If memory serves me, I started reading The Carpetbaggers when I was in the sixth grade. It was not the kind of the book that nice little boys—regardless of how precociously gay they may have been—should have been reading at that age. In fact, the review of the book in The New York Times said it shouldn’t have been printed at all, rather it “should have been inscribed on the walls of a public lavatory.”
I thought it was delicious.
From that point, I moved through Peyton Place, Valley of the Dolls and finally landed on Lady Chatterley’s Lover. There were some tawdrier novels mixed in there, too, but not ones really worth mentioning. It’s unlikely I’ll ever resort to reading those books again in some late middle aged (ok, very late) attempt to reclaim that youth.
But I also had some musical tastes that I continue to revisit from time to time.
They were bit “mature” as well. And by “mature,” I mean kind of “dirty.” In a good way. Down deep, don’t we all like to be titillated? In fact, don’t we find the word “titillating” just a bit, well, titillating?
But good titillation needs to be scintillating as well. (Writing this column just started being fun.) Anybody can say something sexual in nature, but being clever about it takes it from the Trump bus tape to classic Bette Midler.
Before She Bop, Sex and Shoop, as well as more recent ditties that I’d have to ask someone to point out to me, Ms. Midler was singing the Long John Blues, and proving why she is, in fact, divine. Any song about a dentist who is over seven feet tall, giving him four inches on James Comey, makes an impression. So does rhyming “thrill me” and “drill me.”
Dinah Washington did an earlier version of that song, but my Dinah favorite is Teach Me Tonight. She sings, “Graduation’s almost here, my love”—and it has nothing to do with a cap and gown. And if you don’t want to go old school with this one, Amy Winehouse’s cover is outstanding.
Now if you’re still with me, you have at least a half dozen possible YouTube holes to fall into in an act of self-preservation in these very troubled times. You probably have happy holes of your own on YouTube. Take advantage of them.
We’re all going to hear more about grand juries, probable cause, “fire and fury,” miniaturized nuclear warheads, and attack plans on Korea and Guam than we can absorb in a given 24-hour period and still retain our senses. We have to find the balance between being informed citizens and healthy humans. Words help. Music helps. Titillating music helps a lot.
One last reference. Bessie Smith—she sang about buggy rides and needing a little sugar in her bowl. Look her up; give her a try. The world and all its problems will still be there when you get back.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to crawl back to my hole—Bessie’s about to sing “I’m Wild About That Thing.” Keeping it real since 1929.