Because it's funny

I'd like to begin my comments by directing you to Sam Lipsyte's post. Next: Have you ever, in the years since your adolescence, relived that adolescent longing to proclaim your own secret clutched desperate euphoric love to all the world, as though the world gave a shit? That's how I feel about the Mekons. I fell in love with them in 1991 and have never gone back. Sure it's unrequited. The best love always is.

Those Mekons have broken my heart with tracks as ancient as "Teeth" (1979) and "Darkness and Doubt" ('85). They did it again when I first heard "Take His Name In Vain," which made me long for religion, almost made me run off and join a nunnery in the hopes of delivering myself up to an ecstatic and shimmering God. An unearthly presence calls out from the song-either the vampire of the lyrics or a charming demagogue or a Tall Grey, hard to choose between them. "I've forgotten more/Than I care to remember/Try to tell me something/Please, please keep trying..." A phantasm glowing up in the stratosphere, barely visible to the naked eye as the moon is rising. A God? A dream of a God, glinting there? It might also be an old piece of Soviet military hardware snapped off a satellite now commanded by Rupert Murdoch. Anyway, a weary idealist invokes the sublime in an exhortation to blaspheme: what could be a more pleasant prospect for a night's entertainment? I say swear till your mouth is aching, then fall asleep as we all float away, arms and legs spread-eagled, into the cold arms of space.

Listening to "Hate Is the New Love," if you choose to disregard the slightly hackneyed title, you can sweep into melancholy on the back of the lyrics sung by always stunning-voiced Sally Timms. "Underneath all this/The only thing that matters is/What and where you born ...cause there's no peace/On this terrible shore/And every day is a battle/How we still love the war." Battle cries are the Mekons' hallmark. When the Mekons rage and mourn all of us Yuppies who yearn for a Western hemisphere that's run by the righteous-or at least reasonable people from Europe-tear up our subscriptions to Self and run out onto the street to lead the mangy stray dogs into warmth and shelter.

Finally there is "Only You and Your Ghost Will Know," which performs the ultimate pop-music service of making the lonely feel romantic about their solitude. I'm not sure there's a simpler or more time-honored job description in the world than this mission of mournful rock and roll, namely to stoke a sweet romance between me and me. "You've got just one sympathetic companion/First the chill and then the stupor/Then the letting go/If you found one thing out on that road/Only you and your ghost will know." How pained I am by my outsiderness, and yet how rarefied is the company! Ghosts and demigods and dead astronauts and criminals and aging communists: enter the Mekons' pantheon and number yourself lovingly among the dispossessed.

There's a lot to puzzle over in this song

Beginning, for me, with why as a sixteen-year-old good-girl college freshman, raised on a steady diet of "Free to Be You and Me" [MP3] by my liberal, feminist parents, I should have been obsessed with it. (Maybe I just answered my own question.) When I originally asked you about the song, I assumed I was interested purely for nostalgic reasons; but having listened to it steadily over the past few weeks, I realize it's also a really good song, in spite or perhaps because of its many textual instabilities.

Just for starters, we are in agreement that limousine floors were made for doin' it, but the verse as a whole may be even weirder than you've mentioned:

If we leave aside the irksome "that," Vanity is, to paraphrase, looking for someone who'll be willing to have sex anywhere - not, as far as I know.

super-rare characteristic in a man - including the most promising locations. So, um, this is hard to come by?

I'm guessing that it's not so much that she has a thing for sailors, as that most of the fellas she's been with have been pretty dumb; so dumb, in fact, that they - well. That's probably the same "sugar" as in Nina Simone's magnificent "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl," [MP3] i.e., some lovin'; and I don't think we have to stretch our imaginations too far to find an analog for the candy cane. These guys are dumber than they are sexy. "That's right," Vanity goes on,

(Still that blasted "that.") So, okay: she hasn't been satisfied with these meatheads, and if the guy she's propositioning isn't afraid, she'll be happy to show him a thing or two. But why would he be afraid? And is she differentiating a real, live nasty girl from a make-believe one? And why, after all, does she pose her nastiness as a question in the chorus? Why, when she's Vanity, for God's sake, does she need some guy to tell her she's a nasty girl from

I like your reading - that she's Vanity channeling Prince imagining what it'd be like to be a woman imagining a guy imagining her as a nasty girl - but I also want to ask, do you really think she wrote this song? Because if she didn't, then it's more like Prince channeling Vanity imagining Prince imagining what it'd be like to be a woman imagining a guy imagining her as a nasty girl. If we were in college, this is the point at which I'd write, "And so, as you see, the text literally deconstructs itself;" and the point at which our TF would make a little red exclamation point in the margin.

I guess the real question is, why so many layers of remove from the central problem of whether others perceive Vanity as nasty? (Both your readings of "nasty" have some truth in them; there may also be a smidgen of the kind of nastiness high-school girls shoot in their little poison-blow-dart comments to each other. The get-down-on-the-get-down kind of nastiness is, as you say, not in actual fact quite as sexy as the "I may look like a respectable citizen but in fac

I like to get down on the get down" type; and perhaps this is what Vanity recognizes when she asks her man to tell her he thinks she's nasty. E.g., "Although I am built like a warrior goddess and am standing here in a black teddy and gloves, do you think I'm sexy?" It's a paradox, parallel to the conundrum of finding a guy who'll be willing to do the nasty any-old-where.) I agree with you about the camouflaged pain and fake smiles; and I also think that if Vanity really is "nothingness" as Denise the Evangelist suggests, this is not the Zen nothingness of your face before your parents were born but the vanitas vanitatum, a deeply Christian reading of the emptiness of the manifest world.

Also, have we talked about the weird little "Please, please" interlude that seems to have come straight out of an Aretha Franklin number? And have we talked about the Inaya Day dance remix? I kind of like it.

On another note, I'm eager to hear what you have to say about the video. I have a few preliminary notes on it:

1) Is it just because I'm a straight girl that I'm totally unmoved by the gyrating bum sequence?

2) What do you make of the costume change? First they're in slutty dresses and then they're in the aforementioned lingerie (with a tail coat? I guess that was sexy in 1982?), but is anything changed by the change?

3) Alex, look at their hair.

Look forward to hearing back from you tomorrow.

Have you heard the Bessie Smith's gloriously vulgar recording of "Need Some Sugar In My Bowl"?

Does that fact that Nina cleaned up the lyrics, four decades down the line, say something about the wax and wane of America's puritanical impulse?

Speaking of same: I think you're right to connect the two songs, but it seems to me that, despite the obvious parallels, they're really quite different: "Sugar" is a sweet and bittersweet song; what Nina "wants" is ""some sugar in my bowl," and "some sweetness down in my soul," and "some steam on my clothes." What Vanity wants is a man who's not too scared to "whip it out" and "do it" on "my limousine floor." Doing without makes Nina feel "so lonely," and "so sad," like someone who hasn't been held or stroked in a long time. Doing without makes Vanity aggressively - well - nasty. (It's worth noting that, working with the same text Nina used, Bessie Smith managed to be far more explicit; is it going too far to say that, for her, "sugar in my bowl" amounts to "ejaculate in my vaginal canal"?) In any case, in lieu of Vanity's nastiness, we have Nina's vulnerability. And in lieu of Vanity's "please," we've got the tension between Nina's carefully-worded "I could stand some loving" and almost- desperate "oh so bad!" The songs have sultriness in common, but Nina's seems to contain more erotic possibilities. Why is that?

My guess is it's because Vanity's relations might just be of power. And here's where things get really interesting: I hedged my bets a bit, in regards to whether or not Prince ghostwrote "Nasty Girl," because I didn't want to assume the obvious: That Prince ghostwrote "Nasty Girl." That he might have done so is interesting - as you say, "Nasty Girl" would then amount to "Prince channeling Vanity imagining Prince imagining what it'd be like to be a woman imagining a guy imagining her as a nasty girl." But given the time Vanity spent in Prince's company (and Prince's bed), it seems possible that she could have anticipated the song he might have written - channeled him channeling her - internalized the hyper-sexual fantasies he was projecting onto her (remember "The Hookers," or Prince's original idea for Vanity's stage name?) - then turned around and asked/begged us to project those same fantasies back onto her. This isn't sex; it's role-playing, and while it might all be benign (it isn't, but let's say that it is), it's still pretty manipulative. In fact, you might say that control, no less than sex, is what "Nasty Girl"'s really all about.

You wrote: "I guess the real question is, why so many layers of remove from the central problem of whether others perceive Vanity as nasty?" Perhaps it's that, for Vanity - a beautiful woman, a nude live jasmin actress, a singer who performs in lingerie and tail-coat, and no stranger to the male (& let's not forget, female) gaze - so much depends upon "the problem of whether others perceive Vanity as nasty" as to obscure whatever extra-sexual virtues Denise Matthews might possess. So much so, perhaps, that the correct answer to "Do you think I'm a nasty girl?" might just be "No, Denise, and I'm not sure your relationship with Prince is doing you much good, either." Cue: "Free To Be You And Me". (Is it a coincidence that the other Vanity record that comes up on Amazon is a death metal album called Enslaved, or that a few years later, Prince magic-markered the word "Slave" across the side of his own face? Like Malcolm said, in a slightly different context, the chickens - they will roost.)) Also, did we forget to mention how funky and fuckish this song is?

Another song that comes to mind is the great Ike & Tina Turner recording of "I've Been Loving You Too Long," [MP3] in which Ike, who renamed and married Tina, then beat, burned, and tortured her, uses the call-and-response form to evoke the relationship a pimp might have with a prostitute. The song derives its charge, in part, from the same sado-and-just-plain-masochistic impulse that drives The Crystal's "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)" - which song would take us another two days to work through. But cue the camouflaged pain and fake smiles, right?

Regarding "please, please" - in his excellent book-length deconstruction of James Brown's "Live At The Apollo" album, Douglas Wolk points out that Brown's position, vis-a-vis his audience, is essentially prostrate:

"I'll Go Crazy" is the first statement here of [Brown's] great theme: you must not leave him. If he stops commanding your attention, the craziness that makes him yowl and moan will consume everything.

Here's Wolk again, on the subject of Brown's knees:

James Brown does not, as a matter of routine, perform without begging, repeatedly. Not being one for half measures, he does not beg without falling to his knees. He falls to his knees half a dozen or so times in every show: on soft wooden floors like the Apollo's, on hard concrete stages, on carpet, on stone, on metal, on earth. Four or five shows a day, three hundred days a year, in the early years. A hundred or more shows a year, even now that he's in his seventies. Fifty years in show business. Imagine James Brown falling to his knees for his audience tens of thousands of times, probably hundreds of thousands of times. Imagine the scar tissue, inches thick, on the knees of James Brown.

As you note, Vanity 6 is something of a warrior goddess - could her begging, then, be another clue to what's going on in the song? Aretha's an interesting analogy, but she seems to me to be more of a proud asserter of her own authority. Still, what does it tell us that Billie Holliday, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Nina Simone, and (I'd guess) Vanity seemed to go for guys who badly misused them?

As for the video:

1) I'm afraid the ass-shaking's not doing it for me. But isn't Vanity a striking woman?

2) The tail coat + neglige is a classic, classy look. Is anything changed? Perhaps it's no more complicated than: The song progresses, the girl undresses. But what's cool about this abbreviated, radio-friendly edit, is the way Vanity and/or Prince save the real filth for the end - a far better form of self-censorship than the constant bleeping you hear in today's "clean version" slow-jams.

3) I know, I know. There's not much to this video. But, really, all that's missing from it is Vincent Price.

Ok, we've got a lot of cans open in front of us. What should we do with the worms? And, I absolutely agree - it's vanity in the biblical sense. But then, what isn't?

Remember Bridge to Terabithia

How the illustrator confessed that she'd drawn all the pictures while listening to... The White Album? Rubber Soul?

Translators don't get their own music-acknowledgments page - but here they are - by popular Moistworks demand - the three songs I had in my head while I was translating Gregoire Bouillier's memoir The Mystery Guest - with matching passages from the book.

She was making a fool of me, a laughingstock, and no one cared because I was such a nobody, I had nothing to look forward to but disaster and humiliation and more bitterness. I was like that general Aoun, shouting defiance from the rooftops of Beirut long after anyone could see it was in ruins. But I stopped my ears against my own misgivings ... I had a rendezvous, even if I didn't know just what I was rendezvousing with. Nothing else counted and nothing could change my mind or turn me around.

"Nothing can change my mind or turn me around" is a phrase you hear a lot in spirituals and gospel - not that The Mystery Guest has anything to do with spirituals or gospel; it just fit. And for some reason the Golden Gate Jubilee Singers are the ones I always hear singing the end of that sentence.