I rarely talk about those early years when I was a singer/songwriter in New York City. I was actually really good. My songs were in a very folk/country/acoustic rock vein. But I hated the music industry. Despised it. It was sleazy, gross, disgusting, insulting, repugnant and offensive.
Part of writing my memoirs includes re-recording, with my friend Peitor out in LA, about a dozen of my best songs, ones I wrote between 1981 – 1986.
Need I say that the Muse had me up early again today, at 4:38 AM, this time talking to me about the songs I wrote; suggesting that I revisit them right away?
A few years ago, I’d made a CD of my favorite 4-track analog demos so that I wouldn’t lose track of the songs, but at 4:38 AM this morning, I had no idea where that CD was. Something –the Muse is my best guess — told me to pull open the top drawer of my night stand, and lo & behold, there it was. Just sitting there.
I looked over the list of the songs that were on the CD and that, alone, felt like a gift. All my favorite songs, some of which I had forgotten about. Including a song I wrote in 1985, called Wild as Jordan.
It had always been one of my favorite songs. It’s a very upbeat, twangy acoustic number; on the surface, about a girl breaking away from a really cold/hard/puritanical man. The chorus is a mixed-metaphor about a fire that rages as wild as the river Jordan; a fire that will burn through all the tears she’s crying. (The lyrics are below.)
I suddenly realized two things. The first, with a jolt: that the chorus really reminds me of the gorgeous guy at work. It was almost, like, inescapable, but in a really empowering way. I guess I really, really like that guy.
The other thing I realized, or I should say, “remembered,” was that this was my rape song. I was 25 and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being a girl who was screaming inside, and so I took so much rage, took all the fear that crippled me, and tried hard to turn it into something lyrical that could redeem me.
To experience the one rape, at age 14, all isolated and on it’s own, was paralyzing enough. But to then experience a sort of avalanche of rape that I could not get away from, is –what? Debilitating is just a really misleading word.
So many women have told me that they find me courageous, so strong, so tough; women who have known me for a really long time, and not just who have known about my personal insanity, but also what I went through in my career (after I left the music business). (And oddly enough, I found the sex industry to be way less sleazy than the music business was. I guess because in the sex industry, everything was just so plain and out in the open.) Women who knew, first, what I went through by my just being a woman; next by how I always insisted on a certain level of artistic standards — be they beauty, rage, insight, curiosity, confusion, or even lust — in an industry that people insisted on calling porn, but which I considered the erotic arts.
I had to show up at meetings that were almost always exclusively men who were quite at home within the sex industry, and I had to appear as both a woman who was attractive, pliant, and who would be easy to get along with, and yet a woman you were never, ever, ever going to fuck even if all of life depended on it.
It was a very fine line to draw in the sand — needing those men as my business partners. That combination of men and sex. And how men behave around women that they objectify as only sex or all about sex. And I certainly was pretty much all about sex, but I wanted to be treated with respect. I had a vision that had a lot to do with God, and the gift of human sexuality, and the beauty of even the confounding aspects of sex as it became art. Yet, at the same time, there was always that voice in my head reminding me that these were men, and based on my experience of men, that meant they could rape me when I least expected it and I would probably be helpless to stop it.
Still, by then, I had gotten to a better place in my overall world and was at least no longer ruled by that little voice.
Honestly though, I was so neurotic about it in my early 20s, that every day, I went out into the world, praying that I wouldn’t be raped again before the day was over. If I got into a cab alone (and this was back when 99% of all New York City cab drivers were white New York men, so I wasn’t coming from some xenophobic place), but I would get into a cab and pray that I wouldn’t be driven off somewhere and raped. I gave myself these little pep talks: Well, if he does rape you, eventually the rape will be over and he’ll probably let you get to where you’re going.
Such an insane way to be alive every single damn day. In such a huge city that was, of course, filled to the brim with men.
To think of me as courageous, so strong or so tough, in my mind is so misleading. It seemed the one and only thing I ever really knew how to do was to get back up. I knew I would get back up. As a girl (and still today) my heroes had always been men, and they were always men who endured, who got back up. To me, life seemed to be: “Okay, stop crying now. Get back up.”
The overwhelming physical force of men’s bodies still astounds me. I’m not a total weakling; I can open a pickle jar and for some reason, I feel really proud of that. Still. How little effort a man can put into tossing you into a wall. Or suddenly grab you by your hair and throw you up the stairs. The terror I have felt over a particular man’s physical force — and in my case, that force was followed by getting forced to fuck; raped really mercilessly. A relentless scenario that I had learned was coming and could do nothing to stop. That kind of physical force is so terrifying.
But, as I said already, a time came when I was so tired of being the girl who was screaming inside. Plus, I really loved sex and I wanted to enjoy it. The truth was that no one was abusing me anymore. It got to the point where I was so desperate to reclaim myself, I dealt with my anxiety under a microscope: Here, this minute, I would remind myself, you are not being raped. See how safe and un-raped you are? Moment by moment, freeing myself from that mental prison.
In fact, in order to calm myself down in social situations, where I was always at my most neurotic because society is so unpredictable, I used to make mental lists of all the men who were in my life who hadn’t raped me and weren’t likely to ever rape me. There was no other list. All the men who were in my life were all on the list of men who weren’t raping me. And for me, at least, the huge number of men in the world who weren’t raping me, compared to the tiny percentage who had, meant that the world was mostly a profoundly good place. It helped me turn my whole perspective around.
I even started to find men in my world who wanted to protect me, my birth father was probably the most profound one. I finally got to meet him when I was 28. Even though I only knew him a brief time before he died, there was never a man who loved me more, or who wished that he could have protected me, or had been there to, I guess, kill the fuckers who had raped me. It was spiritual, but it felt like true vindication for me.
All these things helped to bring me, over time, to a really good place. A present sort of place, where I don’t live in a dark past.
When I heard Wild as Jordan this morning, for the first time in a really long time, all these thoughts came back to me. Who I was, who I was trying to be, and now, who I’ve managed to become — a woman who fought so hard to differentiate between the truly profane and the truly sacred, and, well, won.
And once again, I thought, man, I’ve got the most amazing Muse. To wake me at 4:38 AM just to give me this amazing gift of myself.
Wild as Jordan The darkest eye a man can know Is a love born hard in a cold man’s bed Baptized by fire; I’m the darkest eye, I’m the cleanest bone I can wrap my needs ‘round his aching limbs Like a dangling wire. He can’t judge me by the seeds I sow I see no proof that the Lord resigns from A coarse desire; He can knock me down to my all-time low But this joy of pain is a waste on me ‘Cause I’m getting so tired. CHORUS But there’s a fire in me That rages wild as Jordan; A fire whose flame completes This fever I deny. Gonna set that fire To the tears that I’ve been crying And burn clean through into The hallelujah side. There’s a truth that lies in the bitter blow That a vow sells cheap in the worn out scheme Of the cards I hold; I can risk his pride to retrieve my own ‘Cause the hours I keep are a starless sleep With a man who’s cold. CHORUS But there’s a fire in me That rages wild as Jordan; A fire whose flame completes This fever I deny. Gonna set that fire To the tears that I’ve been crying And burn clean through into The hallelujah side. © 1985 Marilyn Jaye Lewis First of May Songs, BMI