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Hot Legs – twerking with Rod Stewart

September 13, 2013
Philippines 010

Like twerking, the Jeepney can be fun to look at, but is not remotely erotic

Well, I warn you that, like the Jeepney, this is going to take an odd turn or two in the next few minutes.

On my way home, thanks to a radio station dedicated to 70s music, I heard Rod Stewart’s Hot Legs. I found myself singing along, because, like it or not, it has a magnetic beat and comes from the end of the period during which Stewart actually contributed to rock and roll.

It’s representative, like a good deal of his music, of the post-60s tendency to talk and sing about sex and sexuality as a newly discovered freedom. Songs which had massive success, such as Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, and Rod’s own Da [sic] Ya Think I’m Sexy? and others said things that weren’t allowable a decade or so earlier. How did they do so? Essentially by adopting a rather seamy sort of prurience in the guise of sophistication. Hot Legs is a shining example of that post-permissive, enlightened candour providing an excuse to objectify women. It may have been presented as an appreciation of women’s confidence in overt sexuality; I’m afraid that the lyrics read rather more like a young man’s fantasy.

So when I got home, I looked for a link to share with you, and found the video below. Taken from a Cher TV special it shows Rod performing the song in a very strange routine. And I am sure that I see an early-model twerk about 40 seconds in. Admittedly, there is no point at which Mr Stewart’s gluteus maximus is at a level higher than his head, or any risk that that derrière is coming into too close a proximity with anyone else’s face or groin; but I wonder whether that is because his costumier had warned him about the strength of the seams in those oh-so-tight pants.

So, having got the word “twerk” into this post, I have to notice the media storm whipped up about Miley Cyrus and her on-stage antics, followed by the record-breaking views of the video to Wrecking Ball. (Anyone would think those things are connected in some sort of headline-grabbing, publicity-seeking sense.) I’m not going to link to either of those; I won’t judge you if you want to go there, but she gets all the traffic she needs without any help from me. Interestingly, compare the overt sexuality of that video with the vocal sound effects which feature throughout Donna Summer’s disco classic Love to Love You Baby, and tell me which you think is about sex, and which is about the flouting of health and safety regulations on construction sites.

Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. Producers – classical and modern alike – can find inspiration to be suggestive, provocative, erotic or pornographic in the same work. Take for example The Dance of the Seven Veils from Richard Strauss’s Salome. Salome knows that by dancing she will delight (take that how you will) the king so much that he will refuse her nothing; what she is after, as you’ll recall, is the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

This scene can present a challenge if the soprano is to be as convincingly seductive with her dancing as she is with her voice. It is not given to all to combine the talents.

There are stagings of this scene in which the veils are just seven among a dozen or so items of clothing, and any eroticism in their removal relies (sometimes in vain) on the artistry of the performer. Occasionally the producer will go all-out, or perhaps I mean all-off. A rather famous performance by Maria Ewing is of this second kind. Again, go and find it if you wish; I found it a bit unnecessary, although it does make its point – by exaggeration, perhaps. I thought the poor woman at risk of a severe chill.

And there are productions which present the dance as a sort of ballet, with some removal of clothes, but most of the message conveyed by translucent gowns and well-aimed spotlights; like this one featuring Lyuba Kazarnovskaya. About seven minutes in there is sort of reverse twerk, in a pose held for a time which seems beyond the natural endurance of her calves. The unsurprising outcome of this genuinely alluring dance is that the king, driven wild with delight (pronounced “lust”), grants Salome her wish.

By way of contrasting opposites we can return for just a final moment to Rod and that Hot Legs video: it is such a ridiculous scene, and the wiggling of his bottom so lacking in anything except the mechanical operation of muscle, that I can’t take it seriously. Nor, therefore, can I get too exercised about the song. How can anything so plain silly have any impact for good or ill? So I ignore the lyrics and enjoy the guitars. But I’m not totally at ease in my mind about it. Like Natalie Imbruglia (not above a little suggestive semi-nudity herself in the cause of a good video*) I’m Torn.

* – Want: Not interesting enough to link to or to be rescued by the video.


From → Uncategorized

  1. Educational as always Mr SSS. It has taught me in particular never to watch a Rod Stewart clip again. Thank god for long scarves for hiding modesty in the trouser department. I don’t know about hot legs – more like legs in danger of developing a nasty fungal disorder if they get hot and aren’t allowed to breathe.

  2. Are we getting mad?
    This is pure moralism, I’m sorry.
    What Rod Stewart does here while he’s wonderfully singing belongs to the same package of the guitars and rock tune: take it or leave it.
    Rock’n’roll for the sake of sexual freedom. Always been and always will be, though Morrissey did really exist, unluckily…

    • I’m not sure I’ve taken a moral standpoint here. But if I did, it would be to the effect that rock and roll does occasionally work against progressive thought. Over decades, R ‘n’ R broke down many, many conventions and moral barriers, but sexism wasn’t one of them…

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