Tag Archive: sex


Naughtiness

As I’ve mentioned before, I was a pretty good child. Behaviorally, I never did anything that was really dangerous; never smoked, never did drugs, never snuck out at night, was (almost) never disrespectful to my parents, and didn’t run with a bad crowd.

The biggest bone of contention between me and my parents was my musical choices. As I entered the second decade of my life, they started furrowing their brows. Bands like Aerosmith and Green Day caused them some grief, and they weren’t crazy about Smashing Pumpkins either. And it really started when I was in 4th grade and liked Vanilla Ice enough to ask for To the Extreme for Christmas. I got it, too.

But for whatever reason (fate, luck, God, circumstance, maybe all of them), I never discovered true naughtiness in music in my youth. The most I got was Steven Tyler quoting Frank Zappa (which I didn’t know at the time) singing “Buns up and kneelin’ / I was a’ wheelin’ and a dealin’.” And while that was more than enough for my parents, there were MUCH worse things out there at the time. 2 Live Crew caused quite a stir with “Me So Horny” and their entire As Nasty As They Wanna Be album, and it echoed in the church youth group my parents headed. Likewise, Digital Underground and “The Humpty Dance” crossed the consciousnesses of the teens in my parents’ youth group. They tried to play a cassette of it on a youth group road trip in my dad’s motor home stereo; he promptly threw it out the window.

Those two groups were on the periphery of my vision growing up, but Onyx wasn’t. When I was in 6th grade, there was a kid that went to my older sister’s school (Harkness Road, my own high school) that we gave a ride to in the mornings. We also took him to church for youth group on Wednesday nights (I went to the kids’ program at our church). His name was Luke, and he was what most adults would classify as a “bad influence.” My parents were friends with his mother, and I guess they were hoping good company would redeem bad character, the opposite of the way it typically works. It was through him that I experienced a number of different “naughty” things, Onyx being one of them.

Onyx were an early ‘90s rap group and a key figure in the gangtsa rap movement, a cluster of black artists that used incredibly violent imagery and profuse profanity. Since gangsta rap was meant to present an exaggerated glimpse into the black urban lifestyle and mindset, this also included rampant misogyny. Luke played me Onyx’s debut album on headphones one time, and I was particularly disturbed by the song “Blac Vagina Finda,” which essentially describes an interracial gang rape. I expressed my discomfort and distaste, and Luke laughed derisively and called me a pussy.

Loathe as I am to admit it, my desire to fit in with Luke and other people I was around caused me to wade into the sludge-teeming waters of gangsta rap for a while. It didn’t last long, since the overwhelming waves of stinking immorality bowled me over and were too much for me. It’s not that people like Onyx and Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were simply talking about sex and violence and the bad things of the world; I have no problem with that. It’s the way they talked about them. That way was extremely vulgar and obvious, which insulted the wordsmith in me, but looming largest in my mind was that it was celebratory. In their verbage, the bad things of the world weren’t bad at all. Gun violence was to be celebrated. Misogyny was to be celebrated. Illegal drugs were to be celebrated. Law and order were to be disrespected, insulted and ultimately destroyed. Love is weakness, attachment to your sexual partner is weakness, and your entire ethos is to be dictated by taking what you can get and not caring about how much damage you are causing to the people around you. Simply put, this was the opposite of everything I was brought up to believe.

So luckily, I went back to my Genesis and Phil Collins, and was on the verge of discovering R.E.M. and a world of other delights. And in the end, it worked out.

AC/DC probably would have been on that list of bands my parents were hoping I would NOT be into when I was younger. Like a few others I’ve talked about, my fandom of AC/DC is relatively recent. I was 9 when The Razors Edge came out, and I remember thinking “Thunderstruck” was pretty groovy, but the guy’s voice was like grinding gravel between two sheets of corrugated steel. And at that time, I didn’t have a clue that Back In Black even existed, let alone Bon Scott. A decade and a half later when the Jack Black extravaganza School of Rock was released, I found a liking for “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll),” which led me into Bon-era deliciousness. From there, I was hooked.

Music has always been the centerpiece of my life, the language through which I speak and am spoken to, but it’s better for certain music to enter your life at certain stages of your life than others. Gangsta rap, while it was a horrible experience for me, came around at just the right time. It taught me a very stark lesson about where my musical boundaries were, what I could take and what I couldn’t. AC/DC, likewise, came around at just the right time. Had I waded into their music at a younger age, I might have not only drawn the ire of my parents (even more than I did anyway), but I might have become a different, more depraved person. It’s because AC/DC came around when I was mature enough to deal with them that their bawdy talk and low-brow subject matter can hit me at the angle it does. If it were from a different, younger angle, it would probably be a lot more harmful.

Next: always a bridesmaid, never the best-selling album of all time.

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Zombies

AC/DC/ - Back In Black - 7/21/1980

AC/DC – Back In Black – 7/21/1980

I just saw a short film called Cargo; it was one of the finalists at Tropfest Australia 2013. It’s about a dad who is bit by a zombie (his wife) and is trying to get his baby daughter to safety before he turns. It’s only 6 and a half minutes long and features no dialogue, but it wrecked and ravaged me with its throbbing-heart emotionalism and simple yet gut-punching theme – love conquers all, even zombies.

The main appeal zombies have to me is the rapid change in states of a thing. When water turns to ice or steam, the elemental nature of the thing stays the same – two hydrogen atoms, one oxygen. But we understand and experience the altered-state water in totally new ways.

And with zombies, the very nature of the thing seems to change, though it’s still recognizable as what it used to be. In Cargo, the man’s wife is elementally different, something dangerous and terrifying, even though she is still his wife. And likewise, he knows that he will very soon become very dangerous to his baby daughter. But she will still be his daughter, and he must still protect her, even from himself.

Things drastically changed for AC/DC when Bon Scott suddenly died by aspirating his own vomit, even the nature of AC/DC itself. They never really got over the grief of losing Bon, but they translated it into music. They all decided they had to go on with the band, and that the last thing Bon would have wanted was for AC/DC to die with him. The surviving members even talked it over with Bon’s mother, and with her consent, they started seeking a new lead singer.

Brian Johnson was the first name the Young brothers came up with. He was a someone Bon had told them about while he was alive, and a performance that he had seen of Brian screaming his guts out on every song with his then-band Geordie. On one song, he held a high note, then dropped to the stage floor flailing and convulsing. The roadies had to take him out in a wheelchair. Bon thought, “Now there’s a guy who knows what rock and roll is all about.” Brian later told them it was because he came down with appendicitis that very night.

Bon Scott had only been dead a few weeks when Brian Johnson got a call from the Young brothers asking him to come to London to audition. The first song he sang was “Whole Lotta Rosie,” which is one of the songs I think of when I think, “What would be an impossible song to audition with because it’s so immortally Bon’s?” Brian, though, he smashed it out of the park. After the members of AC/DC finished picking their jaws up off the floor, they jammed some more and then hired Brian a few days later. They never even auditioned anyone else.

Brian Johnson is like a zombie version of Bon Scott. His voice is what Bon’s would sound like if he had come back from the dead, if Hell had spat him back out. Both have a gravely roughness and intensity, but the main difference is that while Bon’s voice gave you a sense of fun debauchery, Brian’s only indicates a downward spiral, hedonism ending where it usually does. And likewise, AC/DC’s music experienced a shift when Bon died, and became a zombie version of itself. It’s much more subtle, and the ironic celebration of sin and bad behavior is still there, but it’s a much more hopeless one. The band went from being carefree Libertines to uncaring Nihilists, and the beginning of it is on Back In Black.

In addition to taking the reins as AC/DC’s new lead vocalist, Brian also took over as main lyricist. His writing involves a level of double-entendres and euphemisms previously unseen in AC/DC’s songs. Bon told stories; he was like the guy in the bar who says “Let me tell you ‘bout this one chick I used to date. Smokin’ hot body. And in bed? Whoo! Every night was like a rodeo!” But Brian relied on the more literary devices of innuendo and implication.

And somehow, this made the dirty jokes that much dirtier. Those who get it don’t need anything else to be said. What Brian says is sometimes very subtle. “Let me cut your cake with my knife.” “She told me to come but I was already there.” “I’ll be guided in, We’ll be ridin’, giving what you got to me.” Do you know what he’s talking about? ‘Cause I do.

But without a doubt, the most suggestive, euphemism-laced and subtly filthy song on Back In Black is “Givin the Dog a Bone.” This song skirts the line between decency and just out-and-out pornographic detail. Nearly every line is a double-entendre, and the whole song stops just short of stating the thing it’s about outright. It shouldn’t take more than the first verse for you to figure it out.

She’s taking down easy, Goin’ down to her knees

Goin’ down to the devil, down-down to ninety degrees

Oh, she’s blowing me crazy ‘til my ammunition is dry

Oh, she’s using her head again

Oh, she’s using her head again

I’m just giving the dog a bone

I’ll give you a hint – it starts with an F and ends with an –ellatio.

While I’m not crazy about its choice in topic, “Givin the Dog a Bone” is an absolutely ingenious song in the way it talks about it. This type of verbage makes the wordsmith in me simply tingle with delight. “Givin the Dog a Bone,” the better part of the Back In Black album, and indeed AC/DC’s post-Bon output on the whole, joins a long tradition in rock and roll that goes all the way back to Robert Johnson when he sang “Squeeze my lemon ‘til the juice runs down my leg!” Even Shakespeare did it with the line in Hamlet about “country matters.” It can be summed up, I think, with a rather current phrase: I see what ‘cha did there… Wink, wink.

Next: A tribute to a fallen friend.

Bricks, Pt. 3

In the middle of the first side of The Wall, there’s an interlude of sorts that explores the culture change that WWII created in Britain. “Goodbye Blue Sky” is creepy and relaxing all at once, soft and lilting with the threat of crushing death always on the horizon. It matches what the citizens of the UK must have been feeling (and the entire Allied world, really); there is a force that threatens not only how we die, but how we live. Which is worse – death or domination?

In the production of The Sandbox that I directed in college, I wanted to use “Goodbye Blue Sky” as one of the songs that the Musician plays, but my friend Mike (who played the Musician) advised against it. The song’s in drop-D tuning, and all the other songs I had picked were in standard tuning, so he would have to switch guitars, which would be cumbersome for him and distract from the main action of the play. It’s disappointing, though, since “Goodbye Blue Sky” fits precisely with the theme of death that I was trying to bring out in The Sandbox. But in the end, “Stairway to Heaven” worked just as well…

After that interlude, the album segues into “Empty Spaces,” another creepy tune that starts the exploration of Pink’s distance from his wife. She’s the first person he feels disconnected from, and that burgeons into a disconnect from the entire world. “Empty Spaces” also asks a question in the lyrics: “How should I complete the wall?”

Having lived through a fatherless childhood, torturous schooling and a smothering mother, the grown-up Pink has been bruised and scarred by the time he eventually marries. We’re given very little information about his wife, who like his parents and everyone else in the story lacks a name. But what we do know is that she cheats on him. For the purposes of understanding Pink’s psyche (or psychosis…), that’s enough.

“Young Lust” tells a story in general terms that is all too familiar to anyone who’s even dipped a toe in the world of rock and roll stardom. As long as there have been male performers anywhere in the music world, there have been girls willing to throw away every scrap of morality and restraint in order to be close to them. As long as there have been rock stars, there have been groupies.

Besides being one of The Wall’s heaviest and loudest tracks, its lyrics also have a visceral, blood-based nature, the verbal representation of a biological urge. Due to the first-person voice of the lyrics, one would think Pink himself is singing these words, but I’m not so sure. Roger Waters sings Pink’s parts all through The Wall, but “Young Lust” is sung by David Gilmour alone. In addition, it’s a very active song;  “Young Lust” makes things happen, and Pink only tells of things that happen to him; the whole time, he just says “look what they’ve done to me?” and never “what have I done?”

At the tail end of “Young Lust,” there’s a phone booth conversation in the background that goes like this:

Man: Hello?

Operator: Yes, collect call for Mrs. Floyd from Mr. Floyd. Will you accept the charges from United States?

[CLICK]

Operator [presumably to Pink]: No, he hung up. Is this your residence? …I wonder why he hung up! There must be someone there besides your wife to answer!

[REDIAL]

Man: Hello?

Operator: This is United States calling. Are we reaching–

[CLICK]

Operator: See, he keeps hanging up! It must be the maid answering!

It doesn’t take a genius to sort it out, and Pink does – his wife is cheating on him. Pink takes a groupie up to his hotel room, but instead of sleeping with her, he just sits down, turns on the TV and completely ignores her. For the first part of “One of My Turns,” the music is near-beatless with words that are barely more than a whisper. Then it suddenly switches from tightly wound to letting loose. Pink is angrily and without explanation trashing his hotel room, breaking everything in sight and scaring the living crap out of that groupie.

With “One of My Turns” and the song right after it, “Don’t Leave Me Now,” Pink is nearly finished with his retreat behind this wall he’s constructed. Throughout both songs, Pink is talking to his wife in second-person, using this random groupie as a stand-in for her. He goes apeshit on the hotel room and then spirals into a pit of despair over being abandoned by his wife, who is really that groupie getting the hell out of there. There’s a very subtle hint of physical abuse in the relationship of Pink and his wife, so subtle it probably blows past a lot of people.

I need you, babe / To put through the shredder in front of my friends! / Oh, babe!

There’s also:

How could you go / When you know how I need you / To beat to a pulp on a Saturday night! / Oh, babe!

The comes a repeated crashing sound, which is Pink taking his guitar to the TV screen, and then the final refrain of “Another Brick In the Wall.” It’s loud and chaotic, Pink’s breaking point with his wifely frustrations. And he decides he doesn’t need “anything at all.”

With that, the wall is complete and Pink bids farewell to the world of human emotions with “Goodbye Cruel World.” That’s the end of the first half of The Wall, too, and from then on we see how this world looks through the eyes of someone who doesn’t have a conscious.

Next: the crazy diamond rides again.

The game Rock Band 2 has a feature at the end of some songs called the Big Rock Ending. That’s where the band members, for the last several seconds of a song, can just go nuts with their notes and rhythms, and the number of points you get from the Big Rock Ending will depend on how many notes and beats you manage to squeeze into the 10 or 15 seconds of the ending. One other thing, too: you only get the points if all the band members also hit the last note with perfect timing and pitch. Otherwise, you get zero.

The only AC/DC song in the standard package of Rock Band 2 is “Let There Be Rock,” the title track from their 1977 album. Not only does the track feature the longest guitar solo – and the greatest number of them – in the entire game, it also has the longest, loudest and most bombastic Big Rock Ending in Rock Band 2. The first time I played it in the game (which was also the first time I heard “Let There Be Rock”), I was simply blown away by the utter hugeness of both the guitar solos and the ending.

I guess the Big Rock Ending is very symbolic of AC/DC’s entire musical ethos. You play your heart out, give everything you’ve got, then give more than you’ve got, until you finally explode in a brilliantly loud apex of rock and roll greatness. You burn hard and burn fast, then you burn out. That may be AC/DC’s general musical philosophy, but it’s also the trajectory that Bon Scott’s life took.

classy, Bon, real classy...

classy, Bon, real classy…

Few characters in rock history are more fascinating to me than Bon Scott. His very existence is a cautionary tale, his life a story that grizzled, washed-up rock stars tell young hotshots of their craft. “Don’t take it from me, son… take it from Bon,” they say with a wagging finger. The younger generation just rolls their eyes, not wanting to give up a life of drugs and sex and decadence. The story of Bon would seem too clichéd, too perfectly tailored to that grizzled rock star’s sermon, if it weren’t true.

Like the Young brothers, Bon was a Scottish transplant to Australia. He took over as lead singer of AC/DC in 1974, shortly before the recording and release of their first album, High Voltage. Their popularity and reputation grew steadily, and they became known as heavy rockers, heavy partiers, and heavy drinkers. This was especially true of Bon. His long streak of partying ended in February of 1980; he died after passing out in a drunken stupor and choking on his own vomit.

Bon’s songwriting style shows that he saw things as simple – one thing leads to another, like a mathematical equation. In “Highway to Hell,” the narrator is melting two candles together so he can burn it at three ends. All along, he – and we can easily infer that it’s Bon himself talking – knows that all this destructive behavior will earn him nothing but damnation; one thing leads to another. But what separates him from a southern Baptist preacher spinning a cautionary tale is that Bon’s entire inflection when talking about fast living and hell is one of a salesman trying to get someone to buy a potato peeler.

Why? I think the reason is he thought hell would be fun. As far as he had heard, hell was where all the drunkards, thieves, womanizers, and kids with spray paint cans would go. In the inverse, heaven would be a boring place where everybody sat on a cloud with a harp all day long. According to what Bon must have thought, hell was where all the cool people would be. In his own words, “hell ain’t a bad place to be!”

gag

gag

I cannot tell you how much this attitude frustrates me. When I hear people talk about how they’re atheists because they think the Christian heaven sounds incredibly dull, it almost makes me wretch. Where did anyone get the idea that we’d all be wearing white robes and sitting on clouds when we got to heaven? Where does that iconography come from? It doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. It’s described as a house (John 14:2) and a city (Hebrews 11:16), but I really don’t understand this crap about clouds and harps. It might be because of the inadequacies of the English language – the Bible, when translated into English, sometimes uses the word “heaven” or “the heavens” to talk about the sky. Kindergarten logic says if we’re in “heaven” than we must be in the sky, right? That means clouds. Brilliant! Let’s make it church doctrine!

Bear in mind that I’m NOWHERE NEAR being a Biblical scholar, so you should probably take my statements about heaven with a pickup-truck-sized grain of salt.

Bon’s direct and simple approach to songwriting takes another form, too, and that’s when he’s telling a narrative. “Shot Down In Flames” is a straight-up account of a horny male being soundly rejected by two different females. I can totally imagine Bon simply smiling and shrugging when he sings the chorus, as if to say, “Them’s the breaks, huh?” And “Touch Too Much” tells the story of a man who has stumbled into a sexual relationship where the woman’s appetite greatly eclipses his own. The one place Bon uses metaphor instead of directness in his storytelling is “Night Prowler,” where he perceives that what he’s actually talking about is taboo. What’s his solution, then? Use something that’s even less socially acceptable! What could go wrong?

Bon Scott, 1946-1980

Bon Scott, 1946-1980

Also, songs like “Touch Too Much,” “Girl’s Got Rhythm” and “Love Hungry Man” show that Bon sees nearly everything through a sexual lens. Here’s where I can really empathize with him. To Bon, life is just one big search for a better feeling – there’s always something better over the next horizon. As hot and gorgeous as the last girl you slept with was, and as good as she made you feel, there’s somebody that will make you feel better. While that logic is flawed, it makes a lot of sense in the moment. While Bon’s methods were ultimately destructive to himself and the world around him, I can completely understand his philosophy of trying to feel good always and feel bad never.

Much as some Christians say otherwise, feeling good is good. In fact, God made us to feel good – it’s in His design. But the stunted versions of good feeling we seek all the time don’t really compare with the full versions God can give us. Just like we’re designed to feel good, we’re also designed to feel best in God. If I have to make a choice between “good” and “best,” I’ll pick “best.” But consider this: if it’s possible, why not have “good” AND “best?” That’s a lesson I learned from Bon Scott.

For Aerosmith, drugs took a boiling point approach. Their lives got louder, faster and crazier until they simply blew up, and it culminated with the tepid reaction to their 1977 album Draw the Line and Joe Perry’s angry departure from the band. It was followed in short order by Brad Whitford also bidding Aerosmith adieu right after their 1979 album Night In the Ruts. Then came the feces storm that was Rock In a Hard Place, their audience’s extremely bad reaction to new guitarists Rick Dufay and Jimmy Crespo (“Where’s Joe f***in’ Perry?!?”) and Steven Tyler’s collapse on stage in 1982 – the rest of the band thought he was dead. Cocaine, hard touring and egos the size of Australia had killed Aerosmith with greatest discrimination.

But back in the mid-‘70s, Aerosmith was flyin’ high, both figuratively and literally. They followed up on Toys In the Attic 13 months later with another rock and roll behemoth, Rocks. Aerosmith were clearly on a roll, and the juggernaut wasn’t going to stop until it burned out. Drugs make it break down a lot faster, and Aerosmith had people putting lines of cocaine in front of them for years now. But this period was the golden state, the very narrow sliver of time when drugs are fueling a band’s creativity while the toll on the body still hasn’t reached an unmanageable level. For a great many bands that time is way too short, and Aerosmith are no exception.

Toys In the Attic and Rocks are the two hands-down greatest moments in the first phase of Aerosmith’s career, before they died their first death and were resurrected with Permanent Vacation. Like I said, the two albums are only separated by a scant 13 months, and are indeed musical twins. Comparing them to see which is better is like pitting siblings against each other with knives, but hey, that’s what music critics do, right?

Both Toys and Rocks are 9 tracks long, and there’s only 2 and a half minutes difference in runtime, so they’re just begging for a showdown. They have similar structures, both containing one menacing rock tune (“Sweet Emotion” and “Back In the Saddle”) and one heavy metal gem (“Round and Round” and “Nobody’s Fault”), and both cap off with a bloated rock ballad powered by piano (“You See Me Crying” and “Home Tonight”). They also both have a monument to sex and philandering (“Walk This Way” and “Lick and a Promise”). Indeed, most songs from one album have a loose parallel on the other.

And if you still say comparisons between the two are unfair, there’s that Rocks actually has a sequel song to a track on Toys In the Attic. The title track of that album is a fast and frenetic song about insanity with a killer guitar drone near the end. Steven Tyler screams like he’s really going insane, marking the first appearance of his signature screeching howl. And Rocks track #3 is a companion piece to that, with a similar musical tone and even a matching name, “Rats In the Cellar.” Whether you go to the attic to retreat into your own mind, or the cellar to party with the vermin, you’ll go insane either way.

But which album is better? I think for that you’d have to look at individual songs. “Nobody’s Fault” has a darker and more urgent groove than “Round and Round,” though “Round and Round” has a better sense of heaviness. “Home Tonight” is a better power ballad than its counterpart, and doesn’t contain the annoying falsetto whine that “You See Me Crying” does. Rocks has more jaunty, dirty numbers in “Last Child” and “Get the Lead Out,” but Toys In the Attic some great teenager anthems like “Walk This Way” and “Adam’s Apple.” Rocks acknowledges the toll drugs were taking on Aerosmith as a whole (“Combination” and “Sick as a Dog”) while Toys is practically silent on the matter. Rocks also features a slightly darker and more wicked tone, while Toys is more fun. It just depends on what you prefer.

In singles, however, there isn’t even a competition – Toys wins hands-down. “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way” are both Toys, while the only very successful single from Rocks is opener “Back In the Saddle”. It’s a good song, no doubt, but can’t stand up to “Walk This Way” and is blown out of the water by the deliciously awesome “Sweet Emotion.” Success of singles definitely isn’t the only thing to take into account – there’s also cohesion as an album. Both Toys and Rocks score high marks on that front, but the presence of TWO iconic Aerosmith songs on Toys push it over the line for me.

Official AO verdict: Toys In the Attic wins out over Rocks, but only just.

Whip It Out

There’s a hidden gem right in the middle of Toys In the Attic, one that’s completely forgotten amidst Aerosmith’s bevy of more famous songs. In the face of “Sweet Emotion,” “Love In an Elevator,” “Cryin’,” “Amazing” and “Train Kept a Rollin’,” a short cover song that was never released as a single must seem very, very small. But besides the fact that I have a slight weakness for underdogs, “Big Ten Inch Record” captures in perfectly crystallized form one of the things I love the most about Aerosmith: the astronomically witty way they talk about sex.

“Big Ten Inch Record” was written by Fred Weismantel, someone for whom a quick Google search turned up very little. As far as I can tell, he wrote many songs back in the early ‘50s, none of which made waves. “Big Ten Inch Record” was first recorded by Bull Moose Jackson in 1952, and was popular but too risqué for radio (nowadays, Radio Disney might think it was kinda tame).

Bull Moose Jackson

Bull Moose Jackson

Zunk Buker, Steven Tyler’s friend and drug dealer, heard the song on the Dr. Demento show and sent a copy to the band. They recorded it mostly straight up, put it on Toys In the Attic, and then kinda forgot about it. I don’t think it was played live very much after the ’75 tour.

In the ancient times of yore when music was played on something called (air quotes) VINYL – oooooooh! – records came in three varieties: 12” LPs, 10” EPs, and 7” singles. “Big Ten Inch Record” is a simple jump blues number about how the singer has a 10” record from a blues band that his girlfriend simply can’t resist. There is a double entendre here, though, and it becomes abundantly clear after the first verse-chorus cycle. You’d have to be thick as block of lead to not get what is really being said.

Got me the strangest woman / Believe me, this chick’s no cinch / But I really get her goin’ / when I get out my big ten inch / …record of a band that plays the blues/ Of a band that plays the blues/ She just loves my big ten inch / …record of her favorite blues

Y’know, I was considering explaining the double entendre in simple and clinical terms, but I think I should have a little faith in my audience’s intelligence and instead employ an old phrase about blues music: if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Aerosmith’s version drives the point home ever-so-slightly more. It still has that little pause between every instance of “big ten inch” and “record.” It’s amazing what a pause can do (“She’s beautiful! She’s rich! She’s got huge… tracts of land!”). But Steven Tyler changes the lyrics just a tad; every time Bull Moose says “get out my/your big ten inch,” Steven says “whip out my/your big ten inch.” “Whip it out” has a slightly narrower application, and is usually used when talking about a single thing. Again, if you have to ask…

This is a great song because it has a wink. Every time the singer says “big ten inch” and pauses, you can just imagine that he’s smiling and winking at you, as if to say “yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” This type of discourse about sex, naughtiness and body parts is SO much better than the obvious and crude words of modern music artists, and also comedians. Innuendo and implication make the listener work for it, and that brings them into the comedy. They’re participants in it, not just spectators.

I don’t know about you, but I far prefer Steven Tyler beckoning me into bawdiness rather than Snoop Dogg or Wiz Khalifa throwing it right in my face, trying to break my nose with it. At the very least, it makes me exercise my mind rather than just being entertained.

Next: Toys In the Attic vs. Rocks – DEATHMATCH!!!

Aerosmith - Toys In the Attic - 4/8/1975

Aerosmith – Toys In the Attic – 4/8/1975

Jon Bon Jovi once said that when he bought a copy of Toys In the Attic and was reading the lyrics to “Walk This Way,” he was like Beavis and Butt-head combined. There wasn’t really anything shocking or new about them. They were raunchy and crude, no doubt, but similar sentiments had been expressed in rock music since its inception. “Walk This Way” is basically about the sexual exploits of a young man at the mercy of both his appetites and the women he encounters, a young man who very well could be Tyler himself. There are tales of threesomes, deflowerings, high school locker rooms and cougars on the hunt.

Steven Tyler had obviously learned his lessons well from the Rolling Stones, because Stones influence is all over that track. But when you actually listen to the song, rather than just read the lyrics, he reveals that he’s a more careful and clever songwriter than Mick. The music is happy and celebratory, fast-paced and hard-charging. And the lyrics are delivered at a breakneck speed, words spilling out of Steven’s mouth like an avalanche. Lead singers the world over look at “Walk This Way” as a challenge because the words-per-minute is just so high. But Steven does it the best, probably because of his big, elastic lips.

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler

The speed with which the lyrics tumble out is the real genius of the song. As filthy and lust-filled as the lyrics are, one word spills over onto the previous one so your brain can’t really keep up. Parents listening casually couldn’t figure out what the hell Steven was saying. It was only kids like Jon Bon Jovi that really got it. The airplay and publicity of “Walk This Way” didn’t cause nearly as much uproar as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” even though it’s 3x as sexually overt as either of those songs. See, Mick? All you had to do was sing faster!

Quick words and quick wit are even more the domain of early hip-hop artists, before the art form became the domain of profanity and violence thanks to gangster rap. Run-DMC, pioneers of the hip-hop field, were voracious consumers of all forms of popular music through the ages. Their teaming with rock producer Rick Rubin led them to discover “Walk This Way,” and they liked it before they even knew who performed it.

Run-DMC

Run-DMC

The year was 1985, ten years after “Walk This Way” came out. Aerosmith had already soared high and crashed hard in the fame realm, victims of drugs and dementia. They were as good as dead despite a reunion record, the lackluster Done With Mirrors. Then Run-DMC came along and resurrected “Walk This Way” into a rap-rock hybrid. Rather than using the original track, they brought Aerosmith in to play while they rapped over it. They not only resuscitated Aerosmith’s dying-for-the-2nd-time career, but they created something brilliantly new: the fusion of rock and rap.

I don’t like rap music, but the marriage of Aerosmith’s dirty groove with Run-DMC’s streetwise smoothness is simply beautiful. It transcends rock music or rap music, making those definitions not really matter anymore. Aerosmith and Run-DMC were united because they both loved music, and that commonality was more important that their differences.

It’s the same thing that brought Steven Tyler and Joe Perry back together after so much crap had built up between them. Girlfriends and wives got in the way, posturing and pride widened the divide, and they came to the point of fist-fights and hate. Joe left the band in ’79, and for all intents and purposes took the heart of Aerosmith with him. But they couldn’t escape their musical brotherhood.

Next: speaking of wives and girlfriends…

The Slipperman

The Slipperman

I’ve already noted Peter Gabriel’s tendency toward the dramatic and propensity for wearing costumes during Genesis performances. There’s the bat hat he wore for “Watcher of the Skies,” and the flower head and Magog, both for “Supper’s Ready.” There was also a character named Britannia he created for “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” and of course the famous fox head that started it all. But for the live performances of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” arguably Genesis’ most theatrical work, Peter only  donned two costumes for the entire 90+ minutes, and one of them was fairly nondescript.

The Rael costume involved little more than black jeans, a plain white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket. Peter used some make-up , mostly some black around the eyes to make him look more gaunt, but nothing else. As Rael, though, Peter didn’t look like Peter, which is of course the point of wearing a costume.

Rael

Rael

Even though The Lamb involved only two costumes, Peter’s showmanship wasn’t waning. While Rael wasn’t all that difficult, the other Lamb costume was his flashiest, his trickiest, and arguably his most famous. It was also something the entire band hated from the first time Peter wore it, especially Peter himself. The Slipperman was a bunch of green foams balls piled on top of each other, with holes for the arms and tights for the legs. It looked like a wretched, cancerous mass, barely distinguishable as a person. It worked very well in a story sense, since it matched the lyrics of “The Colony of Slippermen.”

His skin’s all covered in slimy lumps / With lips that slide across each chin / His twisted limbs like rubber stumps / Are waved in welcome, say “Please join in”

However, it was a nightmare in the practical sense. Peter needed a significant pause during the performance to get the costume on, which was the reason for “Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats,” a 3 minute instrumental that didn’t involve Peter. This was 1974, before the days of wireless mics or headsets. The only way for Peter’s voice to be amplified was for him to hold a mic like normal. The problem was the Slipperman costume didn’t really have a head. Not only was Peter blind, but he had to guess on where he was holding the mic. It’s amazing he could actually sing with that monstrosity on. Then after the song, the costume was a pain to get off and he needed the instrumental “Ravine” to go backstage and remove it. It was a lot of work for 8 minutes, but he did it every night.

Back to the story. After waking to find himself among people crawling on their hands and knees (who might be drug addicts) in “The Carpet Crawlers,” Rael finds himself in a room with 32 doors (“The Chamber of 32 Doors”). He gets out with the help of an old blind woman (“Lilywhite Lilith”) who was just leading him into the hands of Death himself (Anyway” and “Here Comes the Supernatural Anesthetist”). He survives his encounter with Death, and then comes across “three vermillion snakes of female face” (“The Lamia”). In a grand/weird/disturbing metaphor for sex, Rael gets into the lamias’ pool, shedding his shredded clothes, and the three lamia sensuously glide along his body. They then start to devour him, literally, taste-testing with their tongues and then nibbling his flesh. Rael is in ecstasy with this devouring, but the lamia convulse in pain and die. Then, in a final act of barbarism, Rael decides to eat the flesh of the dead lamia.

142 showmanship 03Clearly, this is the most disturbing thing on the record so far. Up until now it went from straightforward to surreal and slightly bizarre. With “The Lamia,” it takes a turn for the grotesque, and you don’t really see it coming. It reminds me of the first time I read Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. The first few chapters are about a dude on a train and a street vendor selling a potato peeler gadget, and then suddenly Enoch is showing Hazel this mummified dwarf on display in a museum. My initial reaction was, “did that just happen??!?”

Next: jeez, what kind of sex are you having, Peter Gabriel? Never mind, don’t answer that…

Their American fans may forget this at times, but Genesis is British. The fact that they came from across the Atlantic didn’t matter to me when I was 11. I guess I knew it, but that they were English didn’t really mean anything. But that fact became more present as I became more aware of the world around me. “American” was just the default position when I was younger, but Genesis is distinctly not American.

The biggest evidence of that is the album Selling England By the Pound, which not only has its country of origin in the title, but contain themes and subject matter that pertain particularly to Great Britain. By that time, Genesis had carved out a place for themselves in the British musical landscape. And then, at the end of 1974, they busted out of the box by centering their newest album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, on New York City, the epitome of American-ness. Furthermore, the main character of this rock opera-ish is not a knight or a minstrel or a member of the Royal Guard, but a greasy Puerto Rican kid with a spray gun and a hairy heart.

Rael

Rael

Let me explain that last part. Rael’s heart, in the metaphorical sense only, is very hairy at the start of the story. From the best I can understand, this means he’s ruled by emotion rather than reason. The “hair” on his heart represents id-based urges and desires, unconnected to societal norms or restrictions. As a punk greaser with a rebellious attitude and a chip on his shoulder the size of the Chrysler building, Rael wants what he wants and doesn’t care who he hurts…

Until the song “Back In N.Y.C.” In this part of the journey, we get some of Rael’s backstory and start to understand this nightmarish world he’s stumbled into by accident. He’s nothing more than a juvenile delinquent, sent to Pontiac (a juvenile detention center in NY that, as far as my web search could find, doesn’t exist) and released when he was 17. “Back In N.Y.C.” is the moment where Rael shaves his hairy heart, shedding the flailing chaos of being controlled by his desires and moving forward with a measured and reasoned attitude. It’s not unlike Pink in the movie version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Pink shaves off all the hair on his entire body, and after that becomes a totalitarian dictator. Didn’t work out too well for Pink, and Rael’s result is… I’m not really sure.

It begs the question: is it better to rule over our desires or to have our desires rule us? Here’s the same question with a different spin: is it better to do what we want or to do what we’re told? Let me put it a third way, one that uses the language of The Lamb: do we shave our hairy hearts and eliminate all desires and live like robots, or do we let the hair grow and be slaves to our own whims and momentary wants?

My answer to all those questions is “neither.” The desires of your heart are called “desires” for a reason, and they should be at least listened to. But your heart isn’t the end-all-be-all of who you are, much as it tries to be sometimes. The pat phrase “follow your heart” ticks me off, simply because it’s so flagrantly unwise. You should listen to your heart, but you shouldn’t do everything it says. It’s a very good resource on a lot of things, but it’ll lead you astray from time to time. After all, your heart can lie to you. Rael learns this a little later in the album, but we’ll get to that.

Kind of in reverse order, we learn why Rael shaved his heart in “Counting Out Time.” Herein lies the tale of Rael’s first sexual conquest, and the song reveals that Rael was living with his selfish desires out of control. He was operating only on getting what he wants, not caring who he does wrong.

Peter Gabriel broke pattern with the rest of the album in writing the lyrics and music for this song, which was really his first taste of being in complete charge of the musical direction of a song. It shows, too, because “Counting Out Time” doesn’t fit into any category Genesis has used before. While the rest of The Lamb is brooding and a little dour, “Counting Out Time” is downright goofy. The guitar sound during the solo is particularly off-the-wall. It bears resemblance to “Moribund the Burgermeister” and “Excuse Me,” two tracks on Peter Gabriel’s first solo album from 1977. The pinnacle of the silliness comes with the lyric “Honey, get hip! It’s time to unzip! Zip-a-zip-a-zip, whoopee!!!”

“Counting Out Time” is among the more straightforward numbers on The Lamb. It details Rael’s exploration of the sexual realm, and his acquisition of a book called Erogenous Zones and Difficulties in Overcoming Finding Them. This might be an actual book, but there’s no hard evidence to prove it. Rael follows it to the letter, but forgets that there’s an actual person he’s practicing on. What strikes me most about it is the supreme selfishness with which he goes about learning about sex. Sex is a two-person act, and you can’t learn about it in a sterile, consequence-less environment. You have to learn by doing, and it’s all on the record.

Next: if The Lamb is about any single thing (which it’s not), it’s about sex.

T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

Since high school, my favorite poet has been T. S. Eliot. As a poet myself, you couldn’t really tell; my style is much more similar to Emily Dickinson and Alfred Lord Tennyson, with a little Byron thrown in there. But Eliot remains my favorite, in part because I can’t imitate him. Every time I read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and especially “Journey of the Magi,” I am defeated by his rhythms, choice of words, but most of all his content. My poetry is good for what it is, but there always a sneaking doubt in my mind that says, “well, I’ll never be as good as T. S. Eliot…”

My least favorite poem by my most favorite poet is “The Waste Land.” I know, some of you fellow Eliot enthusiasts are gasping in horror. “The Waste Land” is Eliot’s undisputed greatest work, his magnum opus, if you will. And I recognize that it’s a seminal work in the craft of poetry and represent a shift in style for the entire art form. But I’ve only read in completely though once, and that was for a college class. Each time I try, I get frustrated – not with the poem, but with myself, my lack of focus, and my inability to understand it. And I’d wager that this is a feeling that a lot of “The Waste Land’s” readers have felt at least once, even if they won’t admit it.

Tiresias, the blind prophet

Tiresias, the blind prophet

A central figure in “The Waste Land” is the character Tiresias, the famous blind prophet from Greek myth. His most famous appearance is in Oedipus Rex, where he reveals what eventually ends (spoiler alert) with Oedipus poking out his own eyes. The highlight of his appearance in “The Waste Land,” however, is his experience as both a man and a woman.

The myth, when boiled down to almost nothing, says Tiresias was a pawn in a bet the gods had going about which of the genders enjoyed sex more. Tiresias, being a mortal man, was transformed into a woman to compare and contrast the pleasures of sex from both perspectives. His answer? If 10 is the total enjoyment of sex, women enjoy it 7 and men enjoy it 3. Being men, this pissed the gods off something awful. In a true shoot-the-messenger fashion, they instantly struck Tiresias blind. As a consolation prize, though, they gave him the ability to perfectly foresee the future. A fat lot of good it did him; when he told people what would happen in the future they never listened to him, despite the fact that he was always right.

“The Waste Land” isn’t about Tiresias directly, but uses him to further explore the intricacies of gender, the differences between them, and what it means to be male or female. I’m surprised David Bowie didn’t do an entire album based on “The Waste Land,” since this is right up his alley. Instead, we get a little retelling/recasting of the whole Tiresias/Waste Land characterization in Genesis’s “The Cinema Show.”

Now, “The Cinema Show” is NOT “The Waste Land.” When they stand next to each other, you want to push them apart. In fact, if “The Waste Land” were a human body that suddenly sprouted a second head and the two heads started arguing with each other, the second head would be “The Cinema Show.”

There’s a passage from “The Waste Land” that talks about a woman simply referred to as “the typist” and a young man and their sexual encounter. “The Cinema Show” has similar characters, but Gabriel calls upon another source (Shakespeare) and calls them “Romeo” and “Juliet.” Eliot’s account of this encounter is dark and unsettling, filled with harsh and alarming physicality. In it, we have the injustice and imbalance of the man taking by force exactly what he wants from the woman, and the woman not even trying to resist. At the end, the woman is left empty while the man is full. In Peter Gabriel’s recasting of this story, however, it takes a near-180; it’s a little silly, a little playful, and dare I say romantic. The only hint we have that it’s the same story is the imperative of Romeo’s words: “I WILL make my bed with her tonight…” But why WILL he? ‘Cause he brought her chocolate. Giving the typist free candy probably isn’t something that would even occur to Eliot’s “young man carbuncular.”

Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel

If we only have the two options of Eliot’s somber and hopeless approach to the gender divide and Gabriel’s “whatcha cryin’ about?” attitude about the same thing, I’d choose Gabriel’s. But it strikes me, as it does with a lot of things, that there must be a third option. If I’m looking for something and I’m not happy with what I find, I’m gonna keep looking.

From my own perspective, gender and its offshoots are not universal for all people… at all, really. There are as many different ways to be men as there are men. But at the same time, I don’t hold with the loose and fast “gender-don’t-mean-a-thing” attitude that’s so prevalent in our society today. Despite some people trying to deny it, men and women are just different. That’s not a limiting thing, or at least it doesn’t have to be. But there’s nothing wrong with the exploration of what it means to be a man or a woman, or even if it means anything at all. I’ve always thought that questions lead to answers if you ask the right person. I believe there is an answer to the question of the gender divide, and it’s NOT as simple “boys play sports and girls play with dolls.” Whoever said that lacked imagination.