When last we saw our Goddess, before she did that disappearing trick that she tends to pull when there are big time-consuming changes in the world such as a move of household, a laptop-free trip, or, oh, the beginning of a new semester, she was contemplating men. Not literally contemplating particular men, mind you, but men as a genre, a concept, a phenomenon. More specifically, she was focused on how the world of music might lead us to understand what exactly a man is.
Here is the one thing she can tell you from her explorations: the world of music has not made up its mind.
Who gets to define macho, by the way? Is it the Village People? Or the Rolling Stones? Or the Pogues? And is it better to be Handy or Sweet-Loving? Do we trust Tom Waits or John Brim more when it comes to Ice Cream Men? Are the categories designated by Soul Man, Zydeco Man, Kitchen Man, Television Man, and Magic Man useful for delineating the male gender, or do they function more like that Chinese encyclopedia that Borges mentions and Foucault loves?
And, we are sad to report, the Goddess's collection of pop contemplations of masculinity was not as comprehensive as it could have been, what with omissions of "Stand By Your Man," "Man Out of Time," and other versions of "I'm Your Man"--only to name those left in comments here and on The Art of the Mix. Further exploration of her own archive has led to wonder why she had also left out "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" or Antibalas' "Big Man," not to mention "Cuchy Frito Man" or "What's a Man to Do" or "Love Me Like a Man."
But now is not the time for a wide survey--no no no that boat has come and gone.
Today we need to talk about ZZ Top.
Because that, friends, is an interesting place to think about men. I do not really mean here that very many men who I have encountered are much like ZZ Top, because there is simply not that much facial hair in our world. But as I was listening to the I'm Your Man mix, I came to "Sharp Dressed Man," and it stirred up something old, as though there were something primal about that kind of guitar and that kind of simple drum line and deep voices--something that says: MAN.
Not "man," like the kind of person you would like to have an interesting conversation with, or you would like to glance at while you read the paper and drink coffee on a Sunday morning, or you could spend the better part of an evening talking about why Seabiscuit is a movie you are afraid to go see.
No, instead, I realize that this is a vision of "man" that planted itself in the now solidified inner reaches of my teenage sense of gender identity--the same place where adolescent anxieties and social pressures give you a sense of what to wear and what not to, how to walk if you ever want to have a date, what hair is for and why make-up is important. And so there I was, driving down the road, listening to my mix, a reasonably mature adult person suddenly transformed into a wiggly teenager wondering about what a person of another sex is like.
And really: does every girl go crazy for a sharp-dressed man? and are cheap sunglasses the first thing you go get when you get up in the morning and the light is hurt your head? and does she like whips and chains, whether or not she is all he can manage? and that girl who lives on the hill, is it true her sister will?
It does not matter, because these are songs about innuendo, which felt sly when we all first heard them. Who could believe they were singing about tush, and pearl necklaces, and tube snake boogie on the radio? But they were! And they do. And they get major gigs doing it!
And the odd thing for this goddess, who tends to think of herself as different from that teenager who was mesmerized by these visions of adulthood, is how intensely compelling this music still is--how it can still hit that primal point and ignite something intense. And face it, people: you want to drive around with your speakers amped and your windows down when you listen to "La Grange," and you want to pretend that you can sing like that and play the guitar like that while you're waving your long long beard around. You want to be able to play a retro-looking guitar while wearing hat and gloves. You want to be that kind of man, to know how to live in the world of that kind of man. Even if it is just for a minute or two.