I had a birthday a few days ago and happily chose to spend it going to the touring Downton Abbey Exhibition that made its first stop here in Singapore. It was a ton of fun geeking out on sets, costumes, props, ephemera, and all things related to the series. It was beautifully presented and historically informative, with lots of high tech whistles and bells. I started to envision this tune some time before going.
I’m the kind of person who would rather go to the Downton Exhibition than to Nascar or a 49er’s game. I really enjoy historical fiction, costume dramas, and any take on things in the past. And I would generally rather go to a “chick flick” than to some manly “action adventure”. These are qualities I used to keep somewhat hidden from the world (kept my Jane Austen in a plain brown wrapper.) Now I’m trying to be more up front about it. Frankly, I think world could use a little less testosterone.
This presented some challenges for me in writing this tune. The very term “bodice ripper” suggests a woman being forced against her will. In it’s strictest sense, bodice ripper refers to the romance genre of fiction that was very popular in the 1970s. They typically featured virgin women, pure as the driven snow, and the rapist-turned truelove hero was a common stock character. Contemporary romance novels have come a long way since then. Feminism is alive and kicking butt in much of the historical fiction written today. (For a good article on the subject, read this piece by Jessica Luther in the Atlantic.)
But I hope the listener understands that I don’t mean bodice ripper in this strictest sense. In fact, I’ve never read any of these novels. The term has come to be used in a much broader sense for any historical novel or drama (though some measure of romance and/or sex is seemingly required for anything to be called a bodice ripper.)
As I was writing lyrics it began to nag at me that this might not be automatically understood. I began to worry a little about “what people might think”. Consequently, I wrote a “disclaimer” bridge that went like this~
I hope nobody judges me
For all my gothic fantasies
These silly dime store novelties
Are a harmless addiction,
Me rippin’ off a woman’s dress
Is just a load of PBS
Cu’s no no no cannot mean yes
In anything but fiction~
Thankfully, I came to my senses and the public service announcement wound up on the cutting room floor. The bridge stuck out like a sore thumb and robbed the song of its humor. I couldn’t go there. The song’s supposed to be kinda funny, or at least mildly amusing.
Unfortunately, when writing a humorous song you never really know if it’s funny until someone actually laughs at it. I’m throwing this out there untested, but keeping my fingers crossed. I think it's more a smiler than a belly-laugher. The humor hinges upon incongruity; a somewhat swaggering manly bluster about a predilection that’s generally not perceived as manly at all. Consequently, I turned the letch-level up to eleven. I trust the listener to know that I’m not really the old goat twisted up in petticoats that’s depicted. Anyone who knows me understands that I’ve been faithfully ripping on the same sweet bodice for more than 30 years. That romance got written a long time ago. A great story but not really all that funny. Fiction was required for humor's sake.
And just so you know, I did dial it back a little. Some lyrics were too over the top to be included. The line about my codpiece got cut. You can thank me later.