Terribly saddened to hear this morning of the death of Chrissy Amphlett, former lead singer of the Australian band Divinyls. She passed away in her home in New York City where she lived with her husband, former Divinyls drummer, Charlie Drayton, after suffering from breast cancer with which she was diagnosed in 2010 and MS in 2007. She was only 53 years old.
Although best known in the States for her titillating Top 5 U.S. hit “I Touch Myself” in 1991, the Divinyls came into my life in 1983 with the U.S. release of their first album, Desperate. I was introduced to Divinyls by my friend Doug, who was the one who often discovered these bands first, and I wasn’t thoroughly convinced right away. Their first single, “Boys in Town” was a smash, Top 10 in Australia, but it only got a little airplay in the States. The song that captivated me from their first album was the clever love song, “Science Fiction.” With its witty lyrics and catchy pop hook, “Science Fiction” just gets in my head and keeps me singing.
Their follow-up album, “What a Life!” was arguably their breakout album on alternative radio in the States, led by their first charting single in the States, “Pleasure and Pain,” written by Holly Knight and Mike Chapman. Every song on that album is a winner, but once again, it was their second single that had the biggest impact on me, the beautiful pop confection, “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s a beautiful song with subversive lyrics, barely contained sexuality, and a feminist twist that was often found in Amphlett and McEntee’s songs.
Divinyls will be well remembered for their intense stage performances, and Chrissy’s wild antics and school girl outfits. She hurled herself across the stage, pouting, sneering, careening into her partner-in-crime, guitarist Mark McEntee. I was fortunate to see Divinyls perform life several times, from tiny clubs like Axis to much larger venues, and even got to go backstage to meet them after their self-titled album that spawned their biggest it. I will cherish a photo I have with the band, and Chrissy running her fingers through my hair. I like to say, the woman who touches herself was touching my hair.
They went on to record several more albums peaking with their afore-mentioned smash hit, “I Touch Myself.” Chrissy also performed on stage and screen. Her film debut was the Austrlian film MONKEY GRIP, released in 1982. She had successful theatre experiences, playing Judy Garland in the touring company of “The Boy from Oz,” and playing the lead in “Blood Brothers.”
Chrissy announced her diagnosis of MS at the start of their 2007 tour, and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. The last years of her life were difficult as her body failed her. But her music will live on. Divinyls were a major part of the soundtrack of my life in the 80’s. Everytime I go back and listen to their catalog I thrill to the songwriting skills and musicianship found in their music. Chrissy Amplett was a pioneer for women in rock, unafraid of her sexuality, rage, and vulnerability that found her a unique and ground-breaking place in the male-dominated industry. I will remember her and her music as an integral part of my coming-of-age.