just a couple of thoughts about cold, hot and va-va-voom

Kate’s been thinking about the relationship between cool, hot and va-va-voom here and here. She writes:

I was reaching towards a difference between ‘I am hot because I am 17 and thin and blonde-haired and look like a model in my designer clothes’ and ‘I am hot because I enjoy sex and good food and music and many other pleasurable things’. Is there a difference? I think it’s the difference between being considered sexually attractive, and enjoying sex. It’s the difference between someone who people say is ‘beautiful’ and someone who people say is ‘fun to be with’.

BessieSmith.jpeg I did start to write a really long comment on her post, but then thought ‘dood, you have your own blog’, so here are a words about ‘the blues’ from the 20s, 30s and 40s, and the awesome chicks who sang it.
I’ve done dance classes with ladies from the 40s who sing about making your partner want it/you. In a kind of ‘power’ way: no namby pamby lady-like rubbish. Get him to come get you, or go get him yourself.
Or, as Velma Middleton said (in her 60s), “Daddy… oooh, Daddy, momma wants some lovin'”.
And to quote Rosetta Howard (in Rosetta’s Blues):
I’ll bet my money,
I can take any woman’s man in town,
I’ll bet my money,
I can take any woman’s man in town,
I can take your man,
and I won’t have to run him down.
… followed by…
what’s the matter now?
what’s the matter now?
I took your man,
and how.

I ain’t got no future,
but lord, lord, what a past,
I ain’t got no future,
but lord, lord, what a past,
if the Rosetta blues don’t get you,
no tellin’ how long you’ll last.
AlbertaHunter.jpegBut my favourite is Rosetta Crawford in My Man Jumped Salty on Me where she sings about her ‘viper’ (ie junky) man who jumped salty (ie, he got a bit stroppy with her) on her:

I’m gonna get me a razor,
and a gun,
cut him if he stands still,
shoot him if he runs.
’cause that man
jumped salty on me.
youngAlbertaHunter.jpegThe good thing about all this blues stuff is that ‘singing the blues’ isn’t necesarily about being sad. It’s about singing (and dancing) to get rid of your blues. And because we’re talking 20s/30s, the lyrics are explicit (dang, do a search for ‘Shave ’em Dry’ here for an example), usually really funny, and very sassy. And these chicks kick arse.
And blokes like Louis Jordan (not to mention Fats Waller – who just loooved women. All of them and of course sang the line “Fish is my favourite dish, yeah!”) sang songs like You’re my Meat (which is about 200bpm, high energy and really fun), whose lyrics are as followed:
Outside in and inside out
you’re my meat,
ah, you’re fat and forty,
but lordy,
you’re my meat.
From your feet to your head,
you knock me dead,
you’re my meat,
ah, I got you covered,
but baby,
you’re my meat.
In the days of old
when knights were bold
they were pious and modest i’m told,
don’t you see
that could never be me
I have to talk about your yams
and your big fat hams,
[and we build to a musical climax here. Of course]
It excites me so
because I know
you’re my meat,
fat and forty,
but lordy,
you’re my meat.
Fat and forty,
but lordy,
you’re my meat.
Fat and forty
but lordy, lordy
you are my meat.
FatsWaller.jpegNow it sounds pretty grotty. Because it is. This sort of enthusiasm for generously proportioned women, and the association between sex and food pretty much characterises a fair bit of jazz and blues from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s not.
There is, for example, a version of Hold Tight made famous by the Andrews Sisters which completely ignores the rudeness of Fats’ version. Where he sings “I want some seafood, mamma” and you know exactly what he’s talking about.
There’s a fair number of songs singing about big, fat (and healthy) women, though Lucky Millinder’s Big Fat Mamma is pretty much the clearest: “I want a big fat mamma”.
One of the nicest parts is the way the call and response structure of these blues-rooted songs effectively has the instruments (and vocal chorus, if there is one) saying ‘yes, yes, tell me more’ and often ‘oh yes, I know what you’re talking about’. Incidentally, most of this stuff is sung by black artists. The white doods were much cleaner. Coyer.
And while songs like the Jordan one above might make you cringe with its heterocentrism, there are plenty of songs by women, about women and involving extremely dirty sentiments. The song Sweet Georgia Brown, especially as sung by Alberta Hunter, makes it very clear that this is a woman who can (and does) have anyone she wants. Anyone.
The humour of it all prevents it slipping into painfulness. And if you avoid people like Jimmy Witherspoon (who makes me gag – he quite happily sings about wanting a woman he doesn’t have to beat to get her to behave), it’s all good.
All of this is the sentiment to keep in mind when you watch clips like this:

…ok, I have to go the shops now, but I want to talk about ‘cool’ and ‘hot’ later. There’s some really interesting stuff on the relationship between having a ‘cool’ (ie impassive or just plain cool and laid back) face and ‘hot’ body (ie a body that’s going at mega speeds, or workin’ it old school). There are some interesting things written about people like Snake Hips Tucker, who kept a ‘cool’ face while his body was doing crazy shit.
…but I have to go.
[Edit: Hello there – if you’re interested in this sort of stuff, you might also like to read the (more intelligible) follow-up posts on this topic: a long story about blues, women, feminism and dance and hot and cool.]

3 Replies to “just a couple of thoughts about cold, hot and va-va-voom”

  1. This goes to the heart of some of the most divisie issues in modern feminism: what room is there in the world for female sexuality, and what form can that sexuality take that isn’t totally shaped by the patriarchy? Is there female sexuality outside of the male gaze and objectification? etc.

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