Infamous for her work as an underaged porn star, Traci Lords has also worked in a vast number of legitimate, if resoundingly B-grade, films. She is also a singer, if you want to call her that; in 1995 she recorded a collection of songs on a disc entitled 1000 Fires. The music is notable primarily for the fact that it was the bleeding edge of techno-pop - very few artists were venturing into that arena in the mid-90's - and for the fact that she made no real attempt to hide her deficient singing voice. Instead she chose to play to her strengths by performing nearly all of the songs in a breathless little-girl voice that is undeniably sexy. My husband has eclectic musical tastes, and his vast collection includes 1000 Fires. I've noticed the disc every once in a while, either in the car or on the coffee table, but paid little attention to it except to note the provocative cover shot of Traci Lords, lip-glossed and coiffed to platinum perfection.
The other evening, Sam and I were discussing the matter of rape, and of how many men and women we know who have been sexually abused. He mentioned a song on Traci Lords' disc called "Father's Field". I was immediately skeptical. After all, wasn't she a porn star turned actress, a woman who'd worked the system rather than been worked over by it? As far as I was concerned, Tori Amos had cornered the market on songs about rape with her shattering a cappella verson of "Me and a Gun". What could a woman like Traci Lords, a woman who represented everything I detest about the manipulative and addictive nature of pornography, have to add to the subject?
I dismissed the song, the singer, the album. The subject changed soon, and I forgot all about Traci Lords and her music.
A few days later, as he is wont to do, Sam took me for a drive out to the country. From where I live, the city lights don't take long to recede to a vague milky mist on the horizon, and we both love to get in the car late at night and just...drive. After we'd reached the outskirts of the Francis Marion forest, he popped in 1000 Fires and flicked the "forward" button to track nine. A soft, whispery, seductive voice began to drift from the speaker behind my ear. "Sam..." I began, "I really don't want to hear this Traci Whatshername shit."
"Just listen," he said. "Listen. I'll drive."
So I settled back, prepared to hate everything about this song, petulant, pissy, wanting some old U2 or some Leonard Cohen. Some real driving music. But gradually the lyrics began to drift into my consciousness, this whispery, almost-a-woman voice began to seduce me. I turned toward that voice, leaned in to hear her words, and I got hot...against my will, I felt the heady power a silken voice can have over a man...I was bewitched. The music drenches you in a warm haze at first, reminds you of hot summer days and lovely young boys...but suddenly there is a change, a shift, a disorienting spin into winter-clawed places where the sun has no business. The beat of this song is languid and ominous, like a gorgeous courtesan concealing a straight razor.
There are two versions, I learned later, the way there are always two versions to every story. There are the lyrics that are printed in the liner notes and the lyrics Traci Lords breathes and moans and sighs into the microphone. I'm including both versions here, because they are so different, and so devastating each in their own way.
Father's Field - Liner Notes
i remember that day. i was excited. no school. i'd been raking my father's field. wearing this stupid little dress. rockin' out. raking it up. sort of sweating. feeling good. in the grass. making big angels. i was feeling kind of itchy. kinda liking the way it felt. must have fallen asleep. don't know what woke me up. all i can remember huge eyes. staring over me. on top of me. older boy, out of my league, no cheerleader, no lipstick queen. feel his eyelashes on my face tickling me. maybe that is what woke me up. the sun was so warm and he was so hot. i didn't know what it was but it felt kinda good. his fingers thru my hair. raking it up. never really had anyone touch me like that before. there was something wrong but i kinda liked it. it was sort of like wow, like amazing. this sweet voice tickling me. i felt myself sort of blushing. i tried to get up. and he started to laugh. he's sort of pulling me down. pinning me to the ground. he's not playing a game. hear this screaming. i started to hear my clothes rip. i got scared, really scared. i was so embarassed. i became silent. this is wrong. it's all my fault. it's all my fault. it's all my fault. his hands over my mouth. i didn't say anything. i didn't feel anything. he was thru with me. i didn't tell anyone. didn't tell anyone.
Those are the lyrics as sandwiched between Traci Lord's platinum blonde photo and her other mostly forgettable songs on the liner notes. But this is what I heard. It is different from the liner notes, more poignant, more immediate. It is, as my Sam says, like ice water being tossed onto an erection.
Father's Field - As Sung
synthesized wind effect
breathy voice, unmistakeably seductive
I remember that day, 'cause I was excited. No school. I'd been raking my father's field, wearing this stupid little dress. Rockin' out, rakin' it up.
soft guitar riff kicks in
Sort of sweatin', feelin' good. I was laying on the grass. Makin' biiiiiiiiiig angels. I was feelin' kinda itchy, in the grass, layin' in the sun...mmmmmmmmmm...kinda likin' the way it felt. Guess I must have fallen asleep.
music changes to a harder beat with a driving bass line
I still don't know what woke me up. All I can remember seeing were these huge eyes, staring over me. Right on top of me. This older boy, out of my league, 'cause I was no cheerleader, no lipstick queen. I could feel his eyelashes on my face and they were tickling me. Maybe that's what woke me up. I was shocked. That sun was so hot, and he was so warm. I didn't know what it was but it felt kinda good. Just the way his fingers ran through my hair, just rakin' it up. I'd never had anyone touch me like that before 'cept for my mother. I knew there was something wrong, but I don't know, I kinda liked it. It was sort of like...wow. Like...amazing.
music quiets to Lords' extremely soft voice
And he just kept whispering, "You're sooooooo beautiful....god, you're beautiful...." Just this sweet voice tickling me.
music intensifies, becoming ominous
Then I got kinda nervous. And I got really embarassed. I felt myself getting really hot. Sort of blushing, that hot. I tried to get up, but he started to laugh, and he started pulling me down, pinning me to the ground. He's not playing a game. I hear this screaming, and it's me. And I started to hear my clothes rip.
music quiets again to a steady hum
And I got scared, really scared. And in a way, I hoped to God no one would find us, 'cause I was so embarassed. I became silent. This is all wrong.
It's all my fault. It's all my fault. It's all my fault.
His hand over my mouth. That's why I'm not screaming. I didn't say anything. I didn't feel anything. I just drifted away. I just floated. Just that sharp pain. And then he's through with me. I didn't tell anyone. Didn't tell anyone.
So Sam drove, and I listened. And as I listened, I simultaneously fell apart and closed tight as a fist...for myself, for this woman, for all the children whose innocence was ripped away from them in their fathers' fields.
I keep promising myself never to underestimate the person behind the mask. I keep failing. The other night, Traci Lords, of all people, reminded me that everyone has a story, that everyone has a reason, that everyone has a moment that follows them through life like a feral creature.