Scenes at a Museum

Scene 1:

I never thought I’d be listening to Karen Finley talk about her “twat” 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 says, all jumpy, “Claire!  You gotta come listen to something!”

The exhibit, which claims 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-teacher Jon-Michael, 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 the American musical tapestry, Finley goes on to angrily describe things like sticking Belgian waffles up her grandmother’s ass and how she wants her “a dwarf,” closing with instructions to “suck me off.”  “Take that clit,” she says, “put it on your face, bastard, put it on your mind.”

Corey and Tina stare at me, eyes wide.  Finally, 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…”

“Through sex.”

“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 here 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,” adds Corey.  “She’s crazy.  She’s retarded.  I’mma be straight up: she’s just ed.”

[Translation: 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 laughs.

“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.”


2 responses to “Scenes at a Museum

  1. Colleen Kehoe Powell


    Hello from Chicago! I’ve been reading your blog, savoring all the memories it brings me of my time in the big apple. I love your writing, your heart for those crazy kiddos we teach and how well you put into words those thoughts and feelings that swirled around my head while I was teaching. I hope you are well. Congrats on making it past the 5th year…you are a for real teacher now. Not many of us get there! Keep writing girl.

    Colleen “Kehoe” now Powell 🙂

    • Aw, Colleen, thank you!! Thanks for reading — I really appreciate it, and I know you know these stories from the inside!

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