Friday, April 16, 2010

It's No Hangin' Mat-TUHH

"Stray Cat Blues" is a great song by the Stones that is 27 different varieties of wrong.

I honestly think the Stones' career was aided by the fact that Mick tended to sing as though he hadn't quite managed to swallow that mouthful of shit he'd been chewing on; because Mick's "style" of "singing" makes it really difficult to discern that what he's singing about in this song is fucking a 15-year-old — presumably a 15-year-old girl, but the lyrics never quite come out and say that. It's pretty strongly implied, though. The 15-year-old is identified with a cat; she scratches backs during sex; and her "wilder" friend — whom Mick encourages his "stray cat" to invite into bed with them and "join in" — is positively identified as female. So I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume Mick's titular stray cat is female.

It's said that when performing this song live, Mick liked to change the lyrics so that the 15-year-old became a 13-year-old instead. Because Mick is nothing if not a class act.

The song has the additional "ick" factor that Mick weirdly insists on talking about his underage sexual conquest's mother in a vaguely-implied sexual way: "I bet your mama don't know you scratch like that/ I bet she don't know you can bite like that".

Generally speaking, bringing up a girl's mother in your drrrty talk is not a very good seduction technique. Seinfeld fans will recall that a woman Jerry was on the verge of taking to bed left in a huff when Jerry brought up her mother ... despite the fact that she was the one who started the dirty talk:
JERRY: So, we're, uh, foolin' around there.. you know, it's getting a little passionate.. (Scoots closer to George, to prevent others from hearing) and, uh, she starts with the dirty talking.

GEORGE: (Putting his hands up) Alright, alright, hold on! (Jerry has George's full attention) Time out! Woah, woah! (Scooting in, giddy) What did she say?

JERRY: (Modest) Oh, you know, the usual..

GEORGE: No, I don't know. How do I know the usual?

JERRY: Typical things.

GEORGE: (Picking up the ketchup) What typical? Gimme typical. Gimme some typical.

JERRY: She says, uh.. (Mumbles something inaudible. George, so shocked by what he's just heard, accidentally squeezes the ketchup bottle - ketchup squirts out and files off-screen. George reacts deeply)

GEORGE: (Breathing deeply) That's very dirty. (Jerry nods) That's absolutely filthy.

JERRY: ..And then she starts talking about her panties.

GEORGE: (Yelling out to a waitress) Gonna need some water here!

JERRY: So I said something.

GEORGE: Ok, what did you say?

JERRY: (Defensively) Now, bear in mind, I am just trying to keep up.

GEORGE: Of course.

JERRY: Okay? So, she's taking about her panties, so, uh.. So, I said, "You mean the panties your mother laid out for you?"

GEORGE: (Takes a few seconds to mull this one over. Shooting Jerry a confused look, he repeats it) "The panties your mother laid out for you"? (Jerry nods) What does that mean?

JERRY: (Throwing up his hands) I don't know! It just popped out.

GEORGE: Well, how did she react?

JERRY: She flipped out! Just left.

GEORGE: Well, that's not offensive. (Reflects) It's abnormal, but it's not offensive.
Now keep in mind, that's the reaction of an adult woman when her mother was brought up in a sexual context. And her reaction, though fictional, is appropriate. Would a teen tend to be more or less "turned on" by the mentioning of her mother in such a context? Discuss.

But getting back to "Stray Cat Blues" ...

Mick is technically correct: To this day, seducing an underage girl is "no hangin' mat-TUHH ... it's no capital CRYYYY-muh". But it is statutory rape ... thus, still a crime, though not a capital one.

And despite the fact that, yeah, I agree, the only dudes who should be getting all worked up about potentially having sex with a 15-year-old girl should be 15-year-old boys; and despite the fact that "Stray Cat Blues" could be the theme song — and Mick the Wanted Poster Boy — for NBC's To Catch a Predator, ... stilll, "Stray Cat Blues" remains a great song, in my mind — one of the Stones' finest, in fact.

For some reason, I've always had a hard time taking the Stones' casual misogyny ("Stupid Girl", "Honky Tonk Women", "Some Girls", "Star Star", etc.) and racism ("Brown Sugar", "Some Girls", etc.) seriously. I don't deny it's there, but it just seems so calculated, intended to push buttons and get a rise out of people. It's all a put-on attitude. The Stones' inability to write honest and truly felt lyrics (with rare exceptions) is one of the many reasons I think the Who were always a far superior group.

You don't really need to hear the Stones' lyrics to enjoy their songs. In most cases, the lyrics add little. I'm not claiming this is something unique to the Rolling Stones' lyrics. This is possibly true of the lyrics to the vast majority of rock songs ... all songs, maybe. I mention it with regard to the Stones only because their inability to write meaningful lyrics is what makes me always kind of chuckle to myself when people call them The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band.
These lyrics (below) are close enough. I took them from a random lyrics site, so I can't vouch for their absolute, 100% accuracy. But they're good enough.

I hear the click-clack of your feet on the stairs
I know you're no scare-eyed honey.
There'll be a feast if you just come upstairs
But it's no hanging matter
It's no capital crime

I can see that you're fifteen years old
No I don't want your I.D.
I can see you're so far from home
But it's no hanging matter
It's no capital crime

Oh yeah, you're a strange stray cat
Oh yeah, don'tcha scratch like that
Oh yeah, you're a strange stray cat
Bet your mama don't know you scream like that
I bet your mother don't know you can spit like that.

You look so weird and you're so far from home
But you don't really miss your mother
Don't look so scared I'm no mad-brained bear
But it's no hanging matter
It's no capital crime
Oh, yeah

I bet your mama don't know that you scatch like that
I bet she don't know you can bite like that.

You say you got a friend, that she's wilder than you
Why don't you bring her upstairs
If she's so wild then she can join in too
It's no hanging matter
It's no capital crime

Oh yeah, you're a strange stray cat
Oh yeah, don'tcha scratch like that
Oh yeah, you're a strange stray cat
I bet you mama don't know you can bite like that
I'll bet she never saw you scratch my back


  1. So... the only time I ever followed a woman to her place after closing time, I found myself thinking "this seems familiar." As we started getting, er, familiar, her daughter came home. I'd dated the daughter. That's why it seemed familiar. I don't think mentioning the mother is quite as off-putting as actually doing the mother in her presence.

    I thought the song was about having sex with a 15 year-old cat.

  2. This is exactly why I continue to show up everyday ladies and gentlemen....

  3. Totally agree with you on the Stones. A great band, but the greatest band? Not a chance.

    I also think much of their output was calculated to shock - they were the anti-Beatles.

  4. They best everyone for longevity and so get special status. Now do an analysis of a Who song for us, and make us believe in those honest lyrics.

  5. I continue to be astonished that there are people who actually listen to the lyrics. And search for meaning in them. I thought they put in whatever words went with the music and produced the sound they liked. That actual meaning was a distant consideration.

    It reminds me of an author listening to some fanboy talking about his "oeuvre" and what he actually meant by it. His response was "Bullshit!" I'll go with that.