By The Landlord
I remember the very moment it happened. At junior school (ages 4-10) there were crushes. First was seven-year-old Lorraine Hands: tall, long, blonde hair, she was mysterious, didn’t ever look at you, and rarely spoke. She was like a silent film star, a statuesque figure. Later there was Caroline Cotton. Vivacious, pretty, with dark plaits, she laughed a lot, and even joined in with playground football. Boys would inscribe their names in places – on desks, bits of paper, even trees, with two lines just below, just above hers – as a sort of code to express their attraction. I didn’t. What was the point? I couldn’t really come to terms with it.
And there was Miss Birch, a teacher in her early 20s. Definitely beautiful, a little bit Sophia Loren-like. In retrospect, with a name like Birch, you’d wander what sort of punishment she might meter out (steady on, boys) but that sort of thing didn’t cross my innocent mind. She was graceful, calm, patient and kind. The rest of our teachers appeared to be middle-aged battle-axes by comparison, but probably weren’t, however the more muscular Mrs Myerscough certainly inspired fear when she administered punishment with the school’s corporal slipper.
But I think we all sort of fancied Miss Birch. I think many of the girls adored her too. But none of this was lust. It was an understated attraction. It was as much about aesthetics and admiration. But to me girls were still just different. Curious, pretty, but of no real practical interest. I remember one spring day lots of the eight- and nine-year-old girls and boys went a bit sexually crazed, suddenly playing kiss-chase games. Was something in the water? I just thought it was plain stupid. I joined in for a time but was only interested in the running bit, just to show how fast I could move and evade being caught, or being kissed. When I was nine I even received an anonymous love note, but never found out who it was, nor even tried.
And then a little over a year later, aged almost 11, I got up one morning and it was if a switch had flicked. On the way to secondary school all I could see everywhere were womanly shapes - breasts, thighs, bums, curves. It was as if they’d never been there before, but now that’s all there was. I simply could not stop thinking about them. Female teachers, shop assistants, TV presenters, and then on Top of the Pops - Kate Bush, Blondie, Hazel O’Connor. It was years yet before true lust turned into anything real, but that’s another story …
We live in a world of lust - filling the media, advertising, a society of distorted peer-pressure values, especially harmful to women, where so much that is sold is sexed up. It’s a sexualised world, just as Jarvis Cocker put it during a more obscure period between Pulp splitting up and reforming, in the form of his band Relaxed Muscle. I was there for this gig. Wearing this outfit he said, dryly, “my career is dead”, but this song was very much alive:
In such a sexualised media, there is an enormous bias toward the male point of view, and of objectifying women as focus of that lust. It is rare to see lust from a female perspective, unless, for example, you watch Pedro Almodóvar’s passionate, melodramatic films, where the director’s camera focuses as liberally on male crotches as female cleavage. But lust is still a beating heart within us and fuels so much of our motivations and actions. The Greeks were not afraid to write about or portray it. The female poet Sappho was one of the great love poets, yet while Greeks were well ahead of their time in so many things, female lust was seen as dangerous, powerful and unpredictable. It needed to be contained. It was associated with Bacchanalian rites – crazed women dancing around the god Dionysus and likely to tear to pieces anyone in their path – that sort of thing. It's a fear that persists through history.
Mind you, think how far we’ve come since those savage times and how sophisticated we are now:
Lust is always seen as a a bit dangerous. You only need to visit Summerisle during the Whicker Man for that. Watch out, Sergeant Howie, Britt Ekland's doing that dance again.
Lust can get you in deep shit, for sure. In politics it’s almost always a form of quicksand alongside lust for power. From John Profumo’s affair with Christine Keeler to Bill Clinton’s trouser politics it’s always been a sticky affair, and if the White House isn’t stained enough with scandal, when it spills over into impeachment, society is shame-faced all round. The tragedy of lust is that for one party in the affair it can be more about love.
One of lust’s great problems is also how much it is hidden and repressed. A new book out this week – A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston – covers one of the most bizarre and outrageous scandals of the last half century - that of former Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the UK Liberal Party, who had affair with a man in the early 1960s. Homosexuality was only legalised in 1967, so the law, and society were part of the problem, yet Thorpe, as leader of one the most left-wing parties, still allegedly arranged to have this man killed, only for the hired perpetrator to cock up the cover and only kill the former lover’s dog. Lust really is not to be trusted, sometimes.
Yet lust, as one of the "seven deadly sins" is problematic in how it is separated from love, even though it can, for some, be so clearly attached. Lust, has moral stigma. “The desire of love is to give. The desire of lust is to get.” “Lust is wanting to sleep with somebody, love is wanting to wake up with somebody”. The maxims are plentiful. Unless you are William Blake or another self-liberated, enlightened figure, lust’s conflict with love is something deeply embedded in our conditioning, religious or otherwise.
So let’s ask two frank and forthright female artists, who now pop into the bar to tell us what they think about lust. Here’s Tori Amos: “In our minds, love and lust are really separated. It's hard to find someone that can be kind and you can trust enough to leave your kids with, and isn't afraid to throw her man up against the wall and lick him from head to toe.” Blimey. Fair enough. Now here’s Chrissie Hynde: “In my experience lust only ever leads to misery. All that suspicion and jealousy and anguish it unleashes. I don't want those things in my life.”
But lust can also be seen more positively. The Marquis de Sade, not unsurprisingly, is a bit of a fan, though his values were certainly questionable: “Lust is to the other passions what the nervous fluid is to life; it supports them all, lends strength to them all ambition, cruelty, avarice, revenge, are all founded on lust.” But even that rather religious writer, CS Lewis, sees lust akin to his art: “Writing is like a 'lust,' or like 'scratching when you itch.' Writing comes as a result of a very strong impulse, and when it does come, I, for one, must get it out.”
Leaving the lusty CS Lewis to get it out on his own for now, let’s now move hastily on to the music. There are plenty of songs about lust out there, and Sade (the Marquis) might have something there when suggesting that so much of life is founded on it. How many songs are fuelled by desire? Well, more than a few. After all, a song is often a mating call for those who seek satisfaction and can’t get it other than through the music. But what is especially interesting about lust songs is the range of styles they can, as it were, come in. First up, there’s the smooth lust song, slipping off those musical clothes with a silky style. Who better than Marvin Gaye? Let’s get it on, Marv …
Then there’s the plain old sleazy. Here comes Madge. She a woman who knows what she wants.
Then there are songs about random horny meanderings. So you might pick out something like this, courtesy of those fruity chaps, the Stranglers.
Or if it’s libidinous, obsessive frustration you want (who doesn’t?) then Elvis Costello can do the business:
These are just a few examples, but there’s so much more lust out there for you to enjoy (and enjoy responsibly). And who this week will be director of your musical desires and help focus your song fantasies? I’m delighted to welcome yet another new guru to the bar, the musically amorous and excellent AmyLee, who graces this establishment from across the pond. Put forward you lusty nominations until Monday night, in time for AmyLee’s selections to be published on Wednesday. Fancy that!
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.