As host of Voice of Vashon’s progressive Brown Briefly (KVSH – 101.9 FM), I took notice when the holiday song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” got pulled from the air by several radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. The classic duet, which has been sung by just about everyone, became a source of debate on Fox News and CNN after #MeToo characterized the 72-year-old tune as sexually intimidating, if not down-right predatory.
To some modern ears, the lyrics sound like a prelude to date rape. The woman keeps protesting. “I ought to say no, no, no,” she sings. At another point she wonders, “What’s in this drink?” (Shades of Bill Cosby). On the other hand, some of the young woman’s responses in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” are ambivalent if not coquettish. Melodically, I always liked the song and the smart, snappy, repartee of the couple’s alliterative lyrics. “My father will be pacing the floor,” she sings, “Oh, maybe just another drink more.” To which her rakish boyfriend responds, “Put some records on, while I pour.” Question: If she was so anxious to leave, why didn’t she? Possible answer: If she does, there goes the song, not to mention an essential half of the duet
In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Judith E. Smith, a professor of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, put “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” in historical perspective by pointing out that “the duet by “Guys and Dolls” composer Frank Loesser, was written in 1944 when World War II was upending societal norms; more women were entering the workforce, and military deployments were interrupting traditional courtships. Women were starting to exercise more sexual freedom. To Professor Smith, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is alluding to “both men’s and women’s sexual desire in a playful way.
On the aforementioned Brown Briefly, I didn’t give much thought to playing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” on our show last month. To my mind, the winter weather duet was never written for lovers living in our relatively temperate climate. When she says ,“Oh, I got to go home,” it’s unlikely the woman in question, will, as her boyfriend suggests, “freeze to the bone out there.” It’s simply not that cold on Vashon. Remember, he’s the same guy who tells her the snow is “up to her knees out there.” This is an alternate reality. On the rare times it does snow on the island, levels are measured in inches, not feet. What Vashon is known for is not snow, but rain. It’s our brand, if you will. We are a damp and moist people. Think about it. The only way to get here is to float. I never understood why Gore-Tex didn’t move its corporate headquarters to Vashon and convert K-2 into a testing lab. But I digress.
In terms of the duet, would Vashon’s usual form of precipitation — the intermittent drizzle, measured by half speed windshield wipers — inspire the urgency and romance of a snow storm? It’s a stretch, but I’d say it’s possible if you throw the “ferry factor” into the mix. To achieve this, the ambivalent duetess has to be an off-island woman. She might be susceptible to her boyfriend’s charms, but the new ferry schedule limits her exit strategy to one direct trip from Vashon to Fauntleroy. After that, the only way to cross Puget Sound is the dreaded 45-minute trip from Vashon to Southworth to Fauntleroy. If she needs further incentive, consider a “layover” on scenic Southworth. This is a serious penalty for “making out,” or whatever that activity is now called in 2019.
Let’s assume the guy and the girl are an on-island couple. They are both from Vashon. But once you remove the “ferry factor,” home-field advantage decisively switches to the guy. In fact, she is back in the same compromising position she was when Frank Loesser wrote the song in 1944. If she really wants to leave, all she can threaten him with is a concern for, and possibly reprisal from, her extended family. “My mother will start to worry,” she sings. “My father will pace the floor. My sister will be suspicious. My brother will be at the door.” If that’s not enough, “her maiden aunt’s mind is vicious. In any event, remember that on Vashon Island, rain tops rhyme and precipitation trumps alliteration.
— Brian Brown is a former journalist and host of Voice of Vashon’s “The Brown Briefly.”