind Soul. I don’t think it did much business, but I heard that her Atlantic Records label boss Ahmet Ertegun was a big fan of it.

At the time, Gibson was a squeaky-clean, 22-year-old ’80s teen idol living at home with her mother. She’s a smart lady, and it was a no-brainer that she would turn down Playboy when the magazine came calling. But she had a change of heart in time for the magazine’s March 2005 issue (three and a half years after the photo above was taken). Scroll to the bottom for a tasteful, SFW shot.


A lot of your peers, like Tiffany and a bunch from England, seem to have fallen by the wayside. Why have you been able to hang around?

debbieyouthWell, first of all just ’cos I wanted to. I’m not one to give up easily. As far as music goes, I’ll never stop doing it. I’ll always be around in some way, shape or form. Whether people wanna hear me or not. She (Tiffany) went and got married and had a baby, so her story is quite a different one than a lot of the other people that were out at that time. It’s interesting though. Shanice and Tracie Spencer have hung around. Shanice was just starting when I was starting. She’s a few years younger than me, and t’s good to see that she’s stuck around. Her big deal was really last year. It’s pretty cool.

Do you have a support group, call each other up and compare notes on the state of play?

I’ve met all my peers at one time or another. But I’ve never really stayed in touch with anyone or formed any kind of relationship with anyone outside of a business setting, I guess. Maybe it’s because everyone’s really just so busy and our paths cross when they cross. We chit-chat a little, and that’s about the extent of it.

Are you looking to remold your image and sound for the ’90s? Most people probably associate you with the ’80s and the prevailing excess?

It’s not that I’m going out and saying, “What can I do to create a new image?” I’m basically just going with the flow, and going by how I feel. You definitely feel different at 22 than you do at 16, so whatever comes of that will be the image. I don’t really put too much time and effort into planning that out because you can’t really second-guess how people are going to respond anyway, so you may as well be yourself. I think in the long run if the music’s good then all those other problems disappear, which is why that’s really my main focus. I just try to concentrate on bettering myself and bettering my music and growing as an artist. All the rest of the stuff I just chalk up to luck. My main concern is building a really strong foundation for the future and sticking around a while.

I look at people like Elton John and he hasn’t had anything that’s sold like Yellow Brick Road. It just happens. But the great thing about Elton John is he’s got this major core audience and he can go on tour any time and his career is no longer dependent on hit records and sales. That’s really the stage I wanna get to. I don’t need to break records for having so many No. 1s or whatever. I really just wanna have a solid foundation.

How would you describe the typical Debbie Gibson fan?

A lot of the fans are people who write to me and say, “Well, it’s kind of embarrassing because my friends make fun of me, but I’m your fan anyway.” My fans seem to be really down to earth, energetic kinds of people who are rebellious not in the sense that they go out and do bad things, but that they rebel against that stereotype that young people are supposed to be in to all kinds of illegal things, or whatever! Instead they’re into my music and they take some heat for it, I think. But that makes that audience stronger. When you do a small concert and all those dedicated fans are in one room it’s like an amazing thing.

It must be tough to be a fan of a clean-cut person when clean-cut isn’t really in these days

Right, but I definitely would rather be criticized for being clean cut than for being like Todd Bridges in jail and selling drugs or whatever. That would be really embarrassing. This is who I am. You can always feel good about the fact that you’re being yourself. Like I said, whatever happens happens. I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m never gonna be as hip as Arrested Development or Pearl Jam! That’s the way it is with a lot of pop artists. But 20 years from now I know I’ll still be here and that’s what’s really important to me.

Have you always been clean-cut? Have you never done anything rebellious?

I’ve never done drugs, and I’ve never even smoked a cigarette, I guess because I’m a singer and I just never had the desire to. And I’ve never been drunk. I think life is just hard enough to deal with. I feel out of it enough. People describe being drunk and I’m like, “God, I feel like that a lot!” So I don’t really need to make myself feel like that anymore. Obviously every kid gets into mischief, but there’s a difference between mischief and real harmful rebellion. I was never really particularly rebellious. I was always in showbusiness so I was always disciplined to a certain extent. It seemed strange, I guess, to some of my friends, but my close friends knew that’s the way it was and that was it.

Twenty years down the track, there’s no telling what could happen. I’m not saying you’ll suddenly become a drug addict, but shit happens doesn’t it!

Yeah, well I guess it’s happened to people and obviously there’s no point or no way to go around trying to convince people, but I know myself. I’m what I call out of my body a lot. I don’t need any help! I always see myself pretty much like at the core being the same as I am now.

Do you see yourself as a spokeswoman for the twentysomething generation, therefore?

A lot of my fans are in their 20s actually. I kind of keep track of it, the fan club data, because I like to know what kinds of people are out there listening. And it kinda surprised me when I realized how many people in their 20s were into my music. But like I said, they’re not like the 20 year-olds that you might find hanging out at the latest cutting-edge club. There’re all kinds of different people and it’s more the type of person that’s into me that describes what my fans are like rather than a particular age or something like that. I think people usually look up to people a little older than them, so probably the majority of the people who look to me as a role model type person are younger. But I think that’s the case with anyone.

Are there any singers, maybe in their 40s or 50s now, who you model yourself on?

There are actually four that I’d like to combine, which would be Billy Joel, Elton John, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. I’d like to combine the vocal abilities of, let’s say, Barbra Streisand, and the acting, with the piano-playing and the writing skills of Elton John and Billy Joel. I like well-rounded performers, so that’s really the kind of performer I want to be. And I’ve always felt like I have been one, although I have a ways to go to get where I want to be. That’s who I see myself trying to emulate, I guess, for lack of a better word.

What’s Elton like?

Every time I’ve met him he’s been incredibly nice. He’s like one of the nicest people in the business I’ve ever met. He was really nice to me and my family and friends who came to the concerts, which is always a good indication that someone is real genuine. Because sometimes you get an artist who just says hullo to you, and the people around you are nonexistent because they know that they have to shmooze you because you’re an entertainer like they are. There are all these ulterior motives. With Elton John it’s like he’s really down to earth and really treats everyone with a lot of respect. And I really appreciate that. I can’t say I’ve hung out with him, but I’ve met him several times and he’s one of my favorite people in the business.

How do you write songs?

I write constantly. I write practically every day … Every now and then I try to deliberately write a song, but that usually doesn’t work as well as when something comes to you and you don’t know where it came from. I think everyone talks to themselves and has a running dialog going on in their head, and I just try to pay attention to that, pull from it and get song ideas from it. Usually the melody and lyrics come at the same time. I just try to sing my thoughts on paper. Sometimes I’ll be in the car and I’ll start humming and I’ll get a little hook or a phrase and I’ll try to write it down at a stop light!

What song on the album best reflects where you are in life right now?

Ooh, that’s a good question, let me think. Probably “Love or Money” — only because my boyfriend and I are both in (showbiz). He’s in theater, and so we both travel and we’re constantly meeting new people. So it’s always the thing of you have to trust the other person and know that they’re going to give into temptation, which is really what that song’s about. You can travel the world and still come home to your hometown guy. That’s probably a pretty good description.

Is that the way you were raised?

I was never into sleeping around. I guess it was the way I was raised, and also I was always just more into real friendships. I was still kinda young in that area anyway, so it wasn’t like I was looking for that in high school. But a lot of people are, and they ignore what they have going for themselves. They ignore their hobbies and their interests. And they focus so much on just finding a guy that likes them, or that thinks they’re attractive. It could be kind of sad, but a lot of young girls get into trouble that way.

There’s so much pressure, isn’t there? On guys and girls.

Yeah, I suppose there is. But then again I think you control every situation you’re in. The best way not to get affected by peer pressure is just don’t put yourself in the situation to begin with. If you don’t want to do drugs, don’t go to a party that you know they’re doing drugs at. Period. And then you won’t feel any pressure. I never had a problem being accepted in school. That’s the way I always was. It’s not like I was one of the coolest people in school, but at the same time I wasn’t like this outcast.

It’s a fine line between a clean-cut person and being a nerd

I guess so. But you also realize that in the overall scheme of life, high school’s such a small part of things. It’s like you leave high school and all those people who might have thought you were a nerd it’s not even people you’ll see again anyway. I know it’s hard to think like that when you’re in the middle of it maybe, but it’s really the truth. I guess I was lucky because I had a lot of friends who thought the same way as me. Or if they were into drinking or whatever, they weren’t heavily into it. It wasn’t like the be-all and end-all of life. And my older sisters and my parents were just always the same way, and very encouraging and reassuring that I was making the right choices. That’s really important too.

Do you live at home still?

Yeah, I live at home. I’m also in the process of getting an apartment. It’s being fixed up and stuff. I’ll probably live half on my own and half here, I guess. I definitely like being home, still, because you’re around so many flaky people all the time, businessmen in suits and stuff. It’s so good to get home and hang out and eat pasta with your mom and sister and your dog and whatever. My mom and I have a really good relationship so it’s never been strange to me living home although a lot of people say, “You’re 22. Why do you still live at home?” I’m, like, “It’s my situation and I’m happy with it.”

You used to be labeled a Madonna wannabe. But she’s gone off in a totally different direction (with the Erotica album and smutty Sex picture book tie-in) leaving you holding the high ground. What do you think of her latest career moves?

I’ve always been a fan of Madonna’s and I’ve always seen the sense of humor in what she’s done, like “Like a Virgin” and wearing her pointy bras on stage. I always got a kick out of it. I thought it was very theatrical and funny. At this point though I definitely feel she’s crossed a line, and she’s gotten so graphic that I don’t know if people see the sense of humor in it. I think adults might, but younger people have a really hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality. I’m talking about 12 and 13 year-olds. I’m sure they’re the ones who are rushing out and buying it (the book) because it’s in a Mylar bag. How can you tell a kid they can’t have something? They want it all the more. That kinda worries me … No one’s ever gonna tell Madonna what to do, and no one’s ever gonna convince her that she’s wrong in any way. Just like she has her freedom of expression, so do I.

It’s a good career move for her, though, to move away from the young fans to an older audience

Yeah, but I think the way in which she did it was definitely the easy way. The easiest way to get attention is to do something shocking. I don’t know if that’s necessarily good or admirable. Some of it is. The real quality stuff was always admirable to me, but not the garbage-y stuff. What she’s doing now is just too much, for me personally, but obviously the book is selling.

I guess it didn’t take you long to turn down the Playboy offer?

No. I just kinda started laughing. My office was, like, “Yeah, we know. We already told ‘em. Don’t worry.”

It’s nice to be asked, though.

I’ve been working out six days a week. I don’t know if that has anything to do with why the offer came. I think everyone eventually gets asked to pose nude.

debbie-gibson-playboy

NOTE: My book, Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.us

Copyright © 1993, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING

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