It’s unfortunate, but I am forced to consider matters of sexual content in nearly every form of media when it is in proximity to my children, ages six and two. It’s a shame because it forces my wife and I to take on the role of entertainment babysitter at all times and the only form of relief is when we put the channel on something that’s exclusively for the age group we’ve sired.
What that means is that our television is continually on this shitty network called Sprout and we’ve both agreed that if we ever come across a real world replica of the cartoon character Calliou, we are going to kill and dismember the little bastard.
When it comes to matters of music, it’s a touchier subject. It goes without saying that I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to matters of controlling our family’s musical playlist and, goddamnit, I don’t feel the need to acquiesce when we’re considering what’s appropriate for the ears of our children. After all, I was fucking raised on Sgt. Pepper’s, Beggars Banquet and Jesus Christ Superstar. I’ll be damned if I’m forced to spin Kids Bop or some album by The Wiggles just to ensure our kids aren’t subjected to an f-bomb, a lemon squeeze, or fifty foot queenies.
As a result, my two-year-old daughter now has a penchant for The Runaways.
The entire thing had me considering my own sexuality and how it arrived to where it is today. From what I remember, there was nothing prior to the age of 12 that I recall as being patently offensive. There was the inner gatefold of Alice Cooper‘s Love It To Death (a close-up of Furnier’s made up eyes) that freaked me out and that robot on Queen‘s News Of The World that impaled frightened citizens with his metallic finger, but nothing that ever spoke to me in a sexual fashion.
I’m sure that it had to do with a lack of testosterone production and that would explain why one album, The Knack‘s Get The Knack, shines like a light in my sexual development.
I would have been twelve around the time Get The Knack was released, right around the time my testes began secreting that magic hormone into my bloodstream. To be honest, there were other boys that I’m sure were under the full sway of puberty, already bragging about French kisses and the ass grabbing taking place at the local dance club—In The Mood—that allowed the 13- to 17-year-olds a chance to boogie every Sunday night. On Monday, the few twelve year olds in my class who regularly attended would tell me of their exploits from the night before, leaving me to curse my dad for not letting me go because I wasn’t old enough and because it was a school night.
Then there was Doug Fieger. The Knack’s frontman advised me through headphones that good girls frequently didn’t, that they were occasionally selfish (“she said she’ll make your motor run / now you know she never give you none”), and that they could best be identified as teases (“the flesh is on the bone / and she ain’t givin’ you a bite”). Clearly, the opposite sex would prove to be a lot more cunning than I originally thought.
Around the same time, I discovered Frank Zappa‘s Sheik Yerbouti at one of my parents’ friend’s house. They’d regularly go over to play cards and drink beer and leave me alone with the guy’s massive record collection and his killer stereo system. It was just as much fun for me as my parents, as I’d don a pair of headphones and spend the evening just absorbing every bit of rock and roll that I could.
The owner was a guy that would buy albums five or six deep at a time, and he would put his new releases next to the turntable. On one particular week, the double from Zappa appeared in his new release section. I quickly discovered Frank’s unique humor, and also discovered words like “golden shower,” “poop chute,” and “wrist watch Crisco.” I didn’t know what they all meant, but I knew it wasn’t for my age range. Passing by the living room, the dude noticed I what I was spinning and quietly advised, “You probably shouldn’t be listening to that, man.”
By the time I began to fully understand the sexual urges taking place inside of me, pop music had begun a sonic influx of mixed messages, blatant promiscuity and shaded areas of sexuality.
The obvious contenders—Prince and Madonna—were public enemy number ones for Mom and Dad. The telling thing was how the folks only caught on to them years after we began listening to them.
Madonna’s debut, while low on sexual innuendo, provided girls with a visual ideal that—ironically—many moms viewed as a cute and harmless raid of local Ragstocks and St. Vincent DePaul’s. Soon, every girl began cramming their wrists with bracelets, layering on black lace tops, and mirroring every bit of Madonna’s attire on the “Lucky Star” video. It wasn’t until Madonna began writhing on the floor of the MTV Music Video Award for “Like A Virgin” that moms suddenly began to show concern of their daughter’s listening habits.
Same goes for Prince. “Darling Nikki” got the PMRC up in arms, but we were already discussing the “I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth” in great detail over two years before Tipper Gore caught her daughter spinning Purple Rain. And, in an act of wonderful admiration, Prince released the b-side “Erotic City” at the moment the spotlight was on him. Like any devoted teenager, we strived to “fuck until the dawn / makin’ love ’til cherry’s gone.”
The attention placed on the artists certainly overshadowed a few that were equally “offensive” and just as influential in our Walkmans and Panasonic boom boxes that competed with each other on every football, speech, and debate team bus trip.
There was Prince’s protégé, Vanity 6, who put the fear of limited male endowment with one line on “Nasty Girl.” Vanity herself advised any potential suitors that she needed at least “seven inches or more,” which caused every dude to bring home a ruler from school to measure up behind the bedroom door.
Vanity 6 didn’t just affect the guy’s self-esteem, they (and the subsequent follow-up band, Apollonia 6) showed young high school girls the power of lingerie. As hard as this may seem, I vividly remember more than one party with too young girls wiggling out of their normal clothes after too much Cuervo, revealing newly acquired teddies and camisoles underneath. My fear now is that my daughter will be present at such a party in a dozen or so years.
Prince also had his fingers in one Sheena Easton who advised us men that vaginas were to be referred to as “Sugar Walls” while his contemporary, Morris Day, oozed confidence and other bodily fluids with “If The Kid Can’t Make You Come” on The Time‘s Ice Cream Castle.
With such “lengthy” demands from Ms. Vanity and a laundry list of terminology, techniques and positions from the rest of Prince’s protégés, my attention turned to Terri Nunn. The Berlin vocalist displayed a wiliness to adapt, becoming a geisha, a slut, or a mother depending on the mood (“Sex (I’m A)”) and presenting a compact California body that prompted this Midwestern boy to put her as my “Valentine Wish 1983.” My girlfriend at the time wasn’t pleased. Not that I had chosen to list Terri Nunn in the school newspaper article over her, but that I had chosen someone from such a lame band.
Strangely, why metal is often cited as an unhealthy influence, there were very few of us who considered the blatant misogyny as reality. We knew it was about bravado. We knew it was based on fantasy. But these were two of the same feelings that we had inside. The difference was that the dude’s in metal were like older brothers, preaching the poontang gospel in front of a wall of Marshall amplifiers.
We thought Blackie Lawless‘ claim of fucking like a beast (inspirational verse: “I pound and thrust / And the sweat starts to sting ya!”) was sheer comedy. We considered Motley Crue‘s “Ten Seconds To Love” to be an unintentional ode to premature ejaculation. And we thought there was nothing more laughable than nearly every song on The Mentors You Axed For It!. After all, if dudes that ugly could get chicks, there was hope for us all.
Then there was Bronski Beat, who spoke volumes to gay teens across America during a time when even the slightest hint of effeminacy potentially created four years of hell during high school. While “Smalltown Boy” may not have contained any hint of vulgarism or erotica, it was a critical moment for young homosexuals challenged with managing their hormonal urges and the confusion that came with knowing your attraction didn’t jibe with traditional Midwestern morals.
With all of these conflicting messages, it is a wonder that we were even able to secure relationships with the opposite sex (or the same sex, for that matter) let alone fumble our way through with the actual act. I do attribute some of my own neurosis to the role that music played in my sexual education, but I will not become an advocate for censorship or for parental warning stickers. Even though the sexual content may have grown leaps and bounds in its explicitness and in terms of exposure and availability, it doesn’t negate the role that parents must take in both monitoring and in actual guidance of their children. Believe me, the prospect of actually having do that doesn’t bring me any joy; I don’t look forward to having to explain why Katy Perry liked kissing a girl or why Justin Timberlake feels the need to bring sexy back.
It’s not something that I necessarily want to do, but it’s something that I have to do.
I remember my own conversations about sex with my parents, it was an event that is so perfectly embedded in my mind because it never it happened. There was not one moment that either of my parents ever mentioned the topic. Not even when my parents re-carpeted my bedroom the summer before I entered the 7th grade and my Mom discovered my hidden stash of Oui and Club International girlie mags lodged deep in the bowels of an air vent. The offending pornography was disposed of without a word and a perfect opportunity to discuss human sexuality was squandered.
As far as sexual education within our town’s middle and high school, I can only imagine that our curriculum qualified as one of the worst in the country. Barely a week was devoted to the topic, culminating in a segregated meeting to each gender. We—the boys—were rushed off to a classroom where the head football coach, a transplant from Arkansas who led our school to over a decade worth of losing seasons, began to deliver an obviously uncomfortable lecture on premarital sex.
The coach boiled sex down into two sentences “A male orgasm lasts approximately ten seconds. Those ten seconds is not worth the risk of making a child that you will have to care for, for the rest of your life.”
Or to put it another way, “If you knock up a broad, you won’t have enough time to do two-a-days. Have you seen how shitty we did last season?! I can’t afford to lose talent for a little taste of poontang!”
I don’t know which was worse, that clichéd attempt at a scare tactic or the mixed messages that popular music unleashed on our growing anatomy. Here we had a Southern Baptist football coach that didn’t seem to understand that abstinence was not part of the equation while the auto-reverse of our cassette decks blared continual messages of blowjobs, goodtime gangbangs, and masturbating to magazines.
Years have passed, and I’m now beginning to think ahead as to how a consistent message can be delivered to my own children. One that circumvents both the extremity of today’s popular music (which, at the risk of sounding old, appears to be tenfold more explicit that when I was in high school) and the “community-standards” message that our public school system delivers.
In short, my wife and I will have to deliver the message ourselves. It pains me to admit that probably the best way to instill the values that we want our children to carry is to actually communicate that message, regardless of how tough it may be.
The motivation, of course, is to make sure that neither one of our kids come home with their own version of “Papa Don’t Preach.”