Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
“You’re comparing an innie to an outie,” Lita Ford tells me. “It would be a little difficult to take a plaster cast of that. You know what I mean?”
I laugh nervously, because that’s the only reasonable thing to do when you’ve just asked the former lead guitarist for the seminal girl-rock band the Runaways, the woman responsible for the scrotum-rattling riff in “Cherry Bomb,” whether she would ever immortalize her vagina in plaster.
“It’d be like taking a plaster cast of the inside of your mouth as opposed to your finger,” Ford says. And then, after a pause, “I don’t know how to answer that, I honestly don’t. I’m absolutely at a loss for words.”
It’s probably the best I could’ve hoped for. What was I expecting her to say? “Yes, I think my vagina is pretty spectacular. It should be in a museum somewhere.” But why not? Jimi Hendrix’s penis — or at least a plaster cast of it — was exhibited at New York’s Thread Waxing Space and San Francisco’s Artrock Gallery, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been trying for years to get it in their collection. Why shouldn’t Lita Ford’s vagina get the same reverence? Is her vagina any less worthy of veneration than Hendrix’s schlong?
I probably wouldn’t be asking Ford awkward vagina questions if it wasn’t for the Michigan House of Representatives. When they tried to cock-block Rep. Lisa Brown from saying the v-word, it sparked a lot of interesting discussions, both online and otherwise, about why vaginas are so scary. And then later, with vaginas already on my mind, I was doing research for an interview when I somehow stumbled onto the website Groupie Dirt. (Actually, it’s no mystery how I got there. Google the words “penis” and the name of any rock star who’s ever worn leather pants and you’ll probably find it.) If you haven’t heard about Groupie Dirt, I highly recommend a visit. You could waste an entire afternoon reading about the sexual prowess (or lack thereof) of your favorite musicians. It’s like the Yelp of rock penises, and the details are staggeringly specific. Did I need to know that Glenn Danzig has five inches of manhood? No I did not. No more than I needed to know that Eminem’s slim-shady has “plenty of girth,” or that Lars Ulrich is uncircumcised, or that Trent Reznor has exactly 4.5 more inches of penile length than Billie Joe Armstrong, who is described unceremoniously as “little willy.”
The penis details aren’t what shocked me. What shocked me was the lack of vagina details. Courtney Love is the sole woman represented in Groupie Dirt, and the most we learn about her is that she’s “an unfaithful slut.” Which, compared to the andrological information provided about male rockers, is embarrassingly sparse. How do we live in a world where it’s public knowledge that Simon LeBon has a curved penis and yet Courtney Love’s vagina remains a mystery? It’s certainly not because she’s bashful. “My genealogist and my gynocplogist (sic) know i do my Kegals like a snatch the cig off the table thai sex worker,” she tweeted in 2010. So why is nobody else talking about her vagina? (Besides the Nirvana song “Heart-Shaped Box,” but Kurt’s intentions are still debatable.) Is her vagina that unmemorable? Or are we just more comfortable gossiping about (and fetishizing) rock cocks than rock vaginas?
You don’t have to look far to see penises being exalted in music. Male junk is everywhere, from songs like KISS’s “Love Gun” and Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” (to name just two of literally hundreds) to the Stones’ Sticky Fingers album cover to the Tommy Lee Jones sex tape. I don’t even like the Doors, but I could tell you about the time Jim Morrison took out his ding-a-ling during a Miami concert. In the late ’90s, I almost got the chance to interview Jesus Lizard’s David Yow, and I was told by several people (mostly women) to ask about his penis puppetry, for which Yow is apparently legendary. “If he likes you, he’ll take out his prick and do a puppet show with it,” one female friend told me, as if this was a performance I should be delighted to witness.
“You don’t have to look far to see penises being exalted in music. Male junk is everywhere, from songs like KISS’s “Love Gun” and Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” (to name just two of literally hundreds) to the Stones’ Sticky Fingers album cover to the Tommy Lee Jones sex tape.”
Not to sound like a guy who went to a liberal arts college (which I did, full disclosure), but what are the vagina equivalents of all this cock worship? There’s, well … that rumor about Marianne Faithful shoving a Mars candy bar up her lady business (but that might’ve been Mick Jagger’s idea, or it might’ve never happened at all.) Yoko Ono showed off her not-so-secret garden on the cover of Two Virgins (although John Lennon’s boiled shrimp of a penis got all the attention.) Britney Spears exposing herself doesn’t really count, because it was unintentional. It’s about as badass as Justin Timberlake getting out of a limo and not noticing that he’s got a ball stuck in his zipper. It’s not sexy, it’s embarrassing and stupid. I can think of only two examples of rock vaginas given the glory their deserve (and please correct me if I’m forgetting something.) One was L7 and their enormous camel toes in the 1994 John Water film Serial Mom, but that was meant as a joke. And the other is Christina Aguilera’s glowing heart crotch at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards, which was awesome just by lack of competition.
Once you start thinking about vaginas and rock music, it can easily evolve into an obsession. I made a list of every song about vaginas I could think of— “Cherry Pie”, “Squeezebox,” “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver,” “Brown Sugar,” “Little Red Corvette” — and every one of them was written and performed by men. Even “Sugar Walls,” Sheena Easton’s classic vagina anthem, was written by Prince. If you dig deep, you can find a few vagina sing-a-longs by women. PJ Harvey’s “Sheela-Na-Gig.” And Aguilera’s “Woohoo.” And, uh … wow, I don’t know. I’m sure there’s something I’m not thinking of. Liz Phair probably did a vagina song at some point, but all I can remember are the ones about blowjobs and male viscous fluid.
“No one talks about flaccid penises,” Jamie McCartney tells me. “Everyone’s interested in erections. [Infamous groupie plaster queen] Cynthia Plaster Caster was not casting floppy little willies. And of course that denotes arousal. But when you’re casting vaginas, arousal isn’t part of the equation. And yet people are still horrified by them. They’re still perceived as threatening.”
McCartney speaks from experience. He’s a British artist who created the Great Wall of Vagina, which is literally a wall of vaginas. Granted, they’re just plaster-casts — 400 in all, of women ranging in age from 18 to 76. The Great Wall was unveiled in 2011 at an arts festival in Brighton, and last exhibited at the Hay Hill Gallery in London which closed earlier this month, but it has yet to make its debut in the U.S. Even if McCartney’s army of vaginas never makes it across the pond, he doesn’t intend to give up making plaster-casts of lady parts any time soon. He’s made 100 vagina casts since completing the Vagina Wall, and he hopes to inspire a movement of vagina replication. “We sell a DIY vagina casting kit on our website,” he says. “It’s for all the people who want to show the world that vaginas are just as valuable and worthy of being preserved in plaster as Jimi Hendrix’s erection.”
I ask McCartney if he’s cast any musician vaginas yet, and he admits that he has, though nobody you’ve heard of. “Perhaps we should send a kit to every female rock star and see if they’ll do it,” he says.
“I might be able to help,” I tell him. But I am full of shit. I don’t know any female rock stars who I could or would ask anything of the kind.
Not at that moment, anyway.
When I call Ruyter Suys, the lead guitarist for Nashville Pussy, it isn’t initially to talk about vaginal plaster casts. It’s because her band has “pussy” in its name, and thus she seems like a good person to ask whether vaginas are given as much respect in rock music as penises.
“When you talk about pussy, it has to be shrouded,” she tells me. “It has to be disguised in some palatable manner. It’s like taking medicine with a spoonful of honey. With Nashville Pussy, they don’t like saying that word because the context is confusing. But you can say Pussycat Dolls and that’s fine. It becomes more acceptable if you find ways to Disney it up.”
“Disney up the pussy?” I ask.
“Right, yeah, Disney-fy the pussy,” she says. “But that’s when it becomes more sexist. If you’re going to compare Pussycat Dolls to Nashville Pussy, we’re more about female empowerment. While the Pussycat Dolls to me are doing women a great disservice by basically lap dancing on stage. It’s not about music, it’s about shaking your ass.”
“Would you make a plaster cast of your vagina?”
I ask like it’s an obvious segue, like it’s exactly where the conversation was headed anyway. She’s hesitant, as any intelligent person would be when asked to share the most intimate part of their body. I give her the details of McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina and subsequent plaster cast projects. She considers it for a moment, and then tells me no.
“Really?” I ask, dumbfounded. “That’s surprising.”
“There might’ve been a time when I would,” she says. “I was raised a hippie chick. I used to pose nude for art classes. But at this point in my life, I don’t want to share with anybody. It’s just mine. Also, Playboy made the mistake of approaching us years ago about doing nude photos and didn’t offer enough money. Once I realized there was a price tag on my pussy, things got covered up.”
“I guess that makes sense,” I say, unable to hide my disappointment.
“But I did plaster casts of body parts when I was younger. I got my degree in fine arts, and I did that stuff all the time. I did my boobs a few times.”
“Did you make any plaster casts of vaginas?” I ask. “Yours or anybody else’s?”
“No. I mostly did men,” she says. “Actually, I only did men. Penises are just more…”
She doesn’t finish her sentence, but I think I know what she means.
Actually, no, I have no idea what she means. Or what, if anything, I’ve learned from all this questionable investigative journalism. Have I exposed the shameful truth that rock musicians are just as timid about vaginas as Michigan politicians? Or just that it’s almost impossible for a male journalist to ask a woman about her vagina without sounding like a patriarchal dickhead? Lita Ford, for one, thinks I’ve over-thinking it.
“I’m not one to sing about vaginas,” she tells me. “But I think people love them just fine. Certainly a lot of boys do. When they put posters of me on their bedroom wall, it wasn’t just because I could slam the shit out of a guitar. Rock and roll is about sex, whether you’re Robert Plant or Lita Ford. It doesn’t matter. Sex sells.”
“But do vaginas sell as many records as penises?”
She laughs, not because I’ve hit upon some universal truth, but because (I’m guessing) she thinks I’m an idiot. “Of course!” she says. “Vaginas make the world go round!”
As somebody who doesn’t personally have a vagina, who am I to argue?