The most notorious star of the 1980s climbs onboard the VHS exercise tape craze.
As we are continually told, the lockdowns have played merry havoc with our health, as we supposedly huddle indoors (a quick look at any street will tell you what an illusion that is), turning slowly into couch potatoes. What we need is exercise.
Now, forget all that Peleton nonsense – who needs that? If you are going to have a self-absorbed American shouting aimless instructions at you, it might as well be Traci Lords. This 1988 video, alternatively titled Jazz Warm Up To Traci Lords or Advanced Jazzthetics With Traci Lords depending on which edit you watch, sees the twenty-year-old former porn star on the comeback trail after her smut career had fallen apart; the same year saw her appearing in the first remake of Not Of This Earth, making her final nude appearance on-screen before declaring such things to be beneath her. Like many an exercise fad, ‘Jazzthetics’ seems to have come and gone within the space of this video, a gimmicky name to sell what was simply aerobics to an audience eager for the new work out on the block – certainly, there seems to be no jazz involved. Here, we see Traci – accompanied by Deborah Lamb and the unfortunately-named Wally Baggot – going through some fairly routine moves that the viewer is encouraged to join in with. Has anyone ever become fit through these tapes? It seems unlikely.
The video was directed and produced by her then-boyfriend Stewart Dell, and the first version didn’t see release until 1990. Her notoriety probably worked against her in this case – the audience for exercise tapes was probably not one to be impressed by a filmography that, at that point, consisted of films like New Wave Hookers, What Gets Me Hot and Traci takes Tokyo, and it would be some years before she managed to finally reinvent herself as a victim of ruthless pornographers rather than the underage manipulator who conned her way into the business with fake IDs so good that they even fooled the US passport office. But never underestimate the power of scandal – for years, it seemed as though any woman finding passing fame through a kiss ‘n’ tell expose of her relationship with a politician or celebrity would manage to crank out an exercise video before she slipped back into obscurity. In the days before reality TV offered a long-term path to extending your fifteen minutes of fame, these tapes were the best bet for someone looking to cash in on fleeting infamy, being cheap and fast to produce. And if they didn’t sell to people looking to actually get fit, then they might at least find an audience amongst viewers who enjoyed watching lithe young women stretching into odd positions while clad in figure-hugging lycra.
Ever the perfectionist, Traci was dissatisfied with the first version of this tape, and so a ‘new’ version came out in 1993, featuring different music and, thankfully, lacking the relentless voice-over of the first version that even includes some ill-advised rapping.
By the time this second edition came out, Traci was at the point where such nonsense was really behind her anyway. Her infamy had worked for her in a way that legitimate porn stars wanting mainstream careers could only envy – she had a record deal with Radioactive Records, had worked with Manic Street Preachers and appeared in the Stephen King mini-series The Tommyknockers. There’s nothing like ruthless ambition. Traci is now something of a pop culture icon, though – understandably – still rather despised in the porn industry, where she left shattered lives in her wake.
You can find out a lot more about the Traci Lords story on the Once Upon a Time… In the Valley podcast, which is recommended listening. And if you enjoy these videos, you might also enjoy Linna Quigley’s Horror Workout.
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