A friend recently sent me a link to a series of interviews with Kim Gordon, circa 1988, being interviewed on a blustery New York City rooftop, which I watched, transfixed, in my hotel on a rare day off while touring the midwest with my pal Eric Hutchinson.
"The guitar is essential to rock & roll 'cause it's an extension of the body," Kim said. "The physical directness of a boy's or a girl's relationship to a guitar is what's gonna make it good or what's gonna make it not-so-happening."
She might as well be talking about sex, and it got me thinking again about the Guitar as Cockblock theory.
I said when I started this column that I'd be checking out some of the various theories that floated up to explain the well-documented fact that my fellow she-performers and I just don't get the action that our male peers do while on the road, whether we want to or not. "Guitar as Cockblock" was my favorite and most hilarious hypothesis, and it came from author/illustrator Amy Martin, who suggested that having a guitar between you and your audience may act as some kind of phallic symbol. "A guy in the audience may be thinking, 'Why does she need mine? She's already got one.'"
Being the daughter of a psychologist, I cottoned to this Freudian interpretation, and after listening to Kim Gordon, started to wonder if it might hold water. So I reached out to one of my dad's psych-professor buddies to check it out.
"While I'm a dyed-in-the-wool psychoanalytic psychotherapist, I'm not much for symbology," said the good doctor, who asked to remain nameless. "The guitar as phallic symbol doesn't do a lot for me, personally. There is so much more to harvest about human behavior than our response to the physical shape of things that for me it's not worth going down that track."
She did concede one point, though: that for a female performer, your job itself can be its own cockblock. "Positions of power confer advantages to men versus to women," she said, pointing to the Clintons as an example. Both Bill and Hill have held high-powered jobs, but who's the bigger sex symbol?
"The real question is not what keeps men from approaching a female performer, but what allows them to approach," she continued. "I suspect there is an optimum balance of 'sufficiently alluring' with 'gettable' or 'in their league' that men scan for in someone whom they have no other opportunity to encounter in a more regular setting. That balance point could be negatively influenced by the extra credit points conferred by performer status."
For comedian Amy Schumer, speaking frankly about sex in her act has tipped that balance even more, causing intimidation among male fans trying to strike up a conversation offstage.
"They're usually drunk and one of them is loud and worried I'm going to say something mean to them, so they overcompensate by being too aggressive," she told me recently. "Or a guy will try to flirt with me by insulting me or telling a shitty joke. It has never, ever ever been appealing to go to a second location with anyone. I WISH IT WAS! The hot dude on his own offering a quiet scotch together or seeing some jazz in town after a show would be my dream. But alas..."
"People don't really know the appropriate way of reaching out and connecting," said songwriter Michelle Branch. "Little things like asking for a phone number become a much bigger deal than if you were just a girl at a bar or a party."
All this got me wondering if the phenomenon of the intimidated guy was an international one or strictly an American thing. I asked Alexei Perry of Handsome Furs if her foreign male groupies were any bolder than her homegrown fans.
"Bizarrely, I had a Latvian soldier (with no interest in my band) follow me and try to get close to me; a Russian fan had a blog just with photos of me mid-action singing, making horror faces; we had a brother and sister express interest in Belgium. There's weird shit the world over," she said.
Michelle Branch concurred. "Men in other countries don't seem to follow this unwritten law (of not approaching) as strictly. 'Hey! Is this your first time in [enter foreign city here]? There's a really cool bar down the street. You guys should come hang after the show.'
After all of this exhaustive research, I'm exhausted myself. Where does this leave us -- guy or girl, entertainer or "civilian" -- when we see someone we're attracted to but don't know how to approach?
I'm reminded of a story Amy Schumer told me recently, where she was boarding a plane to the next gig, saw a baggage handler, told him he was cute, and ended up going out with him.
"If I see someone I'm attracted to, I'm not shy," she told me. "I'll tell them exactly what I'm thinking and leave no room for confusion."
In the midst of a mess of theories and confusion, this no-fuss, direct approach seems a bold -- if not the only -- way out.