Recently I learned that there is a push to change the lyrics to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. A couple in Minneapolis has actually rewritten the song so that it is sensitive to a woman’s right to say no and so it no longer implies that the man is going to date rape the woman.
I first caught the tail-end of this story on TV and thought it was a joke, and then I heard the same thing on the radio, with the DJ in support of the rewrite idea, so when I got the chance, I looked it up online. Sure enough, it’s not a joke, and many people are apparently in support of it.
I have loved this song for as long as I can remember, and for me, hearing this song now takes me back to when my wife and I were first dating. I knew she was the one. I didn’t want to ruin it by telling her too soon, so I didn’t tell her, but every part of my being knew it. It literally hurt to be away from her, and I’m sure many people have felt this before – that new love, true love feeling when it’s so fresh and all that’s on your mind.
I was in my first year of teaching, and I wanted to be with her every evening for as long as possible, despite the fact that I had to be in front of a classroom full of teenagers in the morning. I remember saying goodnight way past midnight on some weeknights, knowing that I had to get up and be ready to teach in less than five hours and that she had to be up early to study and attend her physics classes, but we still could not bear the thought of one of us having to leave. Whether in the doorway of her apartment or the entryway of my house, we would draw out the goodbye as long as possible, knowing we needed to say goodnight and should say goodnight but trying to find any excuse not to part.
Just one more drink or one more record or, for us, just one more episode of Twin Peaks (my wife had the entire series on VHS). I liked the show, but, more than being enthralled by the bizarre plot and characters, staying for one more episode would mean I got to be with her for at least another fifty minutes, delaying that goodbye, despite how tired we both would be the next day.
This is what I hear in the song. She knows it’s best she go, and she is trying to convince herself of this, but he can’t bear to see her go and does all he can to have a little more time with her.
However, apparently my interpretation of this song and the nostalgic feeling of fresh, new love is completely wrong, according to the linked article about the Minneapolis couple that wrote new lyrics to the song. Their interpretation is that the man and woman are at a party, and she is trying to leave and get away from him, but he is not letting her go and is pressuring her into staying. Her line of “Say, what’s in this drink?” is implying that he is trying to slip her Rohypnol, the date rape drug (or something along those lines), which will enable him to have his way with her.
Hmm . . . A little different than my take on it.
Where does this party come in? I have never envisioned them at a party. He wants to put on some records so they can have another drink and listen to them. If the party scenario is the case, I sure hope the rest of the partygoers agree with his musical selection.
But I see now how I was completely wrong. I mean, this was written in 1944, a time when Rohypnol was easily accessible and frequently used. It was a time when sexual promiscuity was rampant, a time when singers/songwriters bragged about their sexual conquests through the lyrics of their songs, proud of their sexual mistreatment of women.
Well . . . wait. No, that’s NOW.
Just take a look at the sexually objectifying messages about women that are communicated through the lyrics of some of today’s musicians, ranging from such pop and country artists as Beyonce and Jayzee, Pitbull, and Justin Moore, just to mention a few (some of whom were heavily involved in campaigning during the presidential election). If you want to see some really disturbing lyrics, search some of the rap and death metal songs that are popular among many adolescents and teenagers today. I’m not one for censorship, but if there is a concern about sexual mistreatment of women, then maybe attention should be drawn to more recent lyrics than those composed in the 1940s.
The biggest mistake with the issue of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is that Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski, the Minneapolis composers of the new lyrics, apply the mentality of too many musicians today, along with the line of thinking of so many people today, to a song that was written over 72 years ago.
Meanings of words, expressions, and even actions change over time, and you can’t take something out of its original context from over seven decades ago and apply current meaning to it. Consider the following verse from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
Our troubles will be miles away.
If you look at it in the context of when it was written, it says to enjoy the season and make Christmas happy, and your worries will seem insignificant.
But let’s be ridiculously stupid now and apply today’s meaning of the word “gay” to this verse and see what we get. Well, now the verse is promoting homosexuality, saying that if you sleep with someone of the same sex this Christmas, your troubles will go away.
Now some people are going to be offended by this one, wanting to change the lyrics so that it is more appropriate for the context-incompetent groups in our society. So for them, I suggest something like:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide awesome,
From now on,
Our troubles will be upside down like a sleeping possum
Opossums don’t really sleep upside down, but this myth makes for some astounding new lyrics to a Christmas classic so that it is now non-offensive. And honestly, it’s really not that much more absurd than what Liza and Lemanski have done with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.
Aside from the lyrics themselves, you also need to listen to how the song is sung, just as is the case with all communication – it is not what is said but how it’s said that matters most. Consider the following statement: “Oh, that’s great.” How many different ways can you say that to convey different meanings?
The same applies to the song. If a version is performed where the girl sounds annoyed or scared, and the guy comes off like a total creeper and she’s pushing him off her, then what is portrayed is the guy not respecting her right to say no (see the version with Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán – yes, Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island). However, again, it’s not the lyrics themselves but the portrayal of the song.
If the song is sung like the versions that are played on the radio at this time of year – the versions that take me back to those weeknights twenty years ago, watching one o’clock in the morning draw ever nearer but trying to reason that if I hit snooze and then hurried the next morning, nine minutes of extra sleep would make up for one more hour of keeping my heart happy – well then the notion that this discourse is a prelude to date rape is absurd.
But we hear what we want to hear, I guess. So for me, when I hear this song during the Christmas season, I will always relive those feelings of new love again, when I couldn’t bear to part from the woman who would one day become my wife.
So happy Christmas to all, and to all . . . please leave the classics alone.