29 May 2009

Little Richard (1932 – ) and his lyrics.

Richard Wayne Penniman was a Rock-and-Roll singer/pianist and preacher.

In his apprenticeship years, he had toured the southern US in a vaudeville show where he played in drag as Princess Lavonne, ‘the freak of the year’.

Later, as he became famous as Little Richard from 1955, he performed with make-up, flamboyance, high pitched squeals, extravagant clothing and pompadour hairstyle.

Little Richard was certainly out of line with the 1950s concept of masculinity. One of the pioneers of rock and roll, he was unique in purveying an androgynous image.

Two of his hit records have been taken to be about drag queens: bald-headed Sally, and Miss Molly who is addressed as ‘son’. The 18th-century mollies were of course transgendered.

Good Golly Miss Molly
From the early early mornin' to the early early night,
When I caught miss Molly rockin' at the house of blue lights,
Good golly miss Molly, sure like to ball,
A-When you're rockin' and a rollin', can't hear your mama call.

Mama, papa told me 'Son, you better watch your step',
If'n your Papa's Mama had to watch my Papa's step ,
Good golly miss Molly, sure like to ball,
A-When you're rockin' and a rollin', can't hear your mama call.
Long Tall Sally
Well, long tall Sally, she's built for speed,
She's got everything that uncle John need,
Oh baby, yes baby, woo baby, havin' me some fun tonight.

Well, I saw uncle John with bald headed Sally,
He saw aunt Mary coming and he ducked back in the alley,
Oh baby, yes baby, woo baby, havin' me some fun tonight.
W.T Lhamon writes: “Traditional black folk figures scamper through this song in scandalous antics. Uncle John is a stock figure in black lore from the ‘John cycle’ of tales about a slave who outwits the authorities. On this level, the song’s Aunt Mary is a good wife … But ‘Aunt Mary’ is also gay argot for a possessive queen. So she operates on at least two levels, apparent nurturer and drag possessor. In any case, Uncle John in this song is ducking out on Aunt Mary’s authority, whatever she represents. It’s Long Tall sally, ‘built for speed,’ who ‘got everything that Uncle John need.’ But where did Sally come from? Nightmare to to every Aunt Mary, Sally is the newly noticed, old, subtraditional freak. Not only long, tall, and speedy, she’s ‘bald-headed.’ As such, she’s figuratively phallic, flashing in and out of alleys in the hand of Uncle John, that trickster. That is attractive enough in the male-bonding context of the studio where all this cropped up mutually among these men, but there is more. In the transvestite shows of Little Richard’s apprenticeship, baldheadedness was preparation for one’s wigs… Long Tall Sally, in addition to her other meanings, is therefore a transvestite fantasy figure slipping and and sliding through life’s niches. … A transsexual variant of Sambo, and just like this new rock form which her surfacing embodied at this mid-fifties moment of family breakdown, she represents whatever anyone wishes her to represent.”

Richard Penniman is also an ordained born-again Christian. As a reverend, he married Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.

He was one of the first seven inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

  • Marjorie Garber. Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. Routledge. 1992: 302-3
  • Wayne Studer. Rock on the Wild Side: Gay Male Images in Popular Music of the Rock Era. Layland Publications. 1994: p135.
  • Charles White. The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock. New York: Da Capo Press xvi, 282 pp 1994.
  • W.T. Lhamon. "Deliberate Speed: The Origins of a Cultural Style in the American 1950s. Harvard University Press. 2002: 89, 93-95.
 EN.Wikipedia       www.littlerichard.com

28 May 2009

King Rat

Novel by James Clavell, London: Martin Joseph. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 1962
Film directed by Bryan Forbes
Script by Bryan Forbes, based on the novel by James Clavell
134 mins, BW 1965
George Segal plays Corporal King
Tom Courtney plays Lieutenant Robin Grey
James Fox plays Flight Lieutenant Peter Marlowe
Denholm Elliot plays Lieutenant G.D. Larkin
John Mills plays Colonel George Smedley-Taylor
Country of finance: US
Nationality of director: British
Location of story: Changi POW camp, Singapore
Filming location: California, US.


Marlowe, whom Clavell based on himself (Clavell was three years in the Japanese POW camp at Changi), is at first aloof from the US Corporal King, the leading black marketer in the camp, but is eventually drawn into his circle. This brings Marlow to to attention of Lieutenant Grey, the Provost Marshall of the camp who attempts to arrest both of them. The film is set in 1945 leading up to the end of the war.

Sean Jennison(1923 - 1945) Fighter plane pilot and stage entertainer.

There is an extra minor character in the novel.

Sean Jennison was with Marlowe in the same RAF squadron in Java. As a fighter pilot he had shot down three Japanese Zeroes. He was then himself shot down and captured.

The commanding officers within the POW camp selected Sean to play female parts in the camp theatricals because he was one of the youngest men present and because he shaved only infrequently. Sean fought this assignment quite bitterly, but the order was repeated. We “tried to sooth Sean down, but he swore he was going to be the worst actress in the world, that he was going to make sure that he was sacked after the first disastrous performance. We told him that we couldn't care less. His first performance was terrible. But after that he didn't seem to hate it so much. To his surprise, he even seemed to like it. So we really started to work.

It was good having something to do - it took your mind off the stinking food and stinking camp. We taught him how a woman talks and walks and sits and smokes and drinks and dresses and even thinks. Then to keep him in the mood, we began to play make-believe. Whenever we were in the theatre, we'd get up when he came in, help him into a chair, you know, treat him like a real woman. It was exciting at first, trying to keep up the illusion, making sure that Sean was never seen dressing or undressing, making sure his costumes were always concealing but just suggestive enough. We even got special permission for him to have a room of his own. With his own shower.

“Then suddenly, he didn't need coaching any more. He was as complete a woman on the stage as it was possible to be.

“But little by little, the woman began to dominate him off stage too, only we didn't notice it. By this time Sean had grown his hair quite long - the wigs we had were no damn good. Then Sean started to wear a woman's clothes all the time. One night someone tried to rape him.

“After that Sean nearly went out of his mind. He tried to crush the woman in him but couldn't. then he tried to commit suicide. Of course it was hushed up. But that didn't help Sean, it made things worse and he cursed us for saving him.

“A few months later there was another rape attempt. After that Sean buried his male self completely. ‘I'm not fighting it any more,’ he said. ‘You wanted me to be a woman, now they believe I am one. All right. I'll be one. Inside I feel that I am one, so there's no need to pretend any more. I am a woman, and I'm going to be treated like one.”

Sean continued to have identity crises. He was, after all, the only only non-male in a very artificial environment. He could talk to the other actors, but no-one else was in a situation like his. He was so effective on stage that he became the lust object for the camp. Whilst he was the only prisoner to have a room to himself, he could never sleep in it because of the risk of rape.

In 1945, when the war with Japan was over, and allied troops came to free the POWs and send them home, many of the prisoners had difficulty adjusting. Sean had difficulties more than most. The beach was now open for swimming. One day Sean went to the beach, accompanied by homophobic catcalls. He found a quiet spot, put on female clothes for the last time, and walked into the sea.

King Rat was filmed in 1965. The Sean Jennison episodes were in the script from the beginning, but at a late stage, Columbia Pictures executives finally realized that they were present, and Sean was completely removed from the film.

In Hollywood ‘buddy’ films there is often a possibility of reading of reading the relationship between the two leading males as homoerotic. A common diversion from this reading is to have an obvious queer character, often a trans person of some kind. The classic film of this kind is Freebie and the Bean, 1974, where cops James Caan and Alan Arkin go on at each other like a married couple. The diversion is provided by a trans criminal – without the courtesy of a name – who is beaten up and killed by James Caan in the ladies’ room. The relationship between Marlowe and King could of course be taken as homoerotic. Perhaps in 1965, upper management was simply homophobic, without the understanding of the diversions that would become common a few years later.

Given the surname Jennison, Clavell may have had some psychoanalytical theory in mind, but no such thoughts are presented or developed in the book.

25 May 2009

Love Is a Stranger

This is a video about dressing up as a woman, and going out in an expensive car. She even takes off her wig as per the old-time drag performance tradition. And she ends up back in a suit and tie. View it here (You Tube says: Embedding disabled by request, so I can only give a link).

Except of course the person, doing the dressing up, is Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics. Society deems it to be normal when a women dresses in female drag, but a very different thing when a man does the same. A qualification is needed here. After a certain age, women are criticized. Mutton dressed up as lamb.

So what is when a woman dresses up as a woman. Two major terms have been proposed. Autogynephilia and homovestity. The first means getting off on yourself as woman. This is normal behaviour. In men as in women. Except when men do it, psychiatrists and others rush in an attempt to pathologize it. Equally normal is autoandrophilia: getting off on yourself as a man. Whether you are a man or a woman. The second term, in contrast to transvestity, means dressing up as the sex that you are.

When the single and video was originally released in 1982, some viewers thought that the person in the video was male bodied, presumably a transvestite, especially because of the wig removal.

Not that Annie Lennox is all for gender play, at least not for men. The Lyrics of “I need a man” contain:

You should know Im not impressed
cause theres just one thing
That Im looking for
And he dont wear a dress.
I need a man...
I need a man...
Baby baby baby
Dont you shave your legs
Dont you double comb your hair
Dont powder puff
Just leave it rough

11 May 2009

Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.

Cisgendered heterosexual that he is, the younger Mick Jagger did have an ambiance of being androgynous, although not to a degree that compared at all with real gender variance. Androgyny for the cisgendered. Steven Simels in his Gender Chameleons: Androgyny in Rock ‘n Roll, 1985, wrote of Jagger “Hipless and emaciated, possessing lips of such astonishing lasciviousness, that when you put him on stage he resembles nothing so much as some weird mixture of both human sex organs.”

However we must say that the major items below were recorded 1966-70. Very few other rock bands flirted with androgyny until the coming of Glam rock in 1972.
In 1966 of the band dressed as World War II army nurses for the photograph that accompanied the single, 'Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow?'.

In 1967 We Love You, one of the very earliest videos, made in the wake of Mick Jagger's trial for marijuana possession, has Jagger, in the dock, dressed as Oscar Wilde and Marianne Faithful as Alfred Lord Douglas.

The Stone's single, 'Honky Tonk Women', 1969, has been commented on by different writers as being about a drag queen: 'a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis' heaves him 'right across her shoulder ... she blew my nose and then she blew my mind'.

The word androgyny has often been used about the film Performance, 1970, which has Jagger as Turner, a retired rock-and-roll singer who initiates Chas, an on-the-lam gangster into androgyny and fusions of gender and identity. Well, the trailer intimates that. At the end the identities of Turner and Chas have become confused. Which one has been killed? Which one is taken away by the gangsters? This is not really androgyny (man-woman): it is more andrander (man-man). But then there is that bit where Chas is in bed with one of Turner’s women, and with a bit of tricky editing, you think for a moment that it is Turner himself rather than the woman.

Steve J. Spears' stage play, The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin, about a transvestite speech-therapist, which was first performed in 1977, uses both the Rolling Stones' song You Can't Always Get What You Want and Mick Jagger's image as part of the ambience.

The film, Running out of Luck, 1986, features Jagger as himself recording his first solo album in Rio de Janerio when he is kidnapped by a gang of transvestites. This film is so obscure that I could not find either a suitable photograph or clip.

03 May 2009

Naked Came the Stranger

A Long Island housewife, Penelope Ashe, was the author of Naked Came the Stranger, a badly written sex romp, which was published in 1969 and sold some millions of copies.

Not only did Penelope turn out to be mainly a man, she was revealed to be 19 men and 5 women. A group of writers and editors on Newsday magazine organized by Mike McGrady wrote the book over a weekend to demonstrate how quickly a trash novel could be produced. McGuire got his sister-in-law to play Penelope Ashe in interviews.

In 1970 McGrady wrote a book telling how they did it. He later wrote the autobiography of Linda Lovelace who was famous for being in the porn film Deep Throat.

The novel was filmed in 1975, still giving Penelope the credit.