Henry Rollins: The Column! Henry on Why Music Makes Us Lusty
[The one and only Henry Rollins contributes a weekly column and far-reaching reportage to the music section of the LA Weekly. Look for your weekly Henry Rollins fix right here on West Coast Sound every week and make sure to tune in to Henry's KCRW radio show every Saturday evening, or online, or as a podcast, or however else you decided to listen to the most eclectic DJ on LA's airwaves.
One of the many things that music magically conveys is great emotion. No matter what you're going through, there are thousands of songs that address that particular human experience.
But for now, let's focus on one of the major forces in human existence: Lust.
Right up there with greed, sloth and malice aforethought, lust has often driven us to great heights -- and appalling, humiliating lows.
Rarely has one escaped that fairly insane state of lust. You know you're not thinking straight and you don't care. As far as one can fall, looking back, it seemed like the right idea at the time.
Incredibly, many never learn from past experiences and throw themselves without hesitation at that which catches their fancy again and again, caution be damned. Barring real injury, it's a good thing to risk it all now and then and see what strength you possess by leading with your vulnerability. Life is too short for anything less.
Music has been addressing this since the beginning of time. There is not one genre that doesn't have some lustful aspect to it. Music doesn't always need a lyric to convey feelings of great attraction. Some of the most "get down with it" music is instrumental.
There are moments of tango master Astor Piazzolla's indescribably beautiful bandoneón-driven music that so very well capture the humanity, fun and primal urgency of lust that you think he wrote those tunes just for you and the object of your desire. Ravel's Bolero is seduction incarnate. These are just two examples and we're just getting warmed up, so to speak.
Lust can be found in the tone of a player's instrument, be it guitar, piano or voice. It doesn't necessarily matter what is being played or said -- they bring it with them. For example, how about these two words: Jimi Hendrix. Hardly any of his songs don't have that thang thang. The sound of his Stratocaster spoke volumes of raw, reproductive poetics!
Let's go from two words down to one and bring the point home: Prince. Currently punching holes in the roof of L.A.'s Fabulous Forum in a 21-show stand, he is the complete package. Scarily prolific, one of the most dynamic physical performers of all time, an off-the-scale guitar player, amazing drummer, not to mention a musical revolutionary who changed the way the major-label industry operates.
Who knows how many bands and musicians started their own studio, inspired by Prince's Paisley Park? Prince is lust incarnate, a genius and one of the true liberators who used music to uncuff countless millions worldwide. There seems to be no end to his energy and creativity.
One of rock's most enduring and barely-under-the-radar lust engines has to be Little Richard. As gay as the day is long, Richard Penniman was a screaming, piano-rockin' menace to society. His Specialty Records recordings still electrify to this day. He was and is a genius lustorific maniac. On the master take of the song "Tutti Frutti," Richard sings about a girl named Daisy who almost drives him crazy. At 60 seconds in, Little Richard lets it all hang out: "She knows how to love me, yes indeed/Boy, you don't know what you're doing to me!"
Now, if you look this lyric up online, you will see that it is often posted as "Boy, you don't know what she's doing to me!" but that is just not what he's saying. Flame on! Those of you who tend to dig more deeply into things know that on take two of the song, Little Richard changed the lyric on that verse and dodged the "boy" line; perhaps producer Bumps Blackwell got a little nervous. Hell, Joseph McCarthy hadn't been laughed out of town yet!
One of the upsides of progress and social evolution is that they have given women a chance to let their voices be heard. For years, it seemed that it was primarily men who were allowed to let the horse out of the barn. The times they were a-changin': Thanks to bands and artists like Patti Smith, the Runaways, Heart, Pat Benatar, Kim Gordon, Betty Davis and others, women not only started making their presence known but began to establish a female identity that didn't conform to the male's concept of where women in music should be.
In the '80s and '90s, artists like Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, Die Cheerleader, 7 Year Bitch, Frightwig, the Lunachicks, L7, Skunk Anansie, Fire Party, PJ Harvey and the Insaints permanently obliterated any notion that females couldn't rock like hell.
Females singing about their attraction to males and other females alienated some people, which is always a wonderful thing, but it revolutionized women's presence in the music world and put uptight men on notice. I bet Marnie Stern plays guitar better than you, dude.
On this topic, someone who deserves her own paragraph is no doubt Madonna. She took more flak than any woman who ever hit a stage. She didn't flinch. She stood down the world. She did it her way and continues to. She always wins and because of her, countless millions have been inspired.
When Madonna came out with that "boy toy" belt buckle, it seemed that she was submissively caving in to what was expected of a pretty girl. Wrong. It was, in fact, one of the most adroit reversals of power in modern culture. After that, her strength became immeasurable. Her crotch grab was more meaningful than anyone else's. Check your watch -- she just kicked your ass three times.
Thanks to these brave and innovative people and all the others who stood up for their truth and their libido, music remains a most excellent lust accelerant.
And not even 10 Tipper Gores (remember her?) can put the lube back in that tube.