Frank and Harvey
“I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.” — Harvey Weinstein
It’s true: Sexism, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, misogyny and porcine male chauvinism (my college French professor, a black woman, taught us the term phallocrate) were no secret. Condescension, disgusting behavior, and caddish manners were widely accepted even by, and from, so-called gentlemen. Hefner was a hero. It was a joke when Billie Jean King handed Bobby Riggs a squirming piglet. But the real pigs rarely squirmed at all.
In fact — and I’m not defending Weinstein — you could argue the culture taught boys to disrespect women and act like boors, heels and creeps.
Growing up with the right influences and a sense of decency teaches boys not to be like Weinstein. But culture is a powerful force. If today we have Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera celebrating “Moves Like Jagger,” the Weinstein Generation had “Rude Like Sinatra.”
Maybe a stretch, but bear with me.
I grew up in the same era as Weinstein. Like many kids then, my folks would play Frank Sinatra and his contemporaries. I didn’t understand or appreciate the seemingly corny, fusty tunes when the Beatles and Stones were taking over the charts, but most Sinatra and other standards from the Great American Songbook — the early-to-mid 20th century popular songs, jazz favorites, and show tunes — really are great, timeless, and many hauntingly lovely. Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer (The summer wind/came blowing in/from across the sea) — these were musical poets for melody and voice that Sinatra naturally, preternaturally, phrased to a rich, complex bloom beyond what even the writers themselves imagined.
(Compare that with the current, obscenity-riddled fare that objectifies, exploits and degrades women. It makes you wonder: Will a boy growing up today immersed in recording industry, online and gaming misogyny — or hearing the president brag about grabbing women and calling them fat, pig, dog, slob, and disgusting animal — someday be outed for serial sexual harassment and blame the culture he was raised in? Do we have Weinsteins in the making among us?)
Sinatra’s legendary misogyny was also shocking and indulged. But he spared the music and reserved his booze-fueled, verbal, emotional and physical abuse of women for public places and hotel rooms. The songs at least seemed respectful.
Mostly. Many reflected how “the culture then” regarded women. Three gems, all performed by Sinatra though popularized by others, stand out:
1. “My Funny Valentine”
Your looks are laughable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art
Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?
2. “Wives and Lovers”
Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up
Soon he will open the door
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try any more
For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you
Day after day, there are girls at the office
And the men will always be men
Don’t stand him up with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again.
3. “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
The neighbors might think (Baby, it’s bad out there)
Say, what’s in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (Your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell)
I ought to say no, no, no, sir (Mind if I move a little closer)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (What’s the sense in hurting my pride)
I really can’t stay (Baby don’t hold out)
Baby it’s cold outside.
Now broadly parodied as the “date-rape song” because the guy in the duet singing the parenthetical obviously doesn’t get that no means no (and “say, what’s in this drink?” is too Cosby-esque), it was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, winner of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize and a five-time Academy Award nominee. Loesser is most famed for penning the lyrics and music to Guys and Dolls and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
Loesser’s son reportedly is aghast at the modern response to “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The guy in the song was meant to be innocently cajoling. Some suggest the lyrics are sympathetic to women because she wanted to stay but worried about family and societal standards then.
Either way, every holiday season, when “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has come on my Pandora Sinatra Holiday station, I’ve winced.
I’ll wince even more now, because the man’s pleadings and the woman’s demurrals sound an awful lot like the cajoling against no that Weinstein’s many victims heard. I really can’t stay (baby I have a role for you).
Post-Weinstein outing, the line from “Wives and Lovers,” day after day, there are girls at the office/And the men will always be men, is downright chilling.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.