Before websites like Atlas Obscura or Messy Nessy Chic existed, my friend Megan had always been a walking encyclopedia of obscure cultural knowledge, especially music. One of her earliest email usernames was “fabuloustain,” and before I asked her what it referenced, I decided to search for it myself. I found out that her username was a nod to the film Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, a satire of the music industry in the ’80s that followed three rock-and-roll bands on a tour together, one of them being a trio of teenage girls whose overnight success and intense media scrutiny alter the course of the tour. At the time I discovered the film, I knew I had to see it — that was about ten years ago, and like the rest of the few people who have watched it, I’ve never forgotten it. The feminist overtones, set to a soundtrack of punk-rock music, make the underrated film an important one, shedding light on how women are treated in the music business.
Paramount Pictures never gave LAGTFS, which debuted in 1982, a wide theatrical release because it did so poorly with test audiences at a screening in Denver. Instead, it found fandom via late-night viewings on cable television and the art-house circuit, making fans of Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna. In an interview, Hanna explained how the film influenced her: “I remember that being the first film that I heard the term sellout, and I saw this feminist band being like, ‘Well, we don’t care if you call us that — we’re gonna do whatever we want.’ And that was a really powerful message for me and [fellow Bikini Kill band members] Kathi [Wilcox] and Tobi [Vail].” In 2008, the film was finally released on DVD.
The movie had a cast full of musical legends: Fee Waybill of the Tubes, Paul Simonon of the Clash, and Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols. The men, however, aren’t the marquee stars. Corinne (Diane Lane), her sister Tracy (Marianne Kanter), and her cousin Jessica (Laura Dern) are the teenage girls who make up the overnight-success band the film is named for, the Stains. When a local TV newscaster interviews Corinne shortly after the death of her mother and as she was getting fired from her job as a cook, many viewers, particularly young ones, felt a connection to her raw anger and frustration. So the newscaster does a follow-up interview with Corinne, Tracy and Jessica at home where Corinne gives sassy and sarcastic answers, along with an announcement that she and her band will be performing locally. Never mind that Corinne and her band have never played together and that their music skills are next to nonexistent.
Corinne then visits a concert venue and meets a small-time band promoter who’s currently on tour with two feuding bands (the Metal Corpses, on the verge of being washed-up, and the Looters, on the verge of stardom). Without listening to any of the Stains’ music, the concert promoter takes them on anyway, as he’s eager to make the tour more peaceful.
As expected with their lack of experience, the Stains perform horribly during their first concert. But Corinne makes an entrance with an edgy punk look: black-and-white hair that resembles a skunk’s fur; a red, see-through blouse that matches her fire-hot, lightning-bolt eye shadow and shimmery crimson lips. Her outfit is finished with a pair of bikini briefs, fishnets, and black heeled boots, all of which capture the venue’s attention. This entire ensemble, and outspoken statement on individuality, becomes the uniform of the Stains’ followers. As a result, a female newscaster declares the Stains a new voice of feminism and female empowerment: “I’m not reporting about a band as much as I am a very personal appeal for young women to resist.” My naïve inner-teenager, punk-rock heart initially made me roll my eyes at the thought of the Stains’ proclaiming “Be yourself” but embracing their minions, who look exactly like themselves. Upon further reflection, I’ve come to realize that fashion can be just as powerful in unison. Case in point: Time’s Up’s decision to black out the red carpet at the Golden Globes, or in the ’60s when women wore mini-skirts as a form of protest.