Whenever I write, I have a ritual of listening to only one album or one artist. Every time I return to edit, revise or just re-read the piece, I’ll put on the same recording or playlist. For example, while writing my previous column, the Eurythmics’ Revenge was on a loop. I began this practice when I had to write an essay for an anthology about gay male desire, and I wanted the right music to help me get to that meeting place of the senses in the ether of memory. So, I chose PJ Harvey’s Is This Desire?, a record that, upon first listen, seems far from an aphrodisiac. Its subject matter ranges from depression, desperation and murder. Part of the reason behind my musical selection was the album’s fundamental two-pronged question: Is this desire? Is this enough? However, I also find some of the songs to be sexy. Now, I am not talking about lyrical content, but the actual sonic qualities of the album: its textures, its aural palate, its soundscape. The record contains bass notes that distort and rumble to the point of excess. Drones buzz like hungry lovers, and Harvey’s howls explode with carnal energy.
There are physical reasons why music can turn us on. Different frequencies work on different parts of the body, and there are in fact some frequencies that are felt solely on a genital level. While the physical properties of soundwaves and their effects do intrigue me, I am more so interested in looking at personal and intimate connections with music as a means of better understanding sexuality. Some of our desires overlap and intersect, and yet so many of our turn-ons are incredibly precise. Indelible body memories that linger from childhood and adolescence follow us into the bedroom. At some point in our lives, we have come to associate things — an object, a scent, a particular word, a certain kind of touch, a place — with pleasure. Attempting to get to the marrow of these associations will not necessarily give us any concrete data. However, engaging in this sort of exploratory memory work can be a means of finding new ways to get excited and permitting an expansion of how we express desire.
Maybe now is a good time to admit a dirty little secret. I must confess: George Michael turns me on. Yes, there is something about George Michael’s pipes that I find arousing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I get a tent in my pants the moment I hear him. Nevertheless, his phrasing, his intonations, and the grain of his voice in certain songs, definitely give me a little tingle where it counts. Pondering why his voice affected me physically, I realized that George and I have actually had a long and meaningful sonic sexual relationship together.
I grew up without cable, which meant no MuchMusic or MusiquePlus. There was one half-hour program called Video Rock Détente that played once a week on a local channel, so if I wanted to see a music video, there was a small window of opportunity for me to do so. One video that made me feel a bit funny inside was George Michael’s “Freedom ’90.” Sultry supermodels, hot shirtless men in boxers, cool blues and greys, a haze of steam and condensation, porcelain bathtubs, black leather jackets set ablaze, and the ever climatic and satisfying exploding jukebox.
Fast-forward a couple of years. I think I was in Grade 9. Somehow, I ended up watching Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon. The whole film was sexually charged. I recall black PVC raincoats with nothing underneath, bondage and a straight razor. Even more vibrant than the SM imagery was the scene where two lovers, Oscar and Mimi, sit face to face. Mimi drinks a glass of milk, but lets the liquid spill from her mouth and covers her naked body in a thin layer of white gloss. They proceed to fuck, and George Michael’s “Faith” plays in the background.
Skip ahead a bit more. Picture a new decade and higher learning. I was still fresh to university, and yes, I was still a virgin. Even in my early 20s, I had not yet kissed a guy, so please imagine the sexual frustration that was continuously vibrating inside of me at the speed of light. I watched a film called The Rules of Attraction. Sure, it was a shitty flick, and I can’t remember who the actors were, or what they looked like. But I do remember being transfixed by two men in their spellbinding tighty whities jumping up and down on a bed, dancing with unabashed glee. And the soundtrack at that moment? Once again, “Faith.”
I enjoy using music as a means of remembering, shedding some light on why I like what I do, and revisiting formative moments I had all but forgotten. This kind of memory work is an ongoing, self-reflexive process. I have to face the fact that some of my recollections are probably not factually correct, and that I remember some events the way I want to remember them, not how they actually happened. There are pieces missing. At the same time, the body’s memory is difficult to dismiss. A thought can be shut out, but the body’s current is much harder to turn off.
If you see me at a party dancing to George Michael, don’t assume I’m going to get an erection. My mind will, however, most probably make its way to the gutter at some point. I can’t help it. Music is sexy. It moves like desire, it pulls and pulses, it asks, “Is this enough?” So the next time you’re about to get filthy, consider putting on an album that might be fitting for the situation. Consider why you like what you do and think about music as an extension of your sexuality. You can do it, I assure you. You just gotta have faith.