Monday, August 4, 2014

American Woman

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In this post I want to discuss “American Woman” by The Guess Who. Yes, let’s start there.

Released by Canadian band The Guess Who, “American Woman” was the title track of the 1970 release, American Woman. It is a song that every U.S. citizen has probably heard at least 20,000 times.  Lenny Kravitz covered it, pouting for the camera in his cutesy rendition for the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack. Many people probably view the song as a fun, rocking out song. Let’s delve in a little closer to what the lyrics are trying to tell you.

The song starts out with a slow bluesy intro, then ’s a scream by Burton Cummings accompanying a crunchy rock and roll guitar riff.
Cummings throws out a strong, rock and roll howl. You intuit the intentions, the singer’s passion about what he’s singing. But what is he saying?

Most of the critiques about this song (and, wholly considered, it’s an old song now), gravitate around the fact that this song was understood—or misunderstood—to be a statement against the American imperialistic attitutde toward the Vietnam War. People critique that.

But what I find curious is the glossing over that the lyrics are very sexist.
The lyrics, for a woman or anyone who loves a woman, are offensive.
Here’s the first verse:
American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don't come a-hangin' around my door
I don't wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin' old with you
Now woman, I said stay away
American woman, listen what I say

When I hear these lyrics, I cringe.
I hear the singer making a statement using the symbol of a “dirty” woman, someone disposable, someone forgettable.

Jim Kale, The Guess Who’s bassist, denied its sexist role.  According to superseventies.com, Kale said:
“The popular misconception was that it was a chauvinistic tune, which was anything but the case. The fact was, we came from a very strait-laced, conservative, laid-back country, and all of a sudden, there we were in Chicago, Detroit, New York – all these horrendously large places with their big city problems. After that one particularly grinding tour, it was just a real treat to go home and see the girls we had grown up with. Also, the war was going on, and that was terribly unpopular. We didn't have a draft system in Canada, and we were grateful for that. A lot of people called it anti-American, but it wasn't really. We weren't anti-anything. John Lennon once said that the meanings of all songs come after they are recorded. Someone else has to interpret them.”

American social commentary and his childhood roots aside, Kale might need to look up the definition of ‘chauvinism’; American Woman’s lyrics push the symbolism of a tattered, manipulative, disposable woman, one the singer keeps trying to push away.

And Lenny Kravitz’s contribution? It boggles my mind. Here, watch the video.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzWHE32IxUc
It’s pretty much what you’d expect it to be, Lenny primping and posing, trying to sell ‘cool’. But the audience is full of scantily clad women rockin’ out to the song, as if collectively, whatever 200 plus people it took to complete the video, like they all had completely failed to listen to whatever the song was saying. It’s not speed metal, the song’s lyrics aren’t delieved that fast. 

So my big question is: how on earth, could they all have normalized the lyrics, the message?

Find the lyrics below. Take a look.Let me know your thoughts.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJTd9y-l6ks97t

"American Woman"
American woman gonna mess your mind
American woman, she gonna mess your mind
American woman gonna mess your mind
American woman gonna mess your mind
Say A, Say M, Say E, Say R, Say I, C, Say A

American woman gonna mess your mind
American woman gonna mess your mind
American woman gonna mess your mind

American woman, stay away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don't come a-hangin' around my door
I don't wanna see your face no more
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin' old with you
Now woman, I said stay away
American woman, listen what I say

American woman, get away from me
American woman, mama, let me be
Don't come a-knockin' around my door
Don't wanna see your shadow no more
Colored lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes
Now woman, I said get away
American woman, listen what I say, hey

American woman, said get away
American woman, listen what I say
Don't come a-hangin' around my door
Don't wanna see your face no more
I don't need your war machines
I don't need your ghetto scenes
Coloured lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else's eyes
Now woman, get away from me
American woman, mama, let me be

Go, gotta get away, gotta get away
Now go go go
I'm gonna leave you, woman
Gonna leave you, woman
Bye-bye (x4)

You're no good for me
I'm no good for you
Gonna look you right in the eye
Tell you what I'm gonna do
You know I'm gonna leave
You know I'm gonna go
You know I'm gonna leave
You know I'm gonna go, woman
I'm gonna leave ya, woman
Goodbye, American woman...




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