Straight White Guys, Just Stop It
“Call Your Girlfriend” - In its most innocent form, we’d call it sophomoric ignorance. If we’re being more direct, however, we’d call it dubious—at the very least—when a straight white male performs a song about a life which he has not lived and, by performing it, attempts to ingratiate himself with, and make himself sympathetic toward, the plight of the person who originally wrote it (Exhibit A is “911 Is a Joke” as sung by Duran Duran). Extending beyond racism, this issue becomes much trickier when it comes to straight males covering songs written by women, like with “Jolene” as performed by The White Stripes.
Now, I use “Jolene” purposefully here because, one, I like it, both the original and the cover, and, two, because the cover-er and the covered have similar enough backgrounds. But even with their commonalities, there’s an intrinsic problem, one where the straight man who’s covering the song unknowingly, or, much more likely, knowingly, is putting himself in the corner of the woman who wrote it so as to be against those ‘other guys,’ the brutes who only care about looks and just want blow jobs and steaks and motor oil, or some combination thereof.
Before we go even further, let this be said: it’s impossible to know who ‘hurts’ more. It could be that one group experiences more inner turmoil or it could be that we all feel exactly the same when love turns sour. Whatever the case, I can say from my own experience that watching a straight man covering “Call Your Girlfriend” seems very fake. Seeing his attempt to empathize with a woman’s pain, there’s just something very “guitar guy at the party” about it.
And while this is only a guess, one may now be thinking, “This is music, buddy. This is art. Don’t be so literal.” So, as another clarifying statement, let me go on record and say I understand that music is not always meant to be taken literally. I get that it doesn’t ‘know’ gender, creed, religion, sexual preference. But, I’m guessing, if your mind jumped to the sanctity of art, you’re also someone who, before David Foster Wallace’s biography came out, didn’t think of him as someone who went on book tours for the intent of landing “audience pussy.” So, for a moment, step with me out of fantasyland and into the reality that a vast majority of straight males who start a band do so because they want to have sex with members of the opposite sex who are more attractive than the members of the opposite sex they’re used to having sex with. That’s natural selection and if we want to start talking about how that’s supposed to be taken less than literally, I have a museum in Kentucky that’s open year round.