Goodness Had Nothin’ to Do With It

I have a taste for the salacious. Prurience with a sense of humor.

That said, I’m a study in contradictions. I can watch erotica blithely, but get uncomfortable at a steamy make-out scene in a mainstream movie. I have no objection whatsoever to nudity, but wish women wouldn’t nurse their children in restaurants and on buses. Like many of my generation, I tend to curse a bit too freely (though only among like-minded friends), but a recent HBO stand-up comedy special featuring Bob Saget was so foul-mouthed that I had to turn it off after five minutes.

Maybe it’s just the notion of appropriateness. I like slyness, double entendres, little hints of naughtiness where a more blatant approach would be jarring.

For similar reasons, I love dirty blues, particularly when I’m taking a road trip. As WFMU‘s James Marshall writes:

People began singing about sex as soon as they began singing. Dirty ballads, lewd couplets, poems, limericks, rhymes, drinking songs, all ripe with sex, have always been an important if shunned part of western culture, from the first broadside balladeers to the most current heavy metal acts. Much of this sort of thing made its way onto vinyl, especially during the early days of “race” and “hillbilly” (pre-WWII) records and during the golden age of R&B (’46-’56).

Blues in general is a lyrically limited form — broads, booze, and sex have a virtual stranglehold on the primitive blues singers’ mind . . . and filthy blues records make up a large portion of the recorded body of work. Since that immortal day when Blind Lemon Jefferson beheld his [member] and decided it had the same leathery quality as a black snake, getting the biggest hit record of his career out of it, “Black Snake Moan” (which he recorded several times), sex on blues discs sold. . . .

Women, particularly the classic blues singers of the ’20s and ’30s, were not immune to such crudities. In one of her more memorable performances, the great Bessie Smith sang:

Tired of bein’ lonely, tired of bein’ blue,
I wished I had some good man to tell my troubles to
Seem like the whole world’s wrong since my man’s been gone
I need a little sugar in my bowl,
I need a little hot dog on my roll
I can stand a bit of lovin’, oh so bad,
I feel so funny, I feel so sad
I need a little steam-heat on my floor,
Maybe I can fix things up so they’ll go
What’s the matter, hard papa?
Come on and save you mama’s soul

In a similar vein, Dinah Washington sang about her dentist:

I’ve got a dentist who’s over seven feet tall
Long John they call him, and he answers every call
Well I went to Long Johns office and told him the pain was killin’
He told me not to worry, that my cavity just needed fillin’

Here is Bette Midler’s version of the song:

And here’s Ethel Waters singing about her “Handy Man”:

He shakes my ashes, greases my griddle,
Churns my butter, strokes my fiddle;
My man is such a handy man!

He threads my needle, creams my wheat,
Heats my heater, chops my meat;
My man is such a handy man!

Never has a single thing to say,
While he’s working hard;
I wish that you could see the way
He handles my front yard!

But of course the master of the double entendre — or should I say mistress? — was Mae West. She couldn’t say anything, no matter how innocent, without it sounding dirty.

I’m No Angel (1933) was her third motion picture. She wrote the story and the screenplay. A young Cary Grant played the male lead; West played Tira, a circus performer who becomes a socialite.

Depression era audiences responded to the fantasy rise of a woman from the wrong side of the tracks. This was one of the few Mae West films that was not subjected to heavy censorship, and West’s ribald satire outraged moralists. In fact, film historians cite her performance as one of the factors for the strict Hollywood production code that soon followed. It featured such memorable lines as “It’s not the men in your life that counts, it’s the life in your men,” “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better,” and the immortal, “Beulah, peel me a grape.”

Here’s a scene from I’m No Angel:

Is that a pickle in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?


~ by Craig R. Smith on 16 September 2007.

9 Responses to “Goodness Had Nothin’ to Do With It”

  1. I can sit and play a rousing round of clothing-optional Trivial Pursuit or go for a run with a friend at a nude beach, and I don’t get the idea of draping for massage.

    I get downright annoyed at the jokes about how only pretty people should ever dare be unclothed.

    I can’t watch the mushy stuff. I don’t even like reading my own love poetry.

    I can’t watch the erotic stuff. Off-color jokes make me terribly uncomfortable and, more to the point, the same in music even more so.

    But, to be fair, I can’t stand violence either, and actually had to turn my head for an extended period TWICE during a recent Family Guy episode.

    The second beating is worse.

    My family laughed at me.

    Of course, we were watching naked, but — here is the important part — no one was singing about it.

  2. Indigo Bunting is always closing her eyes during violent scenes in movies and on TV. It takes a lot to make me uncomfortable with violence, particularly cartoonish violence. I guess I’m a product of the media and society.

    But it’s erotica that shows my split personality. Even mildly erotic scenes make me squirm or reach for the remote to fast-forward through it. But I can watch porn (even stuff that doesn’t interest me) without any discomfort. Maybe I just disconnect emotionally.

    Some dirty jokes I find hysterically funny. The ones I don’t, don’t make me uncomfortable — just very annoyed.

  3. This was a most enjoyable post. And thanks for outting me on the violence. What can I say? I’ll sit through it if it’s not actually gratuitous and it’s in something that’s actually good, but that don’t make it easy…

    I live for double entendre and innuendo. Ran into a buddy in a Portland restaurant last night, and he said, “So, see you Tuesday?” and I said, “Are you saying ‘See you next Tuesday’?” I just can’t let it go.

  4. I know I’m being terribly dim, Indigo, but I’m completely missing any double entendre in the “next Tuesday” comment. Color me puzzled.

  5. Oh, thank goodness. I thought it was only me.

    I just figured Indigo’s name was actualy Tuesday.

  6. I can’t be doing with all this smut. I’m a plain spoken woman and I speak as I find. Tuesday indeed! Now I have to go and hoover me couch. My pussy’s been shedding hair all over it again.

  7. Mrs. Slocombe, you will return to your post. When I turn around, you will raise your arm. I will ask, “What is it, Mrs. Slocombe?” You will ask me, “Are you free?” If I nod, you may then approach me.

  8. Will I buggery. You needn’t be so high and mighty. I saw you coming out of that shop in the High Street on Friday night. You know what shop. The leather jacket and the motorcycle helmet didn’t fool me, even after fifteen rum and blakcurants

  9. Violence, as Mott the Hoople so aptly put it, is the only thing that’ll make you see sense….we went to see ‘Wild at Heart’ and were so appalled by the first ten minutes that afterwards we had to see something, anything else. And across the street was ‘Henry and June’ with the marquee message : ‘Erotic….but artistic’ thankfully it was the funniest film imaginable, with Henry Miller saying, ‘Hey Anus” every five minutes and everyone else simpering…

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