Day 09 – A Song That Gets You “Hot”

It never said they had to be 30 consecutive days, dammit.  Work, fortunately, is happening again, which means that free time is not.  But this shall indeed be finished, no matter how many actual days it takes.

Moving on!

It’s too bad that sound waves and electromagnetic waves are different. Otherwise, I could just say “anything with a frequency between 2.45 and 95 GHz.”  Instead, I might have to give an actual answer.

In hindsight, it seems like I had the misfortune of being prepubescent during the Golden Age of Radio Raunch. George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex,” Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up,” The Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself,” Madonna’s… everything.  It all went right over my head.  I could tell that the first two must be Bad, of course, since they had The S-Word (No, The OTHER S-Word) right in the name.  But I still had only the dimmest understanding of what sex actually was.

It was the same way with swears: I believed everyone around me enough to know that curse words were terrible, and that if you said just one, ever, in your entire life, you were automatically going to Hell (in which I also believed, at the time.)   However, I didn’t actually know what the swear words were.  We only had broadcast television, and all the bad words were dutifully bleeped. Vocabulary fiend that I was, I was forever afraid that I’d learn and use an interesting-sounding word, only to find out afterwards that it was some hair-singeing swear for which I’d be eternally damned.   It was a strange limbo: I was sheltered enough to be incredibly ignorant of the various kinds of filth in the world, yet aware that being so naive could make it easier for me to wander right into the clutches of capital-E Evil.

We weren’t even a religious family, mind you; my parents never herded me to church on Sundays, there were no prayers before meals; Christmas was trees and stockings and Santa far more than Jesus and angels.  But the surrounding community in my small Midwestern town was so thoroughly and fundamentally Christian that their senses of morality and obscenity, theology and philosophy, still had an influence on my own.  A sort of herd immunity against sin, protecting even people like me who hadn’t been inoculated directly.  Ambient dogma.

When not overhearing Top 40 pop and rock from my sister’s room, however, I was listening to Rock ‘n Roll.  Which, not three decades earlier, would probably have been seen as tantamount to child abuse.  I was happily singing along with The Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie,” and humming along with The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” two songs so hot at the time of their release that they were actually controversial.  When performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Stones were forced to change the lyrics to “Let’s spend some time together.”  “Wake Up Little Susie” was banned in Boston, despite the fact that the lyrics were about a young couple who fell asleep during a boring movie and didn’t wake up until 4am.   I’m not sure whether or not I knew of those specific controversies at the time, but I did know about how Elvis was incredibly controversial back then — and that, for one of his Ed Sullivan appearances, he was only allowed to be filmed from the waist up.   And I knew that Elvis did neither diddly nor squat to shock, scandalize, or even impress me.  All I could do was boggle at how these safe, square Oldies I listened to every day were once seen as shocking, depraved harbingers of the end of all human civilization.  So I realized early on that obscenity, and even what societies found sexual at all, seemed to be relative.

And if any reader is under the impression that modern music is the most execrable filth ever penned, I have three words for you: Regime de Vivre.  John Wilmot in general, really.

So, despite their blatant sexual references, most of those old songs just don’t register as sexy to me — even now that I know what they’re about.  Honestly, most of them sound little more than funny, with no power to scandalize and even less power to actually arouse.  For all their ribaldry, they might as well be Cliff Ferre material.

(I actually wanted to share his “Rosie, Don’t Bang On The Piano,” but I can’t find a video. The lyrics will still give you the picture just fine.)

So what songs are actually sexy?  If the Internet has brought no other cultural understanding, it’s that “sexiness” is not universal.  I don’t just mean the basic realization that some people are attracted to different physical attributes.  Nor that there are some people with more specific or elaborate kinks, some of whom might look down on missionary-style heterosexual sex as something boring or “vanilla.”  While many people might not see the appeal and might not find them “sexy,” they’d at least still understand that BDSM activities do have a sexual context.  Meanwhile, there are people with fetishes for popping balloons, or the sight of statues — activities and concepts which, to the majority of viewers, are completely devoid of sexual content or context.   Arguably, ANY song  — or movie, or picture — has the potential to get somebody hot and/or bothered.  And, as someone whose first kiss took place while watching Fight Club — during the Angel Face scene, no less — I have direct experience with just that sort of arbitrariness.

Despite all that, the songs I find actually arousing aren’t too inexplicable, I don’t think. The first is perhaps the most indefensible. It’s a cover that arguably should never have been made: I know for cold fact that at least two friends of mine would, if they could, scour it from the Earth entirely.  But this isn’t about what songs you like, it’s about what songs grab you by the libido and squeeze. So.  For reasons I myself cannot readily discern… “American Woman.”  The Lenny Kravitz version.

What is it that does what it does?  And why doesn’t the original do it for me?  It’s not Kravitz’ vocals, I can tell you that much.  I’d find an instrumental version much more appealing, in fact.  …Er, except for that “Unh!”  We can keep that.  Shut up.

Even the backing is so much different from the original that, if I were to get the instrumental version I would so prefer, and if I’d never heard Kravitz’s vocals, I really don’t know that I’d have recognized it as a cover at all.   In the original Guess Who version, there’s a whole extra guitar line that the Kravitz version drops entirely.  Okay by me; that didn’t carry much of an erotic payload anyway.  (Hurr hurr.)    And, as for what is there… okay, I don’t know crap about music theory, to be honest, and I can hardly recognize a time signature to save my life.  And I really cannot be arsed to do the research right now, either.  So I’ll just write it out as makes sense to me.  In the Guess Who’s version, the guitar backing bit goes “one two onetwothreefourfive onetwo, onetwo three-four, onetwothreefourfive, onetwo…”  In the Kravitz cover, it’s a lower pitch, which seems to make it sexier already.  But, moreover, it’s pared down to “onetwothreefourfive one two… onetwothree, onetwothreefourfive one two….”  There are pauses you could drive a truck through.  And that bass drum!  THUMP…  THUMP-THUMP.  THUMP…. THUMP-THUMP.  The original sure as hell doesn’t have that.  So what is it that makes that sexy?  Maybe it’s as if the song itself is stunned momentarily, holding its breath, stammering a little when it tries to recover. Homina, homina, homina.

Did I say thumping bass drums?  I’m pretty sure I said thumping bass drums.  You know what else has thumping bass drums?  “Venus In Furs” by the Velvet Underground, that’s what.

This even has some eroticism in the lyrics  — but, once again, you could mute the mic and the instrumentals alone would be something.  That drum!  That sinuous cyclical drone of strings!  The tambourine strikes, giving it just a hint of bellydancing.  The way the jangling guitar seems to get perfectly out of tune.  The occasional quickening of the beat.   The furious strumming at the end!    It just sounds like skewed, barely-contained Want — the droning like breath through gritted teeth, the viola glissandos rising like the hairs on the back of your neck, drums thumping like hips (or hips like drums.) It’s the sound of 3am somewhere sleepless, somewhere secret, somewhere strange.  It’s the lingering taste of sweet red wine on your tongue and someone else’s. It’s thrift-shop silk sheets with a cigarette burn.  It’s a single, only window opened up to the feverish night, a night so thick it can only pool languidly onto the sill.  A night so thick it will allow nothing to come in or pass out, for it is already thick with trespasses.  It’s the alchemic fug of incense that rests on your sweat-sheened skin. Water and fire, spice and salt and flesh.  It’s mysterious but brazen at once:  a mask taken on not to conceal, not to deceive, but because in this moment you’ve become too true to be merely yourself.  All honest falsity is holy, but this night will damn a liar. The song is the sound of cat-tongue secrets — unspeakables spoke rough yet soft, yet never far from fangs.  Spoke soft, but not from shame — but for your every word is thunder.   So you murmur to keep the world asleep.  You speak soft lest you wake the sun.  You deny no thing, shun no thing, repent of no thing save these: the breaking of dawn and the spell.

Sexiness, to my mind, is an ability to virtually ensorcel someone.

(While it doesn’t necessarily get me going to the same degree, this song is perhaps the most eloquent thesis on that subject.)

It’s an ability to make the rest of the world fall away, to disable the rational forebrain, to have such a hold over someone that all they can do is gawp.  Which is not the same as ogling, mind you.  And certainly not a leer.  Both ogling and leering are active, and they have much more intent.  “I am looking at THAT, and I WANT THAT, and I am thinking about how to GET that, and what I will DO when I do.”  That’s not necessarily UNsexy, mind you.  When all parties are willing, such assertiveness and frankness can be appealing indeed.  When you know someone enough to know what they want, to know what they need, and to be more than willing to provide… well then, by all means.

And yet, there’s so little anticipation there.  The active ogler can treat the fulfillment of desire as a foregone conclusion, with little regard for the agency of the subject.   And that’s neither particularly respectful nor particularly fun.  When the pick-up artist is turned down, isn’t it funny how quickly the rejector becomes ugly and unwantable?  It’s because what they want IS the fulfillment of their own desire – not the presence or fulfillment of that certain person.

But a good old stunned and staggered gaping… with that, the tables are turned.  If you are so stricken by someone that you can only gawp, your thought process is not about what you plan to do, or even what you want to do. It’s about anticipation, not expectation.  It’s wanting someone else to come to you — a want that they’ll make the first move, and the second, and many other moves as well.  You recognize that the person before you is somehow able to hotwire your hindbrain, almost without your conscious control, lessening your agency over your own body, much less theirs.  You realize that you are vulnerable.  You find yourself in thrall.

So you dismiss the assumption of your own power and right to pursue and conquer.  You want and you wait. Holding your breath unless panting, biting your lip unless your jaw-dropped, mouth going dry, eyes wide — it’s a want that almost manifests as fear, fear or shock or both.   There’s no delusion of the self as predator, but a hope — a fervent, beseeching hope — one might be allowed to become prey.

To be so vulnerable in love or lust is also a sign of acceptance.  It’s honest and receptive of honesty, even when it’s unpleasant.  It’s not an insistence that the one you love — nor Love itself —  is always beauty and softness and gentleness, that it comes always of warmth and light, that it is cute or precious, that it will cuddle or coddle.  It’s an acknowledgment that love is a sigh away from madness.   That it can just as well come “fanged and hairy and mad.” You may roll and show it your soft white underbelly, and it will nuzzle against your chest; it will take your heart; it will bear it in its teeth.

And sometimes it’s all for naught.  The spark never flares,  or it’s quickly snuffed, or doused by betrayal.

But at least the heartbreak can sound sexy, too.

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