Dan Hartman is one of the more obscure musicians of the 1980’s to have four top 40 hits. He is most famous for his hit song “I Can Dream About You,” which would appear on the surface to be a cheesy piece of epic 80’s soundtrack pop-rock. Not that this is a bad thing, because I happen to like this song and many others like it. Yet, as is the case with many songs , there is as lot of deeper meaning going on here, and without wishing to discuss the lyrics of the song in detail, which are standard fare of a singer declaring loyalty and fidelity to an absent partner, saying that if he cannot be with his love he will dream about the partner and imagine holding his lover tight, something done admirably well by Journey, Peter Cetera, and others, and it is no less admirable here. The song is lovely, the music is very much of its time, and if you like 80’s soundtrack songs, this is a good one to like. It hit #6 on the charts, and was a successful song from a soundtrack that is largely forgotten, yet it has layers of meaning that are seldom examined.
Streets Of Fire is the name of the movie that the film comes from, and the movie would be largely entirely unknown apart from this song and the fact that it stars a beautiful and young Diane Lane. The movie had one thing good going for it–this song–which did not nearly repay the losses given that the film only made back half of its budget. Yet this song makes its artist a mystery, as there are layers and layers of pretense attached. How many layers? Let’s find out. In the film, the song is performed via lip synching by a group of black guys. Dan Hartman, as we will discuss, was quite keen on letting others know he was a white guy. In one of the music videos to the song, Dan Hartman pretends to be a bartender pretending to flirt with a girl (more on that later), while looking like he knows what to do with alcohol but does not know what to do when it comes to a beautiful woman. He looks so awkward and uncomfortable with the woman’s flirtation that it is immensely painful to watch.
Yet despite the fact that Dan Hartman was nearly invisible in his hit song, he had another 3 top 40 hits to go along with this top ten smash in his career, as well as a song that became well-thought of to fans of Brit Pop (“Relight My Fire”). One would think he would have a chance to have a lengthy career, right? Sadly, no. Apparently upset about being thought of as a black man, Dan Hartman wanted to make a grittier, rougher album that was called White Boy. The label, upset that it had no obvious hits on it, refused to release it , although songs from the project were released on soundtracks for the next few years. With that, Dan Hartman’s career was basically over except for some hits in the UK, and a career as a highly sought-after songwriter, even his label has ruined his career like so many have been ruined by label interference. Yet the most tragic layer of pretense was that although Hartman was very keen on showing his audience that he was a white boy and not a black man, he was not keen on showing everyone, except those who overanalyze his music video , that he was in fact a gay man.
It is a bit puzzling as to why he didn’t get a lot of focus from the camera. Aside from his total inability to appropriately flirt with a woman, an occupational hazard as a closeted gay man, apparently, he looked like he could have been a member of Foreigner or any other number of bands, he was a good singer and he had some charisma as a performer. He deserved a better fate as a musician. Sadly, there was no happy ending for his life just as his career. Keeping his HIV-positive diagnosis private, even after a friend of his, Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes To Hollywood (most famous for the overtly sexual song “Relax”) admitted his own diagnosis, Dan Hartman stayed quiet and private, as he had done through his life, until he died of an AIDS-related brain tumor, leaving a posthumous album to be released to general approval. In looking at the layers of pretense that covered Dan Hartman’s biggest hit in terms of race as well as sexuality, multiple examples of lip syncing and pretending to be something one wasn’t, it is easy to feel bad for Dan Hartman, and his poppy and upbeat biggest hit becomes a surprisingly poignant song with depths that few would suspect. Even the shallowest pop artifacts often have depths to those who are willing to look at them closely. Our lives are full of tragic irony; at least someone has to explore it from time to time.
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