When Music Turned to Sex--And Changed the World
They were impossibly young, tremendously gifted, and very, very attractive.
Diana Ross was 20. Mick Jagger was 21. Brian Wilson was 22. Marvin Gaye was 25. The biggest star on stage, Lesley Gore, wasn't old enough to drink or vote.
It was October 29, 1964, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It was the T.A.M.I. show, and for two hours the heavens opened. The gods of the future poured out, strolled among us, and created magic effortlessly. After almost half a century the show has been released on DVD. You must see it. Stop reading this, go buy it or order it on netflix, and then come back here. I'll wait.
The show opens innocently enough, with a long, silly song about the acts ahead. There's lots of surfin' shtick--America was just discovering California.
Out come hosts Jan & Dean, boys in matching polo shirts. They introduce "the guy who started it all back in 1958," and everything changes. Out strides Chuck Berry--38 (oldest performer on the bill), coal-black, legs apart, lascivious grin. After just a few bars about Maybelline, Johnny B Goode, Nadine, and a few other characters, the whole audience (99% white, 97% girls) is jumping, screaming, and shaking. Sweet Little Sixteen, he's leering about you.
In succession, we see the people who defined music for a generation (or two or three or four). White and black, male and female, everyone gets a few songs. And we get the gift of generously long, extreme close-ups, something concert videos no longer provide.
We see raw talent on the verge of ripening, kids who know their future is to be adored by the world. Their confidence is astonishing. They are already cultural hurricanes, and they know it.
Here's what else stands out: every song is about sex, love (including the agonies of infidelity), or both. And so is everything else about the show: the go-go dancers, in high-cut shimmy dresses and low-cut bikinis, shaking everything; the guys' pants, so tight you can tell who's circumcised. At some point almost every performer has a wink, a coy turn of the head, a dropped shoulder, a seductive sigh. These aren't the first sexy singers and sexy songs. But these are kids singing to kids--mainstream kids, thousands of them here, millions of them on the radio. That's news.
Before then, songs were about many things, including love. When teenagers started making records for teenagers, popular music stopped being about anything but love--and sex soon followed. Less than 48 months after T.A.M.I., Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and others went from "Baby Love" to "Back Door Man," from "Judy's Turn to Cry" to "Are You Experienced?"
The Rolling Stones close the show. Jagger is already rubber-lipped, pouting, demanding, already bending bar lines and chords as if obeying a slightly different scale and rhythm than the rest of us.
But the show has already climaxed with the second-oldest guy on the bill--James Brown. He's a force of nature, frenetically dancing in ways white people have never seen. He's sweating, shouting, grunting, dropping to his knees, doing the splits. It's so personal, so intimate, we almost have to look away. It's so powerful we absolutely can't. James is making love to everyone in the audience, to his band, to the girls on stage, to the lights, to the camera. When he's done, helped off with a cape around his shoulders, we are both exhausted and energized. We're coming down from the group orgasm.
Watching this show, you can feel the universe turn. The music, the erotic new dancing and fashions that came with it, the consciousness experiments it predicted well, if you were around just a few years later you know exactly what happened (assuming, as they say, that you remember it).
The internet? IPad? Just little curiosities compared to how that music changed the world.
A few years ago I helped sue the state of Ohio.
I'm proud to say we just won an important victory--something that protects every American.
Like many states in the early 2000s, Ohio passed a law criminalizing the sending of material "harmful to minors" on the internet. There were only 3 small problems with the law--"harmful to minors" wasn't really defined, on the net you can't know who's a minor, and I have the First Amendment right to say what I want if it isn't obscene or libelous.
Other than that, the law was fine.
As the publisher of Sexual Intelligence, I could have been jailed and fined for discussing contraception, sexual assault, testicle self-exams, or nudity. So with the help of the ACLU, I and others sued Ohio to overturn the law.
After the law was overturned, the state variously appealed and rewrote it several times. The most recent form still imposes fines and prison terms for providing non-obscene, sexually explicit material to minors via websites, public chatrooms, and listservs.
Yesterday a federal Court of Appeals ruled that the statute must be construed narrowly. People can only be prosecuted for sending sexually explicit, non-obscene material to a known minor through "personally directed" electronic communication such as person-to-person email. While I don't agree with this approach either, at least it's the same standard restricting what material can be given to a minor in person.
This was one of those laws that attempted to restrict the entire internet to what is appropriate for minors (with "appropriate" being defined by angry people, frightened of sex). It's astonishing that some people would actually point to the bad stuff on the web and suggest that that's a good enough reason to sanitize the whole internet.
Isn't that what the Chinese and Iranians are doing successfully--and which we're bitterly complaining about?
I've been in Graz, Austria since Friday, teaching a couples seminar on Authenticity. We spent today discussing sexuality.
Actually, I did most of the discussing. Talking about sex is not something people in Austria do easily. When they did talk about sex today, it was mostly to discredit talking about sex.
"Asking your boyfriend questions about sex takes the fun away," said one 30-something businesswoman. "Yes," agreed another, "it takes time. And it makes everything too slow." "You just get into hassles," said a tall man from Slovenia in his late twenties. "You say something, she disagrees, and soon you can forget about sex."
As in all my teaching, I used lots of stories and examples about food and eating. "Well, Christina," I ventured, "Say you invite me to your home for dinner. Don't you want to know what I like to eat?" "No," she said, "I'm the cooker, you'll enjoy what I make." "But what if it turns out that I'm allergic to the thing you cook?" "Then you'll tell me when it comes to your plate, and we'll make some change," she said confidently.
"What if you don't have anything else in the refrigerator," I gently persisted, "Or your own food is getting cold while we fix mine, or we both feel disappointed and then we don't enjoy the evening?" "It's not like that here," she said plainly. "People are eating what you make, and if they don't like it, they don't have to always say so." "Wouldn't you rather avoid all this frustration in advance," I asked, "and make it easier for everyone to enjoy the meal?"
"You make too much trouble out of eating," Christina announced. When I reminded the group that this wasn't just a conversation about eating, a Viennese dentist named Hans said, "You make too much trouble out of sex." Everyone laughed at what they felt was the obvious truth of his remark.
* * *
"For most people, emotional isolation is the enemy of sexual satisfaction," I said after lunch. "Let's talk about how we create or maintain isolation."
And we did, mostly in the abstract. Thinking about work or household chores. Worrying about how you look or smell. Nagging concerns about birth control or physical pain.
Then I asked more personal questions--anxiety about erection or lubrication?
People became silent.
Distress about fantasies? About climaxing too quickly, too slowly, not at all?
The silence deepened.
Remember, this is day three of our seminar. And some of these couples have been to my previous seminars in Croatia.
OK, we needed an exercise. "Everybody pair up with someone you don't know," I suggested. "Get a partner, take your chairs, and spread out around the room. Now take turns with this person," I instructed, "And please name a sexual subject on which you and your mate disagree. Each of you take 5 minutes and talk it over."
I poured myself a cup of tea and waited for the magic.
Within seconds the room was animated with talking--German, Croatian, English. When time was up, they didn't want to stop.
"OK, now change your seat so you're in a pair with the person you came with," I said. "C'mon, find your husband, your girlfriend, whatever. You do remember them, right?" I teased.
"Now continue the conversation you were just having," I requested. "You know, talk about those one or two of those disagreements you're having about sex."
And magic happened--the animated talking resumed. Then it faded to an urgent hush. They really were talking to each other.
When I finally ended the exercise--most of the couples just didn't want to stop at first--there were some smiles, some hand-holding, and some tears. I asked people to share what they felt.
"We discovered a misunderstanding," said Johann, beaming. "We each thought the other wanted something that no one really wants!" Great. "We decided to get serious about his vasectomy," said Nadia. Perfect.
"I don't want to say what we talked about," said Fabio firmly. "But we decided it's crazy that you can talk to a stranger but not to each other. We talked honestly and think this may be better. So we're going to do it, starting tonight." "Actually," said Christina, "We already started. I told him I wanted fish instead of schnitzel."
"And," she winked at the group, "I don't mean food."
A woman observing a trial was arrested and jailed for 48 hours because she wore a t-shirt with a political slogan.
Are you curious about the political slogan? Can this be legal? Would you agree that the specific slogan would be a crucial part of the news reporting this story? Now try this actual event, reported in the Chicago Tribune:
"Jennifer LaPenta, 20, was jailed this week by Lake County Associate Judge Helen Rozenberg who held her in contempt for wearing a T-shirt in her courtroom emblazoned with the words: "I have the (slang for female body part) so I make the rules." LaPenta was sitting in the gallery waiting for a friend's case when the judge called her forward.
This is a horrible incident--a judge jailing someone not even on trial because she didn't like the woman's T-shirt. But the Tribune is so busy protecting readers' eyeballs from being burned by the "slang for female body part" that we don't get to evaluate the judge's actions for ourselves. We don't get to be outraged that whatever-the-word-was landed someone in jail.
On the progressive side, the Huffington Post was no better--in fact, they were worse. Huffington ran the headline and lead, then simply directed readers to the Lake County News Sun, which of course couldn't possibly mention the word that made the woman a criminal. Worse, Huffington ran a photo of the woman wearing her T-shirt--with the word blacked out.
In recent years adults have been insulted by media inventions like "the N word" and "the F bomb." These are the same media that are willing to not show 4,000 American corpses being shipped back from Iraq. The media don't trust us. They're busy protecting us from the truth instead of reporting it.
The words on the T-shirt are a crucial detail. Without them, the LaPenta story is reduced to gossip, to a reality show. Instead of being angered, we chuckle.
So here's what the T-shirt said across her chest:
"I have the pussy, so I make the rules."
Not as much as a judge jailing her for it. And not as much as the national media refusing to let us know exactly what happened.