NUDE AS THE NEWS: Love Songs for Strippers, by Former Strippers
by Gigi Ray Allen
dedicated to the memory of Bennett Williams
“I confess I do not believe in time”, offers Vladimir Nabokov in a passage from his autobiography “Speak, Memory.” What? Were you not expecting a stripper to open a mixtape with songs by former strippers with a Nabokov quote? Okay, then Judge Judy; do you! That Nabokov tho(ugh)t illuminates the functionary, recurring motif of timelessness in the profession of stripping that both liberates and daunts the dancer. He goes on to unfold a curious world one can “let visitors trip […] in a landscape selected at random where I stand among rare butterflies […] It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love.” And now I invite you, Memoir Mixtapes reader, to lapse into the world with nebulous metrics of a steel pole and steel resolve of six-inch heels but we will have to discard any notion of time.
My love-hate relationship with time figured into my hypersomnia (read: oversleeping) on the day that I planned to attend the Sex Workers March in New York City. The march was scheduled to meet at Diana Ross Playground. I didn’t know that there was a playground named for Diana Ross in NYC. Oops! Every so often I fall back into my wayward stripper sleep cycle. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2018 Kathy Acker Awards at Theatre 80 on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village; my entire NYC trip was not a total bust. I think I might like New York!
Currently, stripping (and stripper culture) is experiencing an undulation as a unique cultural moment in 2018. This mixtape serves to honor the voices of former strippers while continuing progress of dismantling the stigma of sex work. Strap on your Pleasers; this is a collection of songs for strippers by former strippers. Stripper rights are human rights!
Oh, I’ve included some poems derived from the lyrics of Cardi, Gaga, and Kathleen Hanna song lyrics. It is an homage to the late Kathy Acker who—wouldn’t you know it—also worked as a stripper.
Man, I really love the strippers.
“B R RIGHT” – Trina featuring Ludacris
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: Tell me that you love me, baby / get high and fuck me crazy
Ah! Trina! This song is a classic and including it in this mixtape allows me to add a Kanye West-produced track on this mixtape. How does this song make me feel? I love the heady swells of strings and the gulps of pitch-changed baritone courtesy of Ludacris. I love how confident Trina is on this song. She really is the baddest bitch!
The song opens with the Buddhist chant “nam myoho renge kyo,” a Buddhist chant from the Nichiren tradition. When I lived in the Pacific Northwest somebody introduced me to the Nichiren tradition of Buddhism. She told me that Tina Turner and Courtney Love practiced kind of chanting and I was all for it.
Chanting nam myoho renge kyo is as crucial to preparing for a dancing shift as getting a full wax and a manicure and pedicure. My stripper rituals involve attending to the unseen, the internal, the interior; I remind myself that I am a human being and despite popular belief, I have a soul. I don’t want to sour my Buddhist practice by limiting it to materialistic benefits but I have noticed that I tend to do a lot better working at the club when I devote the time to meditate and chant. It’s like a wax for my psyche: it strips away the tendrils of worry, anxiety, dread, despair and leaves a bare surface of peace. The Soka Gakkai International website will obviously explain this a little better:
“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is thus a vow an expression of determination to embrace and manifest our Buddha nature. It is a pledge to oneself to never yield to difficulties and to win over one’s suffering. At the same time, it is a vow to help others reveal this law in their own lives and achieve happiness.”
Nam comes from the Sanskrit namas, meaning to devote or dedicate oneself. Myo can be translated as mystic or wonderful, and ho means law. Renge, meaning lotus blossom, is a metaphor that offers further insight into the qualities of this Mystic Law. The lotus flower is pure and fragrant, unsullied by the muddy water in which it grows. Similarly, the beauty and dignity of our humanity is brought forth amidst the sufferings of daily reality. Kyo literally means sutra”
Trina’s “B R Right” itself can be taken as an expression of determination, especially in the face of fuckery in the profession of stripping. As the producer of this song wished for a day when everyone was in the club exclaiming that “Jesus Walks,” I pray for a day when strippers would meditate in the dressing room and tend to their internal selves as much as we tend to our appearances. As I say in my Buddhist chants: I pray for peace in the world and the happiness of all living beings. I pray for the strippers. We really are gonna b r right.
“LIQUORICE” – Azealia Banks
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: That Black girl pin-up with that Black girl dip / put that Black girl up on ya whack girl tip
I love Azealia Banks. I love Black women. I love Black strippers. Dark-skinned Black women are superior. Ironically, the jury’s still out on whether I like the actual confection liquorice. I think I might?
“ASTRONAUT: A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY NOTHING” – Amanda Palmer
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: Is it enough to have some love? / …and you may be acquainted with the night”
I know many think that Amanda Palmer is way pompous and annoying and I kind of agree. I do like how she ruffles people’s feathers! We need feather-rufflers! Nevertheless, I love strippers and support a stripper’s right to be pompous, way annoying, have weird eyebrows, to be imperfect and thus, to be a human.
Maybe the obvious choices to include on this mixtape by her would be “The Glass Slipper” by Palmer’s band the Dresden Dolls. “The Glass Slipper” is the name of the club that Palmer danced at (it was the first strip club that I danced at, too). Or how about “Berlin” from her Grand Theft Orchestra album? Palmer said that her stripper name was “Berlin.”
Again, I have no answers. I just have some nice reminders. I am reminded my own Challenger-ish explosion of a non-relationship relationship. A five-year affair with a space cadet man about thirty years my senior, 215 miles away, and always up in the fucking clouds! His mother used to go out at night to the Glass Slipper with her boyfriend.
On the night we finally fucked (a mistake five years in the making), we walked around downtown. He dreamily looked down LaGrange Street and recalled how he could see the Slipper dancers from his house when he lived there in 1989. The Berlin Wall fell and the Boston elevated rail (the el) fell, too. A number. Another summer. That night a bicyclist whirred past us while Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” blared from the tinny Bluetooth speakers. What was I doing in 1989? I was being born for the very first time.
Palmer wrote about the writing of this song on her blog which I won’t link because she isn’t paying me to do promotion for her. Look it up yourself! This song themes of the scramble, the nailing down the science of making a “non-relationship relationship” work especially pertains to how complicated love and romance can be for strippers. I don’t have any simple, tidy answers for that. Often, I feel like it is simpler and saner (lol) to eschew the “random, frantic action” of trying to find love, keep love, make love when it comes to dancing. It’s just a job but it’s not. The Robert Frost referencing-lyrics of this song offer up the question: how can I see the light of love when my labor and means of survival means being acquainted with the night?
“LIVING OUT LOUD (ft. Sia)” – Brooke Candy
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: Twenty-four hours it’s a day at a time / … fifteen minutes till they need me on stage / Fourteen K I would have done it for free / thirteen roses and they bought them for me
“WHO’S THAT GIRL” – Eve
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: Power moves is made every day by this thorough bitch
Just who is that girl? I feel like strippers are bound to experience existential crises; stripping itself is an existential crisis. Everything is an existential crisis! This song triumphantly embraces the identity merging and trading in the profession of stripping, and well, life in general. It’s from Eve’s album “Scorpion.” I like the implicit interplay of Eve, the name of the mother of all living and slithering reptile but also: Eve’s western astrology sun sign is Scorpio.
Learn to love the lability of stripping. I am a different girl with every shift that I work. It can be exhausting fashioning myself into an unattainable fantasy every time I step into my Pleasers. But I willingly embrace the chaos.
“PAPARAZZI & BAD ROMANCE” – Lady Gaga
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: We’re plastic but we still have fun / je veux ton amour et je veux ta revanche
If you are stuck when it comes to deciding about what to wear onstage and/or what to dance to, be your own paparazzi and dance to this. Or listen to it whenever. Here are two Gagas and a poem to offer some inspiration.
“PIG IS A PIG” – The Plasmatics
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: Whatever role they are playing / these creeps are always the same
Sometimes love between a stripper and a customer can work out. Just don’t be sad if it doesn’t. A pig is a pig is a pig is a pig! Also, Wendy O. Williams and television hostess Wendy Williams are not the same person.
“I WANNA KNOW WHAT LOVE IS” – Julie Ruin
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: I wanna know what love is / I want you to show me
“SUNSSHINE AND GREASE” – Royal Trux
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: Lurking around / you want to be here this year / I don’t need a reason to call you love / how about your kiss, it’s more than enough
“LICK” – Cardi B
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: Lookin’ like I caught a lick / run up on me, you get hit / And all my bitches with the shits
“DOLL PARTS” – Hole
LUCKY LOVE LYRIC: It stands for knife for the rest of my life / … yeah, they really want you / but I do, too
I am ending this mixtape piece with the song “Doll Parts” by Hole. Why not include “Violet” or “Retard Girl,” songs that Courtney Love were inspired by her experiences as a stripper? “Doll Parts” has a very specific poignant connection to my hometown.
In an April 2014 SPIN Magazine piece by Jessica Hopper, Courtney maintained that she “wrote ‘Doll Parts’ in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a woman named Joyce’s bathroom. That one was easy.” This is a classic, aching confessional. Seems kinda like a bummer way to end this mixtape. Just stay with me. The woman named Joyce who Love was referring to is currently the Chief of Policy for Mayor Martin J. Walsh. Linehan is also involved the City of Boston Mayor’s Office for Women’s Advancement. Joyce Linehan has never lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts! That’s a whole ass city across the river from the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, like, come on!
I digress: Chief Linehan, you are obviously an ally to strippers and sex workers. You have housed them. They have written songs in your bathroom. Much of the lyrics and ethos that informed Bikini Kill were Hanna’s experiences as a stripper. On April 9, 2015 Boston proclaimed it “Riot Grrl Day” and honored Hanna with such a proclamation. I ask you, Joyce, to please support measures in city policy that affirm the rights of strippers, sex workers, and adult entertainers. Decriminalize sex work in Boston. I know you can’t do this, just like, by yourself. You’re just one person, hence the call for community dialogue. Help combat the stigma of sex work and let that be reflected in policy. Let’s be real: the Glass Slipper has put more students through school in the Boston than the Pell Grant! That was a joke but a joke rooted in truth no less! Our beautiful City on a Hill (which is a Virgo, like me! Boston’s birthday is September 7, 1630!) has always been the standard-bearer of policies that affirm the rights on her citizens ultimately creating social models of how things can be for the rest of the country.
Anybody can pick up Stephanie Schorow’s most recent book Inside the Combat Zone and apprise how Boston was so ahead of the curve that it developed a contained adult entertainment district. There was a stripper at the Bicentennial celebration on City Hall (that was a bit before my time; I wasn’t there because I wasn’t born yet)! Let’s stop acting like sex work isn’t work. I hope that as a city Boston can have a real dialogue about this. There is such an opportunity! The Poletariat shall rise or whatever!
Also: please can the students of Boston Public Schools have some emotional support dogs in their schools? Marshfield’s school district has this and I’ve heard tale that you are a comrade to our friends with four legs and tails. A Boston public pup-pup is long overdue. Thank you, Chief Linehan!
Okay! “Doll Parts” is an apt closing song for this mixtape. It’s the perfect wind down song. Somber and mellow. It is perfect for peeling off all the dolled-up parts we strippers affix to ourselves to ply our trade. Rest your doll heart, doll eyes, bad skin, feet bound up and balanced on 6-inch Pleasers. Peel off your eyelashes, wipe your makeup off. Look yourself in the mirror and get more naked than naked. What do you see?
Beauty. Because you are beautiful.
About the Author:
Gigi Allen is the (obvious) pen name of a poet, writer, musician, artist, photographer, journeyman electrician-in-training, stripper, and native of the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in Boston Latin School Argo, Another Classroom Courier, Teen Voices Magazine, The Harvard Crimson, In Parentheses Magazine, IMPOSE Magazine, She Shreds Magazine, Public Pool as well as numerous self-published zines. Gigi loves writing and loathes writing author bios; she currently studies at Harvard University (hence the Nabokov quotes!).