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?