Good Boys Love Certain Whores, In Song At Least

A prostitutes poses in a window.By Frank Balistreri-

I’ve been to Amsterdam, and, yes, I went and looked at the window whores.  They were just as pretty and as not-pretty as all the women I walked past on the street to get there.  There were old girls in sagging nylons, chunky girls in white go-go boots (Those boots were not made for walking.) young, nervous-looking girls in bikinis, strong, chocolaty girls and pasty, bored girls… One girl opened her window to give an older, scruffy-looking man on the street some money.  I wondered if he was a bum, a pimp, a boyfriend, her dad, or some combination.  Really, she was the one I was interested in – not so much in doing commerce with her, but in knowing if she was lovable.

See, I was raised on opera, and in one of my dad’s favorites, La Traviata, the whore is the only true and constant lover.  In La Boheme, Musetta, a kept woman, seems to be the most self-reliant of all the characters.  Certainly, there were also nasty women.  Carmen and Pagliacci’s wife both got what they deserved.  But somehow, the courtesans were noble.  As an innocent kid, I kind of wanted to save one and bring her home with me.

You can imagine, then, how Sting’s “Roxanne” floored me back in 1978.  “You don’t have to wear that dress tonight.”  I had wanted to say those words so many times, but I just didn’t know a sweet, vulnerable, trying-to-act-tough-but-heart-of-gold whore.  Hey, Marshall Dillon had his Miss Kitty.  Why couldn’t I have a sultry woman upstairs to sashay down and give me words of wisdom when I was non-plussed?  Somehow, in my Catholic schoolboy sexual miasma, I didn’t want to get a ho as much as I wanted to befriend one.  Yeah, Sting was going to sleep with Roxanne, not “…share you with anuzzer boy.”  Still, the song comes off more as a declaration of tough-love than as a rant against some ho, or a brag of what one will do to a ho, like I hear in so many lyrics these days.  There’s this ingenuous idea behind it that even the “Love For Sale” woman could be ennobled by true love.

 

“Arty Tart.  Lah Dee Dah!

Can your part be any sadder?”

 

Donovan’s “Laleña”

 

Donovan- Check out the link – had to be the nicest guy to make hit records in the 60’s.  (Well maybe John Sebastian was right there with him.) So when he sang about “Laleña,” he was understanding. “I can’t blame ya!” he said about her whoring.  He understood that “That’s your lot in life, Laleña.”  Of course, a realist would note that her lot in life was drug addiction, poverty or some other form of desperation, but as a romantic kid, it never occurred to me that prostitutes were victims.  I thought maybe they had just had had a few bad boyfriends.  (Duhhh!!!  Still, in a way,  I was probably right.)  I had some kind of Don Quixote’/Cyrano/Hunchback/Taxi Driver syndrome.  Loving a whore was an existential stand.  I dreamt of being the Ho-Frodo, who would wield the one ring to wrench someone from that enemy, real life. Of course, I had too many zits to talk to real girls.

Now, when I listen to the radio, I think the lyricists are doing women an even worse disservice.  The bitches and ho’s in the songs are mercenary pieces of meat. “I got a snow bunny and a black girl, too.” says the protagonist of “Its Hard Out There For a Pimp,” an Oscar nominated rap of a few years back.  The girls don’t have names.  The pimp says they’re lucky they don’t end up dead.  Somehow, because life is rough in his neighborhood, he is exempt from caring.  What a descent, from wanting to save a whore, or at least understand her, to wanting to get some Henessey or Crystal and get busy in a limo with a few.  The dorks with too many zits to talk to girls are being taught to hate them. That’s bad.

The best song lyric about a lady of the evening, and I’ll stand by this assertion as a performer and an English teacher, is “Louise,” written by Paul Siebel and performed most notably by Leo Kottke and Bonnie Raitt.  Here’s a link…

 

“Louise” – Leo Kottke

 

Right away the listener is brought into a sordid, room-by-the-hour world where “Louise is not half bad” is written on the walls and window shades.

“Sometimes a bottle of perfume

Flowers or maybe some lace.

Men brought Louise ten cent trinkets.

Their intentions were easily traced.”

Louise works on the barter system apparently.  This makes her less mercenary, more of a fragile, love-starved waif than a business woman. Probably, I imagine, Louise is insane or mentally-challenged.  I remember a crazy woman who used to dress up in slinky clothes and hang out in a local tavern when I was younger.  Once when “Do the Hustle” came on the juke box and I asked her to dance, she slapped me at my “Do you hustle” inquiry.  I protested that I was just talking about the dance and she smiled and started shaking it.  After, I saw her sitting in the corner, talking to herself.  Still later a guy told me he had seen me dancing with that old whore.   Who knows why she was crazy! Maybe a string of nasty men gave her PTSD like guys named Joe did to the woman in in Nelson Algren’s “Is Your Name Joe?” Read that story if you want your heart wrenched.

When Louise cries, people shrug and think, “Women like Louise, they get by.”  Still, by the end of the piece, when Louise has met a tragic end, “…some cried when she died this afternoon.”  Leo Kottke’s soulful slide guitar evokes the wind, which is “…howling out tonight.” as he sends her off with a “Goodnight Louise, goodnight.”  It resonates with “Goodnight, sweet prince.” Laertes’s send off when the troubled Hamlet finally finds rest in death, or Ophelia’s “Goodnight ladies,” which she chants before she dies.  I wonder why Shakespeare never wrote a tragedy about a whore.  Young men would have loved it.

There’s something noble, honest and charitable about singing a sadly sweet whoresong.  When we insist on being blunt and cynical, we sometimes lower ourselves. Goodnight Louise.  I wish I had been there for you.

 

 

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Posted by at March 28, 2012
Filed in category: Culture, Songbyrds,

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