As I was driving to work last week, the radio station I was listening to played a song called “Love in an Elevator” by Aerosmith. A few days after that, it was on during my drive home, so I assume it is in rotation for the 80’s radio station I have been listening to lately. If you had reached puberty by 1989 and/or were within 50 feet of a radio during that time, you probably know this song. It’s terrible, but for some odd reason, we loved it, sending it to #5 on the charts.
The song was on Aerosmith’s album Pump, which was released right before I went away to college. We had this album at WLHD, which was a campus radio station where I had a show from 2-3 p.m. weekdays my Freshman year. LHD stands for “Lincoln Hall Dorm,” which is the name of the building where this outfit was run from. I was qualified to have this program because 1) I had paid my tuition and 2) I showed up. The station manager, a wizened sophomore named AJ, as I recall, showed me how to cue a vinyl record so that it played a song right when you started it up. That was pretty much all it took to release me on the airwaves.
Except the station didn’t technically use airwaves. Instead, AJ told me, the station was sent over the power lines to all of the buildings on East Green. If you plugged a radio in one of these buildings, you could pick up the station. I lived in Read Hall, two buildings over from Lincoln, and could never hear it, but AJ assured me that this was all for reals, and as proof played a promo for me from the comedian Sam Kinnison, who had visited campus the previous year. Sam Kinnison’s act was based around him screaming “OHHHH” as a way to warn you to never get married, and in the 1980s we found this pretty funny. AJ, wise sophomore that he was, had taken a small tape recorder to his show and convinced him to say “This is WLHD! OHHH! OHHHHHHHH!”
If you got Sam Kinnison, my 18-year-old self reasoned, then everything here must be pretty legit. I would sit in the booth and play songs, breaking them up every few minutes by playing the Sam Kinnison promo. If I wanted to smoke a cigarette, I would play Free Bird and step outside. In addition to Aerosmith, I also remember playing songs from Bob Dylan’s Modern Times album, which was also new that fall. I also remember an album from a band called “Carnivore” which had a track on it called “Jack Daniels and Pizza,” which was actually just a recording of some guy throwing up for a minute or so. The Lyrics sites online charitably refer to it as an instrumental. I never played that track, but I do remember calling the phone in the booth throughout the week and requesting that other DJs play it on their shows.
It must have been a pretty strange hour of radio (as I’m sure those of you who happened to plug your radios into outlets in Lincoln Hall Dorm in Athens, Ohio from 2-3 weekdays can attest). I didn’t care, though. I was 18! I had my own dorm room and my own radio show. “Almost drive time,” I would tell you, which didn’t make much sense because Freshman weren’t allowed to have cars on campus at that time, and even if they did, the cars would have to run like, a super-long electric wire from a radio in their cars to an outlet in Lincoln Hall Dorm to get my show. Also, I had just gotten my braces off, which is something I wish I was making up, but I am not.
I do remember playing a lot of tracks from Pump, especially What it Takes and Janie’s Got a Gun, which I hailed for its innovative used of the wind gong, although looking back, it likely did not register that it was about victims of incest. Love in an Elevator was the first and most popular song from Pump at that time, but I played exactly once on my show, and then swore never to play it again.
The reason why is that it opens with a spoken word segment, or “overdub.” After Def Lepard’s “Glinten, Glieden, Gotten, Globen” which is spoken before Rock of Ages, I’d say the Love in an Elevator overdub probably one of the better known Heavy Metal Ballad Spoken Word Overdub Song Openers around.
The bit starts with a *ding* sound, to indicate an elevator has arrived. Then we hear a young woman’s voice say “Second Floor. Hardware. Children’s ware. Ladie’s Lingerie…Oh! Hello Mr. Tyler. Going…down?” Then there is a short pause, and then Steven Tyler gives a kind of skeevy sounding laugh, and then the band launches into the song.
This bit is suggestive. It’s supposed to suggest that the “Mr. Tyler” character is going to “go down” on the “elevator operator.” This is mostly suggested in the short pause she puts in between “going” and “down,” and by his creepy laugh, and also by the fact that IT WAS LATE 80s HAIR METAL, PEOPLE, OK JUST TRUST ME ON THIS ONE, SHE’S TALKING ABOUT SEX.
But is this why I refused to play the song?
At the time, I had nothing against people having sex in elevators. (Do people do this by the way? And if so, is there a “Mile High Club”-like nickname for it? Maybe the “Between the Floors” club? In any case, I can’t say I’m for or against this right now. I’m 42, so mostly I just don’t want to think about it. But back when I was 18, I was all for anything that involved even the slightest possibility that someone might even mention the word sex.) Just name the time and elevator, and I’d be there (although if the time was from 2-3 on a weekday, I’d have to put Free Bird on first). Heck, I would have been up for love on an escalator, for that matter. Or in a funicular.
No. The reason I inexplicably turned against this song was this: ELEVATOR OPERATORS!
Because in my vast life experiences leading up to the fall of 1989, comprised of 18-years during which I grew up in a Cleveland suburb, got braces on and then off, and then ended up with my very own almost-drive-time radio show for a radio station that only worked on radios plugged in to the electric wires in Lincoln Hall Dorm, I had never encountered an elevator operator. So, being 18 and knowing everything, I decided there was no longer any such thing.
What, was this song set in the 50’s? I would derisively ask nobody out loud as I sat alone each afternoon in the empty radio station, which I was starting to suspect was actually AJ’s dorm room.
And if so, how come the elevator operators I had seen portrayed on television up to that point were all old men in funny caps? Is that who you’re going to have sex with, Steven Tyler? I’m sorry, Aerosmith, 18-year-old me declared, if you’re going to tell me that people have sex in elevators, then you’re going to have to give me a more believable scenario than this.
And please, readers, keep mind, this was well before we had something like the Internet, where we could type in “Are there still elevator operators?”
I didn’t stop there in my criticism of Love in an Elevator, however. Because even if there was still an elevator operator somewhere who happened to be a hot woman who wanted to have sex, I hesitate to point out that 1) the Mr. Tyler character is boarding the elevator on the second floor, giving him what, one, maybe two floors (if there’s a basement) tops, to “go down.” I’m pretty sure even my 18-year-old self couldn’t have taken care of business that quickly.
OK, I probably could have. But you get my point, right?
And we also should point out that THEY’RE IN A FRICKING DEPARTMENT STORE, which is conceivably busier than, say, an old office building or something. And since this mythical department store sees fit to place hardware, children’s clothing and lingerie (sounds like a Sears to me) on the same floor, it’s likely that there’re a lot of confused shoppers milling about trying to find the dressing rooms, which I still maintain would have been a better place for Mr. Tyler and Ms. Elevator Operator to have sex. Of course, Love in a Dressing Room seems to lack a little something.
So that’s why I took a stand against one of the more popular songs of the fall of 1989. I told myself that a guy has got to stand up for what’s right, after all.
Now that we have the Internet, however, we can dig a little bit deeper into this mystery. For example, I learned this evening that there are still a handful of old elevators out there that require operators, and thus a handful of elevator operators still out there. Of course, if you run an image search of elevator operators, let’s just say none of them resemble the elevator operator depicted on the cover sleeve of the Love in an Elevator 45. (Um, kids, a 45 was the MP3 of my day. It was a little record that had one song on each see, and spun around the turntable 45 times per minute. It was replaced by a far superior technology called a cassingle. Now a turntable is…)
The music video for Love in an Elevator is a hot mess, and not just because Steven Tyler appears to be wearing a hat that he stole from an Englishwoman who was on her way to high tea. The elevator operator is played by Brandi Brandt (although hers is not the voice on the record), who was a Playboy centerfold of the time and married to Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue (and is the subject of their song ‘Angela’). She welcomes Mr. Tyler into an elevator FULL OF PEOPLE!
What? It’s like they didn’t even look at their own 45 sleeve cover! No WAY is Steve Tyler going down with that kind of audience around.
The video goes on to show us a wide range of weirdness at the department store, though, and all sorts of oddness in and around the elevator – to the extent that you begin to suspect the entire song is being ironic, which, if you dive into the lyrics at all, you hope for the sake of humanity, is true.
Jackie’s in the elevator
Lingerie second floor
She said ‘can I see you later
And love you just a little more?’
I kinda hope we get stuck
Nobody gets out alive
She said ‘I’ll show you how to fax
In the mailroom, honey
And have you home by five’
These two verses are arguably the most substantive of the song. They give us a name (Jackie) of the woman in the elevator, who apparently wants to love Mr. Tyler a little bit more, and also to show him how to use the fax machine in the mailroom? He probably drove her crazy asking her to fax stuff for him all the time. That’s what that’s about.
Ok, that’s not what that’s about at all. That line is really about us miss-mashing “fax” for “fuck” in the mailroom. Because at the end of the day (or, in this case, when the elevator hits the ground and the doors open up), this really just a fun song about doing it that lets the musicians show off their chops. Accept that as its premise (as most of us seem to have done) and you can enjoy it. I don’t know why 1989 me wasn’t able to understand this, but at least it’s dawning on 2013 me. In an oddly symmetric twist, Steven Tyler was 42 when this song came out, which is how old I am now that I am maybe starting to get it. Apologies to my wife and kids, who are clearly doomed.
Brandt, who had three children with Sixx, though they are now divorced, went on to have a few small roles (including an appearance on Married…with Children, and a role as a “Glamorous Gyno-American in “Citizen Toxie:The Toxic avenger IV.) In 2009, her name comes up in connection with a cocaine bust in Australia, but she does not seem to have been arrested or charged with anything, and, according to this Twitter account, she is now a maker of cakes and custom jewelry, which seems like a pretty good career path for a former elevator operator.
I have to admit when I saw the cocaine bust results appear in my search, I wondered if I had stumbled on to a lesser-known Tawny Kitaen-type of story. Of course, after seeing some of the Brandt/Kitaen similarities, I’m amazed they didn’t get matched up in an episode of Celebrity Boxing.
Also, if you’re going to do an image search of either Ms. Brandt or Ms. Kitaen, you should probably not be at work at the time. Just sayin’. And also, sorry, boss.
The Internet also has informed me that the role of the woman in the pre-Love in an Elevator voice skit (on the album, not in the video) was voiced by a woman named Catherine Epps. I would have known that back in 1989 if I had read the liner notes, which I didn’t do, since Free Bird was on, and I was probably outside smoking and hoping that AJ didn’t suddenly show up.
Ms. Epps is a much trickier entity to find any information about. Search for her and you get back LinkedIn results for a lot different Eppses. Discographies turn up only this one credit for love in an Elevator. IMDB turns up only one appearance – in a documentary called Aerosmith: The Making of Pump. The Internet, it seems, is unable to tell us very much at all about the real voice of the elevator operator from the crazy department store, and Aerosmith: The Making of Pump is only available on DVD or VHS.
Ok. I just ordered it. Gimme a minute …
That was more than a minute, but luckily I was able to order a copy from a reputable seller on Amazon for $2.10, and before we get on to the critical issue of Ms. Epps, let me note that I was truly and pleasantly surprised at how engaging this film was, especially give that it’s in 4×3 and shot primarily with a VHS camera. But between the “senior portrait style” infinite white background used for the talking head interviews, or the bits where Steven Tyler waxes poetic on how his Korg piano has 99 presets, this film was enjoyable both for its content and for its perfect snapshot of the late 1980s.
As I mentioned, Pump was Aerosmith’s first album after “getting sober,” a fact they make some hay of during the documentary, and by hay, I mean the musicians give some decent insights on to how different the act of creation is for them when they are not under the influence. Tyler says:
You do it by pretending. By letting the kid out. Tha’s why drugs played such a big role in Aerosmith and me and especially my creativity….now I just really let the kid out a lot more, and when I pretend, I go for it… If you pretend…you’re there. Little kids do it, and they’re there. They’re in the room quiet and playing for hours. What are you doing? I’m playing with Jackie. There’s no Jackie. You know? But Jackie’s in the elevator…
What I found particularly interesting is that, as Aerosmith tries to whittle their 20 or so songs down to one album’s worth of material, they know straight-off they have two surefire hits: Janie’s Got a Gun and Love in an Elevator. At one point, Tyler is taking a phone interview from the recording studio talking about Love in an Elevator before it’s even been released. It’s like he’s got the formula nailed and just needs to let the genie out of the box on that one. Or out of the elevator, more accurately.
But as to the overdub and the mysterious Catherine Epps who steps out of the 1940’s to run the elevator at the most oddly organized department store in history, well, here she is:
That is the exact moment when Steve Tyler, who was voice directing her from the side, suggests that she place a short pause in between “going” and “down,” which I feel pretty safe in calling the pause heard round the heavy metal world. A few scenes later we get to see the band in the sound booth listening to various takes on the line and debating the merits of each. Later, an engineer remarks “this is the strangest overdub I’ve ever done,” but is quickly corrected by Tyler: “No. The greatest.”
The film closes with Tyler telling a more-or-less edited version of the story which he says inspired Love in an Elevator. The clip gets set up for us by drummer Joey Kramer, who clarifies for us that most people like sex, that lead singer Steven Tyler can be counted among such people, and that due to his rock star status, he gets to have a lot of it.
Tyler, through his raspy laughs, then tells us that he was with two young ladies in a hotel hot tub, at which time it seemed best to head up to his room. This is the infamous elevator ride, he says, that inspired the song.
So we got in the elevator, scantily clad, I might add, and uh, suddenly I dropped my room key, and I had to get down on the floot and pick it up. And you know that commercial where the chocolate meets the peanut butter? Ha ha ha. Um. Our heads met. The other girl by the way, was, uh, pushing the buttons of every floor, because she was totally inebriated. And um, suddenly, without notice, the doors opened and we were in the lobby. And she was buns up and kneeling. I was a wheeling and a dealing. (laughs) Yaaa-uh.
So I had to write it down, right? Memoirs.
That’s my transcription of what he says in the film, and in writing it down, it loses the mixture of disbelief and delight he has in his telling of it. The funny thing is, Aerosmith: The Making of Pump, ends there. I mean, the film just ends with Steven Tyler saying “Memoirs.” It’s a bit abrupt, but as I thought about it, I’m not sure how else it could have ended. How are you supposed to react to a story like this? The editor probably gave it a good deal of thought and then decided, Fuck it. Memoirs. That’s the end.
Which, in the end, is probably why I wrote this post to begin with. A song came on the radio that brought me back to the fall of 1989, and made me remember how you can only listen to music like you were 18 once, because the world has a lot more in lying in store for you between elevator operators and Married…with Children.
Enjoy it while you can.