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Hitch me to your buggy baby, drive me like a mule - Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rabbit Foot Blues

Author Topic: Misogynistic lyrics  (Read 1931 times)

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Online Johnm

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #30 on: June 30, 2017, 11:19:16 PM »
Hi all,
I suspect I'm in the minority, but I'm not a fan of all the explaining of music and lyrics that is being talked about in performance, to counteract the effect of misogynistic, racist, or otherwise potentially offensive lyrics.  To me, such explanation smacks of the performer attempting to distance him/herself from the content of the lyrics being sung, which seems to be exactly the tactic that will sap all sense of the performer's conviction in what he/she is doing.  Moreover, explanation also serves to accentuate the extent to which a performer is standing outside the tradition, commenting on it, rather than being in it.  Can you imagine Skip James explaining the lyrics of "Devil Got My Woman" to an audience in 1931?  What's the explanation for?  The lyric is perfectly clear.

Why not give the audience more credit for being able to figure things out on their own and make their own choices as to whether they consider what they hear something they'd like to hear more of or something they find objectionable?  Apologizing for a violent or salacious lyric, especially in advance of singing it, makes the singing of the lyrics a pointless exercise, because the performer has already distanced him/herself from what is being sung and essentially disavowed it.  And if the potentially offensive lyric is sung without preamble, explanation or apology, it's not impossible that the performer may find himself/herself in the kind of contretemps that Phil found himself in when he sang "Southern Can"--and the resulting dialogue is much more likely to be a two-way street and possibly get at something than an explanation during a performance makes possible.  Explanation puts the performer outside of the music.  Attributing sources is only fair and musical debts to previous performers should be acknowledged, but to my way of thinking that's enough background information. 

All best,
Johnm

« Last Edit: July 03, 2017, 06:20:42 AM by Johnm »

Offline alyoung

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #31 on: July 01, 2017, 05:18:14 AM »
You are absolutely right in theory, John -- but not, I would suggest, in practice. When Skip James sang Devil, he was singing to an audience  of his own culture, and familiar with the genre in which he performed. When most of us Weenies perform in public, we will almost certainly be playing to an audience that knows nothing of the blues culture and little of its music. Under these circumstances, I think you'd be foolish in the extreme to drop Southern Can, Little Boy Blue or their likes on the audience in the same way as Skip James would have sung an unintroduced Devil. "I beat my woman with a single tree/She wouldn't even holler 'cause she's so damn mean." You wanna get up and sing that to a white 21st century audience then expect a civilized "two-way street" discussion? Good luck! I wouldn't even try it. But I agree with you about the negative effects of careful explanations. So, my answer? Easy. Don't sing troublesome lyrics anywhere they're likely to get you into trouble. When I do Little Boy Blue, I don't use the whip/dirk verse anywhere. (I do not think I compromise my performance -- apart from anything else, Lockwood also dropped it eventually.) I'll do All Round Man at some gigs, but not others; ditto Stavin' Chain. It's a simple matter of letting the material fit the gig -- and I suspect that's also exactly what the original blues performers did (witness the bowdlerized versions of Shave 'Em Dry and The Dozens (Dirty Motherfucker), for example.   

Offline Slack

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #32 on: July 01, 2017, 06:03:56 AM »
Fascinating read about your great aunt Stuart, extraordinary!

Online Johnm

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #33 on: July 01, 2017, 06:46:19 AM »
I absolutely agree with the choice you propose, Al.  I think it is far better to choose not to sing troublesome verses/songs, especially if they're not in accord with one's own feelings, than to sing those same verses/songs with an explanation/disclaimer.  If I can't own it, I don't sing it, though I reckon every performer has to come to terms with the issue in his/her own way.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: July 01, 2017, 07:42:23 AM by Johnm »

Offline eric

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #34 on: July 01, 2017, 09:31:33 AM »
Your great aunt was an interesting person, Stuart.  I particularly enjoyed the novel way she dealt with the Rev. Taylor.
--
Eric

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #35 on: July 01, 2017, 10:03:19 AM »
Stuart! Thanks for introducing us to your Great Aunt! She was a true pioneer and human rights hero, and let me add, would not at all be an unfamiliar kind of person to find among my parent's circle of friends, the people I grew up with, who garnered me two playground interviews by men in grey fedoras before I was seven.


PS. Yes Ms. Equi, probably WOULDN'T have pleaded the need for protection from offensive lyrics because to TRUE REVOLUTIONARIES equality of the sexes (and races) was IMPLICIT!
Separatist movements were KNOWN to be manufactured by the power elite for the purpose of dividing the strength of the serious revolutionary movement! 
« Last Edit: July 01, 2017, 10:09:35 AM by Mr.OMuck »
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline chickenlegs

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #36 on: August 05, 2017, 01:41:30 PM »
To the original question? an interesting topic, and a dilemma probably for most anyone who wants to sing these old songs. As for myself, I'll often change or omit lyrics I'm not comfortable with in songs I want to play. For example I have no problem with R. Johnson's "me and the devil" but change the line "l'm gonna beat my woman, till I get satisfied" to "I'm gonna need my woman, ?". Likewise with Patton's "pony blues" (a song I've been attempting for a long time, and wouldn't consider not playing) I don't sing the "but a jet black woman? don't put your hands on me" but instead "? she can be mighty sweet". I can remember wanting to learn Elmore James' version of "it hurts me too" and finding one or two verses personally disagreeable (I can't remember them now) and giving up on it. For me it depends on context. I can usually relate to say? a violent lyric expressed as a feeling or thought but not as an action. But even subtle racism is disagreeable. Again, it's all about context.
I agree with those who say it's a personal choice. I can remember a friend years ago saying that they didn't enjoy Steve James because of all the sexist and violent lyrics in the songs he sang? no matter how good his playing was. Personally, I don't have a problem with other people singing lyrics true to the original song because I can put in the context of the times, just like when I listen to the originals. But the same lyrics in a new contemporary song would be off putting.
As an aside, I remember reading somewhere (I think it was Calt's book on Skip James) that he wouldn't play "special rider" to a college audience because it's meaning in his mind was overtly sexual, and inappropriate for an audience of young people. Truth is, they would have understood it differently and most certainly wouldn't have been shocked or offended.



Offline Rivers

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #37 on: August 07, 2017, 08:05:08 PM »
This Pete Seeger quote came up as I was catching up on this thread:

To make music is the essential thing. To listen to it is accessory.

I so agree with that. I get itchy fingers listening to live music and just want to get out and play myself. Just censor the bad words and ideas you can't embrace, that is totally your choice to make as a player, and damn the torpedoes. Different people will object, either way you decide to go.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2017, 08:07:52 PM by Rivers »

Offline Slack

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Re: Misogynistic lyrics
« Reply #38 on: August 07, 2017, 08:12:44 PM »
Ha!  Don't think I'd seen that - it's a great quote.  Small quival, no disrespect to Pete, --- you've got to listen to it in order to make it.   :P

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