Sunday, November 30, 2008
Everyone knows Toni Basil for that one hit "Hey, Mickey" and yeah the cheerleader outfit and her crazy nose job. But did you know she was 39 when she made that video, and her life is totally long and crazy before and after that. I always thought that song was kind of annoying, but I started looking into her a few years ago when the Semina Culture: Wallace Berman And His Circle exhibition was making the rounds. Thats when I realized Tony Basil was once a beatnik which made me give her life a second look.
Antonia Christina Basilotta was born in Philadelphia in 1943 to a vaudvillian dancer mother and orchestra conductor father. She spent her teen years in Las Vegas and Los Angeles and got some work as a go-go dancer in 60s teen movies. She also worked as assistant choreographer on Shindig! a music variety show. She began her music career in 1966 with the hit Breakaway. Toni had been hanging out with the beatnik group often featured in the magazine Semina (created by Wallace Berman)and through them her love of dance and acting expanded in a more experimental and artistic direction. The artist Bruce Conner made this video to accompany Breakaway it features Toni Basil's dancing and choreography....
Toni Basil started making her own short films the first of which was Our Trip (1967) -an experimental movie featuring her as well as Teri Garr and Ann Marshall romping around in Europe hanging out with rock bands and going wild. I wish I could find a clip online but there isn't one. It was featured in the Semina Culture show in Santa Monica, Berkeley, or New York so maybe you've seen it. She made a few other shorts featuring Wallace Berman, Dean Stockwell, and Billy Gray hanging out in California. Then in 1968 she made "A Dance Film Inspired by Jim Morrison" which featured two dancers performing her choreography and some era appropriate strobe light effects.
Here are some stills from Our Trip and a book she made
For the next decade or so she acted in various films such as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and The Last Movie. She also continued as a choreographer for American Graffiti and other movies. In the 1970s Toni joined the street dance group The Lockers, and though she wasn't one of the founding members, the group credits her with being one of the driving forces in bringing them and street dance to the attention of the American public. She also started making and choreographing music videos.
Here's one of hers that's a Devo song (they do the instrumentals in this version as well) and also features some of the gang from The Lockers...
Just to give you an idea of how busy she was she appeared multiple times on Saturday Night Live with The Lockers in the '70s, choreographed David Bowie's tours in 1974 and 1987, as well as most of the memorable stuff David Byrne is known for, like in the "Once in a Lifetime" video. At this point she's worked on so many videos and movies that you might as well IMDB it cause I can't list them all here.
Toni Basil is now 65 and still super busy. She's choreographing tours for Tina Turner and Bette Midler, working on shows with VH1 and movies with Adam Sandler. As an artist I like knowing about all the different stages of her career. Its nice to know that as long as you're following what makes you happy it can lead anywhere - whether that be beatniks or MTV or both. And to conclude I leave you with this totally ridiculous video.....