On my way home from the pharmacy and the gas station this afternoon, I was more than super-excited to hear, on one of the few FM stations I can pick up in my area, the tell-tale opening beats of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." I decided while pulling up to a four-way stop that, since it's Friday and since I mentioned but didn't elaborate on my fondness for this song last week, I'd devote today's writing chiefly to this musical masterpiece. Remember the girls dancing on those huge yellow ass-hills? And the guy in the black fedora? This post is for them, baby--and it's also for the old, self-criticizing version of me who really needed that song when it came out.
"Baby Got Back" debuted during my senior year of high school, by which point I'd already been feeling self-conscious about my rear end for about five years. I have a pretty high waist, a fact only accentuated by those idiotic trouser styles we wore in the 1980s and 1990s. On me, a trouser with an eight-inch rise is a disaster, and it was even more a disaster in 1992 than it is now. And a trouser with pleats? I can't even write about it. My friends and I wore men's jeans, in attempts to figure out ways to dress comfortably without looking stupid, but I don't think we ever quite hit it. Now, my high waist wouldn't have felt like a problem to me, I suspect, had I not also had something of an hourglass figure--which also wasn't well-served by the high-rise jeans. Basically, in order to have jeans that fit my ass, I had to wear things that were enormous in the waist; I ended up doing my best to rock the hip-slung look before it was really available. And all of this nonsense added up--as I know it did for others reading this piece--to wearing enormous shirts that would hide the fact that I was wearing jeans that just didn't fit. I think back on this part of my life and just want to reach out and console my old self, offer her some insight into what's on the way: shirts that fit; jeans that usually fit; an ever-increasing confidence in what I've got (because, as I now know, my German/Polish genes bequeathed me not only a healthy pair of childbearing hips and good, working legs but also a damned sweet bustline, if I do say so myself) and willingness to show myself off at the right time. "You're going to get to be sassy," I would tell myself, "and you'll be glad to have the butt to balance you out when you get fancy uplift bras." It didn't help that all my friends were cross-country runners, at a time of my life when my chief exercise was rushing from class to class and from extra-curricular to extra-curricular. If you've ever known a cross-country runner, you know their physiques. Teenage runners are not often, in my experience, hourglass figures.
So, when I heard "I like big butts, and I cannot lie," my ears perked up. When Sir M. asked, "36-24-36?" and answered himself with that dirty chuckle and "Only if she's 5'3"..." I thought, "Hunh! I'm 5'5"!" and felt better about my measurements, which weren't far off from his numbers (a little smaller here, a little bigger there). Sure, I suppose one could say that it's as problematic to check oneself against a rap song as to compare oneself to the stick-teens in Seventeen and Sassy (now defunct, alas), not to mention the stick-women in the older people's magazines. But despite having already been able to recognize the potentially problematic nature of the affirmation I was experiencing, I knew that I was being affirmed, and I pretty much didn't care where the affirmation was coming from.
Plus, shit, man, dancing to that song is awesome. Many years after its appearance on our pop cultural landscape (as it were--remember the ass hills in the video), a then-somebody told me his theory (at a friend's wedding) that everyone dances with one part of the body. He illustrated this theory with reference to a bunch of different people in the room: a shoulder-dancer here, an arm-dancer there, a foot-dancer in the middle of the floor. "And you?" he said, "You're a hip dancer."
It's true. And it's probably due in no small part to Sir Mix-a-Lot's having come onto the musical scene right at a formative moment in my groove-getting-on career.
I've lost track of the clubs and parties and even departmental functions where I've busted a move to the sylvan strains of "Baby Got Back." I know that at some of them, I've had more back than at others. I know that the most recent, awesome time I had with that song was in Savannah this summer, when my soon-to-be-back-home-again-in-the-south friend and my soon-to-be-Chicagoan friend and my Floridian friend and so many other friends found a party bar with a truly terrifying wall of machines dispensing grain-alcohol-infused slushees and a tiny, completely unoccupied dance floor and proceeded to tear that place up. I think that that song came around three times in our 48 hours and two venues of celebrating and dancing in that hot city.
You know it was all I could do to keep my ass in my seat last weekend when our penultimate Ms. Kenyon finalist did her self-satirizing turn with Sir Mix-a-Lot. Had I not been in row two, front and center before who knows how many of the young people I'm supposed to have respecting me on a daily basis, who knows what I would have done.
Now check it out: our karaoke girl is hardly the first to find inspiration for creative endeavor in this song. In doing my daily search for images to provoke and amuse, I've found Jeneieve McDonald's "Baby Got Back," which you can purchase through her website (if it hasn't already been snapped up). This figure is probably a little bit too "little in the middle," but she has "got much back." But the rendition which probably takes the cake--and would take it even if the Gourds had done a parody of this song as good as their version of "Gin and Juice" (my brother, I know you're going to smack your forehead again, since we missed that one for the top ten, too!)--is this guy Jonathan Coulton's cover of the song. It really has to be heard to be believed. Be sure you stay around long enough for the anaconda line. Someday, though I'm not given to list-making round about here, I may need to do a Top Five Covers, dedicated to my favorite remakes of others' songs. This one's a contender.
The second part of today's title, in case you don't recognize it, comes from Thomas De Quincey's Suspiria de Profundis (or, Sighs from the Depths) (1845), which I'm reading with my youngest students this week, despite the fact that it might be the hardest book I teach. De Quincey's got back, too, but it's a less concretized, substantially more haunting thing that follows him around than just a big ass he's willing to shake on the dance floor. More's the pity for him.
My dance song playlist just clicked over to the Arctic Monkeys' song "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor," which seems like just the right thing to have bringing this post to its end. If you haven't heard this song yet and are at all given to jumping around in your dwelling while you play loud, driving, smart-lyricked dance music (namechecking the Montagues and Capulets, anyone?), these are your new boys. In a throwdown with Franz Ferdinand, I think these guys might come out on top. I bet I do look good on the dance floor, by the way, not least because I bring the butt. Maybe I'll get up and offer an affirmative answer to Nouvelle Vague's question, since they're up now: "Won't you dance with me, in my world of fantasy?"
sources for today's image: 1) a blog at the University of Minnesota; 2) ImagineArt.