Until the other day, I’d forgotten Irene Cara recorded not one, but two, great movie theme songs which became major hit records.
When you say her name, I instantly think of “Fame”, which I love. But a year or two later, she recorded, and co-wrote, the theme song for “Flashdance” as well.
If you weren’t around at the time, let’s just say that between “Fame” and “Flashdance” legwarmers became the must-have fashion accessory of the early 1980s…can’t immediately think why they’ve not made a come-back since…and big hair was definitely in.
You’ll be glad to know I possessed neither of those early-80s fashion accoutrements…neither then nor now…
Keith Forsey co-wrote the lyrics for “Flashdance…What A Feeling” with Irene Cara, while Giorgio Moroder supplied the music.
Now, I like a good story as much as the next person, and it doesn’t even have to be based in reality for me to enjoy it. But I’ve always thought “Flashdance” has one of the skimpier connections with reality you’ll find in a hit movie.
“Flashdance” is the tale of an 18 year-old female welder at a steel mill in Pittsburgh who works in the evening as an exotic dancer at a bar in town.
I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but I have been around steel mills elsewhere. Let’s just say that’s a set of circumstances you’re very unlikely to find in the real world…not least because by the time you’ve left school and passed quite a demanding training course so you can be trusted to go welding round a steel mill on your own, you’re likely to be in your early 20s at least.
“Flashdance” is also responsible for one of the all-time classic movie scenes when Jennifer Beals’ character, Alex (the welder), gets doused in water as part of her dance routine.
Whether or not it’s really Jennifer Beals in that scene is a matter of conjecture, but I will say there are a lot of helpful shadows and silhouettes in that dance routine, so it could have been just about anyone. Well, probably not me, but just about anyone else…
In a film celebrated for iconic movie scenes like that, the theme song “Flashdance…What A Feeling” perhaps fades into the background of people’s memories a little.
Which is a shame — “Flashdance…What A Feeling” is a good song.
Back in 1983, it won an Oscar and a Grammy, along with a host of other awards. So, while the “Flashdance” movie, despite doing well commercially, has never exactly enjoyed critical acclaim, its theme song definitely has. And rightly so…
First, when there’s nothing
But a slow glowing dream
That your fear seems to hide
Deep inside your mind
That happens to us all, doesn’t it?
When we want to change something in our life, we start with a dream to be somewhere different from where we are…in fact usually somewhere very different from our current reality.
Sadly, for a lot of people, that stays a dream for the rest of our lives.
Whether it’s backpacking round the world, learning to play the guitar or studying for that doctorate we’ve always fancied doing, we all carry around a pocketful of dreams.
Only seldom do we act upon them. We’re too scared to do what we really want, or too anxious about what other people will think of us. Maybe we feel we don’t deserve to have our dreams become reality.
So we think about them from time to time, but they stay as dreams for the rest of our days.
But if you’re like Jennifer Beals’ character in “Flashdance” you do whatever it takes to achieve your dreams, or at least get as close to them as possible, no matter what reactions you might get from those around you.
I can’t speak for Pittsburgh, but I have lived in two other two steel towns. Without being disrespectful to any of them, people who worked as welders in steel mills are unlikely to get a huge amount of support from their workmates if they announce they want to give up welding and attend a Dance Conservatory.
Don’t forget “Flashdance” came a couple of decades before “Billy Elliot”…it’s a little more acceptable nowadays, but I’m not sure I’d have the courage to admit my ambitions to dance “Swan Lake” if I worked as a welder in a steel mill, even today.
One of the reasons I like “Flashdance…What A Feeling” is that it contains a great description of what music does for me when I hear a great song…
Well, I hear the music
Close my eyes, feel the rhythm
Take control of my heart
I feel great songs in my body. I don’t just hum along with the chorus or semi-automatically count out the time. I feel great songs fusing with my consciousness in my body and soaking into my soul.
Now, I can’t pretend this happens with every song I hear. Only a tiny percentage of all the songs I’ve ever heard do that for me. But when it happens…it’s a feeling like nothing else.
“Flashdance…What A Feeling” perfectly sums up the exuberance of someone who completely loses themselves in a piece of music…
What a feeling
I can have it all
Now I’m dancing for my life
Take your passion
And make it happen
Pictures come alive
You can dance right through your life
Some might think “Flashdance…What A Feeling” is a bit twee and has too much “Hollywood happy ending” about it, like the movie from which it came.
That’s a little harsh — I think the song does a great job of describing what it’s like to feel such a strong connection to a piece of music that the song is no longer happening outside you, it’s become a part of you.
Most of us have the opposite problem, though. It’s not about something “outside” becoming part of us on the inside. It’s about realising who we truly are on the inside and then being prepared to share that with the world.
That’s hard. Sharing who we really are with the world takes more courage than most of us can muster. Generally, we keep our heads down, our hands in our pockets, and our eyes averted. We keep our dreams to ourselves.
I’m not lecturing. I’m one of those too.
Largely by chance, I discovered that writing does for me at least a little bit of what dancing does for Jennifer Beals in “Flashdance”. It’s not as big a step as announcing to my buddies in the steel mill that I’m off to dance “Swan Lake”, but on the inside, it felt pretty momentous to let even a little bit of the person I’d kept locked up inside for years out into the real world.
I could do a lot more, but it’s a start. At least, like the proverbial journey of a thousand miles, I’ve taken the first step. And the world hasn’t stopped spinning. Maybe one day I’ll take another step…
So this weekend, whether you’re a welder in a steel mill or an accountant with a spreadsheet, don’t let your dreams go stale.
Let them live. Let them breathe. Let them inspire you.
That sense of someone who won’t give up on their dreams is what “Flashdance….What A Feeling” does such a great job of conveying…no wonder it won an Oscar and a Grammy. Here’s Irene Cara to tell you more…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here…https://open.spotify.com/track/3cbV252akVZInSvJk7jAYX
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.