An Artistic Consideration of Benny Mardones’ “Into the Night”

When you get to a certain age (say, 30), it becomes time to make a difficult decision: you can either continue to embrace the new and trendy in pop culture, or you can firmly dig your feet in and grumpily insist that what “the kids today,” some of whom might be a whole decade or so younger, are into isn’t nearly as good as what you enjoyed in your youth.

Once we were rendered a casualty in the war for relevance between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, members of Generation X became especially skilled in kidding ourselves into believing that our pre-smartphones and Wikipedia childhoods were somehow better, more pure than today. This is true. It was an innocent time where kids could ride their bicycles without helmets, and only occasionally die of massive head injuries after an accident (social Darwinism, amirite?), when gay teens would suffer in silence until they got old enough to run away from their shitty small towns, never to be heard from again, and when men could be abusive drunks to their families, and as long as he was supporting them financially it was no one else’s business.

It was also a time when men could still extol the romantic and sexual virtues of teenage girls without anyone looking at them askance.

While the peak era for singing about the ups and downs of chasing underage tail was the 50s and 60s (such as when Gary Puckett warned the object of his desire “you better run, girl,” implying that either his legs were broken or he had no control over his own behavior), there were still some humdingers celebrating ephebophilia in later years, like KISS’s “Christine Sixteen” (with a spoken word interlude by class act Gene Simmons in which he says “When I saw you coming out of the school that day, I knew I’ve got to have you”), and, of course, everybody’s favorite ode to teen groupie bangin’, “My Sharona.” By the 80s, thankfully, it became less socially acceptable to openly admit such desires

Now, that doesn’t mean that pop culture no longer pushes the idea that once a woman reaches 25 her best, most desirable years are behind her, it’s just somewhat less overt about it. It’s still a trope that Woody Allen, now 80 years old, returns to every now and then. Everyone still knows that one guy on the internet who rattles off a bunch of supposed “science” about how men are biologically predisposed to be attracted to younger women and their ripe, luscious jugs, while women over 30 might as well be cast off into the woods to be eaten by bears.

Nevertheless, nowadays such men are usually portrayed as gross and a little sad. The last time a mainstream song presented one as a lovelorn romantic hero was Benny Mardones’s “Into the Night,” a radio hit in 1980 that was re-recorded, released again in 1989, and somehow, implausibly, almost as successful the second time around. If you don’t remember if you’ve ever heard it, the infamous opening line should remind you: “She’s just sixteen years old, leave her alone, they say…” Mardones himself was 33 at the time of the song’s release.

Supposedly, Mardones was inspired to write the song after chiding a friend for remarking upon a young girl’s attractiveness. That may be true, but the lyrics seem to lean heavily in favor of it. Skin crawling opening line aside, it’s pretty standard “forbidden romance” fare, with the usual blathering about having the kind of love that the rest of the world just doesn’t understand, and that’s why it must be torn asunder. It’s the rarely seen video that really makes it something special.

It opens with Mardones, sporting Journey tribute band hair, being greeted at a door by a man who looks like a cross between an Amish farmer and Al from Home Improvement. Surprisingly calm given the situation, the man mouths the line everyone knows this song for and waves Mardones off. Mardones turns to the camera and rolls his eyes, as if saying to the viewer “Can you believe this guy, not wanting me to fuck his teenage daughter? Christ, what an asshole!”  It’s such a puzzling creative decision for a song that’s supposed to put you on the side of the singer that I had to commemorate it in gif form:

giphy

Unswayed, our hero ignores Farmer Dad, and goes around the side of the house to sing into the bedroom window of his high school age girlfriend, who sits impassively staring at the floor, not acknowledging his promise to show her a love like she’s never seen, ever seen.

Mardones tries to profess his feelings via telephone instead, to which his girlfriend responds with an expression that suggests she’s on hold waiting to speak with her bank. It’s a tough call which is weirder in this scene, the stone faced actress (Mardones emotes enough for both of them, but still), or the fact that no one noticed this glaring “continuity error,” if you will.

intothenight1

Now, unless this is a mirrored image, that’s Mardones’s left hand. And, unless I’m counting wrong, that’s his ring finger, sporting some rather large jewelry. It’s noticeable the second he puts his hand up, and it leaves one wondering: is this supposed to add a level of mystery to the “plot” of a three and a half minute long video, or is it simply a massive blunder that someone (hopefully) caught in post-production and just thought “Eh, this is fine, no one will think anything of it”? Between that, and the eye rolling, it quickly becomes difficult to pity this poor man who can’t be free to engage in a passionate relationship with a girl very nearly young enough to be his daughter. And then the carpet comes out…

One thing I really love about 80s music videos is how many of them seemed to be literal interpretations of the lyrics. The video for “Whip It” featured Mark Mothersbaugh attacking things with a bullwhip, even though that’s not really what the song is about. Accept’s “Balls to the Wall” ends with the lead singer riding a wrecking ball into a wall. The chorus of “Into the Night” is “If I could fly, I’d pick you up, I’d take you into the night…”, so why not have a scene in the video where Mardones returns to his girlfriend’s house now bearing a magic carpet, which he uses to take her on a journey over grainy footage of the East River, complete with the Statue of Liberty in the background?

intothenight2

Despite this wildly romantic gesture on a par with Aladdin wooing Princess Jasmine, Mardones’ girlfriend continues to stare blankly into the middle distance. Possibly deaf, mute, and blind, she never speaks, changes the expression on her face, or even looks at Mardones until the very end when they lay down on the carpet and start making out (ewwwwwwww!), presumably before crashing into Liberty Island, because who’s driving that thing anyway? The video fades out over Mardones’s amorous wails.

And that’s “Into the Night,” a song that without the squirmy intro and baffling video, would probably be just another adult contemporary love song lost to the sands of time. Instead, it’s lodged in the subconscious of 80s kids forever, as hard to shake off as a creepy dude sniffing around women who are much too young for him.

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