music

Having ‘Juice’ and Being ‘Hard’

In Code of the Streets, Elijah Anderson discusses how poverty, racism, fallout from drugs, and a lack of faith in the criminal justice system in inner cities have resulted in alienation.  The code of the street is a set of informal rules governing interpersonal behavior that act as a framework for obtaining and maintaining respect or “juice.”  The code creates an alternative status system whereby respect is hard won and easily lost.  The presentation of self, such as facial expressions, body language, manner of dress, and word use can signal intentions.  Ignorance of the rules are no excuse; everyone is expected to know the code and behave in the prescribed manner.  

In Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt talks to academics and rappers about representations of masculinity and violence in rap music.  Though the documentary is a bit older (2006), the content is still relevant.  In an interview, rapper Fat Joe talks about how even at music industry events and in night clubs, everyone feels the need to present themselves as “hard.”  Later, rapper Mos Def talks about growing up as a black man you “don’t want nobody taking you for short…but when shit got critical, you can’t be no punk…and you will get tested.”  Hurt also includes discussion of the need for poor men who lack financial power to have control over their bodies and be able to present themselves as deserving of respect.

The Risk podcast, episode 510 “Impulsive,” featured a story called “Judgment Day” by J.J. about his experience coming from inner city poverty, going to college, and returning home to visit.  The storyteller gets in an altercation with a man from the neighborhood and comes very close to killing the man as retaliation for hurting his pride.

Walk on the Wild Side

Lou Reed’s song “Walk on the Wild Side” was recently put under the microscope after being called “transphobic” by a student group.  The original song was released on Lou Reed’s Transformer in 1972.

Lyrics from Genus.com:

Holly came from Miami F L A
Hitchhiked her way across the U S A
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,”
Said “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.”
Candy came from out on the Island
In the backroom she was just everybody’s darling
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, “Hey baby, take a walk on the wild side”
Said, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
And the colored girls go
Doo doo doo…
Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York City is the place where they said
“Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
I said “Hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side”
Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets
Looking for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo
You should have seen him go go go
They said “Hey sugar, take a walk on the wild side”
I said “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side” alright, huh
Jackie, she is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then you know that she had to crash on
Valium would have helped that dash
She said “Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side”
I said, “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side”
And the colored girls say
Doo doo doo…

Students at University of Guelph, Ontario issued an apology on their website for playing the song at a function, stating “We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgment.”  What is considered objectionable was the “problematic” suggestion that transgender people are “wild” and the phrasing “he was a she.”  Note, no mention was made of the use of the word “colored.”

While today the song would probably be phrased differently, contextualized it was very socially advanced for its time.  The Stonewall riots were in 1969, homosexuality wasn’t removed by the American Psychiatric Association from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual until 1973.  Just mentioning transgender people, oral sex, and drugs in a song was controversial.  Lou Reed himself dated a transgender woman for years and was subject to electroshock treatment as a teenager to “cure” his homosexuality.

Most seem to think that the students were overreacting and projecting modern sensibilities. The song still has a lot of power for many young people.  I had one student do a class project about the song just last semester.  Though they might not be representative, most queer and trans people I know thought the censorship was ridiculous and potentially harmful for trans and queer communities.  Friends in bands have pointed out that when they cover the song they just change the lyrics to “she was a she” and “the girls sing.”

Most importantly, Holly Woodlawn, the subject of the first stanza, was interviewed about the song.  When saying the lyrics out loud she says “… was a she” skipping over the “he” in the original, but otherwise enjoying the lyrics.  She said she loves the song because it has given her immortality.

 

Don’t Touch My Hair

Don’t Touch My Hair by Solange featuring Sampha, addressing complexities around black hair.

lyrics from azlyrics.com

Don’t touch my hair
When it’s the feelings I wear
Don’t touch my soul
When it’s the rhythm I know
Don’t touch my crown
They say the vision I’ve found
Don’t touch what’s there
When it’s the feelings I wear

They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know
They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know

You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine
You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine

[Solange & Sampha:]
What you say, oh
What you say to me [x8]

Don’t touch my pride
They say the glory’s all mine
Don’t test my mouth
They say the truth is my sound

They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know
They don’t understand
What it means to me
Where we chose to go
Where we’ve been to know

You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine
You know this hair is my shit,
rode the ride, I gave it time
But this here is mine

[Solange & Sampha:]
What you say, oh
What you say to me [x8]

[Solange & Sampha:]
What you say to me [x16]

The Box It Came In

One of my favorite songs, this was recorded by Wanda Jackson in 1965.  It holds many of the common subjects found in country music, with the overall theme of “It’s All Over” as explored by Peter Lewis, plus a bit of gender based comeuppance at the end.

Lyrics (from metrolyrics):

My clothes are all ragged my goodwill coat’s not the best
And I’m a walking on cardboard in my last dollar dress
I looked in the closet for my wedding gown
But the box that it came in was all that I found
He took everything with him that wasn’t nailed down
Bet he’s got a new sweetheart to fill my wedding gown
But somewhere I’ll find him then I’ll have peace of mind
And the box he comes home in will be all satin lined

He took everything with him that wasn’t nailed down
Bet he’s got a new sweetheart to fill my wedding gown
But somewhere I’ll find him then I’ll have peace of mind
And the box he comes home in will be all satin lined

Columbine Shooting Moral Panic

In Folk Devils and Moral Panics, Stanley Cohen states moral panic occurs when “…[a] condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.”  Moral panics are “extreme social responses to the belief that the moral condition of society is deteriorating at a rapid pace.” 

Three major elements of a moral panic include 1) framing / the role of the media: amplifies and shapes public ideas of deviance, often reinforcing stereotypes, 2) the creation of a folk devil: a target stripped of favorable characteristics, often demonizing certain groups, and 3) policing / the development of new policies to “police the crisis“.

The documentary Bowling for Columbine examines the mass shooting as a catalyst for a moral panic.  The following clip shows some of the elements of a moral panic, primarily the framing and creation of a folk devil, in this case the singer Marilyn Manson.  The policing is hinted at at the beginning of the clip, with calls for school uniforms and use of metal detectors.