It’s been decades of change, and we can still relate to every word Aretha Franklin is saying. Except that bit about bringing your man all of your money, you know that Aretha Franklin is almost certainly not about to be bringing some man all of her money. Who does he think he is? But that line makes sense in context. What not everybody remembers is that Aretha’s anthem of feminine empowerment was actually written by Otis Redding about his own struggles. It was the 60’s, when a man’s ability to bring home the money defined his value as narrowly as the circumference of a woman’s waist defined hers. Touring musicians made very meager wages back then, especially black artists on the so-called ‘chitlin circuit’, and well-known artists with chart-topping records often still struggled to support their families. That was Redding’s concern. Aretha Franklin wasn’t much of a feminist standard-bearer in those days either; like many women of her generation, she started having children while still in her teens and suffered through a string of abusive husbands who attempted to control her career. All either Redding or Franklin were asking for was to just be one tiny little bit less downtrodden. That radical idea really caught on with a lot of people, making a huge hit and a cultural touchstone. Its mainstream popularity allowed Franklin to become the kind of artist who sets her own rules and doesn’t accept bullshit. And its simple message continues to resonate with women who only want one thing. Spell it with me…
Show of hands, who still remembers what Morse code is? It’s that cool beeping noise that WWII movies use to underscore tension when something exciting and/or scientific is going on. Right? Right. So Bryan Ferry made an excellent production choice in using that sound effect to literalize a song about loneliness and longing. He’s like a ship at sea, you see. He needs a hero to save him from drowning in his ocean of solitude. It’s basically just a booty call, but the SOS makes it sound serious and important. And sophisticated. But you know what? Booty calls deserve to be dignified. There’s not much heavy lifting we can do for another person, in terms of rescuing them from themselves, but we can at least occasionally rescue them from being alone and horny.
On the other hand though, what if you could be the rescuer? Through the power of love, and whatnot? Shut up, Kimbra. The only thing stupider than believing that a lover will come along who can rescue you and mend you, is thinking that you can do the same for them. SPOILER ALERT: It doesn’t work like that. Fucked-up people may eventually get better, if they’re truly motivated to change, but a lot of times they just don’t ever change, and you can’t luv luv luv them all better. If you think your problems will go away if someone just loves you hard enough, you are a lazy, selfish narcissist. If you think that the other person’s problems will go away if you just love them hard enough, you’re a masochist. Either way, you have an antediluvian view of romance and no conception of how relationship dynamics actually work. That, my friends, is how abusive relationships grow and proliferate. The road to the battered women’s shelter is paved with your own good intentions. Of course, not everyone who trods that path ends up needing to go to the women’s shelter; most people wake up and pull their heads out of their beloved’s ass before they get that far. Still, this is a relationship dynamic that nearly everyone to some extent has experienced, and it’s so toxic because it involves a degree of ego on both sides. In a sick way, it takes its own special kind of narcissistic delusion to think that you and your bright shining love are so powerful and special and pure that it grants you the power to cure an asshole of being an asshole. Or that you are saintly enough to tirelessly forgive and keep giving of yourself. I’m not shaming you; you’re not immune to it, I’m not immune to it, nobody is ever fully immune to it. Because there’s always That One Guy™ who fucking makes you want to do dumb shit that you otherwise never would do, just so you can go on looking at his stupid face.
I think this is an excellent segue from yesterday, and it’s very on point. Lucinda Williams is always on point writing about love, from her position as a woman who has lived through some serious ups and downs, who has loved many troubled souls and watched them not make it, who didn’t find her personal and professional rewards until she was well over the expiration date that women are usually given for finding those things. From that vantage point she asks, what do we need and expect men to really do for us? And what can lovers ever really do for each other, in the end? What gaping existential void are we asking our mere mortal partners to fill for us? I remember a comment from someone – a poet – that the needs we expect our romantic partners to fill are the same ones that we used to fill with religion. We expect guidance and fulfillment and unconditional love and sacrifice and an ear and a shoulder and a heart to cry to, and the other person inevitably comes up short, because they’re also asking for those things. No wonder so many people would rather burn the world than accept living in a secular society. But regardless if you’re clinging to religious ceremony for comfort or putting all of your emotional eggs in the monogamous long-term relationship basket, those things are still a substitute for the hard work of finding fulfillment within yourself, and there’s no easy shortcut to that. Love and religion can help, or they can hinder you, but you still have got to learn to live with yourself.
Apropos. While women gather at the weeping wall to bewail their burden, yet again, here is David Bowie with his two cents. From beyond the grave, a reminder that he, the original woke one, pinpointed domestic violence as one of the evils of the world way back in 1979. Just one more ugly side to the infinite-sided prism of everything that’s fucking bad and wrong about mankind, as comprehended by a humanoid alien from Mars. Everything is bad and wrong, and the only redeeming things in the world are art, and those fleeting moments when two people somehow find the means to actually feel connected to one another. In that order. And not everybody even has that. The most harmful and tragic thing is those people who don’t know how to connect to someone without hurting them; they are literally souls trapped in hell.
How much are you obligated to love someone if they pay your rent? There is a famous short story – later adapted into a film – by Tama Janowitz titled Slaves of New York. It was initially published in, you guessed it, The New Yorker. The title is obviously, um, shall we say, not great, but in some ways it’s apropos and and becoming more so. New York City is hellishly expensive to live in, and people do degrading things to survive there. The point Janowitz was making in her story is that ambitious creative types are so in love with the idea of being New Yorkers that they compromise their integrity and wellbeing by staying yoked to lame partners just for the real estate. Yes, there’s plenty of people who stay in loveless marriages because the apartment. That’s sad, but it’s also…hello, hashtag first world problems! People – mostly the female kind – all over the world literally fucking end up dying because they don’t have the means to leave abusive partners, which is not the same as hanging on to a sexless marriage because rent-controlled Manhattan real estate yada yada. But the New York literary and creative scene is its own beast, one that exists in a paradoxical bubble. On one hand, New York City is so vibrant and diverse it’s almost like the capital of the world or something. On the other hand, the scenesters there can be shockingly ignorant and isolated (see, Lena “I don’t know any black people” Dunham.) Having maintenance-sex with somebody who doesn’t excite you like they used to because you share a lease is not actually equivalent to the institution of slavery, Tama Janowitz, and I’m likely not the first person to have pointed that out, but I think the point remains worth making. All of which has absolutely nothing to do with music, so you’re probably wondering. Yes, I’m drunk and I didn’t sleep very much last night. But also, this is exactly what this Pet Shop Boys song is about. The things we do for rent money, and that weird grey zone between sincere love between consenting adults and the kind of love animals have for you because you feed them. So, although my liberal-white-feminist-SJW self draws the line at slavery equivalence, the age-old phenomenon of being kept is a real social issue. A lot of people, mostly young and in some way disadvantaged, compromise their integrity and wellbeing by allowing themselves to be kept. Whether you’re married to someone who’s on salary while you’re on hourly, or just straight up cashing checks from a sugar-daddy, you’re being kept, and it’s a power imbalance and consent-wise a slippery slope.
Styx is one of those guilty pleasure bands for a lot of people, but really, how could you ever feel guilty about something that’s this much fun? You can point out that their hair is terrible and their rock opera worse, but you are missing the point. You shouldn’t take them that seriously, though the question of how seriously Styx should be taken has been asked by the members of Styx, and their internal disagreement about the answer is what led to their eventual breakup. Apparently the ones who wanted to write rock operas couldn’t stop bumping heads with the ones who just wanted to play lots of guitar solos and not think about it too hard. This was before the discord, though, when the band was, presumably, all on the same page in terms of balancing their proggy conceptual leanings with their big dumb rock band side. And frankly, it’s the fact that they did lean prog and had concept album ambitions whilst also being kind of dumb is what makes them so delightful.