Jan 052009
 

The world moves and it swivels and bops

My infatuation with female bass players is well documented and this thread could easily, especially for me, be a flippant, voyeuristic look at hot chicks thumping basses (don’t worry we’ll get there), but the truth is that I feel that there is a deeper connection between the bass and the female that is primitive and intoxicating.

Nothing against men bass players but more so, I feel, than any other instrument, the bass and woman have a unique connection. In fact I would haphazardly postulate that there are more female bass players in rock bands than female any-other-instrument players. The sexist hypothesis might be that the bass is easier to play. Well that’s as may be. But, regardless, I think women are drawn to play the bass.

My theory is that bass-chicks are modern-day Fertility Goddesses.

Many, if not most, ancient societies had some sort of fertility goddess. Ancient Rome had Venus (Greece had Aphrodite), Norse Pagans has Freyja; Egyptians had their “cow-dieties” (milk givers), including Bat. Many cultures combined their fertility goddesses with the Mother goddesses, nurturer and giver of life. Some started as fertility goddesses and over time took on maternal qualities.

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African, Middle Eastern, Egyptian, and other civlizations included dancing among their fertility rites and goddess worship. The most famous being the belly dance, which many believe was both a way to sexually arouse men as well as strengthen the hips for childbirth.

And with fertility dancing comes music. Here’s an Ethiopian dance group. Listen to the music…bass tones and drums.

The rhythm section. The rhythm of life. The rhythm of life (love) making.

In addition to rhythmic qualities the bass can have other womb-like connotations. It is deep, dark, and warm–and you can hear and feel the heartbeat. This concept of woman as nature, as the divine, as the goddess, feels best expressed by the heartbeat instrument. Tina Wymouth (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club) almost literally gets up on a pedestal near the end of the opening clip so that we can worship her.

Watch RTH favorite, Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan…) in this clip. Watch the way she wraps her painted fingernails around the neck at about 00:30 in. She ties her hair up mid-song at about 1:53, as only a woman can.

These are overt instances of her womanhood. But the way she leans into her playing/instrument throughout, writhing if you will is exquisite sensuality.

I’m not saying that Sara Lee (League of Gentlemen, Gang of Four, B52s…) is correct in her assessment in the following audio clips, but I find it supportive of my intuition that it is coming from a female bass player. This is from the opening audio collage, “Indiscreet I.” on Robert Fripp‘s The League of Gentlemen LP.

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And on dancing:

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The simple act of strapping on the lumber isn’t enough though. For the magic connection to happen, as I suppose with any instrument, she has to understand it and feel it.

D’Arcy feels it (song starts at about 00:39):

Kim Gordon feels it:

So much so that Steve Albini did a song, “Kim Gordon’s Panties”

Melissa Auf Der Maur feels it:

Sean Yseult feels it:

It’s not just that I have a carnal desire to get with these ladies, as say I do with Liv Tyler or Scarlett Johansson, it’s much more. Their understanding, mastery, and perhaps even exploitation of the feminine life force drive me to something more akin to worship.

The magic doesn’t always happen though, regardless of physical beauty or even talent.

Aimee Mann doesn’t have it:

Julianna Hatfield doesn’t have it:

And who started it all? Or at least stuck a crowbar in the woman-playing-bass door? Possibly the woman who played the iconic bass in “Good Vibrations”, Carol Kaye.

Resource for guys who dig bass girls:

http://www.geocities.com/bodacious_bass_babes/

She is only partly human being
Divine, to define, she is moving to define, so say so, so say so
She defines the possibilities
Divine, to define, she is moving to define, so say so, so say so
Holding on for an Eternity

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  45 Responses to “The World Moves on a Woman’s Hips:
Female Bass Player as Contemporary Fertility Goddess”

  1. saturnismine

    Just a few random thoughts as an art historian who has plunked the bass quite a bit in his day:

    first, a major pince nez moment:

    -most of the ancient civilizations you cite had parsed categories for their gods and goddesses more than you seem to suspect, and “fertility” was not usually conflated with the notions of “beauty and love” picture, and so, no. Venus (or Aphrodite) is not a fertility goddess, but a goddess of beauty / love.

    So Ceres (Greek Demeter) and Diana (Greek Artemis), are more associated with fertility by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

    Where you talk about dancing, I thought of this Minoan Snake Goddess:

    http://www.ubishops.ca/ccc/div/hum/classics/Snake_Goddess_Crete_1600BC.jpg

    She is definitely about fertility, while also being about sexuality. SHE’S where the twain meet, not in a Roman Venus, unless you want to throw out fertility altogether.

    Why does it make a difference in your thread? I don’t know. I’m not sure what fertility has to do with the other observations you’re making. You seem to be on the *beauty* tip for most of what you write, but you are getting at something else…as you say, it’s not *just* about hot chicks thumping basses, is it?

    What are you getting at? And how do boys who play bass connect with whatever force it is that playing those low notes evokes?

    My other random thought / response is much more fun, so don’t worry:

    I think Joanna Bolme, of Steve Malkmus’s Jicks could be Exhibit A in a demonstration of how much cuter / hotter a woman can be if she’s on a stage, in a great band playing great songs, and she has a bass in front of her. This is a woman who would blend in with the crowd (at least for me) if she didn’t have a bass in her hand. And I suspect that lots of the guys who go “hubba hubba” when she comes up in conversation wouldn’t even notice her if she walked into the bar. She’s VERY good looking for sure, but she’s not get-down-on-your-knees-and-start-begging-for-it-cause-she’s-super-a-model good looking. The bass makes all the difference.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Oh, I don’t know, Sat. Surely the notions of fertility and love/sex are easily conflated. God gave (most of) us dudes brains that want to have sex with bodies that have a shape specifically designed to make and feed babies.

    On the lighter side of things — I think we had a discussion on this very topic in RTH Chess, and my position then (still unchanged) is that the bass is (or ought to be) a more “nurturing” instrument than, say, a pointy lead guitar — though certainly not an entirely nurturing one. This, to my mind, makes it more “feminine” than “masculine.” And “nurturing”-ness can be very sexy. Or, maybe, better put, the coexistence of “nurturing”-ness and sexiness in the same person is very intoxicating — as a female bass player (nurturing) in a rock band (sexy) would be.

    I realize a quick read of what I’m saying makes me sound like I put bassists and women into rigidly defined genre stereotypes. To that, I say: read more carefully, and with an open mind, ‘cuz I don’t.

    HVB

  3. saturnismine

    hvb, of course they’re all related. didn’t say they weren’t. i was just noting that sammy’s description of venus as a fertility goddess is inaccurate. in other words, tell it to the greeks and romans, not me.

    did you check out the pic of the snake goddess i linked? THAT’s the hot shit connection between fertility and beauty that sammy was looking for.

    then again, she wouldn’t play bass, she’d be right out in front.

    there’s an earth mother thing going on here that has to do with those low notes (bottom end), which has nothing to do with the light grace of a venus.

    and don’t give the “Venus of Willendorff” as an argument against the notion of Venus as graceful.

    http://academics.smcvt.edu/awerbel/Survey%201%20Exam%20Study/Venus%20of%20Willendorf.png

    She may not be light or graceful, but she’s not a “venus” either. That’s an anachronistic name given to her by 19th / 20th century art historians. In other words, cavemen probably didn’t call her that.
    She IS probably a fertility idol…and I’ll bet she could’ve played a MEAN bass.

  4. I think that women can be very good bass players but are rarely good guitarists or drummers (esp. the local bands I see)

    This is from being a musician/snob and not a sexist (what’s wrong with being “sexy” anyway)

    The bassist Tal Wilkenfield from Jeff Beck’s group at Crossroads stole the show from EVERYONE that night (she had to be the most Googled person in Chicago later that night)

    Of course I married a chick bassist, so I guess my “thing” for them is not exactly a secret

  5. sammymaudlin

    Look how much we’ve learned already!

    Don’t get too hung up on Venus in particular and miss the big picture. I used Venus as I wanted to drop a bass into the Botticelli. And in my defense several of my sources included; love, desire, beauty, fertility, the sea, vegetation and even femininity itself as her realm or shared realm.

    For more information about the dangers of internet research please go here.

    And I use fertility goddess as a cheeky way of suggestion the power of the feminine. The seductress. The nurturer. The giver of life. The matriarch.

    It’s why I used the Jimbo bite.

  6. sammymaudlin

    Oh yeah. sat: That snake bitch is hot!

  7. I think it’s all about the big bottom.

    Anywho, I don’t recall seeing Luna’s bass player Britta mentioned yet. She’s Snake-Bitch hot.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Sat, I have to disagree with the bassist who plays with Malkmus. When I saw them last year she was as dead a fish as anyone else in that band, drummer Janet Weiss excluded. It was too bad, because she was a fine-looking woman holding a bass. Maybe I just caught her on a bland night, or maybe you’ve got a more severe case of this fetish than I do.

  9. general slocum

    Yes, I do find myself looking for the Suzie Quatro who’s more than ok as a musician. Or supplies enough to overcome lack of same with presence and what not. And, no fertility goddess, but I saw Gun Club in Berlin in 1987, and the bass player was a tall thin asian woman. I think she was involved with the singer or some such. She was not very active on stage but gave this freaky Robo-Strumpet® look and vibe that was quite mesmerizing.

  10. BigSteve

    I thought Ceres/Demeter was the earth mother/fertility goddess, while Diana/Artemis was the virginal huntress/goddess of chastity. The bow is kind of like a bass.

    I assume the feminist argument with this whole proposition is that it relegates women to a support role.

  11. saturnismine

    mod, re. Joanne Bolme:

    I said she’s NOT hot, but lots of guys go crazy over her, and I think it’s because she’s *got* a bass. it had nothing to do with what she does on stage while playing a bass. as you say, “she’s a fine-looking woman holding a bass.”

    but without that bass, i don’t think she’d stand out in a crowded bar filled with women ranging from super hot to super ugly.

    she’s a cold fish on stage, but that doesn’t seem to matter to some guys.

    it’s the mystique of the bass, what sammy is pointing out, that has them so mesmerized.

  12. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks for the clarification, Sat. I get you now. Because of the bass I kept wanting more, but I wasn’t getting what I needed, kind of how Mann and Hatfield come across in those instructive clips Sammy provided.

    We’ll have to bring this topic back in Flashback form the day we have RTH Ladies Day. Don’t think it’s not planned for sometime this calendar year.

  13. BigSteve

    Bass is the easiest instrument to play in a typical rock band, and I suspect that may have been its initial attraction to young women who grew up feeling shut out when it came to a career as a rock instrumentalist.

    The bass guitar only has four strings.
    Simple patterns tend to work the best.
    You only have to play one note at a time.
    Not having to play chords means that understanding the rules of harmony is not essential.

    Plus bands are almost always looking for bass players. If a guy knows how to play guitar, he may be forced to play bass by circumstance, but he’d probably rather play guitar, even if he’s not super proficient. Guys rarely ask for, or get, a bass for Xmas.

    On the other hand, bass is in some ways the hardest instrument to play really well in a rock band. My experience is that most guitarists suck at playing the bass. Finding the right bass line and playing it with just the right timing to make the song as a whole sound better may require more empathy than most rock-obsessed dudes can muster. Is the bass a harsh mistress?

    To me the paradox is that the bass is big and heavy and physically harder to handle in some ways, because the strings are so fat. Tina Weymouth used to play those short-scale basses, but seeing a woman strap on a big honking Fender Jazz bass is a totally different vibe.

  14. Patricia Morrison is the name of the woman who used to be n the Gun Club. She also used to be in the Sisters of Mercy, and is currently married to Dave Vanian of the Damned.

    Let’s not forget the other 2 Kims(besides Gordon) Kim Deal of the Pixies, and Kim Coletta of Jawbox. quite amazing. There is also a woman named Toast(acia) who plays bass for a california 3 piece called Paper Tulips. Quite delightful.

  15. Sorry, but I’m having a hard time buying that gender has anything to do with one’s proficiency on a musical instrument.

    I know at least part of this discussion is in jest, but it’s rather nonsensical to base musical performance on completely un-musical values, isn’t it?

  16. hrrundivbakshi

    Dr. John asks:

    it’s rather nonsensical to base musical performance on completely un-musical values, isn’t it?

    I answer:

    You mean, like when we rate bands based on how much time their fans spend in Mom’s basement?

  17. trolleyvox

    Guys rarely ask for, or get, a bass for Xmas.

    I wouldn’t say no if you’re offering.

  18. Yeah, hrrundi, but I was against that too.

  19. sammymaudlin

    dr john: I for one am not talking about proficiency rather the magic that happens when the right woman straps it on. It’s a magic that transcends musicality and sexuality.

    Kinda like when the Wonder Twins touch rings.

  20. Fine, sammy, however, isn’t this a little heavy on New-Age rhetoric?

    You don’t work for Amway, do you?

  21. saturnismine

    I, for one, am tired of PC gender blindness.

    age-old gender paradigms (masculine = active / feminine = passive; masc. = sun / fem. = moon; etc..) are not always useful in the particulars. there are lots of men and women who blow such hard binary distinctions to bits. we err when we try to apply them to *every* boy and girl, right?

    but if we recognize those distinctions as not being entirely arbitrary, and based in experience, they are useful as a framework set of paradigms for talking points in discussions like the one sammy is trying to have here.

    it’s like Neil Young meant when he talked about “the woman in you” and then later, in an interview, explained that both men and women have “the woman” in them.

    “masculine and feminine” don’t have to equal “boy and girl.” and we only become sexist if we place value on one over and above the other, in either theory OR practice.

    and i think that within the traditional masc. / fem. theoretical framework, there is something undeniably feminine about the role a bassist plays within a band dynamic (regardless of what resides at the meeting place of said bassist’s thighs).

    my first experience playing bass in a rather rancorous band with two very strong personalities, and my job was to absorb and reconcile that rancor. i stayed very much behind the scenes but had a huge role in determining the musical direction of each and every song. it would have come flying apart without me, but i was usually unheralded for my contributions, and often treated as a second class citizen within the band context. to complain about any of it, or to try to transcend by introducing songs it was to threaten the order of things.

    i had more productive conversations about music with women bassists during this time (the girl from babes in toyland, the original bassist in hole to name two) than i ever had with men bassists, because most of them had cases of ‘i’m not the frontman-itus’. the women always made me feel more comfortable with my role. and while they may not have always been the best technicians, they were always great at making their instrument do what a bass is supposed to do: provide the meeting place for the drums and the parts of the song in the upper register. as a nimble, dexterous player who had a penchant for being busy and crawling up the neck on the bass, i really needed to learn that lesson. women were able to articulate that concept to me me way better than men. THEN, i was able to hear it any bass part, whether played by a man or a woman. suddenly, duck dunn’s simplicity became a thing of profound beauty to me.

    so i think sammy’s onto something in this thread.

  22. Big Steve’s analysis is spot on. If you’re a band and you want to sacrifice one position for someone who’s average, you pick the bass. If you can fill that spot with some eye candy, that’s no sacrifice. It’s not that hard to become an average bass player. You can’t teach hotness.

  23. Mr. Moderator

    I had no idea until now, Chickenfrank, that you knew why we chose you for the bass role. HOT!

  24. dbuskirk

    Are women more rhythmically attuned? Lord knows they’re better dancers (and of course I’m generalizing…).

  25. There’s a different dynamic for a dude. He gets in if he has the car, or the practice space, or the beard in high school to buy the beer.
    I don’t think it’s that women are more rhythmically attuned, but more the fact that they have hooters. You want a cute chick on bass. It’s just good bizness.

  26. BigSteve

    But why bass? Why not keyboards? Lots of girls get piano lessons growing up, and keyboard player is the other likely role for women in rock bands (other than singer obviously). Why doesn’t an organ or piano bestow the same mystical powers as a bass?

  27. Because there’s always the danger she’s not a keyboard player, but actually a SINGER/SONGWRITER!!! Oh no, here comes Tapestry.

  28. i love tapestry

  29. Bored now. Somebody make a Cantonese chicken foot reference and move on.

  30. If Chickenfrank is bringing hooters into the conversation, I’ll answer Big Steve’s question by saying it’s the neck!

    Now how many women play long-neck basses. Does size matter?

  31. BigSteve

    Mr Mod said:

    I had no idea until now, Chickenfrank, that you knew why we chose you for the bass role. HOT!

    I suspect that’s preferable to being told you embody “the feminine.”

  32. diskojoe

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the Smithereens song “Behind The Wall of Sleep”, which is about the distaff bass player of a Boston band called the Bristols, who according to the song, held her bass like Jeanie Shrimptom & looked just like Bill Wyman back in 1965, erm, looked like Jeanie Shrimpton back in 1965 & held her bass just like Bill Wyman.

  33. Mr. Moderator

    Is THAT what that Smithereens song is about??? Ive never paid attention to the lyrics.

  34. What was that that dance song that had the lyric ‘bass is maternal / when i hear it i feel safe’? It seems to fit this conversation

  35. sammymaudlin

    Great addition hissing fauna!

    Some Bristol trip-hop guys, Smith & Mighty, released an album in 1995 Bass is Maternal.

    I rest my case.

  36. sammymaudlin

    As if we needed more proof. This just in from General Slocum.

    Thanks to The Back Office for helping to post this within a comment.

  37. I am a female bass player and I would have to say I totally agree with your premise! But I have some additions. While I see the connection with rhythm and movement and undulation to fertility, it also has another important connection:breath. For shamans 90 bpm is where you enter a trance like state. What other demographic is always assumed to be great on bass? Black men! Its the rhythm and you gotta just feel the music. That is getting close to the goddess… yeah.

  38. sammymaudlin

    toxicbrainpoison: Welcome and thank you for your support. Given your assessment I am led to believe that a black woman might perhaps be the ultimate bass player. I however cannot think of one.

    Maybe, like the speed of light, that level of perfection is unattainable.

  39. Black female bass player: Gail Ann Dorsey. Has played with Bowie since the mid-’90s or so.

  40. hrrundivbakshi

    Prince’s bassist is both a woman and Black. Then there was that flash in the pan Michelle N’Gdolongello or whatever. Shoulda changed her name to something a bit easier to say, like “Sting” or something.

  41. BigSteve

    So all women and black men breathe at a different rate than white men? And breath is related to the bass how? Am I missing something?

  42. mockcarr

    I won’t be the guy to make a remark about a big bottom.

    Nope, not me.

  43. The Waitresses had a black female bass player that was really good. Also, after the first record, Defunkt had a black female bass player, Kim Clarke, who was flat out great. I believe the aforementioned Gail Ann Dorsey is a Philly native.

  44. I am a female bass player, and I hate to think of it in that aspect. I know that it may bring attention for a female to play bass, but I want to be known because I play awesome, not because I am a chick. On the bright side, it brings more attention for the band I am playing in. I have thought that I could get a cordless bass, and kinda blend in with the crowd, ha ha. It also is offensive when people think that the bass is easier. It may seem that way, but it is more of a feeling then playing. You feel the tone and then it emerges with a different sound even if you are playing the same notes. You can play like a robot, or you can play like you just served a slice of groove pie. It fills your soul, while the guitar blows your mind. You are kept in the zone because of the bass, which opens you up to that blast of guitar. Anyways, it is amazing to play bass, and I would rather not think of it as a matter of sex, but a matter of feel. Groovy :D

  45. […] roll, even stuff that may eventually be taught in universities. For instance, sammymaudlin‘s The World Moves on a Woman’s Hips: Female Bass Player as Contemporary Fertility Goddess, is being considered for inclusion in a small liberal arts college’s Women’s Studies […]

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