By The Landlord
It's an organ of multiple layers and tones. What could sound more musical? Skin is one of those things that we take for granted, but it surrounds us for every moment of our lives. Cutaneously guarding our muscles, bones, and internal organs, it is an integumentary system made of ectodermal tissue, protecting, insulating, regulating temperature, interacting constantly with the air, and in mammals, more or less covered in hair. From the softness of a baby's buttocks the sandpaper hide of a rhinosaurus, skin is truly an amazing thing. So let's take a closer look at it with a magnificently magnifying video that reveals a tormented landscape of peaks and furrows.
In an endless cycle of renewal, skin cells on the surface are already dead or dying, as the living pushes upwards. But how is skin portrayed in song? Perhaps this constantly changing process has something to do with a theme of restlessness. Why then are so many songs about getting under skin, or getting out of skin, or getting into someone else's skin? But skin is many things. It is sexy, silky and smooth, or it can be burned, scarred spotty or bruised. And in vain attempts to avoid ageing, skin's appearance is an obsession throughout history. One of the earliest descriptions of old and young skin comes in Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale, in which the old knight, Januarie, weds a young bride, May who is in every way, "younge and fresshe". On the wedding night, we get a lurid description of the old man having his way with his new bride, "laboureth he all night" and "the slackke skinne of his nekke shaketh". Shudder. To wipe that image from your mind, things can take an even odder turn. Have a look at this bizarre advert for skin cream from the 1950s where "radioactive" dirt is placed on the lady's face for cleansing. I'm sure her complexion was fairly "glowing" after that:
The internet is all awash with make-up videos and, for those who wish to find it, even spot-squeezing tips. I mean, squeezing one's own is fine, but other people's? It's a fetish that seems to have welled up this pockmarked medium. But of all skin-related themes, colour is possibly the most potent in song. Songs related to race and prejudice will certainly come up this week, though as another theme, you might wish to consider whether the topic of songs are particularly about skin or racism, although of course they do overlap. One of the starkest examples of skin in music came, of course, in the form of Michael Jackson, who claimed he suffer from the pigment disorder vitilego. Perhaps he did. Yet rumours also cover his image that he (and his sister LeToya) used the skin lightening product Porcelana by the vat load. The troubled artist's song Black Or White reminds us that it doesn't matter what colour you are. However many cynics have retorted that in this prejudiced world indeed it doesn't matter, well as long as you're white.
In the world of film, skin in close-up can be extraordinary. Usually sexily perfect, and probably touched up, it is far more interesting when portrayed in its imperfections, blemishes or spots. Beyond all the brutality, pathos and tragedy, Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler (2008) starring Mickey Rourke is remarkable in this respect, focusing heavily on the bruises and sagging fleshy muscles of a retired fighter trying to come back. But most remarkable of all recent movies is Under The Skin (2014), a unique odyssey on the streets and bleak country roads in and around Glasgow, as a series of non-actor characters get strangely seduced by Scarlet Johansson's alien-like character, who later discovers more about her own skin.
Body decoration is perhaps among song's most interesting themes, particularly tattoos. What is it that makes humans want them? Is it about wanting a new identity, or a form of camouflage like tigers, snakes or chameleons? Perhaps songs featuring tattoos or body art will reveal more. On the psychology behind tattoos, I'd recommend checking out the work of photographer Alan Powdrill, who among other projects, has profiled people with all-over body tattoos, but who cover them up during their day jobs, such as being a civil servant.
So to finish, have glance at some more extraordinary tattoos. First up, the political:
Or how about the 3D leg? I still can't believe this one:
Or ... masked man on the arm, anyone?
OK, that's enough tattoos now. This week's skin specialist, examining every pore of your song suggestions is the terrific takeitawayguru. Put forward your nominations below by last orders on Monday, for publication on Wednesday. Let's gather a skinful ...
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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.