Archive for September 5th, 2010

No fellow could ignore
The little girl next door
She sure looked sweet in her first evening gown;
Now there’s a charge for what she used to give for free
In my home town. 
–  Tom Lehrer, “My Home Town”

Yesterday we looked at two songs whose narrators are whores, and one told from the point of view of bluenoses engaged in their favorite activity, attacking prostitutes who never did anything to them.  Today we’ll look at five songs told from the client’s point of view, two of which are positive, two negative and one disturbed.  Four have links to videos; no video was available for “The Taxicab”, so I have included a link for you to download a Windows Media file of the song if you wish.  We’ll start with an ode to the “Ladies of the Evening” from my home town; most of my readers have probably never heard it, but it would be rare to find anyone in South Louisiana who didn’t know it by heart.

New Orleans Ladies (Hoyt Garrick)

New Orleans ladies
Sassy style that will drive you crazy
And they hold you like the light
Hugs the wick when this candle’s burning

Them Creole babies
Thin and brown and downright lazy
And they roll just like the river
A little wave will last forever

(refrain) All the way
From Bourbon Street to Esplanade
They sashay by
They sashay by

New Orleans ladies
A flair for life, love and laughter
And they hold you like the night
Holds a chill when this cold wind’s blowing

Them Creole babies
They strut and sway from dusk till dawn
And they roll just like a river
A little wave will last forever

(refrain) x2

Now, though I really do like this song I must point out that it does fall into the old “all hookers are streetwalkers” fallacy.  Given the way the singer lauds our working belles, I hardly think it likely he is really talking about streetwalkers; he’s simply using it as a convenient symbol so his audience understands the specific type of lady he means, so I can forgive it in this instance.  Also, since Bourbon Street intersects Esplanade, I’m not sure what he really means by saying that; I reckon he just intends to describe a fan-shaped area including the French Quarter.

Next, an explanation of the word “Creole” is in order; I used the term in my column on Storyville (day before yesterday) but neglected to define it.  Early New Orleans was home to many free negroes, some of whom were themselves slave-owners.  So by the Civil War a large community of free, light-skinned blacks with a considerable percentage of white blood had developed; these Creoles (as they were called) usually married among themselves and looked down on unmixed black people just as much as their white cousins did.  Though their social status was quite high before the War, once Reconstruction was over Jim Crow laws were imposed on New Orleans and many of the wealthy, genteel old Creole families found themselves just as mistreated as other negroes; they fell into poverty, and their beautiful, cultured, educated daughters often found themselves with only one trade in which they could support themselves in their accustomed style.  Not all of them did so in brothels; many became the mistresses of wealthy white men.  There are still many Creoles in New Orleans, but most of them now find it more advantageous to identify as black rather than to maintain a separate ethnic identity as their great-grandparents did.

Clearly, the narrator of our next song isn’t nearly as accepting of our trade:

Roxanne (Sting)

You don’t have to put on the red light
Those days are over
You don’t have to sell your body to the night

You don’t have to wear that dress tonight
Walk the streets for money
You don’t care if it’s wrong or if it’s right

You don’t have to put on the red light
(repeat several times)

I loved you since I knew you
I wouldn’t talk down to you
I have to tell you just how I feel
I won’t share you with another boy
I know my mind is made up
So put away your make up
Told you once I won’t tell you again
It’s a bad way

You don’t have to put on the red light
(repeat several times)

I think it’s pretty obvious that this man is one of the “rescuers” I talked about in my column of August 25th; he has fallen in love with Roxanne and simply cannot comprehend why she still prefers to ply her trade rather than be “redeemed” (i.e. owned, as evidenced by the last few lines) by him.  The narrator of the next song is also obsessed with a working girl, though I would hesitate to call the emotion “love”; it is clearly a type of psychotic neediness which has fixated itself on a girl he has never met or even spoken to before.

867-5309 (Alex Call and Jim Keller)

Jenny, Jenny who can I turn to
You give me something I can hold on to
I know you’ll think I’m like the others before
Who saw your name and number on the wall

(refrain) Jenny I’ve got your number
I need to make you mine
Jenny don’t change your number
8 6 7-5 3 0 9 (8 6 7-5 3 0 9)
8 6 7-5 3 0 9 (8 6 7-5 3 0 9)

Jenny, Jenny you’re the girl for me
You don’t know me but you make me so happy
I tried to call you before, but I lost my nerve
I tried my imagination, but I was disturbed


I got it (I got it), I got it
I got your number on the wall
I got it (I got it), I got it
For a good time call


Jenny, Jenny who can I turn to
For the price of a dime
I can always turn to you
8 6 7-5 3 0 9 (8 6 7-5 3 0 9)
8 6 7-5 3 0 9 (8 6 7-5 3 0 9)

It’s possible that Jenny isn’t even a cheap hooker at all, but merely the victim of a rather ugly practical joke.  Either way, the poor girl will probably have to change her number or face repeated calls from this pathetic, lonely person (as implied in the last verse).  The narrators of our last two songs (both by the famous Belgian singer Jacques Brel) are equally obsessed (though in opposite ways) by their experiences with two very different kinds of prostitutes.  Brel was famed for his strong, earthy language and these examples of his work are no exception.

The Taxicab (Jacques Brel, English version by Eric Blau & Mort Shuman)

She lives on Madonna Street
In a house tucked away there
In a house so small and sweet
Though the rug’s a little threadbare
And a stairway corkscrews up
In the middle of her pad
She lives on Madonna Street
But me, I drive the taxicab.

Her bedroom’s filled with filigree
Candles dancing in the air
Cupids dancing everywhere
You can smell the sandalwood incense
She glides about in radiance
And when she breathes I feel a stab
The candles shimmer in the air
But me, I drive the taxicab.

Her bed is big enough for three
One of her and two of me
A bar that’s filled with everything
From Old Grand-Dad to Hennessy
There’s one black cat, five Pekingese
The hi-fi’s playing modern jazz
Her bed is big enough for three
But me, I drive the taxicab.

There are other tenants in the house
A captain of the artillery
A priest who chews cheese like a mouse
A guru who will serve you tea
A financier from Katmandu
A pornographer whose eyes are bad
I know what each of them wants to do
But me, I drive the taxicab.

She’s got eyes like blazing suns
Her hips in song with pagan tunes
Her ass rolls like twin waterfalls
Lips and mouth moan like bassoons
She zips up her gown, I feel my doom
She takes it off, I wanna grab
She’s got tits like virgin moons
But me, I drive the taxicab!

Gotta go down to Madonna Street
Her bed is big enough for three
Whatever it is, I’ll pay the tab
But me, but me, but me I drive the taxicab!

However obsessed he may be, our cab driver clearly views his doxy in a flattering light and is not in the least disturbed by her profession as long as he gets to partake (note the name of her street).  The narrator of the next song, however, is clearly an unusually sensitive young man who was deeply (and perhaps irreparably) traumatized by his experience in a French military brothel; the song is both powerful and unforgettable.

Next (Jacques Brel, English version by Eric Blau & Mort Shuman)

Naked as sin, an army towel
Covering my belly
Some of us blush, somehow
Knees turning to jelly

I was still just a kid
There were a hundred like me
I followed a naked body
A naked body followed me

I was still just a kid
When my innocence was lost
In a mobile army whorehouse
Gift for the army, free of cost
Next, next!

Me, I really would have liked
A little touch of tenderness
Maybe a word, a smile
An hour of happiness
But, next, next!

Oh, it wasn’t so tragic
The high heavens did not fall
But how much of that time
I hated being there at all
Next, next!

Now I always will recall
The brothel truck, the flying flags
The queer lieutenant who slapped
Our asses as if we were fags
Next!  Next!

I swear on the wet head
Of my first case of gonorrhea
It is his ugly voice
That I forever hear
Next!  Next!

That voice that stinks of whiskey
Of corpses and of mud
It is the voice of nations
It is the thick voice of blood
Next!  Next!

And since then each woman
I have taken to bed
Seems to laugh in my arms
To whisper through my head
Next, next…

All the naked and the dead
Should hold each other’s hands
As they watch me scream at night
In a dream no one understands
Next!  Next!

And when I am not screaming
In a voice grown dry and hollow
I stand on endless naked lines
Of the following and the followed
Next!  Next!

One day I’ll cut my legs off
Or burn myself alive
Anything, I’ll do anything
To get out of line to survive
Not ever to be next!
Not ever to be next!

I think it’s safe to say our narrator wouldn’t have reacted this way had his initiation been at the hands of Fancy, the lady of Madonna Street or one of the enchanting Creole beauties who “hold you like the light holds the wick.”  I’ve actually heard this song called “anti-prostitution” by silly critics who are apparently unfamiliar with Brel’s other work and unable to follow the words of this one.  As should be obvious from the title and refrain, it is the assembly-line nature of the thing, the reduction of what should be beautiful to a mechanistic process, which has done the psychological damage here.

This overview is by no means exhaustive; I can think of several other songs right now, and I’m sure some of you can as well.  But I think these represent a good cross-section of the subject, from high to low and from very positive to quite negative.

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