I never thought I’d be listening to Karen Finley talk about her lady parts in the context of a museum field trip with 14-year-olds.
In the “Looking at Music 3.0” exhibit at MoMA this afternoon, Corey, all jumpy, says, “Claire! You gotta come listen to something!”
The exhibit, which purports to explore “the influence of music on contemporary art practices, focusing on New York in the 1980s and 1990s,” has listening stations around a small room, and you can don giant pairs of headphones and hear music, some of it accompanied by music videos. A giant screen plays a loop of old music videos, including songs by A Tribe Called Quest and Grace Jones.
In other words, cool and interesting to me and my fellow-teachers, but largely bizarre to our students. We had a small, good-tempered group who approached the stations with a mix of caution and curiosity.
I follow Corey and another student, Tina, to a station where Karen Finely’s song “Tales of Taboo” is playing. Oh, boy.
“I saw her once, about 10 years ago,” I tell them. “She was, uh, well – she was naked and poured honey all over herself.”
Corey nods vigorously and instructs me to put the headphones on. I can hear Finley, in her nasal, over-enunciated voice, shouting, “You don’t own me, bastard! You fuckin’, asshole! You wanna suck my, pussy, well let me suck your dick!”
For those of you unfamiliar with this particular contribution to American culture, Finley goes on to angrily describe things like sticking Belgian waffles up her grandmother’s ass, closing with instructions to “suck me off.” She says, “Take that clit, put it on your face, bastard, put it on your mind.”
Corey and Tina stare at me, eyes wide. I remove my headphones.
“What do you guys think?”
“Um,” Tina begins, straining to sound respectful, “She’s weird? She’s, like, outspoken?”
“She’s crazy,” Corey interrupts.
“She…expresses her feelings, kind of, sort of…”
“And music,” Tina clarifies.
“She probably a nudist,” Corey says. “I’m just sayin’…I really think she’s a nudist. ‘Cause the whole song is about sex, and how she gonna do the do, and, uh…” He devolves into a gutteral implication of what it means to “do the do.”
“So you didn’t like the song?” I ask.
“It was uncomfortable,” says Tina. “It’s not something I would listen to and buy at a store.”
“If kids hear that, like on the radio…then they gonna feel some type a way,” says Corey. “She’s crazy. She’s retarded. I’mma be straight up: she’s just special ed.”
“Why do you think she made that song?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Corey says. “To express her feelings. Express like a…different side.”
“Do you wish she hadn’t made it?” I ask.
“I wish I hadn’t listened to it!” Tina says.
“If my mom heard that,” Corey says, shaking his head, “if I ever played that on my computer, she gonna break it, instant, she just gonna throw a pot, and bam! But some people…” Corey looks philosophical. “If you’re a nudist, you probably like it.”