‘Got to find a reason for the lady of the night’

I’m writing a big essay about Big D and the Kid’s Table, but until that’s done I thought I’d write something shorter as a filler, and I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a while, so this seems a good time for it. Incidentally, this might be the most antagonistic thing I’ve written, at least in a while, I feel like I should have some kind of warning, ‘careful: feminism ahead’.

Guana Batz are one of the classic UK psychobilly bands, I have the best of album and I love it. It’s mostly simple, stripped down and fairly aggressive, with loads of songs that make me want to dance, and a few slower songs, with an interesting variety of subjects and themes. However, there is one song I really have a problem with, little as I want to.

I have no problems with the sound of Lady of the Night, but the more I listen to it the more the lyrics worry me. The refrain is ‘Got to find a reason for the lady of the night’, and the song essentially tells of the narrator’s struggle to understand why a woman who once turned him down is now a prostitute. It begins with a fairly typical description of a woman as admired by a man, though ‘the big old moon up above, looking lonesome and oh so cold’ is a foreshadowing of what is to come, especially as the moon is such a typically female symbol. The chorus makes it obvious that the woman being watched is a prostitute, a lady of the night, and ‘looks so different in the cold daylight’, ie when she is no longer the object of lust of the male viewer, here the typical stereotypes of the prostitute begin to creep in.

The association of the cold moon and the woman is revealed in the line ‘you know she used to have feelings’, she is being set up as the femme fatale, the hard woman who has done what she had to survive, this seems to be the ‘reason’ the narrator is searching for, but there is more. It become obvious that ‘you could have been away from all this, if you’d only said yes when I asked’, in other words, she rejected the narrators advances, ‘because of her foolish pride’. This pride seems to be the reason the narrator is searching for, though why pride would cause someone to not only reject a man but become a prostitute, after all, it ‘hurts me to see you put yourself through all this’, ie her profession is her choice, is unclear, at least to me. I can’t see the link between pride and a profession so often associated with shame and desperation.

The overall message of the song is clearly that it is the woman’s fault she is a prostitute, because she was proud and she rejected the narrator. I suppose the view is that she thought she was too good for him, but it’s ok because now he’s too good for her. Read like that the song becomes the story of some kind of karmic revenge upon the woman. Apart from the statement that she chose her profession, unless I’m reading too much into that, and ‘chose’ simply means “deserves everything she gets because she had the cheek to turn me down.” Not especially flattering to the male narrator involved, in fact I find it totally disturbing, the song takes, presumably, a strong-willed independent woman and punishes her for that independence, all too like the Victorian morality tales where vanity and pride were the start of the slippery slope to prostitution and death in the gutter.

This impression is aided by the mention of all the troubles she’s faced but no mention of what they are – is she a prostitute to support her habit? Her children? Because she has no other options? If so there is no mention of those factors, just like the Victorians who blamed prostitution on the woman’s nymphomania and vanity, not her lack of skills, job opportunities and extreme poverty. Then there’s the fact she ‘used to have feelings’, so she doesn’t have them any more, which is awful for a number of reasons. 1 – it’s contradictory, because the narrator also talks of watching her ‘put yourself through all this’, implying her situation is as distasteful to her as it is to him, but if she doesn’t have feelings then she wouldn’t care. 2 – more horrible stereotyping of prostitutes, she becomes inhuman in her lack of feelings and connection with the ‘cold’ moon, it’s a type of objectification, perhaps a way of the narrator distancing himself from the lust he still feels for her, despite how ‘different’ she looks from previously. 3 – It’s the same objection as most of my other reason for disliking this song, but seriously, dumping someone makes you emotionless? That’s just stupid.

The more I think about The Lady of the Night the more it annoys me, and though there are lots of different things about it that annoy me they all come back to the same thing – this song is basically a working illustration of the male gaze in effect. This song is not about the woman, not really, it’s totally about the male narrator, and though he may go on and on about the unnamed (of course) woman’s terrible pride, really his whole motivation seems to be revenge and wounded pride. And why does he need to find a reason for the woman being a prostitute? She dumped him, she shouldn’t be anything to do with him any more. I think he needs to find a reason so that his pride can heal, and the fact that she became a prostitute after dumping him, though there’s absolutely no proof in the song that the two are in any way related, is some kind of odd boost to his ego. Again, everything in the song is about the man, and I thinks it’s this that makes me dislike it so much, be self-obsessed if you like, but don’t pretend to be concerned about someone else to cover up that self-obsession.

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Zombina and the Skeletones: Out of the Crypt and Into Your Heart

Getting hold of this album was a saga in itself, I trawled the internet and Camden to find either of the previous two albums, turned up in Camden twice to find that All Ages Records was closed, the online store for some reason was not liking PayPal, but, finally, ordered online and about a week later than I was expecting it, Out of the Crypt and Into Your Heart arrived this morning. I heard about Zombina and the Skeletones though LastFM, it recommended them to me as similar to The Horrorpops, it took one song for me to begin the epic quest that eventually led to me getting hold of this album.

My initial impression was ‘this is great fun’, and it really is, Dracula Blood is a perfect first track, fast, short and dancy in a way that reminds me of Shake by The Creepshow. Zombina’s voice is great, and hugely varied, the styles of all the songs are varied but not to such an extent that it sounds like different bands, and I really am a sucker for a female fronted band. Interestingly, to me the start of Raised In Hell really sounds like a Rachel Stamp song, a bit of a nostalgia trip to a band I used to adore, it also doesn’t so much have the humour of the rest of the album, Puke It Up probably being the obvious example, ‘My mothers milk was cyanide/ And razors her embrace’ could be straight out of a Rachel Stamp song, and the importance of the keyboard to the sound fits too, but then the in chorus and second verse the tone is lighter and more in keeping with the rest of the album.

The thing that really intrigues me about this album is the voice of many of the songs. Zombina are female fronted, but Doc Horror writes at least a portion of all the lyrics and music, so for example in Flaming Skull there is a gap between the author and performer, the listener hears a woman sing ‘Woah, it ain’t no fun/ I lost my girl to a flaming skull’, but the song is written by a man. This gap can actually distance the listener from the song, reminding them of the fact that Zombina is a persona, or at least an assumed name, but also enabling them to press a fictionalised bisexual or queer gender identity on her that may or may not exist.

The same thing happens in Vincent Price, awesome as the idea of Zombina dressed as Vincent Price is the ‘gap’ is there again, the song is written by Doc Horror, but is nicely averted by King of the Ring, presumably about pro-wrestling. Though written by Doc Horror it is obviously written for Zombina, she is the narrator, and the backing vocals enforce this ‘(True baby, she’s the king of the ring)’, this is especially interesting considering the use of the male title rather than the female. Of course the author is often not the narrator, but with music as opposed to prose or poem it is very easy to confuse the singer with the narrator, especially with the use of first person narration and personal lyrics, something I have addressed previously, and must often be deliberate.

Again I have got distracted and ended up on one of my favourite topics, but I think the point I was trying to make is that Out of the Crypt is a really fun album, and album that make me want to dance, and makes me hope Zombina gets better so I can see them live, but it is also and album with smart, interesting lyrics. Of course this means that I have to begin another epic quest, to get the other albums…