THERE ON THE RADIO, VOTED MOST likely never to float in Muzak form above the frozen-foods section, is “I Touch Myself,” a catchy little ode to self-gratification currently bringing a blush to the pop charts. Here, in a see-through blouse at L.A.’s Ma Maison, is Divinyls lead singer Christina Amphlett, who claims, gentle listener, that you’ve got it all wrong. ” ‘I Touch Myself was never written about masturbation at all,” insists the early-30ish Aussie coyly. “Everyone’s taken it in the lower sense. It was meant to be taken in a spiritual way.”
Well, maybe. But spiritual along the (very thin) lines of the fishnet dress Amphlett sports on the cover of the album (called Divinyls), which reveals a whole lot of unambiguity. Or spiritual like the album’s second single, “Make Out Alright.” Or maybe like the “Touch Myself” video, filmed in an abandoned nunnery, no less, which pretty much guarantees that Tipper Gore will not be dropping by for tea. “People get so freaked out about sex and can’t handle it,” Amphlett says, less coyly. “That’s what we’re about, and that’s the sort of record we wanted to make.
That’s been the game plan since Amphlett first shoehorned herself into a schoolgirl’s uniform and hit the stage almost 10 years ago. She and her musical partner, fellow Australian Mark McEntee, have released four albums that earned them major-star status Down Under and a minor cult following stateside. With their first real U.S. hit, that cult has grown into the crowds that have been pelting Amphlett with underwear and even condoms during Divinyls’ current 30-plus—city tour.
Born in the Australian town of Geelong—her father was a typewriter salesman, her mother a nurse—Amphlett knew early on that she was no Kelly Girl. “Because we had typewriters under the beds and everywhere, I refused to become a secretary,” she says. At 17, she lit out for Europe, where she served two months in a Barcelona prison for street singing. “It was during Franco’s time, and you weren’t allowed to do that,” she says. “I was very young and naive. They transferred us from prison to prison by bus, and all of a sudden I was the only woman. They kept me in a cage in front so the men couldn’t attack me.”
Four years older and a lot less naive, Amphlett hooked up with McEntee back in Sydney. Though he was the low-key son of a Perth architectural engineer and an entrepreneur, opposites attracted, and in 1981 they joined forces as Divinyls. Their first venues were the strip joints in Sydney’s red-light district, King’s Cross. “There were the Pink Pussycats and the sleaze bars, but I wasn’t a striptease act,” insists Amphlett. “Other people have come and gone because of death, drugs, boredom or whatever. We just had this vision and have stayed together.”
By 1989, with no record contract and leaving the dead, bored and drugged in their wake, Amphlett and McEntee went to Paris. Recalling Barcelona, Amphlett suggested they “go be street singers and vagabonds again” and steered straight for Pigalle, the city’s red-light district. With that as inspiration, they quickly began working on new songs, including “I Touch Myself,” which became their first No. 1 Australian hit.
Back in Sydney, Amphlett keeps a modest beach house, while McEntee, one war her junior. owns property in Queensland stocked with horses, sheep and cattle. Public persona aside, Amphlett insists she’s “never really had boyfriends” because “I’ve always been a bit much for them.” But what of McEntee, her Divinyls partner? Says he: “We have a very intellectual kind of relationship.”
It is also a profitable one. And no matter that Muzak won’t be putting “I Touch Myself” on the supermarket playlist anytime soon. “I love to look out at the audience when we sing it,” says Amphlett happily. “It’s great to be filthy and open.”
ANDREW ABRAHAMS in Los Angeles