The Bessie Smith version is unbelievable.

I need a little hot dog in my roll? And the whole gruff command bit at the end? How sublime and ridiculous; thanks for attaching it. You're quite right that the emotional valence of "Nasty Girl" and "Sugar in My Bowl" couldn't be more different; though I would argue that across Nina Simone's work, whenever she talks.

about something "down in my soul" she means her hoo-hoo.

Thanks for the Wolk sections on James Brown, as well; they do shed some light on the "I'm down on my knees/I'm begging you please/I say please" bit of "Nasty Girl." Somehow I hadn't managed to connect the "down on my knees" of begging (whether with histrionic or masochistic intent) with the "down on my knees", which Vanity's no doubt referencing. (This would, after all, be one culturally sanctioned way of proving she's a nast

girl.) In both senses that's a nice tie-in to the Prince as (Weird Genius Ambisexual) Pimp scenario you mention, and to the question of whether this is ultimately a song about power. I think it is, and actually a pretty smart one, in that it doesn't assert either of the easy sides of the argument (i.e., either the gazer or she who holds the gaze being empowered) but ricochets between them, which may be why there's that infinite regression in who's imagining what in the song's set-up. What kind of power is it, after all, to be asked to front a band not because of any intrinsic desire or even talent, but because you look the way you do? A certain kind, to be sure.

I'm thinking about that other Vanity 6 song "Drive Me Wild," - musically it's pretty far inferior to "Nasty Girl," and it was written and performed by Susan Moonsie, not by Vanity herself, but I think its subject is relevant. The song's premise is that the singer compares herself to all manner of spanky-new inanimate objects to prove she can please whoever she's talking to. So for example, one verse runs:

Ooh look at me I'm a Cadillac I'm a brand new convertible

Never been driven you're the first

Come on now and drive me wild

Another verse:

Ooh look at me I'm a telephone

Whatever you want just dial

Come on baby please it's so easy

Come on now and drive me wild

There's that "please" again, right alongside the ambiguity of at once issuing commands and comparing oneself to a machine. One thing I'm interested in, in all of this, is that these issues are still so live almost a quarter century later; that for all the reams of feminist (and other -ist) criticism the late twentieth century produced, we've got not just a can of worms but an intractably tangled knot of worms on our hands here. And no, first time out we didn't bother to comment on how funky and fucky this song is. That's so much of its appeal- that for all its (semi-) sinister complexity it's also great to dance to. Which is its own breed of complexity.

I have a piece of unconfirmed trivia: Someone recently told me that the inexplicable line "un chien Andalusia" in the Pixies song Debaser (sort of a reference to "Un chien andalou" and sort of not) was originally "strip Apollonia," Apollonia being the gal who replaced Vanity when she bowed out (and the group became Apollonia 6- still referring, we must suppose, to the breast count).

Our Love Is Rice & Beans

Em, that's a fantastic anecdote, about the Pixies - any sense of how true or verifiable it might be? Because, if the original refrain was "strip Apollonia/oh-ho-ho-ho" - well, that puts "I wanna be/be a debaser!" in a whole new light. Not to mention the bit about "slicin' up eyeballs," which is actually the part of the song that did make sense to me. Incidentally, I spent a long time revisiting the Pixies last year, after (a) Sam Lipsyte got me hooked on Frank Black's solo work and (b) the good folks at Slate asked me to write about the jasminlive band, in the course of which assignment the most interesting thing I ran across was Black's Oulipian approach to age-old problems of form v. meaning. Here's the relevant passage:

On tour, [The Pixies] were known to play their set-list alphabetically, or in reverse chronological order (starting with the encore). In the studio, their lyrics took the shape of anagrams, sonnets, and haikus. For them, meaning was secondary to sound and syntax, and depth was an illusion-what counted was the meticulous construction of surface attributes: not the stock rock explications of what "our love is..." but the sharp enjambment of

"Our songs are random," Black Francis told interviewers. "I write songs by singing a whole bunch of syllables to chord progressions and they become words."

I bring this up, not because I, too, have been self-googling, or because I think Pixies songs are as obscure as they're cracked up to be - e.g., "I was talking to Preachy Preach/About kissy kiss/He bought me a soda/And tried to molest me in the parking lot" doesn't seem to be too hard to decode - but because I think it's interesting that Pixies often did try foil our expectations of what and how a song could mean. Try as we might to push our way into a song like "Debaser," there's Frank Black, pushing just as hard to keep us out (and thereby, interested).

Which brings us in a roundabout way to "the question of whether [Nasty Girl] is ultimately a song about power." You write: "I think it is, and actually a pretty smart one, in that it doesn't assert either of the easy sides of the argument (i.e., either the gazer or she who holds the gaze being empowered) but ricochets between them, which may be why there's that infinite regression in who's imagining what in the song's set-up." That's beautifully phrased, and just right: Infinite regression, and the ensuing layers of ambiguity - aren't those the very reasons it's taking us two days, and six thousand words, to decode a song that takes five minutes to listen to (that is, if you're able to listen to it just once!)? If you'll allow me one more tangent - is it a coincidence infinite regression, and neurotic self-awareness/reflexivity, are also the concerns of some of the more

interesting writers working today?

"Drive Me Wilds"'s another good song to bring into the mix. (I'm curious: Why are you more willing to ascribe authorship to Moonsie than Matthews?) You'd have to rope in R. Kelly:

Girl you remind me of my Jeep/I want to ride you

to come up with a better example of woman-as-commodity-fetish. And, like R. Kelly's song, this one strikes me as especially sad. Look, Moonsies is saying. I know you're going to objectify me no matter what I do or say, so I'm going to beat you to the punch and objectify myself. The world this song is describing is a world in which no one really looks into another's eyes, except to catch their own reflection. And what the song has in common with "Nasty Girl" (or, at least, the interpretation of "Nasty Girl" we seem to be working towards) is internalization, bred of an anticipation which may or me not be rooted in some form of something a more religious man might call despair. Still, I wonder: Can it be yet another coincidence that one punishment for the original fall from grace was the burden of self-knowledge?

I'm out of my depth here, but I do want to address a few of your remaining questions. Re: The Knot Of Worms. Emily, it'd take a better man to untangle it for you. But I'm not sure there is a solution. Members of the Frankfurt School (who would probably approve of this exchange), or feminist theorists (who probably wouldn't) have helped us come up with a way of framing the problem we're touching upon - of keeping it in our heads, and feeling our way around and inside it. But the problem itself is a paradox - a Mexican standoff between Vanity, Prince, and the listener - in which (1) The pseudo-literary construct known as Vanity's existence is predicated on our/Prince's perception of her as a nasty girl, but (2) Seeing Denise Matthews as such tends to strip Denise and Vanity both of any authentic, lasting, communicable reasons to be. Well, the collective efforts of Helene Cixous, Jacques Lacan, and the Baffler boys couldn't get you out of that mess. To quote Vanity's mentor, something in the water doesn't compute. And, I have to ask: Is it one, last, coincidence that Denise Matthew's own, initial impulse was to self-destruct?

Re: Role-playing and puppetry. Did you happen to see Megan's comments on yesterday's exchange?:

Look how nasty Prince is: so nasty he can create a woman who's so nasty she'll go into feeding frenzy for 7 inches or more. But she can't be totally indiscriminate; that would cast aspersions on Prince. Hence, the longing for someone who can do it "real good." And hence the anxiety about what the guy thinks. What is it that Prince is trying to prove anyway?

I think she's on to something here, don't you?

Re: Fellatio. You know, at 33 I don't feel 15 years past my sexual prime. But I have to admit, fellatio didn't even occur to me. Funny, isn't it, that you and I had completely counterintuitive gender-specific reactions. Or, did we?

Re: Nina Simone's "hoo-hoo." Would you mind just saying that again?

Re: Danceability. I referenced the Gang of Four yesterday and, well, their ethos amounted to playing danceable songs in which the undertone was always "Stop! The very thing you're now dancing to is killing you!" A mixed message if ever there was one. But then, there are lots of chaturbate songs like this - songs which use the form against itself. (The first truly political rap song, How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise, by Brother D. with Collective Effort - "While you're partying through the night/The country's moving too to the right" - or even Young Tiger's anti-bebop-"Calypso Be," which you'll find in a post way lower down on this page - both fit the bill.) Which brings to mind an old Ramparts article quoted on this site a few months ago:

Rock and roll is not a revolutionary music because it has never gotten beyond the articulation in this paradox [the author's just described rock musicians, and their followers, being "torn between the obvious pleasures America held out and the price paid for them," but a paradox is a paradox is a paradox]. At best it has offered the defiance of withdrawal; its violence never amounted to more than a cry of 'Don't bother me.'

Paradox, paradox, wherever you turn. I'd better stop, else my head will explode, but some final thoughts before I do: Has your opinion of the song, and your sense of what it really does mean, changed since you first heard it after that long pause between Freshman year and earlier this month? Do you think it's a sad song? A vile song? I think it is, in some ways, a terrifying song. But I can't, for the life of me, stop listening. So: It's been a pleasure working this stuff through with you, Emily - I'd never have gotten this far myself, and I despite the stuff I said above, I don't think we didn't get anywhere. Sometimes articulating the problem can be its own solution.

The pleasures of conversation

The source was Amy Benfer, the arts reporter for Metro; I believe she'd been writing a piece about the Pixies and had somehow discovered this. It really

is a wonderful possibility, though, isn't it? I mean, the entire first verse could run:

Got me a movie, I want you to know

Slicin' up eyeballs, I want you to know

Girl is so groovy, I want you to know

Don't you about you, but I want to

Strip Apollonia

Up to be

Be a debaser

Which is significantly more upsetting than the verse as it stands. It also, then, ties in to what you said so eloquently about "Drive Me Wild": "The world this song is describing is a world in which no one really looks into another's eyes, except to catch their own reflection. And what the song has in common with "Nasty Girl" (or, at least, the interpretation of "Nasty Girl" we seem to be working towards) is internalization, bred of an anticipation which may or me not be rooted in some form of something a more religious man might call despair." Slicing up eyeballs, indeed. I'm also thinking about how the thoroughly sexualized leather-wearing girlbot ninja assassin character in William Gibson's Neuromancer has polarized lenses embedded in her eye sockets. Her eyes work, behind them, but can never be seen. And I guess that as long as we have Cixous and Lacan in the mix, we might take it all the way back to Bentham, whose Panopticon essentially took as its premise that the very fact of visibility is a form of punishment.

Megan is on to something. Partly I think that what we're all onto, here, is the simple pleasure of turning a very bright light onto something so small it may not ever have been meant to be seen. As you say, five minutes to listen to it, two days and crampy fingers to puzzle it out; and we haven't even arrived at an answer. But, like you, I've found this conversation profitable. (And sometimes, not arriving at an answer is the best place you could end up.) My opinion of the song has changed through discussing it with you; I find it a lot richer and more disturbing than I thought I did, a lot less celebratory. This kind of engagement is, I think, one of the great consolations of late culture: a way of speaking and thinking and being that causes us to reconsider and grow. Unlike current political discourse, which mainly seems to ask us to retrench. (I hope I'm not flying off on a huge tangent to quote from Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. I stumbled across this passage the other day: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds." I am frankly undone by the idea that a political leader could be so modest about his understanding of what's right, and so generous in his idea of how to use it.)

To wrap up some small points:

1) It's funny, I'm not actually any more likely to ascribe authorship to Moonsie than to Vanity; I think it equally likely that Prince wrote, or had a hand in, both songs. But that certainly is what I wrote.

2) The odd thing about what I agree with you are our counterintuitive gender responses to the "down on my knees" bit is that it would only stand to reason that straight women would think about fellatio at least somewhere near as often as men do. Or wouldn't it?

3) No, I will not say hoo-hoo again.

Thanks for the making this conversation possible, and for its many pleasures.

Jessica Alba and Flipper

"I sort of request female dolphins after that because those are horny little bastards," said Alba.

Turns out this porpi-sapien fetish is more common than you might think.

There is Britain's 'Georges' whose "...well-documented sexual aggression poses a real threat to the thousands of swimmers who will be descending on Weymouth over the summer."

And Ohio's 'Frederico' who is always looking for friendship or "or something more."

And Norway's 'Flipper', a genial fellow by most accounts, until he starts behaving like Gerard Depardieu at Cannes: "Usually he just swam around quietly, but every now and then he went into a sexual frenzy and tried to rape an air matrass [sic]."

But it seems dolphins are star-fuckers at heart, displaying particular carnal affection for celebrity bait.

A dolphin, perhaps channelling the increasingly frustrated ghost of Patrick Swayze, "Went after Demi (Moore) in a big way" while she enjoyed a post-Duran Duran swim with Ashton at Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat in Las Vegas.

And when Timothy Leary invited Susan Sarandon to the marine lab (I'm not making this up) she was almost killed by Rosie, a jealous dolphin cow, who didn't like the way the actress was touching her boyfriend Joe.

What are we to make of all this inter-species hanky-panky?

These manatee-idol matinees?

Well for one:

Dolphins are cleary smart. Jessica, Demi, Susan... you're not hearing Wilfred Brimley cry.

And should we really be suprised? Experts suggest this is a product of frustration and confinement and confusion. But the problem may really begin with our own perceptions. We see a friendly, benign mammal, a social creature that likes to perform for us, that is easily trained, a smooth splendid fish of almost ape-like intelligence.

And that's just Jessica Alba!!!!!!

As for Fred Neil: one of our most influential singer/songwriters, though I couldn't tell you any of his songs besides 'Dolphins'. Former Brill Building guy, unmistakeable shades of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. And a pioneer when it came to the forbidden passions of the deep. When Neil yearned for the dolphins in the sea, he wasn't just being cryptic. This was no poetic longing.

From an obituary in The Independent:

Although A noted singer and songwriter, Fred Neil devoted himself to the Dolphin Project, an organisation dedicated to stopping the capture, trafficking and exploitation of dolphins world-wide. He hated dolphins "being put on public display for casual amusement", a comment which he could have applied to his own life. He had an indifference to success and rarely did anything to promote his records or encourage a higher profile.

I guess Neil's search for the dolphin was really just a search for himself.

'Dolphins' has been covered dozens of times, notably by Tim Buckley and Billy Bragg. But I discovered the song through my hero Matt Johnson. Like Neil, Johnson has an approach that brings to mind Roy Orbison, only way, way, twitchier. There's also some Hank Williams in there, as well as an angstiness that is as breathy and right-in-your-ear as Marilyn Monroe. But while Johnny and Roy and Hank took life's lumps with a stoic, almost romantic, humility, Matt always seems to be going down with a hell of a fight. Matt's really not the kind of dolphin you want to find yourself alone with at night, in a dark pool, sardine on your breath, shorts on the deck.