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Shock ‘n’ roll: The art of Allen Jones and sexual fetishism

“I’m a friend of Mr. Pastry/I’m a friend of Allen Jones/I’m a friend of Shirley Bassey/I’m a friend of your chromosomes” (Opening verse to ‘Friends’, song by Adam and the Ants)

It was Adam and the Ants song ‘Friends’ where I first heard the name of the British pop artist Allen Jones. The song was first officially released in 1981 as the B-side of ‘Ant Rap’ but earlier versions had been recorded for a 1978 John Peel session and during the sessions for the 1979 Dirk Wears White Sox album. The Dirk version was eventually released on the 1982 ‘Antmusic EP’ (and ended up being Adam and the Ants last single before Adam Ant went solo).

In two previous blogs, I have looked at both the psychology of Adam Ant and an in-depth look at all his songs about sexual fetishism and paraphilias (based on an academic article that I originally wrote for Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion). In one of those articles, I noted that Adam’s predisposition towards sex came not from musical influences but from figures in the 20th century art world. Adam Ant’s final year thesis was on sexual perversion and he was inspired by the iconographic images of Andy Warhol, the autoerotic paintings of Allen Jones, the neo-sadomasochistic fantasies of Hans Bellmer, and ‘sexpop’ travellers like Eduardo Paolozzi, Francis Bacon and Stanley Spencer. In 1977, Adam said:

The S&M thing stems from (when) I was at College Art School, with John Ellis (of The Vibrators), and all the time I was at Art College I was very influenced by Allen Jones the artist. All my college work is pretty much like this, this is just a musical equivalent of what I was visually doing at college”

As a teenager I collected badges and the ones designed by Adam Ant were clearly indebted to Allen Jones’ interest in fetishism (you can check out the designs in more detail here). Others in the pop world noted this including Justine Frischmann of Elastica. In a Melody Maker article by Simon Reynolds, Frischmann noted that Adam Ant “epitomised the brilliantly elegant side of punk, using all that Allen Jones type imagery like that table which was a woman on all fours with a glass top on her back. All his paintings were developed from Fifties porn – lots of airbrushed women in black leather. The Antz used a lot of that imagery. On one level, it’s very titillating, but it’s also very pop. So we’re gonna make the next album S & M, with us all in black leather. Actually, I think Madonna‘s ruined that for everyone, ruined the concept of pervy sex forever”.

Jones (born in 1937 in Southampton, UK) is arguably Adam’s greatest single influence and has been cited by Adam in many early interviews. He is best known for his use of slick fetishistic and obsessive objects, often of a sexual character (legs, stockings, shoes, etc.) taken from pornographic and women’s fashion magazines (with rubber fetishism and BDSM themes being very prominent). He was an early and leading figure in the pop-art movement as part of the so-called “dynamic generation” at the Royal College of Art (along with David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Phillips, and Frank Bowing), and from where he was expelled in 1960 because of his controversial paintings. He was Britain’s ‘shock art’ bad boy decades before Damien Hirst. His early work was influenced by the Futurism school or art, and by reading the psychology of Freud and Jung, as well as the philosophy of Nietzsche. One of Adam’s songs ‘Ligotage’ (French for bondage) was directly inspired by his paintings. In the Wikipedia entry on Jones, he is quoted as saying:

“I wanted to kick over the traces of what was considered acceptable in art. I wanted to find a new language for representation… to get away from the idea that figurative art was romantic, that it wasn’t tough”.

It was in the late 1960s that Jones first started sculpting what art historian Marco Livingstone describes in his 1979 book Sheer Magic by Allen Jones as “life-size images of women as furniture with fetishist and sado-masochist overtones.” The three most (in)famous works (sharing as art curator Edith Devaney argued “a visual language”) were the erotic sculptures Hat Stand, Table and Chair made of fiberglass that featured busty mannequins dressed (or rather barely dressed) in patent leather. These works were met with both acclaim and disdain both in and outside of the art world with critics perceiving the sculptures as being misogynistic. Livingstone later went on to say “these works still carry a powerful emotive charge, ensnaring every viewer’s psychology and sexual outlook regardless of age, gender or experience”. One of the better descriptions of the three pieces was by Zoe Williams of The Guardian in an article provocatively entitledIs Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever?’:

“’Hat Stand’ is a mannequin in radial leather knickers and thigh-high boots. ‘Chair’ is the most famous of the three: a woman lies on her back, with her knees against her chest and a cushion on top of her. That’s the seat, her calves make the chair’s back. While all the clothes – black leather gloves, boots and a strap – reference bondage, she also looks dead, trussed up ready for some inept suburban disposal. ‘Table’, being topless, is more classically provocative. It would be pushing it to say the figure was adopting a more active shape, though: she’s on all fours, holding up a pane of glass with her back, her head looking down into a hand mirror. Yet the physics of the position make her look more like a doll than a corpse…Does Allen Jones’s art expose how female stereotypes are performed and maintained, by presenting us with overtly sexualised hyperboles, or is it just another part of the age-old tradition to objectify and sexualise women? The debate goes on… One thing is sure though, Jones’s work still provokes reactions”.

More infamy followed when the sculptures were referenced in one of cinema’s most controversial films of all time – A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick (in 1971). In a later interview, Jones recalled a telephone call from Kubrick. “[Kubrick said], ‘I’m a very famous film director, this will be seen all over the world and your name will be known.’ I held the phone away from my ear, I was just staggered anyone would say that. It showed an ego that dwarfed that of any artist I’ve known”. Because of this, Jones declined Kubrick’s offer but the director’s prop team made copies of his work. His BDSM designs were also a key feature of the 1975 film Maîtresse about a female dominatrix directed by Barbet Schroeder (and which also caused controversy because of its very graphic depictions of sado-masochism). Zoe Williams in her article for The Guardian goes as far to say: Jones’s images have been so influential that almost no image of woman-as-object or woman-as-other-object can be created, even 40 years later, that doesn’t nod to them”.

In 2014, the Royal Academy of Arts hosted a retrospective of Jones’ work and Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph asserted: “you could argue that Jones’s work isn’t really about women; it’s about men and how they look at and think about women. Men use various strategies to neutralise or control desire. One is to fetishise the female body…[while] another is for the man to appropriate it”. The brief biography of Jones on the Artsation website also noted that: Allen Jones was accused of being sexist and depicting women as undignified, mere willing objects of lust. Jones obviously never intended to show women in such a way, he wanted to question prohibitions and moral boundaries. ‘Nothing is as it seems’, the artist once said and also in this case one should not confuse the appearance of the object with its message. With his objects the artist carries trivialities like sexual connotations from advertising and show business into fine art to stylize and satirize them”.

Bizarrely, perhaps one of Jones’ unforeseen legacies is that his work appears to have unwittingly spawned a new sexual paraphilia – namely forniphilia. As I noted in my previous article on forniphilia, it is a form of sexual objectification and is viewed by many as a form of sexual bondage as the human body is typically incorporated into the shape of a piece of furniture where the person has to stay still for extended periods of time. The difference between Jones’ art and forniphilia is that forniphilia involves real humans whereas Jones’ works of art uses ‘humans’ made of fibreglass. The term ‘forniphilia’ was allegedly coined by Jeff Gord, the man behind The House of Gord (“The Home of Ultra Bondage”). In The House of Gord, there are many types of furniture that women had been temporarily turned into. This included many different types of table, lamps, pedestals, various types of chair (office chair, rocking chair, etc.), footstools, ceiling decorations (including chandeliers), lawn sprinklers, and bird tables. If Jones’ art was the direct inspiration for Gord and his followers, I wouldn’t be surprised. But even if it wasn’t, Jones’ work will continue to live on and will continue to garner controversy and feminist critique.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ant, A. (2007). Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography. London: Pan.

Artsation (2015). Allen Jones – Biography. Located at: https://artsation.com/en/artists/allen-jones

Deurell, J. (2014). 10 key facts about Allen Jones. AnOther, November 10. Located at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/4103/10-key-facts-about-allen-jones

Dorment, R. (2014). Allen Jones, Royal Academy, review: ‘dangerous, perverse and brilliant’. Daily Telegraph, November 14. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/11220351/Allen-Jones-Royal-Academy-review-dangerous-perverse-and-brilliant.html

Gregory, H. (2014). Fetish, fantasy & “women as furniture”: The complicated legacy of Allen Jones. Artsy.net, December 3. Located at: https://www.artsy.net/article/editorial-fetish-fantasy-and-women-as-furniture-the

Griffiths, M.D (1999). Adam Ant: Sex and perversion for teenyboppers. Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 19, 116-119.

Guadagnini, W. (2004). Pop Art UK: British Pop Art 1956-1972. Milan: Silvana.

Levy, P. (2014). A Fetish for Art. Touring Pop artist Allen Jones’s London workspace. Wall Street Journal, November 14. Located at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303309504579185690844235078

Livingstone. M. (1979). Sheer Magic by Allen Jones. London: Thomas & Hudson.

Wikipedia (2013). Allen Jones (artist). Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Jones_(artist)

Williams, Z. (2014). Is Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever? The Guardian, November 10. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/10/allen-jones-sexist-art-royal-academy-review

A battle of Witts: A brief look at ‘Taboos’ and the work of The Passage

“If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it” (Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare)

Today’s blog is not academic but it’s about an academic (but I’ll come to that later). Back in the early 1980s when I was in my early teenage years, my obsession for music was fed by listening to the John Peel show every weekday night. I still have dozens of cassettes of the songs that I taped off the show that I still cannot throw away (and before you ask, yes I am a hoarder when it comes to anything music-related). It was 1981 when I first heard a song that has become one of my all-time favourites – ‘Taboos’ by post-punk band The Passage. From the opening verse I was transfixed. Here was a group writing songs about sexual dysfunction in both a cerebral and humorous way. Around this time I was also a massive fan of Adam and the Ants, particularly their songs on sexual perversions and paraphilias (which I have already documented in two previous blogs on the psychology of Adam Ant, and Ant as a portrait in pop perversion)

The Passage formed March 1978 in Manchester and the band was led by Richard ‘Dick’ Witts (formerly a percussionist in the Halle Orchestra) and the only ever present member until they split up in 1983. Their early material as been likened to The Fall (not totally a surprise given that The Passage’s first bassist Tony Friel also played bass in The Fall), and like The Fall there was a constant change of line-ups with Witts being the equivalent of The Fall’s lead singer Mark E. Smith. Witts was also an occasional television presenter of music programmes (such as The Oxford Road Show). Witts also recalled the story of Morrissey auditioning for them before he formed The Smiths (“‘As we were spineless about singing we once auditioned a bunch of hopefuls, including a certain Steve Morrissey, who we thought a bit too glum for the likes of us”).

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Between November 1980 and March 1983, The Passage released four great albums (Pindrop; For All And None; Degenerates; and Enflame) on three different record labels (first Object Music, then Virgin subsidiary label Night & Day, and finally with legendary indie label Cherry Red). The LPs were all re-released in 2003 on the LTM label along with a compilation album (BBC Sessions). There’s also a ‘best of’ CD collection with the homophonically titled Seedy (geddit? A prime example of Witts’ wit) which is well worth getting as a primer to their later recorded output. Much of their music was critically lauded including (then NME critic and later a member of the band Art of Noise) Paul Morley who compared them to Joy Division (a band that was actually the support act at one of The Passage’s early gigs). Morley’s review of their debut LP noted:

‘With the disquieting Pindrop, The Passage can be accepted as major even by the cowardly, cautious and cynical: it’s a work of disciplined intellectual aggression, frantic emotions and powerfully idiomatic musicality. Pindrop is densely shaded, erratically mixed (which often works in its favour), rough edged, heavy in an unloveable sense of the word…It’s as shocking a beautiful nightmare, as stormy and aware a debut LP as [Joy Division’s] Unknown Pleasures. Where you gasp a lot. Comparisons will harm. Their sound is their own. It’s the shock of the new – new shades, textures, noises, pulses, atmospheres, energies, the opening up of new realms of feeling.’

One of the things I loved about The Passage was they were never afraid to write songs that were lyrically intellectually political and/or sexual (e.g., ‘Troops Out’, ‘Carnal’, ‘Taboos’, ‘XoYo’). Their ‘love songs’ (to use a quote from the Soft Cell’s song ‘Perversity‘) are “deliciously twisted” (e.g., ’16 Hours’. Love Is As’, ‘Revelation’, ‘Time Will Tell’). In fact, a number of music critics would talk about Witts’ “rigorously intellectual approach” to music and lyric writing. Their second album (For All and None) even took its title from the four-part philosophical novel by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (i.e., Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None). In the song ‘My One Request’, Witts refrain “Love, fear, power, hope” appears to be his manifesto on life. In a lengthy interview with Johnny Black for indie fanzine Masterbag about his continued fascination with form and structure:

“‘We’ve done 53 songs now and they’re all based on just three words,’ says Witts, beginning to illustrate his musical triangle on a paper napkin. At the corners of the triangle he writes the words and speaks them as he does so. ‘Fear, power and…love.’ ‘Another triangle takes shape while he tells me about power. ‘Power is ambiguous, it depends on how it’s used. In the same way, a knife can be used to cut bread, or to slit a throat.’ ‘The second triangle is ready, and at each corner he writes, semitone, minor third, major third, then pushes the napkin over to me. ‘Within these triangles you can sum up everything about Western music.’ The Witts fixation with structure (and triangles) is reflected even in the design of their album covers. ‘We use only black, red and white, which are symbolic colours. The red flag, the black flag for anarchy, black and white united fight – all these things…There are three people in the group and I associate those colours with us. I’m red, Andrew [Wilson] blue, and Paul [Mahoney] is white.”

I should also note that the track ‘Love Song’ from their New Love Songs EP was the first song I ever heard that featured the word ‘c**t’ in a rhyming couplet (‘I love you/Cos I need a c**t/I love you/To use you back and front’). (As a possibly amusing aside, I was the first ever academic to get the word ‘f**kwit’ into the British Journal of Psychology in a study examining the role of cognitive bias in slot machine gambling – see ‘Further reading’ below). The same song also referred to fellatio (but Adam and the Ants had already covered the topic in the song Cleopatra on their 1980 debut LP Dirk Wears White Sox). The Passage are arguably one of the most unsung bands of the 1980s. Perhaps the best tribute to the band was from Nick Currie (aka the musician Momus) who said:

“[The Passage were] one of the greatest, yet least known of 80s groups. I bought ‘Pindrop’ after hearing a track on [the John Peel show]. The album (slightly murkier, more introverted and mysterious sounding than later releases) was like nothing else being made at the time. Totally electronic, spooky, intelligent, political, passionate as hell, like Laurie Anderson crossed with The Fall. ‘Degenerates’ and ‘Enflame’ are also great records, Brechtian politics melded to angular, caustic lyrics. The Passage were very un-English in their willingness to write about sex and politics. I think you’d have to see them as libertarians in a peculiarly Protestant mode, like Quakers or Methodist radicals or something”.

Which brings me to arguably their two greatest songs – ‘Taboos’ and ‘XoYo’ – both about sex but both very different both musically and lyrically (sexual dysfunction versus sexual liberation). Both songs are on the 2003 CD reissue of the Degenerates LP and most people that have heard of The Passage probably prefer ‘XoYo’ because they are likely to be one of the 100,000+ music lovers (like myself) that bought the Cherry Red indie classic sampler album Pillows and Prayers on which it also appeared. The opening quote by Shakespeare is actually the first lyric on ‘XoYo’ (which you can listen to here) and it fits perfectly with the lyrical content of the song (you can read all the lyrics here as they also work as prose).

The ‘Taboos’ single (which you can listen to here) was recorded at Stockport’s Strawberry Studio in August 1981. Witts was apparently unhappy with the mix (although I think it’s great) as he was quoted as saying: “I drowned the drumming with timpani and other percussion, in particular Taboos which now sounds more like an Orange Order marching band than the [Phil] SpectorWall of Sound‘ I had in mind”. Lyrically, I just loved the whole song. Below are the lyrics to the whole song that I transcribed myself as (unlike ‘XoYo’), they don’t appear to be published anywhere online:

“I use this magazine that gives instructions/It tells me many things about seduction/It comes in monthly parts, there’s 16 sections/I need nine more for the complete collection

In Number 6 there’s chapters on disorders/And Number 7’s all about withdrawal/In Number 8 there’s pictures of positions/I’m stuck till I receive the ninth edition

Whoever hopes to dance with me/Must abandon all such guides and schemes/And measure up a million ways and means/Take to heart strange choreography

We have to wait until we’ve read them through/With things like this we’re better safe than sorry/I have it written here, four things to do/Each one a cornerstone of carnal knowledge

It makes you go blind/By closing your mind/Obstructing the view/Too many taboos/Too many taboos

We really should wait till we’ve read them through/You know we’re/always better safe than sorry/You see it written here a thousand rules/Certain regulations should be followed

Perhaps these studies on cassette are wisest/While they play you try the exercises/Just one of 15 minutes would be plenty/My body can’t take all five C-120s

Whoever hopes to dance with me/Must leave behind what’s being heard and seen/And stepping through a thousand routes and dreams/Take to heart new choreography

It makes you go blind/Disclosing the mind/A little taboos/Two million taboos

Let’s wait until we’ve seen the TV series/A programme titled ‘All Your Bedroom Queries’/You may will think I’m making lame excuses/I just don’t like, you know it more than I do

My only option is to write about/A verse or two of hollow lies about you/So you’d be flattered by my sharp deception/And words were made to exercise deception

Whoever wants to dance with me/Must abandon traps and trickery/Take to heart new choreography/Take by storm strange choreography

It makes you go blind/By closing the mind/Obstructing the view/Too many taboos/Too many taboos”

‘Taboos’ (words and music: Dick Witts and Andy Wilson)

Since The Passage disbanded, Witts has put his musical talents to good use. He became an academic and university lecturer in modern music and has taught at Edinburgh University, Goldsmiths University (London) and Edge Hill University (Ormskirk, Lancashire). He’s also written some great books including ones on Nico and The Velvet Underground (that you can download at his academic website). Hopefully after reading this, a few more people will delve into The Passage’s back catalogue and discover one of the great cult bands of the 1980s.

Note: I would like to thank both Dick Witts and Keith Nuttall (at http://www.thepassage.co.uk) for their help in compiling this article.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.

Nice, J. (2003). The Passage\Biography. LTM Recordings. Located at: http://www.ltmrecordings.com/the_passage.html

Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.

Wikipedia (2015). Richard Witts. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Witts

Wikipedia (2015). The Passage (band). Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passage_(band)

Insect asides: The psychology of Adam Ant

As regular readers of my blog will know, I have had a longstanding professional interest in the psychology of sexually paraphilic behaviour. My interest in the topic first began when I was a 14-year old teenager listening to Adam and the Ants B-sides (all of which were about different types of extreme and/or unusual sexual behaviours. In one of my previous blogs, I argued that Adam Ant’s music has covered more atypical sexual behaviours than any other recording artist that I can think of (e.g. sadism, masochism, bondage, fetishism, transvestism, voyeurism, etc.). There is little doubt that Adam’s music had a great influence on my career, but what were Adam’s influences that made him the person he became?

In addition to the sexual content of his lyrics, Adam’s earliest stage personas were also very sexual. Adam bought his clothes from ‘SEX’, the shop run by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood which was also infamous for selling rubber and leather fetish wear. (McLaren later briefly became The Ants manager and even tried to get Adam and his band to star in a pornographic film with female punk band The Slits). The first t-shirt he ever bought there was provocative and controversial (featuring the ‘Cambridge Rapist‘). One of McLaren’s best-selling t-shirts (‘Vive Le Rock‘) later became the title of Adam’s 1985 single and album. Adam’s interest in sex was all-consuming and spilled over into most areas of his and The Ants lives. It was common at early gigs for Adam to be dressed in bondage gear.

One infamous incident happened at their debut gig at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (10th May 1977). To get the gig, Adam said his band were a country and western band. He then got on stage dressed in bondage trousers and a leather head mask, and performed the future S&M classic Beat My Guest (later to be a B-side of their first No. 1 hit Stand and Deliver). Predictably, they were ‘asked to leave’ after that opening number.

Early gigs (1977-1979) were known as places to buy lots of eye-catching merchandise (t-shirts, badges, posters etc.) featuring sadomasochistic and bondage sex-themes designed by Adam. Advertisements for the 1979 tour were the first to use the slogan ‘Antmusic for Sexpeople’. To Adam, ‘sexpeople’ were people who got off on sexual phenomena, who liked sexual imagery and enjoyed being sexual. In a Melody Maker interview he said ‘What weʼre basically dealing with here with is taboos, and a lot of my work as a kind of music therapy‘. Adam’s first major interview as cover star in (the now defunct) Sounds was where he was described as ‘the face that launched a thousand whips’. His breakthrough album Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) may have surprised his new young fan base as it came with a free booklet full of sexual imagery.

Although Adam clearly has musical influences, most of those he talks about or name checks in his songs appear to have more to do with image than music or his overriding interest in sex. Early influences like Johnny Kidd and the Pirates may have inspired some of his later images. The first record he bought was Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, but rarely makes reference to them as any kind of musical influence. The early 1970s appear to have thrown up more influences where music and sexuality was talked about in relation to the person if not their songs (Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, New York Dolls, Lou Reed, Roxy Music). For instance, he loved the New York Dolls ‘because they looked like drag queens‘. His inspiration for forming Adam & the Ants was seeing the Sex Pistols very first gig when they supported the first band he was in (a short-lived band called Bazooka Joe). It was after this that a plethora of sexual punky songs were written for the Ants.

In an interview with Derek Hardman (Inside Out magazine, 1979), Adam described the lyrical content of his songs as dealing with ‘subjects of interest, mystery and imagination‘ and that they came from ‘living my life, reading, films, events and history‘. This quote also carries the implicit assumption that musical influences paid little (if any) part in his lyrical obsessions. The only thing that really connects sex with music is the perception that being a ‘popstar’ will bring more sexual opportunities. For instance in the Antbox book, Adam says:

“I remember being in a room with four girls watching [Marc] Bolan on ‘Top of the Pops’ and it was the first time I had actually watched four girls just absolutely dripping, climaxing , looking at a guy… Whatever it is, I want some!”

Very few of his musical heroes wrote explicit songs about sex and it is clear that the (sometimes) extreme sexuality of his lyrics originate elsewhere. By digging a little deeper it becomes abundantly clear that his interest in art lay the foundations of his sexual interests. By looking at the individuals who Adam held in high esteem, it becomes very clear that Adam’s predisposition towards sex comes not from musical influences but from figures in the 20th century art world. Adam originally wanted a career in Art after seeing an exhibition of Pop Art at the Tate Gallery in London (1971). He ended up studying Graphic Design at Hornsey College of Art (now part of Middlesex University) in North London. His favourite class was the ‘Erotic Arts’ course taught by art historian Peter Webb. This concentrated on Indian, Chinese, and Japanese traditions of erotic painting, drawing, and sculpture. Adam was also interested by women’s role in society and he was the only male at his college to take the class in ‘Women In Society’.

Adam was inspired by the iconographic images of Andy Warhol, the autoerotic paintings of Allen Jones, the neo-sadomasochistic fantasies of Hans Bellmer, and ‘sexpop’ travellers like Eduardo Paolozzi, Francis Bacon and Stanley Spencer. All these people clearly influenced his music. In 1977, Adam said:

“The S&M thing stems from [when] I was at College Art School, with John Ellis (of the Vibrators), and all the time I was at Art College I was very influenced by Allen Jones the artist. All my college work is pretty much like this, this is just a musical equivalent of what I was visually doing at college. Iʼm not personally into S&M, I mean I never smacked the arse of anybody. It’s the power and the imagery. There’s a certain imagery involved with that which I find magnetic. It’s not done viciously, if you read S&M mags and spank mags or anything like that, it’s done with an essence of humour…war dress and stuff, that just appeals to my imagination.

While at Art College, Adam did a thesis on sexual perversion:

I read lots of books and discovered much to my surprise that it wasn’t just a kick, it was a deadly serious subject. A very sort of medical thing and I found I got a source of material for my songs. I wrote a song called ‘Rubber Peoplewhich is a serious look at rubber fetishism. And I also wrote one about transvestism. Theyʼre not serious, none of my songs are serious, I mean fucking hell. Theyʼre serious to me. But the thing is that with, say, ‘Transvestism’ people just laugh at people. If somebody’s wearing a pair of rubber underpants under a pin-stripe suits it’s funny, y’know. But I don’t think itʼs funny. I don’t think it’s any more strange than watching fucking ‘Crossroads every night”

It was perhaps Adam’s art heroes that most influenced him. By looking very briefly at each of Adam’s artistic heroes, it is easy to see where the inspiration for many of his early lyrics came from. The most important influences were Allen Jones, Stanley Spencer, Eduardo Paolozzi, Hans Bellmer, Francis Bacon (name checked in the song ‘Piccadilly‘), and Andy Warhol. These brief sketches show that his early music is a direct
 musical equivalent of his heroes’ artwork (particularly Jones, Bellmer and Paolozzi). The influence of Warhol, Bacon and Spencer is more subtle. These three individuals all produced controversial work (which Adam found inspiring).

It might also be argued that all three had a somewhat troubled or tortured sexuality. This again, may have been of interest to Adam. The only other artists that Adam has singled out are Pablo Picasso and the Italian futurists. Adam was impressed by Picasso’s “genius, energy and sexuality” and was the subject of one of Adam’s best album tracks ‘Picasso Visits The Planet of the Apes. A whole song (‘Animals and Men) is devoted to the Italian futurists on the debut album (Dirk Wears White Sox). In this song he writes about the influence of Filippo Marinetti (1876-1944), Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) and Carlo Carra (1881-1966). The Futurists were a 20th century avant garde movement in Italian art, sculpture, literature, music, cinema and photography. Their manifesto broke with the past and celebrated modern technology, dynamism and power. The combination of different art media was appealing to Adam although there was nothing overtly sexual in the work of its exponents.

Film – like art – was also important to Adam, and as a teenage usher at the Muswell Hill Odeon he saw lots of films in his formative years. Adam has gone on record many times to say that his film hero is Dirk Bogarde. The Ants first album (the aforementioned Dirk Wears White Sox) was named after him and some of his films provided inspiration for his songs. Many of his most notorious films (The Servant, Death In Venice, The Night Porter) dealt with taboo areas with which Adam identified and/or had a fascination with. All these films feature taboo sexual subjects (or at least taboo at the time the film was made) and probably appealed to Adam because of their taboo nature. These were all a direct influence on Adam’s early songwriting.

Outside of Dirk Bogarde and his films, Adam cites his film heroes as Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Mongomery Clift and Charles Bronson. Adam makes few references to films or film stars in his song writing, although there are name checks for Michael Caine, John Wayne, Terence Stamp, and Charles Hawtrey in ‘Friends, Clint Eastwood in ‘Los Rancheros, Steve McQueen in ‘Steve McQueen, Robert de Niro in ‘Christian Dior, and Bruce Lee in ‘Bruce Lee. He also dedicated one song that he wrote about the film Psycho (‘Norman) to its star Anthony Perkins. Again, these film stars and their films (bar Bogarde) have had little influence on his sexually themed songs.

There are very few references to literary heroes in Adam’s work and even less that is sex-related. The gay playwright Joe Orton (1933-1967) is one influence who has impacted on Adam’s life. Adam wrote one song about Orton’s homosexual relationship with his lover Kenneth Halliwell (‘Prick Up Your Ears’ on the Redux LP). However, the lyrics didn’t fit the pirate theme of the second album (Kings of the Wild Frontier) and were changed. This song eventually became ‘The Magnificent Five. In 1985, as part of his acting career, Adam performed in Joe Orton’s play Entertaining Mr. Sloane on stage at the Manchester Royal Exchange. Adam claimed that the ‘idea of playing a psychotic bisexual thug was good’. Ortonʼs comedies (Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Loot, and What The Butler Saw) are all black, stylish, and violent. Furthermore, they all have an emphasis on corruption and sexual perversion. With such content it is easy to see why Adam enjoyed these. However, it is not known when Adam was first aware of Orton’s work. The likelihood is that his appreciation of Orton was after many of his initial songs were written.

The German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was also one of Adamʼs literary inspirations and the subject of early live favourite ‘Nietzsche Baby. Nietzsche is most well known for his rejection of Christian morality (which no doubt appealed to Adam) and the ‘revision of all values’. Despite the influence, there was little in his writings that would have inspired Adam’s sex- related writings. Passing reference to both the US ‘beat generation’ writer Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) and the French novelist and playwright Albert Camus (1913-1960; a protagonist of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd‘ movement) make an appearance on his 1985 song ‘Anger Inc..‘ Again, these influences appear to be post-musical success and would have had little impact on his early sexual songwriting.

As a psychologist myself, I couldnʼt help make reference to Adam’s ‘psychological’ influences. The only time he has made reference specifically to a psychologist is a name check of Erich Fromm in his song ‘Friends’. It is obvious that Adam has read some of Fromm’s work as there are Frommian influences in his work. The ‘dog 
eat dog’ personality type (consciously or unconsciously) 
inspired his first big hit single (‘Dog Eat Dog). The ‘masochistic’ personality type
permeates many of his early songs. The ‘marketing’ subtypes
who concern themselves with image and style (and who feel
inadequate if they are not admired) could be argued to be
Adam himself. Alternatively he may have seen himself as the ‘productive’ type because of his creativity and ability to change himself.

By just scratching a little deeper at the surface of Adam’s influences, we see the roots of his lyrical sexuality. As time has gone on, less and less of Adamʼs songs have concerned sex. Furthermore, more love songs have made an appearance ( the LP Wonderful being a prime example). Maybe this is just an overt sign of the maturation process. Whatever it is, there is little to take away Adam’s crown as the king of sexual diversity.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ant, A. (2007). Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography. London: Pan.

Griffiths, M.D (1999). Adam Ant: Sex and perversion for teenyboppers. Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 19, 116-119.

Wikipedia (2013). Adam and the Ants. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_and_the_Ants

Wikipedia (2013). Adam Ant. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Ant

The Reich Stuff: A brief look at Nazi fetishism

“I love your blonde hair/I kiss your pigtails/And I could not share/The scratch of your nails/And though you mark me/Your eyes so glassy/Oh why did you have/To be so Nazi?/Remember the curls/Of the Deutscher Girls?/A love of mine/From down on the Rhine” (Deutscher Girls, Adam and the Ants).

The first time I ever associated Nazism with sexuality was as a young teenager listening to Adam Ant sing Deutscher Girls in Derek Jarman’s 1978 punk rock film Jubilee. The punk rock movement – and particularly the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees – were arguably the architects of ‘Nazi chic’ (defined by Wikipedia as the approving use of Nazi-era style, imagery, and paraphernalia in clothing and popular culture, especially when used for taboo-breaking or shock value rather than out of genuine sympathies with Nazism”) when one of the Pistols’ entourage appeared on the London-region only television show Today (December 1, 1976) wearing a swastika armband. The Wikipedia entry on Nazi chic notes:

“In the 1970s punk subculture, several items of clothing designed to shock and offend The Establishment became popular…[Johnny] Rotten wore the swastika another time with a gesture that looked like a Nazi salute. In 1976, Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees was also known to wear a Swastika armband with fetish S and M clothing, including fishnets and a whip. These musicians are commonly thought to have worn such clothing for shock value…rather than being genuinely associated with any National Socialist or fascist ideologies”.

As an avid Adam and the Ants fan, I devoured every lyric of every song. One of Adam Ant’s heroes was Dirk Bogarde – as evidenced by the first album being named after him – Dirk Wears White Sox. The song Dirk Wear White Sox (a live favourite at their early gigs) wasn’t actually on the album and was never actually released on any official Ant recording. One of the reasons for this may have been because of the controversial lyrical content that also linked sex and Nazism via concentration camps:

“You gotta concentrate on kink/In a concentration camp/All dressed up like little David/In a concentration camp…You can get a uniform for free/Shiny boots of soft black leather/Oh how proud your mum will be”.

The inspiration for the song may well have been the controversial film The Nightporter starring Bogarde as a former Nazi SS officer (Maximilian Theo Aldorfer) and his “ambiguous” relationship with concentration camp survivor Lucia Atherton (played by Charlotte Rampling). As the Wikipedia entry on the film notes:

“Flashbacks show Max tormenting Lucia, but also acting as her protector. In an iconic scene, Lucia sings a Marlene Dietrich song ‘Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte’ to the concentration camp guards while wearing pieces of an SS uniform, and Max ‘rewards’ her with the severed head of a male inmate who had been bullying the other inmates, a reference to Salome. Thirteen years after World War II, Lucia meets Aldorfer again; he is now the night porter at a Vienna hotel. There, they fall back into their sadomasochistic relationsip relationship…The film depicts the political continuity between wartime Nazism and post-war Europe and the psychological continuity of characters locked into compulsive repetition of the past. On another level it deals with the psychological condition known as Stockholm Syndrome”.

There is obviously a big difference between Nazi chic and Nazi fetishism (although there may be overlaps for some adherents). The online Urban Dictionary defines Nazi fetish as:

“Somebody who becomes sexually aroused when seeing someone of the Aryan race in an SS Nazi, Third Reich uniform or Holocaust/Hitler related uniforms. Charlotte Rampling in ‘The Night Porter’ would be a Nazi Fetish for some men or women”.

Academically there has been little written on Nazi fetishism. I went searching online and found dozens of confessions by people claiming to enjoy and be fans of Nazi fetishism (as well as lots of websites – such as the uniform fetish site at Live Journal – that feature lots of sexually provocative Nazi fetish clothing). Here are some of the online admissions that I found. Obviously I can’t guarantee their veracity but they all seemed genuine to me:

  • Extract 1: “Don’t get me wrong. I DO NOT IN ANY WAY support their murders, torture, or anything of the sort. I would never support such heinous actions. That being said…I like Nazis. I like the uniform, the boots (Yesss, the boots), the fact that they’re German/speak German, as well as the whole ‘Aryan’ look. Neatly combed blonde hair, blue eyes. My friends think I’m insane, because I’m half black and I like blonde Nazis. Anyway, I love the masculinity they seemed to have. It’s very attractive. It’s a fetish I have”.
  • Extract 2: “I am a girl and I am turned on by The Nazi look blonde hair blue eyes and uniform, I can’t help but have thoughts about it is there something wrong with me? I think the holocaust was awful and I hate what the Nazis did but I just can’t help it, am I normal to have a weird fetish?”
  • Extract 3: “Nazi fetishes are actually fairly common in BD/SM. There used to be tons of Nazi-themed pornography and general exploitation movies although as the years following WW2 pass it is becoming more uncommon…The taboo and violence attached to Nazis makes them a popular fetish for people of many races, religions, and sexual orientations. Nazi fetishism is currently most popular in Asian and in gay pornography”.
  • Extract 4: “Lately, I’ve found myself getting a little too excited thinking about what most would call Nazi fetishism. I already had a bit of a German fetish, what with the accents and appearances, but when the SS uniforms started sneaking into my fantasies, when the idea of a little Nazi roleplay started to really appeal, things were different. I even fantasize about my love interest in the uniform (which is ironic because he is quite far from being an Aryan)!…I’ve uncovered other fetishes I have and now see how this fits in. (i) German accents are extremely sexy to me, (ii) I have always liked uniforms and nice clothes. (iii) taboo appeals to me quite a bit, [and] (iv) power and being dominated appeals to me” (z0mbiequeen)
  • Extract 5: “I have a fetish for uniforms and I don’t blame someone for having a Nazi fetish, people who are sharply dressed do look pretty sexy, especially the women’s clothing. I don’t have a fetish for the accents and everything German…It could also be how Nazis are frowned upon, so having a fetish for something so controversial and wrong makes it dirty?” (lovingpegasister)
  • Extract 6: “[Nazi] fetish is so common in many circles, from anime cosplay to gothic culture. They had the most badass uniforms at the time and they still look hot on just about anyone” (derBunker)

The Nazi clothing appears to be a fundamental part of the fetish and would appear to be a sub-type of uniform fetishism (that I outlined in a previous blog). In 2007, Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry appeared to praise the Nazi style (both in fashion and architectural terms) when he was quoted in a German newspaper as saying: ‘The way that the Nazis staged themselves and presented themselves, my Lord!…I’m talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl…And the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags – just fantastic. Really beautiful”. However, Ferry’s comments caused huge controversy and he then clarified his comments by saying: “I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective”. This type of apology is very similar to the caveats made by Nazi fetishists online in justifying their like of Nazi imagery from a sexual perspective.

Arguably the most high profile case of Nazi fetishism was Max Mosley (youngest son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the former leader of the British Union of Fascists and former head of Formula One’s governing body) who was caught in 2008 on video with five prostitutes playing concentration camp fetish games. One article quoted [unnamed] “experts” saying: “While the Nazi concept is not unusual in sadomasochistic circles, playing both sides in such a kinky ritual is unusual”. Another (less high profile) case was that of Gareth Meade, a senior council officer in London (UK), who lost his job for gross misconduct after his involvement in Nazi fetishism was exposed by a Sunday newspaper. Photos of Meade posing in Nazi regalia was found on a gay sex website. Meade claimed in the newspaper interview that he was “not a racist” and that his sexual activity was “a private fetish”.

A recent 2013 paper published by Dr. David Lopez and Dr. Ellis Godard in the journal Popular Culture Review studied Nazi fetishism using online forum data (a method that I have also been using to study rare paraphilic behaviours and which I have recently published a couple of papers on – see ‘Further Reading’ below). They also view the fetish as a type of uniform fetish. Their paper notes that:

“Nazi uniform fetishists and role-players represent the diversity of BDSM subculture as it is a very unique activity with a specific form of expression. The most salient form of this expression is seen in the style and fashion of these fetishists and role-players. Style and fashion express autonomy, proclaims messages, establishes boundaries, and generates definitions of a subculture (Hebdige, 1979). For uniform fetishists, the uniform creates a context for the BDSM scene. A Nazi uniform is just one type of uniform fetish. We suggest for these participants, they are attracted to Nazism as a movement steeped in violence and evil and the uniform is representative of this movement. BDSM practitioners use the term ‘scene’ when referring to erotic power exchange”.

Lopez and Godard collected data from a BDSM site that had over 900,000 members. They then focused on specific discussion groups within the main site. One of these groups comprised individuals that were interested in ‘Nazi Uniform Fetish and Roleplaying’ [NUFR] and had 617 members. They also noted that there were at least 12 other similar groups with an interest in Nazi fetishism including ‘Females of the Third Reich’ (114 members) and ‘SS [Shutzstaffel] Protection Squad] Uniforms and Those Who Love Them’ (162 members). The NUFR group was chosen as the site to study as it had the biggest number of members and the most detailed postings from its members about Nazi fetishism. The data were content analysed and comprised over 300 threads (approximately 10,000 comments). The authors reported that members discussed the uniforms themselves, including where to acquire them and pointedly disavowed white supremacy and anti-Semitism, emphasizing only the erotlcism associated with the uniforms. They also reported that many posts commented on the sex appeal of the uniforms. In response to a post asking “What makes a sexy Nazi?” one respondent noted that:

“A well cared for athletic, mature female body, subtly made up fair skin and hard steely blue eyes, long dark hair gathered up carefully in a high ponytail. She is very stylish and well groomed, a pristine women’s tailored Black SS uniform laid out for her on the bed beside her as she sits gracefully at her dressing table in her delicate, demure lingerie and Fully fashioned seamed and Cuban heel Nylons leaning elegantly forward and to the side to pull up the zips on her gleaming almost mirror polished Black Leather 5″ heel knee boots. Her visor cap, Black Leather Gloves, 4ft bull whip and SS officer’s belt on her pillow along with the heavy Leather holster that shrouds her 9mm P38. The interest in Nazi role-playing and the Nazi fetish is for most people (I can’t vouch for everyone), is a stimulating response to strong imagery, well tailored uniforms, and notions of power and fear”.

As with the online posts I found online, Lopez and Godard noted that their participants were “very careful and go to great lengths to establish that they are not anti-Semitic or supremacists”, and were fully aware that confusion is possible. For instance, some respondents noted:

  • Example 1: “People tend to automatically assume that someone who finds the uniform or the role-play sexy, is actually a Nazis themselves. Which I’m sure can be the case from time to time but couldn’t be further from the truth for me. I’m actually the exact opposite”
  • Example 2: “There are a lot of Jews in this group, like me. Except we’re clever enough to know the difference between a fetish and actually committing racist acts”
  • Example 3: “The biggest fan of my ex’s SS-uniform was a friend of ours who is Jewish”
  • Example 4: “Jews like to play Nazis and Nazis like to play Jews”
  • Example 5: “I’m a Jew who likes to keep being a Jew in my Nazi torture role-playing”

The authors also noted that not one post they examined expressed explicit anti-Semitism. It was the violent nature of Nazism, not anti-Semitism that motivated the self-presentation of individuals as ‘Nazis’ among Nazi uniform fetishists. They also added that it was the image of violence that was being portrayed, more than the actual violence. This is because BDSM play is highly controlled (as evidenced by, consensual scene negotiation and the use of safe-words). Based on the (mainly) qualitative data collected, Lopez and Godard concluded that:

“Nazi uniform fetish and role-play is just that, the playing of a role. The fetish serves to enhance the BDSM experience and has little to do with white supremacy or anti-Semitism. The world of BDSM is an erotically charged arena that incorporates a variety of interests, desires, and tastes. It is the association with evil that participants in Nazi uniform fetish and role-play find appealing. The self-presentation of erotic evil serves to contribute to the quality of the BDSM experience and allow participants in this subculture a safe and accepting environment in which to explore and express their fetish. This suggests, as oxymoronic as it sounds, that evil isn’t all that bad. The incorporation of evil symbols in a safe, non-harmful, consensual manner to enhance one’s pleasure suggests some performances (i.e., role-playing) serve a purpose in popular culture; it allows us to be bad”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Betts, P. (2002). The new fascination with fascism: The case of Nazi modernism. Journal of Contemporary History, 37, 541-558.

Fuchs, M. (2012). Of Blitzkriege and Hardcore BDSM: Revisiting Nazi Sexploitation Camps. In Elizabeth Bridges, Kristin T. Vander Lugt, & Daniel H. Magilow (Eds.), Nazisploitation: The Nazi Image in Low-Brow Film and Culture (pp. 279-294. New York: Continuum.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Griffiths, M.D., Lewis, A., Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Kuss, D.J. (2013). Online forums and blogs: A new and innovative methodology for data collection. Studia Psychologica, in press.

Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of sSyle. New York: Methuen & Co.

Lopez, D. A., Godard, E. Nazi (2013). Uniform fetish and role-playing: A subculture of erotic evil.  Popular Culture Review, 24(1), 69-78.

Rocker, S. (2010). Council officer sacked for Nazi ‘fetish’. Jewish Chronicle, March 22. Located at: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/29730/council-officer-sacked-nazi-fetish

Wikipedia (2013). Nazi chic. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_chic

Adam’s antics: A portrait in pop perversion

Today’s blog is based on an updated version of an article that I originally published in a 1999 issue of Headpress (The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion).

I have been a fan of Adam Ant and his music for over thirty years. Furthermore, as someone who takes more than a passing interest in human sexual paraphilic behaviour (as evidenced by many of the blogs I write), I would argue that Adam’s music has covered more atypical sexual behaviours than any other recording artist that I can think of (e.g. sadomasochism, bondage, transvestism, voyeurism, fetishism, etc). Anyone who has followed Adam’s career will recall that his music was billed in the late 1970s and early 1980s as “Antmusic for Sexpeople”. Adam’s followers (according to the free booklet given away with early copies of the 1980 LP ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier‘) were the “sexpeople” who “get off on sexual phenomena; people who like sexual imagery and enjoy being sexual”. For me, Soft Cell are probably the only other recording artists who come close (no pun intended) to talking about the seedier side of sex.

There are very few songs in the Ant repertoire that are about what I would call straight sex (i.e., ‘vanilla sex’). Adam’s most obvious songs here are ‘S.E.X.’ (1981; from ‘Prince Charming‘ LP) where he proclaims in the chorus that “Sex is sex, forget the rest/The only one that’s free/The only great adventure left/To humankind, that’s you and me”, ‘Beautiful Dream’ (1995; from ‘Wonderful‘ LP) where “Sex is emotion in motion”, ‘Good Sex Rumples The Clothing’ and ‘Doggy Style’ (both from the 2005 Deluxe Edition of the ‘Vive Le Rock’ LP), and ‘Sexatise You’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP).  For me this is very bland stuff that is also echoed in many songs from the 1983 ‘Strip‘ album including the title track, ‘Baby Let Me Scream At You’, ‘Libertine’ and ‘Navel To Neck’. ‘Straight sex’ in the form of sexual promiscuity rears it’s head in both a third person male account in one of Adam’s own favourite songs, ‘Juanito the Bandito’ (1982; B-Side of ‘Friend or Foe’), in which Adam (singing in a Latino-type accent) says “Young ladies he likes to ravish/He knows how to make them wet/And if he can’t, he’ll dig himself a hole/Or go looking for your favourite pet”. I’m not quite sure whether that’s some reference to a potential bestial act or just a bad rhyming couplet but still pretty tame as far as I’m concerned. The more humorous side of promiscuity is also outlined in 1983’s ‘Playboy’ from the album ‘Strip‘ when Adam asks “What do you wear in bed?/Some headphones on my head/What do you like to hold?/’My breath’ she said”. Adam also makes indirect scientific reference to human orgasm (“Resolution – the fourth and final part”) on ‘Can’t Set The Rules About Love’ (1990; from the ‘Manners and Physique’ LP.

Other types of ‘vanilla sex’ include dressing up in sexy clothes (‘Spanish Games’; from the ‘Strip‘ LP, 1983), high-class prostitution (‘High Heels in High Places’ from the 2000 ‘Antbox’ CD-set), and sex in aeroplanes (from the 1981 ‘Prince Charming‘ LP) in the shape of the non-subtle ‘Mile High Club’ (“747 or a VC 10/Winter, summer, who knows when?/Take off passion, fly away love/Mile High Club”). There is also a whole song about sex in the bathroom (‘Bathroom Function’; 1978 from ‘Antmusic for Sexpeople‘ bootleg LP) which makes lots of references to lathering and rubbing unhygienic places and soap-on-rope. However, the lyrics make it hard to decide whether the sex in question is masturbatory or copulation-based.

Very few of Adam’s songs refer to homosexuality and lesbianism except when he is singing in the third person. The most striking examples of this appear on his 1989 ‘Manners and Physique’ album. One song ‘Bright Lights, Black Leather’ is an observation of the gay scene in West Berlin (There they go, the buccaneers/Hand in hand in leather glove/So fast, so crazy/With a creepy kind of love). The other song is about the rent-boy scene in Piccadilly (appropriately entitled ‘Piccadilly’). There’s also the more obvious ‘All Girl Action’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP). Another song where Ant takes a third person view of a sexual behaviour is in ‘Cleopatra’ (1979; from the ‘Dirk Wears White Sox‘ LP) where he makes reference to the Egyptian queen’s alleged penchant for fellatio. As Adam observes “Cleopatra did 10,000 in her lifetime/Now that’s a wide mouth/Cleo gave service with a smile/She was a wide-mouthed girl/She did a hundred Roman Centurians/For after-dinner mints”.

Many of Adam’s songs make passing references to activities associated with the more extreme fringes of sex such as sexual body piercing (“She’s got a little chain through her tit/And she doesn’t seem to mind it”, from ‘Punk in the Supermarket’, 1978; ‘Antmusic for Sexpeople‘ bootleg LP), tattoos (“I’ve got a hear on my arm/It says ‘PURE SEX’/It hurt/I mean it/I got it till I die/Or until I reach orgasmo (sic)”, from ‘Red Scab’, 1982; B-side of ‘Goody Two Shoes‘), and fat fetishes (‘Fat Fun’ from the  2000 ‘Antbox’ CD-set). He also hints at bestial pleasures and clitoral stimulation in the 1982 song ‘Why Do Girls Love Horses?’ (“Is it ‘cos they’re round?/Or ‘cos they’re six feet off the ground?/Is because they’re on top?/Or the clippety-clop?”) (B-side of ‘Desperate But Not Serious’).

It is when we start to examine Adam’s earlier output that things get far more interesting. Transvestism may have been covered implicitly in The Kinks‘ ‘Lola‘ or Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side‘ but I don’t know another song like “Greta-X” (1985; B-side of ‘Vive Le Rock’) which includes the chorus “I’m a joyous glad TV/Why don’t you come TV with me/I know a girl who likes to dress me/Up like this and then caress me”. Some may claim that the “TV” here may not necessarily be about transvestites but the last verse clears up any ambiguity! (Underwear all tidied away/Thirty eight bust just for a day/Heels so high, my furs so fine/All a woman’s things, they are mine”).

One of the most salient themes through much of Adam’s early work is sadomasochism and bondage. Live favourites such as ‘Physical (You’re So)’, ‘Ligotage’ and ‘B-Side Baby’, being typical of the genre. An early stage favourite was ‘Beat My Guest’ (1981; B-side of ‘Stand and Deliver‘) which would often disturb club owners:

“Well tie me up and hit me with a stick/Yeah, use a truncheon or a household brick/There’s so much happiness behind these tears/I’ll pray you’ll beat me for a thousand years/Well use a truncheon or a cricket bat/A good beating’s where it’s really at”

Their other early SM classic ‘Whip In My Valise’ with the immortal chorus line “Who taught you to torture? Who taught ya?” was the first song that my Dad questioned my musical taste. When you look at some of the lyrics, you can perhaps appreciate why my father was concerned about what his thirteen-year old son was listening to.

“When I met you, you were just sixteen/Pulling the wings off flies/When the old lady got hit by the truck/I saw the wicked in your eyes/You put my head into the stocks/And then went to choose a cane/But hey, your cat has got nine tails/You like to leave me lame”

Very few of Adam’s later songs return to these themes although there are a few exceptions including the self-explanatory ‘Human Bondage Den’ (1985; from the ‘Vive Le Rock‘ LP) and ‘Rough Stuff’ (1989; from the ‘Manners and Physique‘ LP), the latter of which was a big hit in the US. The world of rubberites is explored in another self-explanatory song ‘Rubber People’. Adam proclaims that: “Rubber people are lovely people/They long for latex on their skin/A hole in the ceiling/A nice strong gag/Nicely wrapped and strapped”. This again has strong sadomasochistic overtones especially when references are made to being “bound to discipline” and spanking. Spanking only appears in one other Ant song – the aforementioned ‘Whip in My Valise’ (1979; B-side of ‘Zerox‘). Voyeurism with naïve sadomasochistic overtones also appear in the early live favourite “Lady” (1979; B-side of ‘Young Parisians’) when Adam sings “I saw a lady and she was naked/I saw a lady she had no clothes on/I had a good look through the crack/She had footmarks up her back/How did they get there?”

Although Adam sings about many sexual fetishes, the only direct references to fetishism appear in the classic ‘Christian D’Or’ (1981; B-side of ‘Prince Charming‘) and ‘Survival of the Fetish’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP). In ‘Christian D’Or’, Adam reels off a whole list of fetishes and concludes there is something wrong with him (“I’ve got a fetish for black/A fetish for green/A fetish for those arty magazines/I’ve got a fetish for Brando/A fetish for cats/A fetish for ladies in Christian Dior hats/I’ve got a fetish and that means I’m sick/So very sick”).

I have also come across some early (1977) songs that feature other types of sexual behaviour (including cunnilingus, swinging, rape, necrophilia, knicker fetishes, and – possibly – amputee fixations). These tapes feature sex-based songs, many of which have never found their way onto record. Song titles include ‘Weekend Swinger’, ‘Underwear’, ‘Hooray, I’m a Hetero’, ‘Punishment Park’, ‘The Throb (True Love)’, ‘Swedish Husbands’, ‘Sit On My Face’, ‘Get On Your Knees’, ‘Female Rape’, ‘Deanecrophilia’ and ‘Saturday A.M. Pix’ (AMPIX was a company that specialised in products for those with a sexual amputee fixation but this may not be about amputee fetishes at all as I have never heard the song).

The one song I have not been able to decide whether it is about a sexual paraphilia is ‘1969 Again’ (1995; from ‘Wonderful‘ LP). In this song Adam sings that “Oh how you make me wish I was a baby/Yeah, when you’re playing Miss Swish/Knickers on – you’re my big agony nanny/With your big towel protection”. To me, this looks like a song about paraphilic infantilism (i.e., people who get sexual kicks from being adult babies) but I could be wrong. There is also the reference to Miss Swish that suggests some spanking reference (Swish is a spanking magazine) but maybe that’s wishful thinking.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ant, A. (2007). Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography. London: Pan.

Griffiths, M.D (1999). Adam Ant: Sex and perversion for teenyboppers. Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 19, 116-119.

Wikipedia (2013). Adam and the Ants. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_and_the_Ants

Wikipedia (2013). Adam Ant. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Ant

The Velvet Revolution: Is ‘Venus in Furs’ the most radical song in popular music?

As regular readers of my blog will know, my overriding passion in life is music, and as a music lover my record and CD collecting (at times) borders on obsession. In a previous blog I looked at the extreme music of Throbbing Gristle. In today’s blog I want to make the case that the song Venus in Furs by the Velvet Underground is perhaps the most radical song in the history of popular music. It also happens to be one of my all-time favourite songs and is arguably the song that (along with most of Adam and the Ants’ early recorded output) got me academically interested in sexual paraphilias.

Behavioural and psychological extremes run through the core of the Velvet Underground’s musical philosophy. For those who know nothing about them, the first thing to know is that they named themselves after a 1963 book by the journalist Michael Leigh about the secret sexual subculture in America (there was also a 1968 follow-up book called The Velvet Underground Revisited). In 1967, the book was republished in the UK (although the name of the book had changed to Bizarre Sex Underground). As the Wikipedia entry on the book notes:

“Leigh investigates aberrant sexual behavior between consenting adults, that is, everything other than simple intercourse conducted in privacy by a heterosexual couple, e.g., husband and wife swapping, group sex, sex orgy parties, homosexual activities, sado-masochism. The author reports on the various ways in which such practices are solicited (newspaper advertisements, clubs, etcetera), and by following these leads, manages to get into touch with many of its participants, usually through written correspondence. The book liberally treats us with quotations from this material. This is complemented with quotes from various magazines. The author’s general aim is to establish that a shift in attitude toward sexuality is taking place in society that not only allows a large cross-section of the American population to partake in such non-standard sexual practices, but also allows them to believe that what they are doing is perfectly healthy and normal”

The band was formed in New York in 1965 and grew out of the ‘fictional’ band The Primitives (comprising Lou Reed, John Cale, Walter De Maria, and Angus MacLise) who had a local hit with ‘The Ostrich’ (penned by Reed). They had various names including The Warlocks and The Falling Spikes before settling on The Velvet Underground (suggested by MacLise after finding a copy of Leigh’s book in the street). Following the departures of De Maria and MacLise, Reed and Cale recruited Sterling Morrison and Maureen (‘Mo’) Tucker and it is this incarnation of the band that features what most people consider the ‘classic’ line-up (although even after Cale left and was replaced by Doug Yule, I liked that line-up’s LPs too). Their first manager was the pop-artist Andy Warhol who parted ways with the group after the recording of their first (1967) album The Velvet Underground and Nico (that featured the German chanteuse Nico singing on three of the songs). As ‘non-musician’ Brian Eno once said of the Velvet Underground – they didn’t sell many records [in their lifetime], but everybody who bought their first album went out and formed a band.

During their short career, Reed and Cale penned some of the best and most extreme rock songs of all time. The topics of their songs included sado-masochism, bondage and submission (Venus in Furs), scoring drugs (I’m Waiting For The Man), heroin use (Heroin), amphetamine use (White Light, White Heat), transexualism (Candy Says), death (The Black Angel’s Death Song), accidental death (The Gift), murder (The Murder Mystery), sex-change operations (Lady Godiva’s Operation), female sexual problems (Here She Comes Now), and even one song that features drug use, violence, sexual orgies, homosexuality, transvestism, and fellatio (Sister Ray). Most music commentators often point out that the group’s provocative lyrics presented a nihilistic outlook on life.

Brian Duguid, in his 1995 A Prehistory of Industrial Music, said that the release of the Velvet Underground’s first album was a turning point for rock music as they were the first band to incorporate the avant-garde into their music (thanks to John Cale’s scholarship with La Monte Young and the influence of his ‘drone’ music). Duguid claims that the Velvet Underground combined avant-garde with one of the most alienated, hostile attitudes rock had so far developed”.

Venus in Furs (written by Reed) appeared on the Velvet’s first album and is arguably the group’s greatest and most sexually provocative song, and was based on the 1870 novella of the same name written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (whose name is the basis for the word ‘masochism’ as the book was semi-autobiographical; Sacher-Masoch considered himself the ‘slave’ of Baroness Bogdanoff, his mistress). Most of Sacher-Masoch’s stories featured a woman in furs. As Dr. Anil Aggrawal notes in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices:

“The term masochism was coined in 1886 by the Austro-German psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902), after a contemporary writer, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836–1895), whose partially autobiographical novel Venus in Furs (1870) tells of the protagonist Severin von Kusiemski’s desire to be whipped and enslaved by a beautiful woman. Wanda von Dunajew. Severin describes his feelings during these experiences as suprasensuality”.

The song basically tells Sacher-Masoch’s story in music form. As the Wikipedia entry on the Venus in Furs novella notes:

“Wanda von Dunajew, the novel’s central female character, was modelled after Fanny Pistor, who was an emerging literary writer. The two met when Pistor contacted Sacher-Masoch, under assumed name and fictitious title of Baroness Bogdanoff, for suggestions on improving her writing to make it suitable for publication. [The story] concerns a man who dreams of speaking to Venus about love while she wears furs. The unnamed narrator tells his dreams to a friend, Severin, who tells him how to break him of his fascination with cruel women by reading a manuscript, Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man. This manuscript tells of a man, Severin von Kusiemski, who is so infatuated with a woman, Wanda von Dunajew, that he asks to be her slave, and encourages her to treat him in progressively more degrading ways. At first Wanda does not understand or accede to the request, but after humouring Severin a bit she finds the advantages of the method to be interesting and enthusiastically embraces the idea, although at the same time she disdains Severin for allowing her to do so. Severin describes his feelings during these experiences as suprasensuality. Severin and Wanda travel to Florence. Along the way, Severin takes the generic Russian servant’s name of ‘Gregor’ and the role of Wanda’s servant. In Florence, Wanda treats him brutally as a servant, and recruits a trio of African women to dominate him”

Around the time of the song being written, Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’ crowd were making movies with sadomasochistic themes such as 1965’s Vinyl (in which Edie Sedgwick played a dominatrix and Gerard Malanga played a masochist. Sterling Morrison claimed the song was “the closest [the Velvet Underground] ever came in my mind to being exactly what I thought [they] could be”. A contemporary review of the song in a 1967 issue of Vibrations magazine by Timothy Jacobs noted:

“’Venus in Furs’ is perhaps the best example of the severity of the music. The texture of the song is pure sado-masochism. The music is remarkable in its expression of this message; the words speak of a life of sheer pain and misery, with frequent mention of Severin, a sadistic monk from Justine [sic], by the Marquis de Sade”.

In his 1967 book Coldness and Cruelty, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze described both sadism and masochism as entire philosophical systems. To Deleuze, Sacher-Masoch and the Marquis de Sade are “great artists in that they discover new forms of expression, new ways of thinking and feeling and an entirely new language”. The same could perhaps be said of the Velvet Underground’s music. In The Post-subcultures Reader, David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl (like me) noted the sexually paraphilic overlap in the music of the Velvet Underground and Adam and the Ants:

Musical genealogies of American punk performance often begin with the Velvet Underground (Henry 1989), a band whose name is taken from a masochistic text, and whose song ‘Venus in Furs’ invokes Sacher-Masoch’s (1991) novel of the same title. In London, a decade later, it is Adam and the Ants who bring punk’s masochistic imagery to the fore. Having abandoned his art-college thesis in rubber and leather fetishism, Adam introduced S/M into his stage performances with songs such as ‘Whip my Valise’ and ‘Rubber People’ (Home 1988; Sabin 1999)”.

As far as I am concerned, Venus in Furs is the song that changed rock music forever. It featured subject matter that was so extreme in the 1960s that it sent out a message to any band that rock lyrics don’t have to follow a formula and that no topic is taboo. It let every band know that artistic merit had no boundaries and that record sales are not the be all and end all of musical success (something that John Cale echoed in his speech when the Velvet Underground were inducted into the US Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1996). If you’ve not yet discovered the delights of the Velvet Underground, then hopefully this blog will tempt you into sampling some of their musical wares.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Deleuze, G. (1991). Coldness and Cruelty. In Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs (translated by J. McNeil). New York: Zone Books.

Duguid, B. (1995). A Prehistory of Industrial Music. London: ESTWeb.

Henry, T. (1989), Break All Rules! Punk Rock and the Making of a Style, Ann Arbour MI: UMI Research Press.

Heylin, C. (2005). All Yesterday’s Parties – The Velvet Underground In Print 1966-1971. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Hogan, P. (2007). The Rough Guide To The Velvet Underground. London: Penguin.

Home, S. (1988), Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War, London: Aporia Press and Unpopular Books.

Muggleton, D. & Weinzierl, R. (2003). The Post-subcultures Reader. Oxford: Berg

Sabin, R. (1999), ‘Introduction’, in R. Sabin (ed.), Punk Rock: So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk, London and New York: Routledge.

Sacher-Masoch, L. von. (1989). Venus in Furs. New York: Zone Books.