Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reminiscing On Rock'n'Roll and Sex

I hated Queen in the '70s. I thought they were just a Led Zeppelin wannabe. The idea amuses me now, because the two bands could not be more different. Led Zeppelin is the ultimate heterosexual band. Queen is gay -- campy and gay. ("Fat Bottom Girls" is not how heterosexual men lust. Well, except maybe for Sir Mix-A-Lot.)

Led Zeppelin had no wit, godawful lyrics, and little care for formal tightness. They were the blues on steroids, and they managed to take everything too far. As Eric Clapton said, when he first saw them perform in 1969, "They overstated their point." Their live concert film, The Song Remains the Same, is tedious and unwatchable now, but at the time it was exactly what I wanted. Nobody else compared. I was, and still am, in awe of Jimmy Page's guitar prowess. He got sounds from his guitar that no one else gets to this day. He was also one of the few hard rock guitarists who could play intense jazz chords with distortion and make it sound good. (It's because he sold his soul to the Devil, dude! He lives in Aleister Crowley's house!)

Queen's homosexual sensibility completely eluded me in the '70s. But then, it was not until years later that I realized I was one of the few straight male high school thespians. All those other guys were flaming gays, and I never realized it.

Another thing I never realized was how sexual a lot of lyrics were. I'm stunned now that our parents let us listen to this music and play it in our garage band. For instance, take the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman."

I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis,

She tried to take me upstairs for a ride.


I laid a divorcee in New York City

When I was a child it never occurred to me that Jagger was singing about sex.

Or take one of my favorite jamming songs, "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" by Ten Years After.

Good morning little schoolgirl,

Can I come home with you?


Baby, I want to ball you

I want to ball you all night long.

Not only is that blatantly about sex, but it's perverted and sinister. The singer is, I presume, a grown man trying to pick up a schoolgirl. We used to sing this song in our band in high school, and our parents never said a word about it.

Before I went into the Air Force, my mother took me aside and told me not to linger in bus station bathrooms because homosexuals hang out there. I did as she instructed, and went in and out of the bathrooms as quick as possible, without making eye contact for fear that one of these mysterious homosexuals might seduce me with his secret powers. She gets terribly embarrassed when I tell this story now, but I always do tell it at family gatherings because it's just too hilarious.

We're more open about homosexuality now. It's out of the closet. This is probably a good thing: people fear what they don't understand. On the other hand, I suspect that with the rise of religion, parents are not as uncaring about sexual lyrics as they were back then.

I don't know if America is more puritanical now or then.

UPDATE: Slight revision.


Luke Baggins said...

There's a TV show called Swingtown about a couple moving up financially and north into a more affluent Chicago suburb than where they were in 1976. And their neighbors are swingers. The show does a lot of interesting things for someone who can remember that era and one of them is put in perspective the hypertension of todays conservatives. While Harry Reems was being prosecuted for his role in deep throat then, there were no teenagers being charged with *FELONIES* for taking naked pictures of themselves. I know of at least 3 cases of that going on now. Oh and I just recently read this little gem on Amy Alkon's blog about a 17 year old boy being charged with a Class C felony for having sex with his 14 year old girlfriend. I'll leave the best part out in case you decide to read the post. But I think "puritanical" might not be a strong enough word for the attitude of today's Americans toward young people and sex. I think "criminally insane" might be better.

Thomas Rowland said...

I have to disagree with Luke. "Puritanical"? By what standard? I am 66, and can't remember a day when I was Puritanical, if you mean that I viewed sex as a dirty, ugly, unpleasnt necessity of life that one engaged in only to have children. That was the attitude of my parents who were of the generation that banned every Henry Miller book and Harold Robbins was marginal. Twin beds were manditory on television and if one used the word 'screw,' one meant a metal fastener.

Elvis Presley changed all that with the help of a a yunger generation and their adult supporters who brought a black blues "Hound Dog" to a white audiance. In the original said hound dog was "snopping' round my door" and the singer said that "you may wag your tail but I ain't gonna feed you no more."

The generation that I grew up with, taught the generation that followed that they could go even further, and they did.

And today? I'm not so sure of the understanding that Myrhaf speaks of, but I do know that the words you can't say on TV are fewer and fewer every year. I too, think that this is mostly to the good. What is needed is contextual sensativity so that a word like "f8c8" still has some power.

Tom Rowland

PS Thanks for the memory, Myrhaf said...

Jimmy Page was a sloppy guitar player (particularly live), and John Bonham played offbeat with the rest of the band on virtually every song, but somehow Led Zeppelin pulled off some pretty outstanding songs. Page was great because he thought of some unusual, original riffs on many songs (think “The Ocean,” “Heartbreaker,” "Out On The Tiles," “Dazed and Confused,” “The Rover,” “Hots On For Nowhere”). Yeah, he’s sloppy, but think up some of the riffs he came up with.

What, you don't like the lyrics: "And a new day will dawn, then the piper will lead us to reason."

As to sex in songs, for Led Zep did it get any more graphic than “The Lemon Song”?

Inspector said...

I'm kind of in an interesting position on this one. I'm too young to have been in the scene when either of them came around. I also am too far from the values of *anything* in pop culture to be invested in any kind of "message" they had. But in a way, this liberates me. Because when I listen to rock, I don't sweat the details - I'm just there to rock.

To give an example, I'd never dream of being an "Uncle" John picking up Long Tall Sally, but the dude was grooving on being into a chick, in his own way. That's as far as I need to take the thing, to rock along with him. I know rock and rollers are just about all insane from my standpoint, but it really isn't important. Music is about basic and universal emotions, not the screwed up version the artist lived.

So I say so what if Zepp is jock rock and Queen are a bunch of, well, Queens. They are damn fine listening as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and all this talk of sex... the passkey word for this comment was "unick." Huh.

Myrhaf said...

Page was sloppy live, as he was usually stoned and drunk. The recordings, however, are not sloppy.

Joseph Kellard said...

Perhaps "sloppy" is too harsh a word to described Page in his recordings. But I don't consider him a "clean" guitar player along the lines of Robert Fripp, John McLaughlin, Steve Howe and others like them. Of course, they played a different form of rock than Page did. But Page was no Eric Clapton either in the technicality department.

No matter, Page was a great rock guitarist, mainly because he came up with one outstanding riff after another, and I like him that much more precisely because he wasn't "clean.” Just as John Bonham is among my favorite drummers, precisely because he always played at least slightly off beat with the rest of the band, and he had some outstanding fills.

Thomas Rowland said...

As a trained classical pianist there has always been an 'arguement' between those that valued clean, near note-perfect playing and those that valued emotional identification with the music. When I first thought about it (years ago) I thought that this was a false alternative. Why not near-note-perfect olaying AND emotional engagement, together? The great artists in my field strive for that, and some achieve it some of the time. But few achieve it all or even most of the time.

Now I think the demands of playing in public -- or just knowing that millions will be buying the record -- require a degree of focus on note accuracy, particularly when faced with the hightly edited perfect recording that most people hear, that precludes complete emotional commitment.

Myrhaf, I'd be interested in knowing the level of your enjoyment of Page in live concert and on record given your comment.

BTW, a wonderful satire on the "it don't matter what you play as long as the vibe is right on" school is the collection of records made by "Johnathan and Darlene Edwards") years ago.


Myrhaf said...

I don't like the live recordings of Page when he was young and stoned. His more recent recordings are better.

In studio, I think the song "The Song Remains the Same" is one of the best rock recordings ever. It has layers of guitar parts. "Achilles Last Stand" is also impressive. "Since I've Been Loving You" is a brilliant blues song in a minor key.

samaBlog said...

"Queen's homosexual sensibility completely eluded me in the '70s. But then, it was not until years later that I realized I was one of the few straight male high school thespians. All those other guys were flaming gays, and I never realized it."

Really??? Wow...