It’s 3 am. Do you know if you’re a man or a woman? When the red phone rings in the White House of your mind, is the hand that reaches for it broad and walnut-knuckled, smelling of food, with black hairs curling upward from the wrist? Or is it soft, slender, well-soaped, and all a-twinkle with rings given to you by a millionaire suitor?
We’re all mixed up. Our most private selves have been riven by the sex war. You see it every day, all across this great nation: the fellas are trying to be more like the ladies, and the ladies are copping moves from the fellas. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times praises Barack Obama for his “feminine management style,” while Hillary Clinton withdraws at the last minute from a Vogue photo shoot for fear of appearing “too glamorous.” Are we offending reality with these antics? The psychologists tell us that we’re all basically bisexual (the bisexual psychologists do, anyway), but it’s a fact: little boys like trucks, and little girls like shoes. And when it comes to your iPod, it’s every gender for itself.
Yes, we’ve proved it. The Phoenix, uniquely for a paper its size, is in the privileged position of having both a man and a woman on its staff, and once this fact had been pointed out to us, it was the work of a moment to get the two staffers in question — James Parker (man) and Sharon Steel (woman) — into our basement lab to perform an alt-weekly experiment. What music, we asked our subjects, makes them feel most (in his case) “manly” or (in hers) “womanly”? Their responses were shocking in their black-and-whiteness. It turns out that Parker, who is 62 and on his fifth marriage, uses old-school metal to shake up his curdled testosterone, while Steel — a Project Runway finalist and author of the best-selling fake memoir Dreams, Tweens, and Silver Machines — self-administers doses of brand-new girly pop as necessary.
The implications of this study are enormous, and when Parker and Steel provided us with their gender-based playlists, we felt obliged to share them with you, our headphone-wearing and hormonally variable readers. What did we learn? We learned that you don’t mess with Mother Nature — one of our subjects was accidentally exposed to the other’s “sounds” and there was some serious psychosexual fallout. So handle this information with care, brothers and sisters, because here it is: the yin, the yang, and the whang-dang-doodle.
James Parker: Songs my balls taught me
Ted Nugent, “Stranglehold”
Politically piggish, a huge boor (and bore) waving a crossbow, the Nuge has in spite of this (or perhaps, as they say on NPR, because of it) made one indelible contribution to the genre of masculinity rock. “Here I come again now, baby/Like a dog in heat . . .” From 1975’s Ted Nugent, “Stranglehold” ’s spooky, I’m-going-to-beat-you-up-slowly vibe and shimmering sub-psychedelic guitar solo conduct the male listener deep into the bristling caverns of his psyche. And who does he find there? Himself, of course. Crouched by the ancestral fire pit. Toasting a marshmallow on the tip of a tiger’s leg bone.
AC/DC, “Problem Child”
While there is almost nothing in the AC/DC songbook that wouldn’t qualify for our list of man music, this one from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976) is particularly apt. “Problem Child” is a hymn to the onstage shtick of guitarist Angus Young, who liked (still likes, actually) to strut and gibber in a schoolboy’s uniform, even as he displayed, with his guitar work, the most developed sense of negative space in all of hard rock. Stamped with the hallmarks of classic AC/DC — the disco precision of the rhythm section, the witchy squawk of the great Bon Scott (RIP) — this is for the nasty little schoolboy in all of us. “I’m a problem child . . . my mother hates me!”
Cro-Mags, “Crush the Demoniac”
These Hare Krishna hoodlums from NYC had a terrible time trying to be spiritually attentive while simultaneously kicking everybody in the face. At their best, they rewrote the quest of the soul as high-speed hardcore opera, Quadrophenia for transcendental pit goons, with riffs like the harrowing of hell. No man can feel complete without that element of God-endowed righteousness, and “Crush the Demoniac,” from their underrated 1989 masterpiece Best Wishes, really hits the spot. To be sung while shaving: “No we won’t, no we won’t, no we won’t ever serve their demands/’Cause we know, ’cause we know, ’cause we know that the Lord has his plans!” Indeed, He does, and they involve violent, metaphysically tumescent manliness.
Nashville Pussy, “Go Motherfucker Go”
From 1998’s Let Them Eat Pussy, this derivative chunk of post-Motorhead crash ’n’ burn might not have made the list were it not for the splendor of its title. Show me the man who has not needed to hear, at the critical moment of his life, these three very words screamed violently in his ear, and I’ll show you a John Mayer fan. The Pussy, too, to give them credit, always bashed the hell out of this meager material — their headlong commitment, manifested also in a tawdry sense of theater (warthog sideburns, fire-eating, six-foot female bassist with runaway nipple), was a lesson to us all.