Chris Cornell taught me something about sex.

May 18, 2017

I’m not sure what compels me to write when my favorite musicians die. I think it began when Miles Davis died in 1991 and I put on In a Silent Way wrote an ode. When Kurt Cobain blew his brains out in 1994, a local weekly in Atlanta asked me to write a poem in tribute. I had already written it. In this blog I have marked the sociological significance of the passings of David Bowie and Chuck Berry. But waking up this morning to the news that Chris Cornell had hung himself was particularly rough.

0db0941076

Soundgarden is/was in the middle of a tour and, this morning their singer was found dead in his Detroit hotel room. Chris was may age. I might be biased, but I tend to think people born in 1964 are special. It was such an epic year (The Beatles, Dylan, MLK, my birth). This spring, Soundgarden was a booked for a big reunion tour bringing much needed rock to the kids, or at least their parents. He seemed to be back on top.

Others will write about his life or the “Seattle sound.” I was cold on the grunge thing at first because we were trying to carve out our own musical identity in Atlanta at the time and didn’t need the competiton. I was invited to contribute some spoken word to a local compilation in 1991 and I wrote a rant against Seattle that contained the line, “Riding on Tad’s log, lame as Temple of the Dog.” About five minutes later, I was all about Seattle. Turns out I smelled like teen spirit, too.

41rOywjJYlL._SY346_

Others will also write about suicide. I’ve written about my own past with the issue here in this blog and how it unfolded in my first novel, The Mission of the Sacred Heart. The follow up, The Dream Police, ends in a grand climax with the Soundgarden song, “Black Hole Sun” playing. I couldn’t think of a better song to accompany the end of the world, so it’s there as a musical epitaph.

I wanted to write a sex, or more specifically, how one night in Atlanta with Soundgarden pried open my brain about the fluidity of sexuality.

1928699_77638804306_7470876_n

It was March, 1989 and Soundgarden was touring in support of their first album, Ultramega OK.  Neighbors in my North High Ridge apartment (the fabled Treehouse) were probably sick of me blasting it (and extra notch up on “Smokestack Lightning”), but the punk era was over and I was growing my hair long. It was time for bass guitars to rattle the building. Aspersions of the Seattle hype aside, I loved their monster sound that was an alternative to the hair metal that was ruling MTV at the time. This was our music, not theirs. For those of us that grew up on Kiss and The Ramones.

In those days, I went out to see bands play almost every night. So when Soungarden had a gig at the Cotton Club on Peachtree Street of course I would be there. And when they opened with the song, “Gun,” and Kim Thayil’s exploding guitar riff, it was on. I was 25-years-old and pressed against the front of the stage, because that’s the only place to be when a band is splitting the universe open. They were inches away from us and it was one throbbing sea of sweat and hair.

Soundgarden Maxwell's 1989 (1)

Chris Cornell was shirtless, screaming like a banshee, his long brown hair cascading over his shoulders as he leaned back in his Jesus Christ pose. (I think you might guess where this is going.) The music sounded great but I was just captured by him and his charisma. Like the most iconic of iconic rock stars. Like if Ozzy Osbourne looked like Calvin Klein model instead of a puppy dog who had been hit in the head with a ball peon hammer. He was… beautiful.

Let me back up a space and say, at this point, at age 25, I was hyper-hetero. From the first Farrah Fawcett poster on my wall to my questionable antics on the road with the band I was working with, it was never not about being in a “girl-crazy” frenzy. Never even a crack. Sure, Tom Cruise was “good looking,” but I wouldn’t say it without the quotes. I would joke about homoerotic elements of skinhead and fraternity culture and even the mosh pit, and was still working out my own homophobic training. Gay was fine. I loved my gay friends and music idols. It just never was about me.

Chris Cornell cracked that. The memory is as clear as day. I thought, “I’m straight but I think I might make an exception for this guy.” It was the strangest feeling in the middle of a blasting rock show. What was my sexuality? Is he the only guy on the planet I would make an allowance for? He was just so, perfect. Should I try to meet him?

Kinsey_Scale.svg

I didn’t go backstage. Or write him love letters. I kinda forgot about it (at least until the next time I saw Soundgarden play). But I began to question the idea that anybody is exclusively anything as far as sex goes. Around that time I began teaching undergraduate sociology at Emory University and would lecture on the Kinsey Scale. In 1948, the famed sex researcher published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. His findings identified that only about the 10% of the male population was either exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. The other 80% are somewhere in the middle (or asexual). I would joke to my students, “If you haven’t at least one gay thought, you will!” And then I’d make some crack about the repressed sexuality of “brothers” in the “Greek” system. Holla!

gender-gumby

During my tenure at Portland State University, I became immersed in Queer Theory. Queer Theory seeks to break down these arbitrary binaries we place ourselves in. Gender is fluid. How butch are you today? (After blasting Soundgarden all morning, I feel pretty macho, except the moments when I start to sob.) Sexual orientation is also fluid. A lot of dudes like to play this game. – If there’s one guy you HAD to have sex with, who would it be? It’s permission to flirt with Kinsey’s scale. In my PSU classes, I began to utilize Gender Gumby. Gender Gumby is an exercise that allows a person to plot where, in that moment, they fit on a scale of assigned sex (opening the discussion for people who are born inter-sexed), gender identity, gender presentation, and sexual orientation. The beauty of the exercise is that, where you map your gender today may be completely different tomorrow. I would map mine for the students. On sexual orientation, I would make mark pretty close to the “Attracted to females” end of the spectrum, but not at the very end of it. Because of Chris Cornell.

I’m so sad about his passing. I also loved those Audioslave records, and, after some time, came to appreciate the Temple of the Dog album. I saw him many times over the years. Soundgarden played the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The city fenced off an area downtown and forced people to pay to get in. I watched the show, precariously perched on a newspaper box so I could see over a fence. Soundgarden was onstage blasting their wall of sound into the city and Chris saw me straining to see the band. He said something to someone, who came over and let me in so I could watch from inside, safe and fully rocking.  We shared this generation together.

chris-cornell

Gender and sex are complex things, far from black and white. And sexuality is like magma looking for a way to the surface. Horrible things happen when you try to suppress it. (Google “Afghanistan” or “Mississippi.”) It’s not surprising that people are fearful of all that hot lava. Even the most “100% certain” person can be surprised by their own sexuality and where it might take them. I got a lesson about that in 1989 thanks to a killer Soundgarden show and got to let go of that certainty. Thanks, Chris. You were never not really hot. Lava hot.

Advertisements

Farewell to my Good Wife

May 4, 2016

Alicia Florrick, I can’t be ready for court without you.

logo

As a feminist sociologist, I’ve lectured for decades now on the problematic world of television. It’s easily dissected as a tool of patriarchal social control, with the camera lens as a metaphor for the male gaze. As a kid who grew up on incredibly messed-up shows, like Three’s Company, there is plenty to talk about. And don’t get me started on the commercials that still run during daytime soaps. In this blog I’ve taken on current fare like The Bachelor and the short-lived NBC show, The Island. The Miss America beauty contest is still coming to a network near you.

But something has been happening since the days of jiggle TV.

Some of you know I have a toe in the Hollywood pool (more like a cuticle at this point), and it is evident that the “old boy network” that ran the town is caving in. There are more women writers, directors, and producers each year. According to Variety, women now make up 23% of executive producers in TV Land. Variety reports that shows with at least one female executive producer have significantly more female characters. Add to that the long-held knowledge that women watch more TV than men and now we have some programming that would have been hard to imagine when the best thing females had was Charlie’s Angels. Have you seen the Reddit discussions on Comedy Central’s Broad City? It’s off the feminist hook!

MV5BOTI4ODExNTg4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQwNjY4MjE@._V1_UY1200_CR84,0,630,1200_AL_

One of those shows is CBS’ The Good Wife that, sadly, ends its seven-season run on Sunday. I’ll be stuck in front of the TV begging Alicia to run away with Jason into a spin-off where they fight crime on the streets of Chicago. The Good Sex Partners.

The Good Wife hit the airwaves in 2009. I was oblivious. CBS seems to have a lot procedural crime shows that people love, but I just don’t have the time for. You’d think as a criminologist, I’d be all over CSI: Toledo, or whatever it’s called. But I kept seeing the show win awards and my curiosity started to ask, “What’s up with this good wife?” I’d see the show’s star, Julianna Marguiles (who is roughly my age), at numerous awards events, like the Golden Globes, making speeches about women finding new roles in television and I was reminded that this was something I cared about.

So when Andrea and I got pregnant during the 2013 holidays (well, I had something to do with it), I decided we had the perfect opportunity to play America’s new favorite game, binge-watching. It was time to enter the complicated world of one very smart and funny lawyer. While we waited for Cozy to arrive, we burned through several seasons of the show that follows the adventures of defense attorney Alicia Florrick and her legal compadres in a twenty-first century version of Perry Mason. It was clear that the title of the show, The Good Wife, was an ironic one. She performed the role of the good wife to her philandering husband because it served her own interests. Needless to say, we were hooked. How could a network show be this well-written? One more episode.

08GOODWIFEWEB-tmagArticle

As a criminologist, I could have written lectures about crime and the law from these episodes. Topics like the problems of forensic science and eye-witness testimony, institutional racism, intellectual property rights, and the corrosive impact of incarceration were presented by writers who knew the research. Intelligent topics for people looking for something a little deeper than Teen Mom 3. The shows were often “ripped from the headlines.” Even though I was enjoying my paternity leave from Portland State, I was looking forward to bringing Florrick and associates back into my classroom.

13115715_10154086744792593_1444347744_n

Now that Andrea works at a law firm in Portland, it was fun to compare her daily dramas to the nighttime dramas CBS provided. Much law work is really just paperwork. Very few cases ever make it before a judge and especially before a jury. But each case has its own human story about how we manage to exist in such a complex society. Turning that into something that’s actually compelling viewing is the result of some insanely talented people whose names I will probably never know.

As a feminist, there was so much to unpack and debate about this show. For once, a show built around a woman who refused to bend to the will of the men in the cast because she was female. Julanna Margulies played the role with great pathos, including Alicia’s need for another glass of wine or a sexual diversion with her law school sweetheart, Will Gardner. We got to see the world through her lens and it was eye-opening. And she wasn’t the only ferocious female in the cast. Women representing a wide range of ages and skin tones created the type of intersectionality that’s often absent when the the focus is just on gender politics.

the_good_wife_alicia_florrick_jeffrey_dean_morgan_2_1

There are a ton of essays debating feminism on The Good Wife (just click on this word, Google). But the proof is in the pudding. When Margulies says young women regularly tell her that they are going to law school because of the show we know that television can change power structures. An army of female attorneys with an affinity for red wine and lovers on the side is nothing to be trifled with. Like how female TV producers have changed the portrayal of women and girls in media, they will change the very institutions that have worked against the interests of the feminine half of our country. Throw a female president into the mix, and we may hit a critical turning point.

TV shows come and go. I’ve leaned not to get too hung up on their passing. (I still remember bawling my eyes out after the last episode of M*A*S*H.) But Sunday nights at 9 pm have become important, especially for a lot of women of my generation.  They, and their daughters, benefit from something that looks like a grown-up version of the Romper Room mirror. “I see Alicia, and Kalinda, and Diane and Lucca and a world where women are full players in the game.”

And if you’ve never seen an episode of The Good Wife, I have two words for you; binge watch.

the-good-wife-759x500

Prince Died for Your Sins: Prophecy and Phallacy

April 28, 2016

Dearly beloved, I want you to explore the infinite mystery in your own special way, the God power, the cosmic tick-tock, Yahweh, Science, Gaia, the Holy Trinity, the Hubble Array, whatever you want to call it. But I have a little story for you about the prince of paisley.

I had to listen to Prince records in silence. They were too dirty to play out loud. I worked in a record store in the fall of 1981 when Controversy came out. It was Georgia so we couldn’t play it in the store for fear of offending Bible Belt shoppers looking for the new REO Speedwagon album. But we took turns taking the store copy home so we could play “Do Me, Baby” in the privacy of our bedrooms, under the sheets.

daddy_love_me_ep66

There are a million Prince-related stories like that, always about sex and shame and how Prince didn’t give a fuck who or how you fucked. When he died last week, everyone who never saw Purple Rain talked about how much they loved Purple Rain. Somehow the sinful sexuality, the androgyny and the personal freedom that were so despised 30-years ago by the PMRC have become the property of the most uptight unsexy-MFers in the world. Did you know that Matt Lauer was a “big fan”? But I’m here to tell you something different.

Prince is a deity and he died for your sex sins.

How do I know this? Because I am his prophet. I first became aware of his divinity on October 13, 1988. That’s when I saw him in Atlanta on the Lovesexy tour. He arose out of the stage and ascended into the air in a red Corvette, bathed in a celestial purple light. I felt something stir deep inside me. There was a ringing in my ears after the show that said, “Don’t turn away from me. I am the purple light.” But I did just that. I forsook my sex lord.

musicology-4e7881eb3a24e

A few years later, after the Diamonds & Pearls (1991) album, I turned away from Prince and his message of sexual freedom. Oh, sure I’d check in once in a while, I even bought Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999) and Musicology (2004). But of his last twenty-four albums, those are the only ones I let into my world. And my life began to suffer. I experienced copious alcohol consumption, divorce, job loss, I even wore a goatee for many years. All because I let Prince out of my heart.

Then right after he died, a strange thing happened. I was in the laundry room, in the basement of my house, washing whites. Alone. Suddenly a fantastic bolt of light emerged out of the dryer and knocked me off my feet. Standing there was the angel Gabriel, bathed in a purple light, the same light I had seen emanating from Prince in 1988. I could barely breathe. Then, in a high-pitched yet genderless voice, Gabriel said,

“The New Power Generation is here and you will be its leader. I will provide you God’s 23 positions for sexual liberation on 39 golden plates. These verses will become known as The Book of Prince and will lead the rainbow children to the emancipation of Planet Earth and the golden experience of eternal joy.”

And I said, “Right on, Gabe! What do you want me to do?”

eGx5Z3Y2MTI=_o_the-cross-prince-lovesexy-tour-japan

The angel replied, “The new power age will have no churches. There are thieves in the temple. Set up a GoFundMe account and tell each person who sends you $19.99 that, when they die, their souls will be funked up by Lord Prince and they will get off for all eternity.”

The angel then dropped a purple sock into my load of whites, donned a raspberry-colored beret and zapped back into my dryer.

So if you want a funky eternal life, just send $19.99 to: gofundme.com/2chh6ftg

The moral of this story is…

watchtower-ny

All religions are created by people. Prophets are people who other people believe to be divine. Holy books are written by people that other people believe to be sacred. There is no religion without human invention. How do you know that Moses or Muhammad or Joseph Smith or me are or are not actual prophets? You don’t. That’s the value of faith. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion started in the 1870s and run by a group of “Elders” (i.e. people) in Brooklyn who are in charge of telling followers what the Bible REALLY says. And apparently Armageddon is coming any minute, so get out your debit cards. Every single religion is a house of cards built on the work of human beings that claim they speak for God or gods. Religious followers faith is not in God, it’s in the people who invented the religion; faith that they are not con-men.

That does not mean there is no transcendent mystery in the universe that people have called, “God.” It is entirely possible that when you die you get to see your grandmother and your dead cat and get to jam with Jimi Hendrix (Poor dead Hendrix). There may be an intelligent design to this mess after all. Or it might be a lot of wishful thinking that some very clever people have capitalized on. I don’t know. I’m agnostic. Joseph Campbell, who spent his long life studying the thousands of religions in the world once said, “He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows.” I don’t know.

What I do know is that for the last 3000 years, the people who have been inventing religions are mostly men and conveniently created a god that looks like them, typically an old white guy. (For shits and giggles, Google Image “God.”) Jews, Christians, and Muslims learn that God has existed for all eternity and then suddenly created the entire universe in six days. Makes you wonder what God was doing before those six days. Did He Netflix and chill? With himself? Guys.

13000076_607245789426190_1748227186991889519_n

I totally respect whatever you want to worship, whatever your god or gods look like. If you want to pray to a lord that looks like Ewan McGreggor or a god that looks like an overly ripe avocado, I’ve got your back. Just know that unless your are a follower of some ancient pagan goddess, there is or was some dude behind a curtain pulling the levers. This is how we got patriarchy (and Melania Trump).

When you look at child marriage in Pakistan, the arrest of women for having abortions in Northern Ireland, the brothels of India, or Ted Cruz and the normality of rape culture in the United States it starts with the idea that God has a phallus and created MAN in HIS image. As Mary Daly so famously said, “If God is man than man is God.” There’s a ton of celebrated rape in the Old Testament of the Bible, in books written by men.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 11.42.39 PM

So the next time someone wants to use some “sacred scripture” to justify something, especially the oppression of some other group of people, ask who wrote that scripture. The answer is that is was a person, just like Prince. You are free to put your faith in the scribblings of some men from the Bronze Age, or the 1800s (or the 1950s if you are a Scientologist). Or you could put on Prince’s Sign o’ the Times album and find some great wisdom there. It’s pretty much the same thing. The men who wrote Leviticus, the Koran, 2 Corinthians and the Book of Mormon were built exactly the same way as the man who wrote, “Your face is jamming, your body’s heck-a-slamming, if love is good, let’s get to ramming.” So lovesexy. That’s what Lord Prince wants. Believe me, I’m a prophet.

Sex with Elf on the Shelf

December 23, 2014

There are a lot things they don’t tell you about being a new parent. Everybody talks about the sleep thing (so true). What nobody talks about is what happens to your sex life. You’re going full speed in baby-making and then comes the wild and wooly world of pregnancy sex. (I think that’s what Beyoncé meant when she sang, “Bow down, bitches.”) And then screeeeech! Where is THAT movie?

The first two months must be the roughest. You’ve got a baby that wakes up every few hours and screams for mama’s breasts, which, all of sudden, have a new purpose on earth, dammit. And of course the vagina needs some time to recover from a 1-week late kid climbing out of it. That can open up some exciting alternatives if it weren’t for said baby wailing constantly and filling her diaper with sticky poo that requires numerous wipe downs each time. Kinda kills the mood. The bed becomes a sacred place for a few minutes of sleep and only sleep.

Of course, dear sacred mother is dealing with the fact that her body is transformed after 9 months of cooking the kid in oven. Us Magazine will tell you that celebrities get their pre-baby body back in weeks, with the help of a shit-load of airbrushing. Real-world mom has to compare herself to fake supermodel mom and suddenly the lights are off and the culturally produced shame is on. (Personally speaking, I think the post-baby belly is awesome. It’s what the Elizabethans called the “silken layer” and that’s where you will find my hands.)

Once things get settled, the question becomes where to have sex. If the baby is not in eyesight, there is constant fear something might happen. OK, baby is taking a nap in the swing in the living room, let’s shove the binkies and the breast pump off the bed and get busy! Wait, is she still breathing? What if she falls out of the swing? Somebody could grab her! And… we’re done.

In most tribal cultures people just have sex in front of their kids. Everybody lives in the same hut. It’s not like you can send your kid for a sleep-over to the hut down the road. Christopher Columbus remarked on his first trip to the “New” World about how the savages demonstrated none of the decent Catholic guilt around sex and were just out doing it like animals on the TLC channel. That may be a rational option now, but you have to think a knock is coming from Child and Family Services and you’ll have a registered sex offender sign in front of your house. (Has this actually ever happened?)

So the option of having sex with the baby in the room becomes very real and, not surprisingly, is a hot topic for internet discussions. (Apparently, it won’t turn your child into a pervert.) But the logistics of it are a bit different. Where should the baby be? Cozy sleeps in our bed. How do we not wake her? I guess the role play where I’m 49’er panning for gold and screaming “Yeehaw!” is off the table. And what if she wakes up?

Whenever I look at my baby, I’m filled with overwhelming love. But’s not the kind of love you feel when Marvin Gaye is playing. It’s parent love and it warm a smushy and filled with hope and will kill a boner like THAT. Sex requires focus. (Unless you are a guy and trying to prolong things by thinking about taxes. Holla!) The worst is when you are In flagrante and suddenly baby opens her eyes. Elf on the shelf.

elf-meme

I don’t really know how this Elf on a Shelf thing became so big, but there is increasing debate about it. Some sociologists have argued that it prepares kids for an Orwellian surveillance state by reporting their misdeeds back to Santa. The elf is always watching. Well, your baby is always watching, too! And she’s reporting to the mothership of her future subconscious. If papa is slapping mama on the ass and whispering, “Who’s your daddy?” you don’t think baby elf is filing that away for a future therapy session, and making a copy for DHS?

This jujitsu kick the balls of sex-life has to be a temporary thing, right? I mean there is a crib in the other room waiting for this kid to move into and take up residence. We won’t have to worry about Cindy Lou Who waddling in and asking why mommy and daddy are Roman-Greco wrestling? Right? Maybe second babies really do come from storks.

I’m sure there is a culture where they have babysitters that magically appear when parents want to have sex. Japan seems like a likely, bet. But for the rest of us, who have a baby elf staring at us, it’s just going to have to be a little tribal for a while. Don’t tell Santa.