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Archive for June 25th, 2013

Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked,
Money don’t grow on trees,
I got bills to pay,
I got mouths to feed,
There ain’t nothing in this world for free.
  –  Cage the Elephant

It’s time for more songs about working girls, and as usual I’ve tried to get as much variety as possible in both the type of lady (from streetwalker to courtesan) and the musical genre (from jazz to opera).  We’ll start with one suggested by Chester Brown, about a sailor visiting a brothel.  He seems to be one of the type I’ve mentioned before, who are overcome with shame after orgasm:  He jumps up and rushes out, then feels his passion was “wasted” on “love [that] was but a smile”.  Nonetheless, it’s a lovely song.

Pleasures of the Harbor (Phil Ochs)

And the ship sets the sail
They’ve lived the tale
To carry to the shore
Straining at the oars
Or staring from the rail
And the sea bids farewell
She waves in swells
And sends them on their way
Time has been her pay
And time will have to tell
Soon your sailing will be over
Come and take the pleasures of the harbor

And the anchor hits the sand
The hungry hands
Have tied them to the port
The hour will be short
For leisure on the land
And the girls scent the air
They seem so fair
With paint on their face
Soft is their embrace
To lead them up the stairs
Soon your sailing will be over
Come and take the pleasures of the harbor

In the room dark and dim
Touch of skin
He asks her of her name
She answers with no shame
And not a sense of sin
Until the fingers draw the blinds
Sip of wine
The cigarette of doubt
The candle is blown out
The darkness is so kind
Soon your sailing will be over
Come and take the pleasures of the harbor

And the shadows frame the light
Same old sight
Thrill has blown away
Now all alone they lay
Two strangers in the night
Till his heart skips a beat
He’s on his feet
To shipmates he must join
She’s counting up the coins
He’s swallowed by the street
Soon your sailing will be over
Come and take the pleasures of the harbor

In the bar hangs a cloud
The whiskey’s loud
There’s laughter in their eyes
The lonely in disguise
Are clinging to the crowd
And the bottle fills the glass
The haze is fast
He’s trembling for the taste
Of passion gone to waste
In memories of the past
Soon your sailing will be over
Come and take the pleasures of the harbor

In the alley, red with rain
Cry of pain
For love was but a smile
Teasing all the while
Now dancing down the drain
‘Till the boys reach the dock
They gently mock
Lift him on their backs
Lay him on his rack
And leave beneath the light
Soon your sailing will be over
Come and take the pleasures of the harbor

And the ship sets the sail
They’ve lived the tale
To carry from the shore
Straining at the oars
Or staring from the rail
And the sea bids farewell
She waves in swells
And sends them on their way
Time has been her pay
And time will have to tell
Soon your sailing will be over
Come and take the pleasures of the harbor

Let’s speed things up a bit now, with two from Street Walker Blues.  This first was very popular with the big bands, though originally written in 1924; it describes a young man who is disturbed by his encounter with an old girlfriend who is now a sex worker.  It’s thus thematically similar to the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold”, written over 55 years later.

Nobody’s Sweetheart (Kahn/Erdman; music by Meyers/Schoebel)

You’re nobody’s sweetheart now,
There’s no place for you somehow,
Fancy hose, silken gowns,
You’d be out of place in your own hometown!

When you walk down the avenue,
Some just can’t believe that it’s you.
Painted lips, painted eyes,
Wearing a bird of paradise,
It all seems wrong somehow,
That you’re nobody’s sweetheart now!

Though we can’t be sure exactly what sort of sex worker “nobody’s sweetheart” was, there’s absolutely no such ambiguity in our next choice:

Down in the Alley (Memphis Minnie)

I met a man, asked me did I want to pally
Yes, baby, let’s go down in the alley
Take me down in the alley
Take me down in the alley
Take me down in the alley
I can get any business fixed all right

I met another man, asked me for a dollar
Might have heard that mother fuyer holler
Let’s go down in the alley
Let’s go down in the alley
Let’s go down in the alley
You can get your business fixed all right

(spoken) Let’s go

When he got me in the alley, he called me a name
What I put on him was a crying shame
Down in this alley
Down in this alley
Down in this alley
Where I got my business fixed all right

You got me in the alley, but don’t get rough
I ain’t gonna put up with that doggone stuff
Way down in the alley
Way down in the alley
Way down in the alley
Lord, my business fixed all right

(spoken) Oh, it’s so dark
Can’t see no light
Got to feel my way out this alley
I’m sure gonna stop walking at night

You took me in the alley, you knocked me down
Now I’m gonna call every copper in this town
You got me down in the alley
You got me down in the alley
You got me down in the alley
Now you got your business fixed all right

(spoken): Boys, I’m sure gonna stop walking,
walking late at night.

Memphis Minnie knew whereof she spoke, because like Edith Piaf she started as a street singer who also turned tricks.  Even once she became part of the Memphis blues scene, she still made more from hooking than from music until she married in 1929.  This sort of casual prostitution by women who don’t primarily identify as whores was probably the most common type throughout human history (and may still be, considering that ten times as many women have taken money for sex than have worked as full-time hookers); it’s always been especially common in the entertainment industry.  A century before Minnie’s time French girls of this type were called grisettes, and this song from The Merry Widow portrays a group who are dancers, B-girls and  whores:

The Grisettes Song (Franz Lehár; French lyrics by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein)

On the boulevard we’re strolling,
Trippel-trippel trippel trapp!
When the gendarme’s out patrolling,
Drop a copper in his cap.
Drop a copper in his cap,
And the gendarme takes a nap!
It’s so cheap to keep him sleeping,
Drop a copper in his cap!

Every night we come to Maxim’s,
Where the night-owls congregate!
Every true insomniac
Is glad that Maxim’s stays up late.
We’re Maxim’s favorite dancers,
We’re cabaret entrancers,
Lolo, Dodo, Joujou, Froufrou, Cloco, Margot.  Et Moi!

Ritantouri, tantirette
Eh voilà les belles grisettes!
Les grisettes de Paris,
Ritantouri tantiri!

Will you buy a poor grisette
A flower or a glass of wine?
Life is not an operetta,
Here you get a check to sign.
Paris isn’t Liechtenstein,
Here you get a check to sign!
We rely on you to buy
A flower or a glass of wine!

We grisettes, we stay so merry,
For you men, you like us so!
Every night the necessary
Glass of sherry, then the show!
We’re Maxim’s favorite dancers,
We’re cabaret entrancers,
Lolo, Dodo, Joujou, Froufrou, Cloco, Margot.  Et Moi!

Ritantouri, tantirette
Eh voilà les belles gristtes!
Les grisettes de Paris,
Ritantouri tantiri!

Translating songs is not easy, and these lyrics are different from those in other English-language versions of the operetta; some of the ones I found online were considerably more coy than these.  That video and the one below were suggested by Dean Clark, with the comment “For your hooker song files.  Opera is full of them.”  The most famous of these is probably La Traviata, from which today’s last selection is drawn; it was adapted from the theatrical version of La Dame aux Camélias (known as Camille in English), Alexandre Dumas, fils’ novel based loosely on the real life of Marie Duplessis, whom we shall meet this coming Thursday.

Sempre Libera (“Always Free”) (Giuseppe Verdi; lyrics by Francesco Piave)

Violetta:  Free and aimless I frolic
From joy to joy,
Flowing along the surface
Of life’s path as I please.
As the day is born,
Or as the day dies,
Happily I turn to the new delights
That make my spirit soar.

Alfredo:  Love is a heartbeat throughout the universe,
Mysterious, altering, the torment and delight of my heart.

Violetta:  Oh! Oh! Love! Madness! Euphoria!

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