I was saddened to learn of the passing of model, actress and singer Denise Matthews, aka Vanity, on February 16 (which happens to be my birthday). As a pubescent teen and rabid Prince fan back in the eighties, I had more than a few posters and pin-ups displaying her lovely arresting face--as well as her lithe, semi-clothed body. Prince, her former mentor (and the person who fittingly christened her "Vanity"), was on tour in Australia at the time of her death, and he reportedly paid tribute to "the finest woman in the world" throughout the night, changing song lyrics to fit personal anecdotes (thanks Pitchfork!). What follows is my small tribute, of sorts, an excerpt from a novel in progress describing the April 1983 Richard Avedon cover of Rolling Stone featuring "Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson and Miss Vanity."
In truth it was the pose, more than the posers (or was it poseurs?) that held his attention. Paul recognized it as the very same pose he’d mooned over decades before, when he’d stumbled upon and swiped a copy of the then-venerable music magazine from his neighborhood library. (He was sure he still had it, in fact, stacked in the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet along with similar pop culture periodicals—Spin, The Face, Details, iD—dating from his adolescence and young adulthood.) The old cover, dating from the early eighties, had featured a striking photo of a wildly attractive couple of color. The prissy, pompadoured man was front-and-center, ruffled shirt unbuttoned, chest hair exposed; the woman, pouty, insanely pretty if a bit stiff and vacant-eyed, was hugging him from behind and peering over his shoulder (a large silver emblem reminiscent of the insignia found on a U.S.S. Enterprise crew member’s uniform dangled from her ear), her arm wrapped around his waist, as if intent on hitching her comely wagon to this rapidly rising star. More to the point, she’d brazenly slipped the slender fingers of her right hand into the waistband of the androgynous man’s jeans—where, not coincidentally, his own left hand was suggestively tucked. It seemed an odd pose for a magazine cover, as if the photographer had snuck up on them at the outset of some amorous endeavor and caught them unawares. Of course it was all a ruse: their faces betrayed not a trace of shame, not a shadow of surprise. In fact the pair stared unwaveringly, almost defiantly out at the viewer, as if to imply that you were the one caught unawares, you were the pervert, the sneaky peeping Tom. What was perhaps surprising was how perfectly cool they seemed with your perversion; you could watch, if you wanted, they didn’t mind. What was the point of rushing off, now that you were here? Hang back, pull up a chair. Stay for a while and witness the logical, lustful conclusion of all those southward-traveling fingers….