Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When I was six I fell in love with my first-grade teacher, Dr. Doctor. I didn't realize there were teams and I'd chosen the wrong one: I just went with my heart. Everything I learned about men and women in the ensuing years, though, confirmed that I'd made the right choice.

Some of the differences between the two genders are apparent in the songs they sing. For instance, there's a huge gap between the desires they express in songs that start with "If I." When Pete Seeger sang "If I Had a Hammer," for instance, he spoke for the average male. This gruff dude wanted something simple (a hand tool) for an altruistic reason (to hammer out injustice).

Sure, it's not very exciting for a boyfriend, but if you've got a nail it helps.

Following close behind the hammer is Mr. Seeger's desire for a bell. He's not going to do anything weird with it: he just wants to ring it in the morning and ring it in the evening. I don't know about you, but if my husband harbored a secret innermost desire, I'd be pretty relieved if it was just a brass thing with a clanger. There are far worse things than hubby taking you aside and saying, "Sweetie, I don't know how to break this to you, but I'd really, really like a bell."

Sure, maybe these yearnings don't make a lot of sense. Any woman fighting off injustice would have the sense to wish for a lawyer, or pepper spray. When the Klan is storming down your street with torches lit and you're throwing all your valuables into a pillowcase, it's not going to help things when your man yells out, "Honey, have you seen my bell?" Still, it's a male thing that's endearing nonetheless.

A decade later Johnny Cash is similarly gruff and simple with "If I Were A Carpenter." Women never express desires like this: no, according to TV they just want their families to use less toilet paper, and some Activia. But if Johnny can imagine any crazy scenario in the entire world, he ends up with a chisel in his hand.

If the PC police are around, the second line is a bit problematic:

If I were a carpenter
and you were a lady....
But this is the way dudes are, right? They don't know what they're saying until it's out of their mouths. "I'm imagining a totally unreal, sci-fi scenario," he's telling his squeeze. "Instead of being a singer, I work with my hands. And you, you're a classy female."

Still, I think the theme is there. Men aren't complicated: they just want to make things. They want to help out.

Now, let's bring the ladies into the picture. A couple of decades later, Gladys Knight drew a picture of the world's most perfect relationship in "If I Were Your Woman." The song is cool for roughly six seconds before she drops the rabbit into the boiling water:

If I were your woman
and you were my man
you'd have no other woman....
Got that? That's a typical woman talking. Doesn't that make you yearn for the simplicity of that bell? What Gladys wants is for you to change. "Now that I'm your woman," she snaps, "why do you act the way you do? That's not gonna fly around here, nosirree." Fifteen words out of her mouth and we're in an argument. We're yelling, "Well, Gladys, if you were my woman, you'd have to lay off the french fries. Got that? You think little palm trees on your fingernails will make me forget you got cankles? Not a chance."

Beyoncé offers a similarly bizarre vision and a ditto:

If I were a boy even just for a day,
I'd roll out of bed in the morning
and throw on what I wanted
and go drink beer with the guys.
If this isn't going to scare you gay I don't know what will. Girls, evidently, can't roll out of bed. Or throw on what they wanted. This surprised me, because I never really pictured Beyoncé screaming, "NO! I WON'T WEAR IT! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!" five minutes before TMZ shows her in a skin-tight, sequined tube-top. But Ms. Carter totally gets the male demimonde. She'd fit right in at the old watering hole: "I would like a beer, because I'm a boy!" The only place that's gonna work is on Jerry Sandusky's lap.

If I were a boy,
I think I could understand
how it feels to love a girl --
I swear I'd be a better man.
What's that? Yup, eight lines into the song, thirty years after Gladys, women are still whining. "If I could be a man," she sings, "I'd be better than any goddamn men!" See, you can't do that. You can't say, "If I were an owl, I'd be a flamingo." It doesn't make sense. Maybe she wouldn't have sold as many records, but Ms. Carter would have been closer to grammatical correctness singing, "If I were a chick with a dick."

Anyway, I think the lines are drawn. You don't need to be a college graduate to see the obvious, to see who belongs with who. I'm picturing our ladies at some posh wine bar:

GLADYS: "If I were your woman, you wouldn't cheat on me."

BEYONCÉ: "Girlfriend, if I were your man I would never disrespect you like that."

What do Pete and Johnny think about it? Who gives a fuck? Isn't this a great bell?

1 comment:

Yet Another Steve said...

Why did they ever publish "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" when we have YOU?