Christmas is all up on us. People be puttin’ they lights up. Stores be gettin’ they sales on. Radios be playin’ they holiday musics. Maybe it’s because we only hear them once a year (over and over and over), but holiday songs can get away with a lot. Weird old men deifying a filthy barn urchin. Sinister ice pixies chewing peoples’ noses off! Santa Claus is a reckless driver, running over old ladies with reindeer. He’s a peeping tom. He sees you when you’re sleeping! He’s making a list, and jackin’ it twice, doesn’t matter if you’re naughty or nice (okay, I skewed that one a bit).
So it’s all pretty horrible. Asocial acts prettying up the capitalist equinox (p.s. I love Christmas! Give me presents). But what about that holy grail of inappropriate subject matter? Could a holiday song dare to cross the rape line?
Yes. Enter the American songbook standard, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.
Hmm, is it really a “Christmas” song? It’s more of a winter song, I suppose, but they never really play it past December, do they? It’s kind of wedged itself into the repertoire on a technicality. We must live with it, though, until we are rid of it.
Now, if you are like most people, you don’t really pay attention to the lyrics. How else to account for this song’s multiple decades of popularity? More difficult to account for are the wide array of people who have recorded versions of it, from Ray Charles to Esther Williams, Barry Manilow to Miss Piggy, Cee Lo Green to the cast of Glee. Does it hold true that they aren’t listening to the lyrics even as they perform it? Or, once they’re along their way, is it too late to bail the recording studio?
If you need a refresher, consider the following classic recording pitting Ray Charles against Betty Carter:
Musically, it’s a perfectly lovely little song. For myself, honing in on the lyrics, though, I experienced a moment of creeping dread not unlike Michael and Maeby Bluth in “Arrested Development” realizing how inappropriate it was for a niece and uncle to be singing “Afternoon Delight” together. But am I reading too much into it? I don’t think so… surely songwriter/sexual assault fabulist Frank Loesser knew what he was up to, considering that the two parts are referred to on the sheet music as “Mouse” and “Wolf”.
Guess who is who!
It’s one of those things that demands a closer look. Come with me through the menace that lurks both just under the surface and occasionally peers, grinning and wide-eyed, fully in the open. I’ve posted a sheet of the lyrics so you too can gape along in horror.
I really can’t stay – Baby, it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby, it’s cold out there
It’s so easy to imagine Mouse’s lines being delivered whimpering and through sobs, as Wolf replies with a practiced Hannibal Lechter sneer.
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
“Saves me the trouble of kidnapping you.”
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
Gripping fear does have that physiological effect, yes.
My mother will start to worry – Beautiful what’s your hurry
And father will be pacing the floor – Listen to that fireplace roar
“There are people out there who will notice me missing, and they will alert the authorities if I’m gone too long.”
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Does Wolf even know Mouse’s real name?
Well, maybe just a half a drink more – put some records on while I pour
“Perhaps if I play along a bit more, I can find an opportunity to make a run for it.”
And the neighbors might think – Baby it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink? – No cabs to be had out there
Oh great, now it’s established that Mouse is probably in an isolated location. Cabin in the woods, perhaps? No cabs to be had out there. And what is in that drink? I think we know. (This was also the moment I literally clasped my hand over my shocked-open mouth and said “oh my god” aloud to myself.)
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break the spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
“I am losing control of my facilities. My very body rebels against my orders.”
I ought to say no, no, no sir – Mind if I move in closer?
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?
Better that than winding up being used as real-world inspiration for the next “Saw” movie, I say.
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Baby but it’s cold outside
I simply must go – but Baby it’s cold outside
The answer is no – i say it’s cold out there
At this point, there’s no joke or snarky comment I can make. It’s so icky. Look, if they say no, and you persist in your efforts, you are absolutely in the wrong.
The welcome has been – How lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm – Look out that window, at the storm
My sister will be suspicious – Gosh, your lips look delicious
Okay, now it’s less genuinely threatening and more cartoonishly skeevy. “I am literally planning on eating your face.”
My brother will be there at the door – Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious – Gosh, your lips are delicious
“My family will find you and make you pay for what you’re doing.”
Well maybe just a cigarette more – Oh, never such a blizzard before
Following the questionable drink earlier, additional use of chemical dependencies to ensnare the target.
I’ve got to go home – Baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – I thrill when you touch my hand
But don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me
Blame the victim, right? She brought it upon herself, right? sigh
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Think of my lifelong sorrow
…about how a young woman was last seen with a man matching this description, please alert the authorities if you know anything.
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
“Here are your options: stay here with me, or risk death from exposure. Tough call, right?”
I really can’t stay – Get over that hold out
oh but it’s cold outside
That really got uncomfortable for me to examine. But why shouldn’t it have been? I think the better question is, why is this song still being sung? It seems to me we should pack it up and relegate it to the status of ‘cultural artifact’, a backward example of what may have once been a socially acceptable practice which now makes us cringe. I’m not saying we should censor it or strike it from existence, but how about we don’t release nearly a dozen new recordings of it every single year. Nobody’s ever like, “let’s remake ‘Birth of a Nation'”, are they?
And anyway, if we keep up with our anthropogenic global warming, the threat of it being cold outside won’t make sense to the audiences of the future, when we’re all drag-racing through the salt flats for oil, killing each other and using canned meat as currency. The song would have to be updated to something more relevant.
“Baby, There’s Clowns Outside”
Yeah, clowns are always scary, right? Better stay here with me. I have jazz records, cozy blankets, and motion-detecting auto-turrets mounted to the roof.
But really, I suppose it’s a song about Christmas after all. If you are persistent, and engage in forms of psychological warfare both subtle and overt, you can get what you want.