what a babe / by mrm

Sometimes it seems easy to believe that there is a secret cadre of old, white, heterosexual men sitting and smoking cigars on the top floor of some endless skyscraper, organizing and implementing misogyny for the world. Consider music. Historically, the majority of songs that are performed by women are written, produced, distributed, and promoted by men. I think about this when I hear a woman singing about how if her man leaves her she'll die, or how she can forgive him anything, she can't help herself, she loves him so, etc. I think to myself, it's insidious. As a girl, you want to relate to the singer, you want to feel what she's feeling. After all, music is almost more persuasion than narration. But what she's selling is self-abnegation and patriarchy.

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions: "He hit me and it felt like a kiss" was penned by Carole King. Now some may say that the song was meant as protest, or satire. Maybe it was. I certainly don't hear that when I listen to it, much as I would like to.

I don't take my conspiracy theories very seriously, though. Nonetheless, it's nice to have someone come along and flip all that shy-retiring-butterfly business upside down. Enter into my life, Ruth Brown.

I think I just love her. She's sassy and licentious and suggestive and sexy. Sure, she has some songs about moping and waiting and hoping he'll come back, but to my mind she more than makes up for it with her songs about being wild and desiring as well as desirable. But I think my fate was sealed with "That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore." I didn't care for the overall sound of the song - a later work - and the subject matter I thought, at first, was a bit of a yawner. Ruth was waiting for her philandering man to come home, but she knew he never would because [insert title here]. However, at the end of the song, Ruth starts talking. And you understand why she was the original Motormouth Maybelle. She spends the second half of the song talking out the other side of her mouth "Did you see him leave? I hope he had a suitcase, 'cause he's got a one-way ticket. I told the conductor, don't even slow down, 'cause there ain't nothing here for him...any train. Take him out of here. I'm so sick and tired of him playin' me for a fool..." And on an on. For about three minutes. For the first half of the song, the lyrics seem to be mourning the impossibility of the man ever returning, yet vowing eternal fidelity. The second half flips it entirely. The fact that the train doesn't stop here anymore is not only not cause for grief, but in fact is caused by the singer. She is making sure that the train won't stop. The position of the narrator moves from one of victim to agent. I can't help but feel that Ruth's giving the boot to all the men in all the songs who did wrong and thought they could come back home anyway. Fictional revenge on a fictitious character. Fine by me, anytime.