Saturday, October 14, 2006

I Won't Cuss Or Hitcha

The sexiest album I've ever heard is Muddy Waters'Folk Singer. These are songs for a slow metabolism. They're Winter songs. Waters was 49 when it was released, and he's mellow and deep-voiced and heavy.

Most songs recycle the same themes, even lines, so much that sometimes they all seem like bible verses put to different tunes for us to memorize. LEARN OUR MYTHS, they say. THIS IS HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT.

Are you the one that I've been waiting for?
I can't live if livin' is without you
I'm never gonna dance again
When I fall in love it'll be forever
I will follow him
Our love was meant to be
I know eventually we'll be together
You are safe in my heart

These sentiments STRONGLY informed my ideas about love when I was a kid/young woman. Thank God for feminism, otherwise I'd still have a poster of Robert Doisneau's "The Kiss" on my wall:

Within Jazz and Blues there exists a different myth, a different set of values, and a different way of viewing desire. Billie Holliday laments:

Nobody knows how cruel fate can be
How close together love and hate can be
Goodbye, just clean the slate for me
That's life I guess

The first three lines could be any song, but the last line is about acceptance that things are difficult. She's not fighting, she's not asking, "why?", she's not saying that "eventually we'll be together," and she's not even threatening him with how much he'll miss her. It's just like: Life is shitty and love is difficult and that's just how it is so we might as well sing about it.

On Folk Singer, Muddy Waters has a slooooowwww song about things gone wrong. The first verse is about being on a ship. Read this s...l...o...w...l...y:

The cook's alriiiiiiiiiiiiiight. . . but the captain's so meannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. . . . .the cook's alriiiiiiiight...........but the captain's so mean . . . . . I mean he's so mean... . . . . . . . . . . . ..mmmmmmm.. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Won't feed me nothiiiiiiiiiiin'. . . . . . . . . . . . . but Sawyer bean.

My wheel mule is crippllllllllllle...... my lead mmmmmmmule is wheel mule is lead mule is blind................
Ain't gonna buy my baby no more stockings ooooohhhhhhhhh........with the seam behind.

(How I want to live in a world where your man buys you stockings.) This is music from a history of things gone wrong. It's the Blues. It ain't gonna be okay, so we may as well sing about it.

But the gem of the album is this:

Big legged women
Keep your dresses down
You got stuff that make a bulldog hug a hound
huh, big legged women
keep your dresses down
you got stuff that make a bulldog hug a hound

If you roll your belly like you roll your dough
People's that cryin, they want some more.
Ah, roll your belly like your roll your dough
People's that crying, people's that's crying for more.

Big legged women sure got something good,
Peoples that crying bout it in the neighborhood,
Big legged women, Sure got something good,
Now, If you don't believe me, ask everybody in my neighborhood.

Jerry Lee Lewis of "Great Balls of Fire" fame sang this song, too, but he made the lyrics dirtier. His version includes lines like "I like the way you shake that great big fat behind," "set your ass down at that table," and "ain't a cherry in the house." Now almost everything I know about Jerry Lee Lewis I learned from the movie Great Balls of Fire when I was 9, but I do know that I wouldn't let the man ever give me a ride home. His version is either hyperbole or satire; he's either fetishizing them or mocking them. It feels like the song "Get An Ugly Girl to Marry You."

I have no doubt that Muddy Waters is sincere. I picture him sitting on a hot porch in a dry season, watching a big legged woman walk by in her house dress. Letting her pass and saying some sly, short, understated, something to his neighbor. This is a man who pronounces "pretty," "pruhty." There is such a fine, sweet line between misogyny and admiration, power and lust, objectification and appreciation.

Although both versions of the song are supposedly addressed to the women, Lewis' is really addressed to other men. This trait is all too common, especially in Rock music and Hip Hop: Warrant's "Cherry Pie," ZZ Top's "She's Got Legs," and The Hollies "Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)." Songs may seem grammatically like they are addressed to women, but really they are for other men: The Rolling Stone's "Brown Sugar," and ACDC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." (John Mayer's song for 17-year-old soon-to-be-ex-virgins "Your Body Is a Wonderland" was a popular exception).

Now think about the legacy of Big Legged Women : Baby Got Back.

Sir Mix-A-Lot's song is a political rant on how white culture has made black women feel inferior. He's looking at "rock videos" with "knock-kneed bimbos walkin' like hoes." His song is addressed to black women to make them understand that most black men think that they are sexy, REALLY SEXY, just how they are: "take the average black man and ask him that, she gotta pack much back." He's "tired on magazines saying flat butts are the thing." He tells the ladies, "so Cosmo says your fat, well I ain't down with that." On the ideal dimensions: "36-24-36? Only if she's 5'3"." He even encourages the girls to "shake that healthy butt."

Can anybody out there name a song by a white man, in any time, addressed to women in general telling them they are sexy eventhough mainstream culture proposes otherwise?

If you can, I'll post another picture of me and Herbie. Talk about back. Damn.


Mac said...

Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls"

Chris R. said...

Here's a song that does that, however abstrusely: Fugazi's "Suggestion."

Paul Dunn said...

"Trashy Women" by Confederate Railroad