By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
You might expect a female performer with a hit single entitled "I Kissed a Girl" to be an ardent advocate of the lesbian lifestyle. But singer/songwriter Jill Sobule, who co-wrote the tune with collaborator Robin Eaton, hasn't used the song's success (it's spent nearly three months on the Billboard Hot 100 sales chart) as a platform for polemics. In fact, she says she's grown quite weary of journalists' curiosity about her sexual orientation.
"They just want to know, `What's the deal?'" says the thirty-year-old former Denverite. But instead of posing the question directly, she goes on, most reporters choose to sidle up to the issue by inquiring if her songs are autobiographical. Only after she responds do they home in on the composition. "It's like, why don't they just go ahead and ask, `Are you queer?'" Sobule wonders aloud in a mock-hayseed drawl.
Even if they did, however, Sobule isn't likely to give a straight answer. And in discussing "Girl," she's very careful not to reveal too much. "It wasn't like I was trying to make a big statement of `I am lesbian, hear me roar,'" she asserts. "But on the other hand, I'm glad that it's the first song that actually was on a Top 40 format that had a kind of suspect lyric in it in that way."
Sobule adds that the tune's ending leaves open the possibility that its speaker may or may not choose to repeat the experience. "So it's a song for everybody," she intones with a mock enthusiasm that would do Ron Popeil proud. "Even those guys who read those Penthouse Forums."
As for the video, which remains in heavy rotation on both MTV and VH1, its popularity is due in part to the prominent role played in it by Harlequin hunk Fabio. Sobule claims that his appearance in the clip came about on "a lark." A chance encounter led to a meeting between Fabio and the video's director (Morgan Lawley), who realized instantly that the megamodel would be perfect for the part of an "ultra-steroid-laden male" who gets dumped for a woman. The casting pleased Sobule, who wanted the clip to convey a perversely innocent tone a la the Sixties sitcom Bewitched. But even though Sobule reports that Fabio was "a real good sport," she firmly declined subsequent suggestions from executives at her record label (Lava, an Atlantic imprint) that she make numerous publicity appearances with him. She explains, "I just had to at some point say no--no more. It's worn thin."
Nevertheless, Sobule is grateful for the attention that has come her way in recent months, particularly because "the last time around, when I had a record out four years ago, I couldn't get arrested." Indeed, 1990's Things Here Are Different, produced by Todd Rundgren and released on the MCA label, barely saw the light of day. The company later dropped Sobule without releasing a second disc she had recorded for them.
Today, any bitterness about this action has dissipated. "In a certain way it was good, because I didn't have any expectations for this album," Sobule states. "So any little bit of positive news or anything was okay. And it's surprising that they're actually letting me do a second single rather than dropping me, like the last time."
That cut--"Supermodel"--appears on the soundtrack for the Amy Heckerling film Clueless and is being stripped into new pressings of Sobule's current eponymous long-player. The Clueless connection initially caused Sobule some worry. She confesses to asking herself, "What am I doing--putting a song on Return to Gilligan's Island or something?" She was relieved when even the New York Times gave the picture positive notices.
Then again, Sobule's tastes aren't what you'd call highbrow; she's an admitted bad-TV junkie who claims, "I feel like I'm doing so much better work since I now have cable." Even so, she says that her songs "come from real life--but I embellish it." To say the least: The affecting "Houdini's Box," for example, describes a doomed love affair through the perspective of someone trapped inside the title magician's supposedly escape-proof container, while "Karen by Night" posits a fanciful double life full of motorcycles, hard drinking and midnight drug deals for a mild-mannered shoe-store supervisor with whom the songwriter once worked. The latter also offers one of the year's funniest throwaway lines; Sobule asserts that the protagonist in "Karen" looks like "young Marlon Brando--not like old, fat Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now."
Material like this treads dangerously close to novelty territory, but what saves Sobule from being tagged as the "Weird" Al Yankovic of the Nineties is her willingness to display vulnerability on "(Theme From) The Girl in the Affair" and "Now That I Don't Have You," a track that's already been performed by Bette Midler. The pixie-ish voice with which Sobule delivers such compositions at times invites comparisons to Cyndi Lauper and even Madonna, but somehow Sobule's shtick never seems to overstay its welcome.
These days the vocalist finds herself doing "that rock-bus thing" with the members of X, the seminal L.A. punk band whom she and guitarist Brad Jones are supporting for the current leg of their tour. When quizzed about the experience, she replies, "Yikes! It's just hard getting used to. It feels like a little tomb, those bunks." Not that she's complaining, mind you--Sobule reports that the headliners have been extremely gracious. She's also gotten the opportunity to pal around with such artists as Freedy Johnston (who joined her on stage one evening for a cheesy version of Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes") and former Bongo Richard Barone.