Snake Oil – How A Song By Cher Predicted The Rise Of The Sex Blogger
The above photo is of a lady called Dr Brooke Magnenti. If you don’t know who Brooke Magnenti is, she wrote a blog called Belle de Jour. It was basically a diary of her time working as a call girl in London to support her PhD studies. It went on to become a successful book and then an even more successful television series starring Billie Piper in the title role.
Some people have found this photo a bit shocking. I found it shocking too, but only in the sense that I was profoundly surprised as to what counted as “sexy lingerie” as little as ten or twelve years ago.
Due to the meteoric rise of 50 Shades of Grey, Brooke and her Belle de Jour have faded into the background a bit over the last few years. But she’s back in the news again now and not because of her previous appalling taste in seductive undergarments.
She’s in the news because she is being sued by her ex-partner who is claiming that her revelations about her past life as a student/hooker ruined his career in the RAF. He sees the situation as doubly unfair because he’s asserting that she never did any of the things she wrote about in her blog in the first place. (The hooker part that is, not the student part. Brooke definitely has a PhD. I checked)
So, Brooke Magnenti is countersuing her ex-partner for defamation of character. This makes her something of a pioneer. As one of the lawyers associated with the case has stated : “This must be the first time in legal history that a woman has sued a man for defamation for claiming that she is not now, nor has she ever been, a working prostitute.” The woman in question is citing the above photo, which she says is from an escort website, as proof that she definitely did pay her way through college working as a call girl.
This may be a legal first, but precedent for it has been set elsewhere. Namely in the Cher song “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”. As you are probably aware, this song is the story of a young girl – born in the wagon of a travelling show – whose mamma used to dance for the money they’d throw. I’m not going to reproduce the whole song for you here, but I will have to quote bits of it to make my point. If you can’t remember it, look it up. You’re on the internet anyway, so it won’t take a great deal of effort.
One thing I get from the song is that it’s a piss poor travelling show this girl’s been born into. Her mamma dances for the money people throw. Now, notes don’t fly through the air very well, even if you scrunch them up. You could always make them into paper aeroplanes I suppose, but that would just be silly. So this implies that mamma’s just dancing for coins, which can’t be all that profitable.
Papa, though, apparently did whatever he could. Preached a little gospel. Sold a couple of bottles of Doctor Good (snake oil to the uninitiated). This sounds like Papa had lost the plot a bit. Then again, maybe Papa was a secret genius with the Gospel/snake oil combo.
Maybe the song doesn’t mention his colleague standing on the side lines selling rotten fruit at an obscene mark up. If I’d turned up at a carnival expecting to be entertained and some twat was preaching Gospel, I’d be looking around for some rotten fruit to throw at him and I wouldn’t care how much I paid for it. To be fair, if he was quoting Revelation, I’d want to throw horseshoes at him. And if he was evangelizing the Book of Job, I’d be seeking out a vendor selling anvils to hurl at the fucker.
And of course, some people would actually be listening to the preacher. There’s nothing like religion for starting a fight, so at the end of the sermon there’d probably be quite a few takers buying the snake oil to rub on their bumps and bruises.
Then again, maybe Papa wasn’t such a genius. He’s become a grandpa in the final verse of the song. Still preaching Gospel and still selling snake oil. You can make a lot of money and buy a lot of Cadillacs selling people religion if you’re ruthless enough about it. He wasn’t smart enough to figure that out.
So, Cher’s travelling show seems to be the travelling show equivalent of Woolworths. Trying to sell random people crap that they’re not really interested in buying and hence doomed to failure. Bit of a mystery. So it seems. Until you look at the chorus. “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves/We heard it from the people of the town/ They called us Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves/ But every night the men would come around and lay their money down”.
Mystery solved. You don’t lay down coins. The only kind of money you lay down is the folding kind. And I don’t think we’re talking about a floating craps game here. I could be mis-reading the situation here but I think that this travelling show was actually a mobile brothel. Moving from town to town around the country under the guise of a carnival. Which would explain why all the other entertainment available there was a bit on the ropey side.
It would also explain why Cher’s character in says “Papa would have shot him if he knew what he’d done” when a drifter takes her virginity and gets her pregnant. A paying punter would probably have shelled out quite a premium to take the virginity of Papa’s 16 year old daughter. Plus, apart from a few specialist clients, the drifter has put her out of commission for quite a while brothel-wise.
So what Cher’s character seems to be saying in the song is “We’re not Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. We’re itinerant prostitutes, I thank you so very much.” Perhaps this is where Dr Brooke Magnenti got the idea to counter-sue in her court case. Or perhaps I should just switch off the analytical part of my brain when I’m listening to classic 70s pop songs.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2015