Exhibit / March 22, 2017
Object Name: “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell (music video)
Maker and Year: Rockwell, Francis Delia (director), 1984
Object Type: Music video
Video Source: YouTube/RockwellVEVO
Description: (K.E. Roberts)
Rockwell, born Kennedy William Gordy, is the son of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Despite his father’s discouraging comments regarding his early songs, Kennedy wrote “Somebody’s Watching Me” in 1983 and submitted a demo to Motown under the name Rockwell because, as he claimed later, he didn’t want his father’s legacy to influence his success. “Somebody’s Watching Me” was released in January 1984, the debut single from the album of the same name. The song shot to number 2 on the U.S. charts (behind “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins) and went gold three months later. Michael Jackson, Kennedy’s childhood friend, sang the chorus, and Jermaine Jackson provided backing vocals. It remains one of the greatest pop songs of the era, and makes a famous appearance in the Miami Vice pilot (September 16, 1984), as undercover cop “Rico” Tubbs sings it (and dances to it) in a strip club.
The music video was directed by Francis Delia, whose first feature was 1981’s Nightdreams, a pornographic horror film written by Jerry Stahl (who wrote the 1995 memoir Permanent Midnight) and Stephen Sayadian, a former creative director for Larry Flynt Publications. Though Kennedy had planned a tongue-in-cheek production to match the mood of the track, he arrived on set to find it full of “dark stuff.” In the finished product, a POV camera tracks Rockwell through his once “normal home,” now a “Twilight Zone” populated by ravens, a scuttling pig-creature, decomposing faces, bloody showers, and a zombie-like postman. At one point, Rockwell gazes into his TV to find a group of men in black interrogating someone who appears to be Rockwell himself; suddenly, the men turn to the Rockwell on the other side of the screen and advance threateningly (“Well can the people on TV see me, or am I just paranoid?”). Directly after, we see Rockwell in the back yard, standing over his own grave clutching a bouquet of dying flowers.
The video was an immediate cult classic, and made the song a Halloween compilation staple. Aside from numerous horror themes, it evokes a deep sense of paranoia, the sweeping anxiety of the “high” Cold War of the 1980s: things are not what they seem, conspiracy abounds, and there’s a real sense of peril as the singer pleads to his audience:
I don’t know anymore.
Are the neighbors watching me?
Well is the mailman watching me?
And I don’t feel safe anymore.
Oh what a mess.
I wonder who’s watching me now… the I.R.S.?
And at the heart of it all is a fractured, fragile human being who is a stranger in his own home, a stranger to himself.