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Julie Brown, Multi-Talented Valley Girl

December 06, 1987|CRAIG MODDERNO

Pop singer Julie Brown has been having a common nightmare. She's an unhappily married woman living in the Valley who thinks all her neighbors act like aliens, especially the nice lady next door who looks like June Cleaver. Brown decided to cope by turning her diary of a mad housewife into a wacky tune titled "Trapped in the Body of a White Girl."

The song, the title track of Brown's debut album on Sire Records, is a novelty number--a sort of grown-up version of Moon Unit Zappa's 1982 hit "Valley Girl." Sample lyric: "Trapped in the body of a white girl / Sick of sushi I'm sick of sprouts / Watching Vanna White is such a bore / I wanna get down with some bad boys / Shake it on the dance floor."

In the video for the song, the red-haired ex-stand-up comic, 28, looks like a Cyndi Lauper clone as she romps through a ghoulish laboratory after receiving Tina Turner's brain by mistake.

Is Brown likely to follow Lauper and Turner into films, perhaps adding a bit of Madonna to make the ultimate novelty movie, "Who's That Girl Trapped in the Body of a White Girl?"

Stranger things have already happened in Brown's career. Brown sold her first screenplay two years ago, "Earth Girls Are Easy," which is based on a tune from her 1984 mini-LP "Goddess in Progress."

The offbeat comedy, a June, 1988, DEG release starring Jeff Goldblum as an alien and his wife Geena Davis as a Valley manicurist, casts Brown in a supporting role that allows her to sing four songs.

It's hard to explain the secret of your success when you're writing songs such as "I Like 'Em Big and Stupid" and "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun," but Brown believes she's tuned in to the public.

The short, buxom songstress adjusts her tight blue miniskirt and smiles at a flirting waiter. Brown's carefree manner indicates she's clearly in her element among patrons at a Valley restaurant.

"I write dance songs that say more than 'I want to have sex right now under the table after the record's over.' I think every teen-ager thinks about music and sex constantly, and my songs say that's quite healthy," explains Brown. "Also I address serious issues of our time like shopping and life after high school for beauty queens."

Brown's satirical songs haven't been embraced by pop radio stations in the past. Aided by a recent weeklong stint as an MTV veejay, Brown's now starting to get a lot of radio airplay.

"People seem to get easily offended by my music. Black people like 'Trapped in the Body of a White Girl,' but some white liberals have gotten on my case as a result," says Brown with a bemused grin.

"I actually wrote the song after seeing a lot of Janet Jackson videos and deciding I wanted to be her. I try to write songs that people can relate to without thinking too much. For example everyone knows a homecoming queen that's gone nuts, but it's not a major problem in the world worth examining."

It's easy to dismiss Brown as merely a novelty act, but she's a talented writer and performer with a diverse list of credits. After studying drama at Valley College, Brown joined the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco in 1977. She grew tired of doing dramatic plays but convinced ACT to stage a show she wrote with her partner Charlie Coffey titled "Atomic Comedy."

"I started merging music and comedy for the first time then. I played Anita Bryant and did songs like 'Don't Make My Child a Homo' and 'Love From the Waist Up.' They weren't the kind of songs you would sing to impress your loved ones . . . except perhaps in San Francisco."

Brown returned to Los Angeles in 1979 to perform a solo stand-up act and got roles in top TV sitcoms ("The Jeffersons," "Happy Days" "Laverne & Shirley"). Brown and Coffey later wrote an Olivia Newton-John television special for producer Alan Thicke.

She tried her hand at film work with mixed results. Clint Eastwood hired her for a small role in his hit monkey movie "Any Which Way You Can." Brown's biggest role was in "Bloody Birthday," a low-budget 1981 horror picture that went directly to video.

"I played a high school senior who was a party vixen. I died from an arrow shot in my head," she says with a wicked laugh. "I was also blonde and had a nude scene in the film. Despite all this glitter and flash, a star was not born."

Encouraged by another writing partner--her then-husband Terrence McNally--Brown co-wrote and recorded "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun." In February, 1984, a disc jockey friend got the record played in Florida and it sold more than 10,000 copies in the sunshine state. That regional success resulted in Rhino Records' signing Brown to make the "Goddess in Progress" mini-LP. A casting agent later heard Brown sing "Earth Girls Are Easy" at a comedy club and got her an audition with several film producers, most of whom seemed surprised when the novice screenwriter acted out all the character's roles in their meetings.

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