Something is stirring
Shifting ground, it’s just begun
Edges are blurring all around
And yesterday is done
OK, we’ve all, as a nation, been thinking a lot about scenarios in which men attempt to get women to do something sexual. We hear about monstrous predators who wielded great power, in business or society, and used that power to have their way with the significantly less powerful. Such news revelations might (or might not) alter our personal definition of a code of conduct, of what behavior is acceptable during a lust-fed pursuit. But there’s only one question I know you’ve come here to see addressed:
What does this mean for musical comedy writing?
Frank Loesser’s randy duet, Baby It’s Cold Outside, will probably get a lot less airplay this year. I stand by what I said about the witty Oscar-winner two years ago. But contemporary disc jockeys, or whoever it is that programs what songs to play this Christmas, don’t want to remind listeners of the back and forth of a couple that may end up having sex.
Here’s the first song I thought of:
Wish You Were Here is about young single adults at a camp with individual cabins. I love how the score finds so many amusing ways to depict the way real and relatable people mix and mingle. It’s a snapshot of the dating game as it was played, mid-century; I value it as such.
Musicals, quite often, contain romance. Romance, quite often, contains lust. If we’re going to portray lovers in a realistic and recognizable way, sex is likely to be part of the picture. Musical-writers are lucky that there’s a tradition in musicals that a passionate love song is a way of communicating to the audience that sexy stuff has occurred. Think of Younger Than Springtime in South Pacific. Liat, who doesn’t speak English, certainly didn’t give Lieutenant Cable a peck and call it a kiss. (Nor look in his eyes through a lorgnette.) We get it. And it’s infinitely lovelier than any bed tussling in an R-rated movie.
Both Relax (by Harold Rome) and Baby It’s Cold Outside reflect an attitude that there’s something fun and funny about the ways a man might go about persuading a woman to do something naughty. I worry that contemporary sensibilities are stopping some from seeing what’s amusing in this. And what are you going to do, today, if you’re musicalizing a mating dance?
A key component I notice, that separates these songs from the victims of predators, is that the women have agency. There are times – I have it on very good authority – when girls just wanna have fun, in bed. It’s remarkable that these songs from so long ago celebrate the female who consciously says yes. I keep hearing the carping, today, of women who find Baby It’s Cold Outside “creepy.” Which makes me wonder if some song of seduction I’ve written might be considered creepy 65 years in the future. Remind me not to be around for that.
There’s a marvelous number, told from the girl’s point of view, by two old acquaintances of mine, Dennis Markell and Douglas Bernstein, called Joshua Noveck. The adolescent fumbling it describes reminds me of the time I was 15 and asked a girl over to rehearse a kiss for a drama class. But, for those who don’t have a memory of doing anything remotely like that, there is the principle accusation against Al Franken, whose alleged middle-aged minor celebrity insistence on rehearsing a kiss has cost him his job in the Senate. So, the same scenario can be seen through different prisms. When high schoolers practice a kiss for a play, that’s acceptable, innocent. When adult performers on a USO tour do the same, it’s considered conduct unbecoming of a U.S. Senator. And when you mix the two, when an adult government attorney dates high school girls … need I say Moore? Of Alabama? (Oh, don’t ask why.)
A friend of mine was asked what it’s like to be a man in this new age of #MeToo awareness, and, just a few weeks later, was quoted in a major men’s magazine. He’s now embarrassed by what he said, as the ground seemed to have shifted during those few weeks. So, I’m reticent to say much more today, because this all could look insensitive a few weeks from now.
I don’t understand men who find it a turn-on when a woman says “no.” I just don’t. I understand lust – pretty well, I think – but what could be more of a turn-off than an unwilling partner?