Red Light District


For those that don’t participate on the Mothership and for those that do and want to see the “full” article that I submitted plus another chance to listen to some great tunes.

The colour red is associated with the sex-industry, red dresses, red underwear, scarlet women and the universal symbol of prostitution being the ‘red-light, it crops up in many songs but where did it originate: its use appears undeniable as a signal that a prostitute is ‘open for business’ and as with all professions they tend to congregate in the same locality and hence we got ‘red-light districts’.

Several sources suggest the Chinese used red paper lanterns to denote the availability of a girl, whereas others propose it was from the red lanterns carried by railway workers that were left outside so that they could be easily retrieved.

There are even biblical references: Rahab a prostitute in Jericho aided the spies of Joshua and placed a ‘scarlet rope’ outside her house to signify her presence and so avoid the massacre that ensued.

Throughout the weekend this topic threw out several consistent themes that song writers drew their inspiration from: it’s a lonely profession, it’s scary and cold ‘walking the streets’,  many don’t want to be there, many are forced or driven to it by circumstance; many a ‘punter’ falls in love only to be thwarted by death or simple rejection.

It is often an emotionless transaction and that’s what it boils down to a ‘service’ for payment, whether that’s cash or ‘in-kind’ but one of the greatest fears for the ‘women of the night’ is age and losing their looks, they try to their best to remain young or offer ‘extras’ for higher payment.

The lyrics have therefore played an important part in my selection for inclusion in the A-list, some were well known and one a long-time favourite of mine but as ever RR contributors have introduced me to some fabulous new material.

So how do you tell if a prostitute is open for business? Well according to Gov’t Mule you ask them to leave a light on.

Lola leave your light on
I said Lola leave your red light on

Marillion’s Lady Nina caters to your every fantasy:

One night you’ll play Elizabeth Taylor
The next night you’re Marilyn Monroe
Forever kissing frogs that think they’re princes
Oh, Lady Nina, where did all the romance go?

Bruce Springsteen has got to pay: “two hundred dollars straight in two-fifty up the ass” …. Even if The Boss didn’t enjoy it:

…. She brought me another whisky

Said “here’s to the best you ever had

We laughed and made a toast

It wasn’t the best I ever had

Not even close.

It’s a transaction that’s all, sordid but it’s all about payment for The Zuton’s Freak:

It’s a hundred pounds an hour
Or two hundred for the day
I’ll take cash or credit card
I don’t mind how you pay

 Or that “nom” that cropped up time and time again; Roxanne from Alex Turner’s Arctic Monkey’s

don’t do major credit cards
I doubt she does receipts
It’s all not quite legitimate

No matter how much you charge, there’s always someone wanting a cut as the Beautiful South reflect:

And before you do just what you do
Here’s one thought for you to chew
The men who run the business that you sell
They screw you too

The Jam acknowledge that you can’t stay young forever:

And you started looking much older
And your fashion sense is second rate like your perfume
But to you in your little dream world
You’re still the queen of the butterfly collectors

Jonathan Byrd’s Diana Jones ran her ‘business’ from the Do Drop Inn:

Diana ran the Do Drop inn wily as a mountain cat
ept a room behind the bar for any man who needed that

 Tina Turner’s Private Dancer typifies the lack of emotion and anonymity:

Well the men come in these places
And the men are all the same
You don’t look at their faces
And you don’t ask their names
You don’t think of them as human
You don’t think of them at all
You keep your mind on the money
Keeping your eyes on the wall

 Or as in this wonderful acoustic from The Twilight Sad:

 You are the bearer of a womb without love

You could of [sic] had it all

Jobriath knows from personal experience that it’s tough ‘walking the streets’:

Walk, walk, walk the streets all day,

I walk, walk, walk the streets all night,

I walk, walk, walk with my feet on fire

My love for hire.

 The Crusaders (feat. Randy Crawford) know all about the toll of street life:

Street life, you can run away from time
Street life, for a nickel, for a dime
Street life, but you better not get old
Street life, or you’re gonna feel the cold

Finally Karine Polwart seeks to escape this trap so …

Show me a road that’s not this hard


9 thoughts on “Red Light District

  1. That’s a good read and puts the whoile thing in context. I can’t think why the Graun constantly trawls for people to write (for free!) for their site and then cuts great swathes of the submitted piece. I suppose it might be that the number of articles increases the number of clicks and comments. Good for advertisers to see. The length and quality of the articles isn’t such an issue. Use up too much of your allotted space and they won’t have room for items on the hilarity of playing a sausage in the Pudsey movie.

    • Cheers Severin, I can’t even be bothered to complain (apart from a small dig to Peter just now). I’m not the first this has happened to though as I recall Fuel got very upset as they ‘decimated’ one of his pieces. C’est la vie!

  2. Just had a gander at your piece on the mothership – TY has your back on there bigtime (if it doesn’ get moded by the powers that be). I’ll shut up otherwise. Abahachi had a piece butchered and subbed not to his liking as well.

    Most excellent to see Gov’t Mule make your list – I love Warren Haynes. And i’ll speak for DsD here – we’re both fans. In fact, i did a post on them awhile back –

    Ace Monkeys tune too, love that one. Much as i love the Police, i hate Roxanne.

    I always thought the Jam tune was about Peter Stringfellow, dunno. I think i put it up for something like songs based on novels – it was a bit based on the John Fowles novel too i think. Vaguely remember hashing that out with Wyngate.

    Only other tunes that come to mind at first are Tom Waits (probably zedded) and Garbage’s most excellent Queer. I think Pete Doherty or the Libs have at least one song about a rent boy, Pete used to work as one i think. The Cult’s Love Removal Machine. Can’t think of a Stones tune offhand, but i’m sure there must be one. Or not – i doubt they ever had to pay.

    Hope to have a listen to the full list sometime this weekend –

    • hi amylee, I figured Gov’t Mule would be your sort of thing. Thanks for the link to your previous article, I’ll enjoy listening this weekend.

      Have you heard of Cry of Love, another recent intro (DsD) two weeks ago for RRSA Joneses with Highway Jones, I recommend the album Brother and could drop it if you still have access.

      The Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman was suggested last week – your opinion as to suitability?

      Queer and several Tom Waits tunes were also nominated.

      You mentioning TY means there are still some good people on The Mothership but unfortunately there are some complete assholes too!

      • No, I haven’t heard Cry of Love. Another thing i’ll have to try to listen to at some point. I’ve had my box disabled for awhile now for various reasons, so i’ll find it on the youtubes or somesuch. That Decemberists song about the mother who services sailors at night to feed her kid also just came to mind…

        There does seem to be an asshole or 2 on the mothership, but seems to be a lot of new people too so that has to be a good thing at least. I don’t want to otherwise get started on the subeds and people writing for free and the fact that they’ve started to poach shots from Flickr for some American articles and i’ll shut up now before my blood boils again.

        Webby is the go to guy for Honky Tonk Women, even i blushed when he explained to me what it was really about.

        Shane – that works! Neither of those 2 are my favorite Stones tunes (although PIB is a pretty good one), so a mash up works just fine.

    • if you do a medley of “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” and “paint it black” you get a great(!) song about prostitution.

      I see a red door and I want it painted black
      No colors anymore, I want them to turn black
      I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
      I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
      Have you seen your mother, baby, standing in the shadow?
      Have you had another, baby, standing in the shadow?

      I’m glad I opened your eyes
      The have-nots would have tried to freeze you in ice
      I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
      Like a newborn baby it just happens ev’ryday
      Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
      It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black

      Tell me a story about how you adore me
      Live in the shadow, see through the shadow,
      Live through the shadow, tear at the shadow
      Hate in the shadow, and love in your shadowy life
      I could not foresee this thing happening to you
      If I look hard enough into the setting sun
      laugh with me before the morning comes

      You take your choice at this time
      The brave old world or the slide to the depths of decline
      I see my red door and I must have it painted black
      Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts

  3. thanks for posting this, it reads much better in the unedited version in my opinion. Sounds like I was lucky, my guruship got through unedited but sounds like a few others have had issues.

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