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"Electric Youth" • Debbie Gibson (by Erin Lyndal Martin)

The happy face on one knee, the giant teddy bears out of the blue. Then a hot pink coil in a bottle of magenta perfume. Then Debbie in a black lace nightie draped over cars on her third album and going home to cry because she didn’t want the mandated sex appeal. To be all electricity and no youth. Neon comes from the Greek for “the new one.” Youth is a commodity like neon, dull and colorless, and then the current takes over. This is the commodity: girls like to dance. Boys like to dance. Everybody loves costumes. Debbie wrote her own songs. In a video she showed a huge stack of her notebooks and it was my favorite thing she ever did. I too felt betrayed by the lace nightie. There a was a song with the line I say, baby, what the hell? Swearing and black lace. Perhaps this was my confrontation with impermanence. With youth run through the currency converter of fetishization. The adults and teens looking at her with the same desire. How neon goes from “the new one” to a hot pink cursive in the sky. Neon lights last about a decade, depending on how much they’re used. Sometimes one section goes out and then the rest, but what matters is there’s going to be darkness at some point. It’s inevitable as what comes next: all the lights coming on, all the girls who like to dance getting caught up in the current. I too was a teenager with a stack of notebooks. I too was in the sweet spot of the before-glow, the about-to-glow, the possible, the belief that I could glow without becoming a beacon to those who wanted what I had. Electric youth.

Erin Lyndal Martin is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, music journalist, and visual artist. Her web presence is at


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