Sunday, December 05, 2004

Who Da Bitch Now? - The Controversy Returns

I want to post a response to a very heartfelt and sincere complaint about one of the songs on my CD Have You Been to Jail for Justice? that I received from Willy, who writes:

"The first song is great, the reason I bought the album, but MAN- the
who the bitch now song - sickens me and makes me lose all respect for
you and your work. Condoning violence is wrong, even to violent
people - a terrible message for someone representing those seeking a
just world!"

My response:

This is by no means the first sincere complaint I have received about this remarkably complex and disturbing song by my friend Eric Schwartz. I was totally shocked and startled into stunned silence the first time I heard Eric perform it informally to a crowd gathered under a tree at the Kerrville Folk Festival. I didn't laugh either, although the large crowd found it utterly hilarious. I couldn't get the song and its imagery out of my head. I had Eric play the song for me again alone and we talked about it some. I discussed it with friends who had heard it, and were also anxious to talk about the experience of hearing this song. After a few days of this, I realized that this 2 and half minute song had provided me with three days of intensive reflection on the sufferings of James Byrd, Matthew Shepard and Abner Louima -- and provoked hours of reflection on the subject of retribution. I've always been a sucker for songs that make me think.

If you listened to the entire album I hope you noticed that the theme of this recording is jail. All sixteen new songs (and two of the four bonus tracks) include references to prison. I wanted to do an album that dealt specifically with the many aspects of life in prison after reading an article that pointed out that the US has more people in prison per capita than any nation on the planet except possibly China. We have 2,000,000+ people behind bars. Being a great admirer of Gene Debs, I despise prisons and believe that they create more problems than they solve.

That being said, I believe everyone (inlcuding me) has rejoiced -- if only for a few moments -- when hypocrites are chastised. When the pious and self-righteous Jimmy Swaggart is discovered in a rent-by-the-hour motel with a prostitute, I think most people say "Aha!" -- It certainly doesn't mean that they condone prostitution or exploitation of women. And while in our nobler hearts, I'm sure that we all wish Jimmy spiritual growth and other good things, we wouldn't be humans if we couldn't appreciate the irony of his situation. This is exactly what Eric is calling our attention to in this song. If we become too self righteous to appreciate irony, we may be heading for a fall ourselves.

It was the first song that brought you in, and the eighth song that turned you off. (I hope you listened to the last twelve songs...) "Who Da Bitch Now?" has introduced a lot of people to my music and they listen to the other nineteen songs on the recording. It's a trade off. Not every song will resonate with every person. I've had people tell me they hate "Joe Hill" or "The Internationale." The music itself goes from folksy to urban to reggae to Celtic to polka. Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person who totally enjoys all the songs and styles on this recording. I think Eric Schwartz is a very skilled writer. When I sing it, I'm applauding the verdict - the public acknowledgment that what they did was wrong wrong wrong.

That being said, I promise that one of these days I'll put "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?" on an anthology of inspiring songs and leave "Who Da Bitch Now?" for my compendium of "Songs that Always Get Me in Trouble." (I've had quite a few of them over the last 30 years... some of them seem quite innocent now.)

So, Blogmates, let the discussion begin... Your comments are welcome.

1 comment:

Eric Schwartz said...

In quasi-defense of "Who Da Bitch Now"

By Eric Schwartz, songwriter.

Thanks to Anne for forwarding me the link to her posting and inviting me to get in on this. Let me start by saying that I'm not surprised by the reaction Willy has to the song. I went to a good four year Liberal Arts institution in the Boston area when the whole PC thing was really coming into its heydey.I appreciate the efforts of those who acknowledge the power, both good and bad, of words. But I also see that these same people who seek a more caring world are often quite willing to seek restrictions in speech in the name of enlightenment. In doing so, they have more in common with fundamentalist Christians than they do with "Liberals."

In this climate, profanity IS political. And speaking your imperfect mind is more important than ever.

Arright. Here we go:

"Who Da Bitch Now" works on different levels:

Confessional- As Anne said, "I believe everyone (inlcuding me) has rejoiced -- if only for a few moments -- when hypocrites are chastised." And yet we know it's wrong. We know that the 'right' way is to seek good for all. But what about those moments when we don't? Do we chastise ourselves for this? Yep. But I'm here to tell you that feelings are okay. Only half-kidding. We're human and we need to honor all parts of ourselves, and I, in many of my songs, seek to give permission to others to acknowledge and indeed honor their very basest thoughts as being part of who they are. Many well-meaning people do a great harm to us and themselves by telling us how we must think and accepting only the good. But thoughts are reactions, not intentions. They come from our core and must be honored. And singing those base thoughts is setting yourself up for plenty of negativity, abuse, etc, from your audience. Especially when your audience is as politically savvy as Anne's is.

Catharsis - We sit helpless when we hear about Matthew Shepard, James Byrd, etc. This song gives people the chance to let off some steam about it. It's a kind of resolution. It feels great to sing. Given, I'm not the most enlightened of individuals.

Spiritual- Karma is a boomerang and all that. The particular fate of the guys in the is song isn't the point. Using prison rape is just an extreme and therefore very effective way of illustrating the point home. I could have written a song about littering and receiving a fifty-dollar fine. Not quite as effective. And not nearly as...

Entertaining! Yes. For the nuances are lost on a great many people who listen to this song. Who laugh out loud when they hear it. Who truly rejoice in the sufferings of others, or so it seems. How horrible to be encouraging them. But...well, there's a place for that too. Mind you, I'm not particularly political and my agenda, if there is one, is to fight against censorship, be it from the right or the left. And don't forget. A serious message in a humorous song has a hundred times the ability to find an audience beyond the folk market than any serious song with a message. A spoonful of sugar and all that...

Preaching to the converted - I played this song for Pete Seeger. His response was "I wouldn't play it." HIs reason? It wouldn't bring any converts. It was only going to be enjoyed by folks who already agreed with it. And he's right. But most preachers do just that. Preach to the converted. And the converted sometimes need to be preached to. It confirms and strengthens their beliefs and can lead them to do their own preaching to the uninitiated.

I can expostulate on this forever. But in the end, this song was, until recently, the song with which I was most associated. It works for lots of people on different levels. And it's about two minutes long. What more can you ask for? Well, perhaps another musical diatribe, this time against our lovely president and his hypochristian tendencies. .Check out my video "Keep Your Jesus Off My Penis" at

But if you didn't like Who Da Bitch Now, you might not like this one any better.

Anyway, thanks for reading.


ps it's just a fucking song.