I was watching a panel of three self-appointed internet experts ranking all of the Rolling Stones albums from worst to best. Not that I set store in ‘best’ lists but sometimes juicy tidbits are laced into these discussions. This one included the bombshell that Satisfaction was not a very good song.
The Stones have always had trouble playing Satisfaction live and it has not aged as well as some of their other hits. What the experts, whose worldly experience seemed to be bounded on one side by their WiFi routers and on the other by the Men’s Department at Target, are missing is the reason it’s the band’s most famous song.
In 1965 there were 90,000,000 people in the US under the age of 20 and they comprised over 50% of the nation’s population, The only time in history that has happened. The baby boom had been necessary to replenish the cannon fodder lost in World War Two. As the War Machine waited for these kids to mature so they too could be sent to get their heads blown off in the name of freedom, an unintended consequence was spawned. A new marketing demographic called teenagers.
The concept of teenager had not existed until the 1950’s. So much attention was focused on this marketing bonanza’s buying power, it gave us the sense we were in control.
Satisfaction was a clarion call that united youth around the world. It didn’t provide a blue print for what to do but it captured the prevailing mood that things were not right. There was so much to be dissatisfied with we may have overlooked the one thing that did satisfy us: Charlie Watts’ unrelenting beat.
It’s not by hazard that the Antiwar Movement, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation and Earth Day were launched in our adolescence. (We can’t take credit for the Civil Rights Movement, it started to take hold when we were still in our cradles. But it can be said we helped bring it to the forefront in the 1960’s).
To the experts: there’s more to some songs than just melody, beat and structure. And with the passage of time goes the passage of context. Those of us who have trained ourselves not to overexplain suddenly sense the perils of underexplaining. If we don’t set things straight no one will ever understand the “why.”.
In the BBC Series Upstairs Downstairs there’s an episode where Lady Marjorie’s former nanny makes an appearance. She has come to London to care for the new Bellamy granddaughter. When the two are reunited in the morning room at No. 165, all of her ladyship’s refined airs disappear as they greet each other with an affectionate hug.
What follows is the only moment in the entire series where anyone speaks down to Lady Marjorie. As they pull out of their embrace Nanny Webster gruffly chides, “you’re not wearing your foundation garments.”
Lady Marjorie brushes her off with an uncharacteristic giggle, “oh Nanny.”
Foundation garments is what my Grandmother called them too. I would see her wearing them in the mornings scurrying between the bathroom and her bedroom as she prepared to go teach her Trigonometry classes.
Her girdle was such an intimidating piece of armor. Made with industrial strength, rubberized fabric laden with so many buckles and snaps, it looked like something out of a hardware store. From the way Grandmother talked about it and by her actions when she got home you knew it was an uncomfortable apparatus. The minute she came through the door she’d rush to her bedroom to get out of that thing
Girdles were a symbol of the enslavement of women to an unreal concept of beauty invented by men. For that reason they were a source of camp to drag queens. And an object of desire for certain fetishists.
They held no fascination for me. I was so thin I didn’t need one. Size Zero was my Ground Zero. I’ve never worn a girdle in my life.
The other foundation garment that causes consternation as used in drag is the bra. To me the buffoonery of breasts is the height of misogyny. The bigger, the better and the cheaper the laughs. “My bozangas are so big I can’t read the bathroom scales anymore.” Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.
When I did drag I was careful not to mock women. What I made fun of was the artificial expectations put on them by commercial interests (you’re not a true blonde unless you’re a Clairol Golden Shower blonde). Or the affectations they needed to assume to please men (“Bill never has a second cup of coffee at home” which in manspeak translates to “you incompetent bitch.”)
To make fun of a part of someone’s body they were born with and can’t change is dehumanizing. Humor is a means to provoke thought to examine issues. If breast augmentation will make one feel better about themself then go for it. But don’t do it because you’ll be meeting a societal norm that automatically qualifies you as a hot number. Do it on your terms. Whatever you decide after your consultation, walk out of that plastic surgeon’s office humming Billie Holiday’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do.
Although I can categorically say I’ve never worn a girdle there were a couple of times I did do breasts.
Once in the 70’s I went as Jayne Mansfield whose signature look emphasized her 40Ds. She had been killed in a crash in heavy fog when the car she was in going full speed collided with the back of a semi that was almost stationary. The driver never saw it.
The National Enquirer was printing apocryphal stories that the impact of the collision not only sheared off the top of the automobile but also decapitated Miss Mansfield and the pet chihuahua she was holding. The imagery was just too ghoulish not to be used for Halloween.
My outfit included huge blond hair, large breasts, a tight mini sheath and across my neck a big bloody scar. At the end of a leash was a stuffed puppy whose head barely hung on by a couple of threads.
Sadly there are no photos of that outfit. But the image was firmly burned into the memory of my friend Kathy who I met that night. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
The other time I did breasts was to honor Jean Paul Gaultier’s masterful conical bra he designed for Madonna. It was a triumph in absurdity. I wore my cones under a Keith Richards T-shirt.
In May 1972 The Stones released their album Exile on Main Street. The second track was an up tempo rocker Rip This Joint that was perfect for jitterbugging. I had a friend John who was majoring in dance and we’d been talking about this wild footage we’d seen of couples dancing in Harlem in the 1940’s. He knew how to do their moves and proceeded to teach me. We worked up a routine to the Stones new song.
John was a couple of inches shorter than me but solidly built. And because I was slight he had no trouble throwing me all over the place.
One of the best moves was when we went hip to hip. I would jump up to one side positioning my hip on his, clasp my hands around his neck and lay out flat while his hands grabbed my waist to support me. He’d then pull me up torso to torso and with my upper body remaining rigid my legs whipped around to repeat the flat out position on the opposite side. He’d then pull me up again torso to torso and push/toss me backwards. We’d join hands as I landed to continue dancing.
A Lincoln Street party was the first place we did our dance. Everything went fine until we did the hip to hip. To sell the move I envisioned myself as a plank of wood parallel to the floor then trusted that everyone’s hands would be where they’re supposed to be. This night they weren’t. It happened so fast I couldn’t react. In a nano-second my back crashed full throttle against the floor.
I jumped up thinking we’d just continue but immediately bent over gasping for air. I’d had the wind knocked out of me. It was so severe it seemed to go on forever. Gasping and heaving, John finally led me outside into the night air which brought me around. What doesn’t kill us makes us better dancers.
The following month a group of us went to Chicago for the weekend. I planned to stay on through the week because the Stones were coming to town and I had tickets. I had tentative plans to stay with a friend of a friend but hoped to set up something better than that.
John was also in town Friday so we all met at PJs that night. It was the first gay bar I’d been in that was set up for men to dance together. It was always packed and was the prototype for the discos that would spring up in another 3 years.
Someone tipped the DJ to play Rip This Joint and when we heard Mick’s opening “Mama said yeah” John and I hit the floor running. Our dance took up a lot of space and at first people resented us for being floor hogs. But as they watched us dance, the seas parted and everyone got into it. The floor was ours for the next two minutes.
Everything was working as we approached the denouement. The last chorus began “Wham, Bam, Birmingham” to which we held hands face to face in a normal couples position, counting off with our outer foot. Front, Side, Back, Side. When Mick drawled out the last line “Ahhhh, let it rock!” we were back to back, elbows locked so John could forcefully bend at the waist to catapult me into the air.
The sax wailed the closing riff while I did a backwards somersault in midair. I landed grabbing John’s hand to finish the dance. PJ’s ceilings were so low I almost scraped them with my 4″ platforms. But when I nailed the landing, a huge cheer went up and everyone emptied back onto the floor.
It was such a convergence of energy that night. A new Stones album; the anticipation of the Stones arriving in town; a new bar where gay men could dance; the advent of summer; and two men jitterbugging.
John and I enjoyed a limited celebrity after our performance. Smiles, pats on the back, offers to buy us drinks. I was intrigued by the only other guy in the place wearing platforms. Shoes were all we had in common as he sported a look I’d never seen before.
He was 6’4′ with long dirty blond hair and a small moustache. He was wearing double pleated bronze satin pants and a black ribbed knit shirt that was skin tight. His nails were painted a pale ice blue. He offered to buy me a drink and then in calm, measured tones said simply “I liked your dance.” He was so suave, that’s about as exuberant as he got.
His name was Thom, he’d been living in London but was now moving to San Francisco. He’d stopped in Chicago to visit friends before continuing on. He took me back to their place, a goth Victorian reminiscent of the Dakota located in the Gold Coast section of town. His room had no furniture, just a sleeping bag on the beautiful parque floors.
In the morning he gave me his contact information in San Francisco in case I came out. He was probably going to leave that day but if he didn’t he said he’d be back at PJ’s that night. I left, smitten.
I hooked up with my friends, crashed for a while, then we went back to the dance bar that night. John had left town so there would be no more jitterbugging. I was amazed how many guys came up to me and remembered me from the night before. One guy in particular couldn’t stop talking about my dancing. His name was Tom too.
Tom 2 was handsome, had a nice body and affable, easy to hang out with. But not as cosmopolitan as Thom 1. I didn’t want to lead him on too much because if Thom 1 showed up that’s the direction I was headed. After a while it was apparent there would be no Thom 1 so I went home with Tom 2,
His flat was on Halstead and it was big, almost loft like. He had plenty of furniture, an expensive sound system and in his bedroom a king sized water bed. Which is where we immediately headed.
About 5 a.m. he got a phone call. From his excited side of the conversation it was either great news or terrible news. “Ok….ok……ok, ok….ok………okokokok…..ok” When he hung up he turned to me beaming, “I’m a father! I have a son!”
He explained he’d had an affair with a girl before he came out and after he broke it off she found out she was pregnant. She was back in his hometown of Appleton, WI and he promised to be a part of the babies life. What better way to celebrate a new baby than with gay sex, which is what we did.
When we woke up about 10 he remembered he’d told me I could stay with him while I was in town to see the Stones. I just assumed that was off the table because he was driving up to Appleton that day. Then he said “I’m going to give you a set of keys, you stay here while I’m gone.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’d known him less than 12 hours and I was getting keys to the place. We jumped back in bed and had more sex.
Finally at 1 in the afternoon he had to get going. We dressed and went out for breakfast. Then we walked to the car rental place on Broadway to pick up the car he’d drive to Wisconsin. He rented from these people all of the time, they knew him well.
As he filled out the paper work he turned to me and said, “you know what, you’re going to need a car this week too.” So he asked the car rental people to rent him a second car and make me the driver but he would pay for them both.
We both drove back to his place, he quickly packed a bag and then took off. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had an apartment, a car and in two days I was going to my first Stones concert. Plus I was having great sex. I thought, “adult life is going to be so easy.”
I was out every night that week and invariably someone would mention the jitterbug. Then there was talking to Keith on the sidewalk when he called me “baby;” Mick declining my gift of a denim jacket stating I should wear it because I was much more beautiful than him; and honking at Mick on a stroll one afternoon as I drove by in my rental. He answered with a lascivious tongue waging.
The week ended with being introduced to Cynthia Plastercaster. Given her reputation and metier, I expected something tacky and crass. She was the opposite. Soft spoken and kind, she gently tried to persuade me to model for her. I wasn’t ready to go there. Yet.
It felt so magical. And all because of the power of dance.
The last time John and I jitterbugged together was at the Gay Lib Halloween Dance that year. He had his friends in the Theatre Department make him a chicken outfit with beautiful bright yellow feathers. He looked adorable, like a Pez Easter chick.
It was the year I appeared in the Jackie blood stained suit. To get into heavily sedated grief stricken mode I had taken a couple of qualudes. We did jump up on stage to do our dance but John made the executive decision not to attempt the more strenuous moves. Given my impaired sense of balance.
In 1980 I started a new job at a large law firm in San Francisco, Morrison & Foerster. A woman who worked in their law library named Pab had introduced herself at one of the City’s law librarian lunches we both attended. When a position became available in their library she told her boss about me. Her recommendation was based on the fact that we both graduated from Indiana University and she thought I was cute.
Working together a friendship developed. We would sometimes have drinks after work and reminisce about the fun we’d had in Bloomington. She’d been a year behind me and, given it was a campus of 40,000 students, our paths never crossed.
One evening in North Beach she randomly mentioned she’d seen such a cool thing at one of the Gay Halloween Dances. There was this guy in Jackie Kennedy’s pink suit. She said it was shocking, it was even covered in blood stains.
I remained poker faced and offered a bland, “yeah, I was there that night too.”
We were still less than a decade into defining what an openly gay life would look like. There had been enough incidents of heterosexuals “accepting” homosexuals then turning on them to make it difficult to establish trust. The lawyers I was surrounded with were more conservative than any group of people I’d been around in years. I wasn’t sure there were adequate workplace protections if I opened up too much.
.I did not hide the fact I was gay. But for job security I compartmentalized details of my personal life. During my job interview with the head librarian I had not led with the story of how I once wore a replica of Jackie’s pink suit.
As our friendship grew and I gained more confidence, however, I finally confessed to Pab. Over another round of drinks I told her it had been me in the Jackie costume. It was one of those connect the dots moments that happen in movies. Her jaw dropped, she had no clue.
She was so gobsmacked it prompted a confession of her own. She had not really been to that dance. But the next day everyone in her dorm was talking about Jackie Kennedy jitterbugging with a chicken. To be hip she used the incident to pad her social resume. What were the chances anyone would ever fact check a little white lie like that?
In a recent memoir that shall remain nameless (see Stage Fright), Dale Mitchell mentioned my appearance at that Gay Lib Halloween Dance.
We remember things differently. I have no doubt I probably took my clothes off. But it would have been more accurate to say “he stripped down to his pantyhose.” The concept of tights has a more modern, unisex vibe to it and doesn’t carry the misogynistic baggage of bras and girdles. For every Margot Fonteyn in La Sylphide there’s an Errol Flynn in Robin Hood.
And if Mr. Mitchell (aka Miss Thang) really wanted to capture the flavor of the times he could have added “which he wore commando.”