The Police: Don‘t Stand So Close To Me
Like Susan, I was taken aback when I saw our theme for this week. How did we get here so soon after Domestic Violence week? But, I didn’t have to deal with it right away. I had work to do for my own blog, that occupied most of the start of this week. And then Susan’s post appeared. So I needed more time to figure out how I wanted to deal with the Jailbait problem.
For me, it was not clear cut. Yes, many jailbait songs objectify young women. And, as my daughter just started high school this year, I can condone that less than ever. And yet, I do have a fondness for some of those songs. I can remember my high school days, and I know that my hormones gave me just that point of view for quite some time. I’m not proud of it, but I am honest about it. And that became a key for me.
Don’t Stand So Close To Me is a perfect example. Sting gives the listener both points of view, and both teacher and student find themselves in the throes of lust. It is obvious to all around them, and becomes the subject of rumors and accusations. And yet, they never do anything about it. The both know they should not, and somehow they resist. But that does not help their reputations.
I like the fact that Sting is honest about his characters’ feelings. They both recognize what they are feeling; perhaps they even discuss it during that rainy-day car ride. And perhaps they agree not to let it go any further. But the feeling is powerful, and it scares them. When Sting sings “...he starts to shake and cough, just like the old man in that book by Nabakov”, his character is feeling fear at the power of his own emotions.
One final thought. Many years ago, I read an interview with V C Andrews. Andrews was the author of Flowers In The Attic, which was the beginning of a series of books in which adults in positions of responsibility did horrifying things to the children in their care. Andrews was asked, in light of this, what kind of mother she was. She replied that she thought she was an excellent mother, because whenever she had the urge to do anything to her children, instead she wrote a book. So maybe, in listening to a jailbait song, we can vicariously work through our feelings of lust, so that we never act on these feelings in inappropriate ways.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Cry Cry Cry: I Know What Kind of Love This Is
I had originally been saving this song until the end of the week. But the diversity of posts so far - and the way in which each of us has come to the table using this week's theme to wrestle so well with a difficult issue - makes me feel the time is ripe sooner rather than later.
So here is folk supergroup Cry Cry Cry with a potent, poignant interpretation of a song originally by The Nields. The lyrics are so focused on the inner life of the young female narrator, they never name the ages of the people involved - it's never been clear to me if the experienced male perpetrator here is older, or even a teacher, or just a cool kid disdainfully deflowering a younger student because she feels like it will put an end to "a lifetime of wallflower shade" - but the song certainly speaks to the self-loathing which follows those who allow sex to happen to them too early because they think it's what they're supposed to do. In my mind, this is the swan song of the "jailbait" - originally willing, because sex seems to offer power; ultimately full of regret, with the important lesson learned too late.
I hope someday my daughters will hear this song, and recognize it for what it is, and learn from it that self-worth is never about what other people say is right. I hope they will learn to only say yes when it is in their hearts, and not in their supposed-to social minds. I hope they never, ever feel like the narrator of this song. And if it were not for this song, AND for the ability to point at songs which seem to celebrate jailbait lust, and say "is this really what you want?", I might not be able to say so as well.
More generally, I want to take personal responsibility for picking this week's theme, and apologize for offending anyone in doing so. My intent was not to celebrate, but to provoke exactly the kind of unique and varied perspectives and voices which Anne points to so effectively in her recent post. I'm glad to see this has been the case - that no one seems to have come salivating, and that everyone, in their own way, has use the opportunity to expose the various cultural evils of the complex of juvenile fetishism that is so prevalent in our society. But this is no excuse for potentially alienating anyone, or creating discomfort, and I commit to working to try not to do that again.
That said: I accept that some people feel that the act of perpetuating the songs themselves celebrates an aspect of our culture - the media images which fetishize preteen sexuality, and the myriad of other princess and barbie and sexpot images which encourage us all to make unhealthy choices which hurt ourselves and others - which would be better destroyed, and as soon as possible at that. But as a teacher and parent, I happen to feel otherwise. I believe that pointing TO such things and speaking of them in critical ways is better and more effective in reaching the heart and mind of a culture than merely preaching. I believe that confronting such cultural problems, especially those perpetuated through the media, is difficult, but necessary, for pretending that such things don't exist is a way to let them fester.
And I think that our responses this week have only reinforced my belief that it is, in the end, our recognition that such songs are there which makes it possible at all for us to take up the mantle of saying "no" to such things. Without the exemplar, our lessons are that much more hollow. It is, as we've seen this week, the words we share here, not just the songs we choose or the themes we take on, which truly allow this space to be a sounding board, a space for discomfort to be shared as much as song, even a force for good.
But regardless of what you believe, readers and fellow contributors alike, I am proud of all of us - to Susan for coming forward with an anti-jailbait song perfectly on theme, and for bringing the conversation around to change; to Muruch for giving us a chance to out ourselves through confronting the songs and songwriters we love for perpetuating a malicious mindset; to everyone else for refusing to celebrate the sentiment even from our very first post, regardless of how we have each chosen to frame our own individual approaches. Being a part of this community has never felt so much like world-changing as it does this week. And though changing the world one discussion at a time can be a difficult path for all of us, it feels damn good, at that.
Pee Shy: Little Dudes
The strength of this blog is in the unique and varied perspectives it brings together through music. When we find out the theme each week, it is our own responsibility to interpret it the way we see fit, and different song choices show different sides to the same story. Posts like Susan's yesterday give us that perspective and allow this blog to not just be a grouping of random music, but also a place for people to express themselves.
That being said, I thought I'd offer a perspective that had yet to be touched upon this week, that of an older woman with her eyes on a younger man. These days the media can't talk about "cougars" enough, that is, the woman in her 40s who actively pursues younger men sexually or otherwise, and there's also been a lot of media attention about younger men with the hots for older women as well. In this song's case, it's mostly tongue-in-cheek, but what it does is creep you out enough to realize there's still a double standard.
Pee Shy was a Tampa, Florida based band in the late 90's. Two spoken-word poets with little musical experience are determined to start a band, and do so with a clarinet and an accordion. Their music is both artistic, and yet somewhat comical. So, despite the serious nature of the subject, the song is also sort of funny. Being a girl whose boyfriend is a good 5 years younger than her (which, over time isn't a big deal, but when you're 26 and he's just turning 21, it feels like a big difference), I understand the appeal of the younger man. As the song says, "they never try to tell you what to do", and they seem to be more in awe of the more mature woman's interest in them. I imagine the ladies in the song hanging out at an arcade or other high school haunt basking in the glow of their own influence and power to romantically intimidate the boys. Not to mention getting from them things they've not been able to get from men their own age, namely respect and admiration. So, are they taking advantage of these boys or doing anything against the law? No. But the point of the song, to me, is also that it creeps people out more to hear this than it would if it were a man singing about a girl.
Jim Croce: Five Short Minutes
Steve Goodman: Death Of A Salesman
Here are two more musical examples that show what can happen to a guy who involves himself with under aged girls. And again, as in my previous post, neither of these condone, but rather they show the consequences.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Big Star: Thirteen
I have to admit that like Susan, I too was a bit surprised by this week's theme. It took me a while to figure out what direction to go in for my post, but I found the answer in this innocent love song...
"Thirteen" is a sweet song of adolescent love from Big Star's first album, the simultaneously appropriately titled and ironically titled #1 Record. (It didn't get anywhere close to #1 on the charts.) Buffalo Tom's Bill Janovitz does a better job than most at describing the song, and even he resorts to sharing some of the lyrics:
Won't you let me walk you home from school
Won't you let me meet you at the pool
Maybe Friday I can get tickets to the dance
And I'll take you, ooh
Won't you tell your dad, "Get off my back"
Tell him what we said 'bout "Paint It Black"
Rock & roll is here to stay
Come inside girl, it's OK
And I'll shake you
If it's so, well let me know
If it's no, well I can go
I won't make you.
It's a brilliant song that captures the mood perfectly, with a simple, acoustic arrangement.
Jim Boggia: Thirteen
[out of print]
The very talented Philly singer-songwriter (and human jukebox) Jim Boggia lo's the fi considerably for his solo version, recorded in 2003 on a 1960s Concord Transistorized 220 reel-to-reel tape recorder and released on one of his "homemade records", Transistorized 220 - Volume 2.
Collin Raye: I Think About You
I've been having a backchannel exchange with Boyhowdy since mid-day, and his as-always eloquent and informed responses gave me the courage to go public with my privately-expressed feelings – below is a copy-and-paste of my side of the dialogue:
I've been writing this e-mail in my head since this week's theme was announced...
I was so proud of Star Maker Machine when we covered Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse - this week's Jailbait seems so utterly counter-intuitive. The former respected and defended women and, in my opinion, the latter objectifies and dishonors them - we have daughters, so we should be especially sensitive to this issue...
I believe, in this case, the theme does indeed conjure inappropriate responses - first of all, by using the moniker Jailbait, a lascivious, nudge-nudge-wink-wink tone is established. Secondly, how many songs are out there telling people (specifically guys)... *don't* look/don't touch/etc.? - rather, a Humbert Humbert/Lolita mentality is invoked...
The Domestic Violence/Sexual Abuse theme felt like a teaching opportunity, bolstered by the many powerful songs we were all able to offer up - I find it hard to believe lust for underage girls can be flipped to express outrage, when the "don't stand so close to me" message is so prevalent, especially in the rock and roll milieu...
I don't want to sound like a preacher... or a prig (neither of which I consider myself to be)... and I initially thought I'd just make a conscious decision not to post this week, and jump back in with the next theme – however, I am a firm believer in the "silence condones" life philosophy: if I don't speak up regarding something I feel strongly about, by my non-intervention I am allowing it to perpetuate...
So... please consider my grievance voiced - despite how popular opinion weighs in on this matter, “I don't see the truth in it” (a borrowed catch-phrase that allows me to remain honest to my own belief system)...
P.S. If I were really courageous, I would have sent my previous note out to everyone... or I would have submitted I Think About You (the Collin Raye song, written by Steve Seskin) to SMM to show another viewpoint - alas, I feel I'm already viewed as the schoolmarm... and maybe I didn't want to reinforce the stereotypical misconception (shame on me)...
All that being said... I have no desire to shut down the lines of communication and/or further posts on this theme... but I did want to make sure I spoke my mind... and now I have – thanks to all for listening...
Andre Williams: Jail Bait
Seems hard to pin it down exactly but the term 'jailbait' seems to begin sometime in the 30's. The earliest song I know of that references jailbait is Jail Bait by Andre Williams. I'd be curious to know if there is an earlier recording that does so. Andre 'Mr. Rhythm' Williams has worked with folks like the Dramatics, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, Bobby Bland, Edwin Starr, Amos Milburn, Ike Turner, Berry Gordy, George Clinton, Alvin Cash, and many others. He was given the nickname Mr. Rhythm by Redd Foxx. Still going strong in 2008,with the New Orleans Hellhounds, they released 'Can You Deal with It?'.
In this one,from '57, and seemingly well acquainted with the topic, Williams gives some good advice.
John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson : Good Morning Little School Girl
This topic made me think of Chuck Berry, of course, but I thought I'd rather take you to where Chuck came from. Old blues songs were full of underage beauties, and among them, this classic recorded by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, the first Sonny Boy Williamson, born in 1914 in Jackson, TN and dead in June 1946 when a jealous husband pierced his skull with an icepick. John Lee was a very influential harmonica player . Probably borrowed from Sleepy John Estes'repertoire, this song, recorded on his very first session in 1937, became an instant succes, a blues standard and was covered by Junior Wells and the Yardbirds.
Monday, November 16, 2009
The Rolling Stones: Stray Cat Blues
I'm not their biggest fan, but there's something about the slow, sultry strut and wail of this Beggar's Banquet b-side that crawls right under my skin. The way the guitars run from slow intro stretch to driving verse to slightly sped-up chorus wail in seconds flat mimics the adrenalin rush of jailbait lust so perfectly, the lyrics are hardly necessary, but just in case you weren't sure, note that pretty much any song that works so hard to convince itself that "it's no hanging matter/ it's no capital crime" and bets that its wild, kittenish fifteen year old subject's mama "don't know you scream/spit/scratch/bite like that" has got it going on.
For the curious, the jailbait in the photo above is Mick Jagger's 17 year old daughter Georgia May. I'll take the high road, and eschew any suggestion of what she might have screamed like two years ago. Though I strongly suspect that Jagger-the-dad has his own qualms about the message that Jagger-the-young-dude sent through this song.
Crazy little thing, crazy little thing, how old, how old, how old..."
And my only question is: how old, how cool, how low can you be?"
"Won't find out from me..."