Sunday 16 December 2018

She said, "No."

Mouse:       I simply must go.
Wolf:         But baby, it’s cold outside.
Mouse:       The answer is no.
Wolf:         But baby, it’s cold outside.

- Excerpt from “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Frank Loesser (1944)

So, is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” a song about a creepy guy hitting on a woman? Or a holiday confection targeted unfairly by spoil-sports?

I’ve watched the controversy about the song swirl for days now. And I find both the song and the controversy to be troubling.

The original 1944 lyrics tell the story of a man (“Wolf”) who wants a woman (“Mouse”) to stay the night with him. She says she wants to leave. He tries to change her mind. Half-way through the song, she clearly says, “The answer is no.”  He doesn’t accept her answer and keeps trying to persuade her to stay. For Wolf, “No” means the beginning of negotiations.

Sorry, folks, but that’s just not acceptable. When a woman says, “No,” everything stops – no more arguing, no more cajoling, no more whining.

No means no.

Much of the negative debate about banning the song from radio play lists has a mean-spirited edge to it. It implies that if you object to the song, you are limiting free speech, spoiling a Christmas tradition, and indulging in ‘Political Correctness’ (a term I detest).

Let’s ignore for the moment that the song has nothing to do with Christmas. Focus, instead, on a woman’s right to say “No.” This song does not take that right seriously. Some commentators believe that Mouse just wants to be wooed. “Oh she doesn’t REALLY mean ‘No’ – she’s just using her feminine charms to play the game.”

And what is Wolf’s response to Mouse’s clear message that she wants to leave? “What’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?”

Spare me the wounded pride of a man who doesn’t get his way. How tiresome.

Back off, guys. Shut up. And keep your hands to yourselves.

With that in mind, here’s some background to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”:

The American songwriter Frank Loesser – best known for Guys and Dolls – wrote the song in 1944 as a ‘call and response’ duet for his wife, Lynn Garland, and him to perform at Hollywood parties. In the original lyrics, the male is identified as “Wolf”, and the female is identified as “Mouse”. (See full lyrics at the end.)

The basic plot: Mouse visits Wolf on a cold winter’s night. Mouse wants to leave. Wolf urges her to stay. Mouse wavers. Wolf gives her a drink. Mouse worries about what Wolf’s neighbours and her own family will think if she stays. Wolf keeps pressing. Mouse wonders what’s in the drink he gave her and finally says, “The answer is no.” Undeterred, Wolf keeps insisting that Mouse stay. The end of the song is ambivalent – the lyrics don’t say whether Mouse goes or stays.

The song won an Academy Award in the 1949 romantic comedy, Neptune’s Daughter. In that movie, Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. Later in the movie, Betty Garrett and Red Skelton sing it again, reversing the male and female roles.

Watch the original in these clips from Neptune’s Daughter.

And here's a 2014 contemporary version featuring Orion Carlotto and Jacob Whitesides singing the original lyrics.

And here's another 2014 version, sung by Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé. Two children play Wolf and Mouse, which may be why Mouse’s clear assertion, “The answer is no,” is replaced by “But thanks for the show.”

It’s clear, given the many versions of the song I’ve watched on YouTube, that the lyrics have morphed over the years. Some of Mouse’s original lines (“What’s in this drink?” and “The answer is no.”) have been airbrushed out. I can understand how people who listen to an updated version of the song might wonder what all the fuss is about.

Personally, I don’t care what music people listen to. Each to their own.

However, words matter. And the debate about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” underlines how the way we use words helps create the world we live in. When we honour a woman’s right to say “No!”, we also honour our shared humanity.

So, “No,” I won’t be adding “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to my Christmas playlist.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” Lyrics (original 1944 version):

Mouse:       I really can't stay.
Wolf:         But baby, it's cold outside.
Mouse:       I've got to go away.
Wolf:         But baby, it's cold outside.

Mouse:       This evening has been...
Wolf:                  ...been hoping that you'd drop in.
 Mouse:      So very nice.
Wolf:                  I'll hold your hands; they're just like ice.

Mouse:       My mother will start to worry.
Wolf:         Beautiful, what's your hurry?
Mouse:       My father will be pacing the floor.
Wolf:         Listen to the fireplace roar.

Mouse:       So really I'd better scurry.
Wolf:         Beautiful, please don't hurry.
Mouse:       But maybe just a half a drink more.
Wolf:         But some records on while I pour.

Mouse:       The neighbors might think...
Wolf:         Baby, it's bad out there.
Mouse:       Say what's in this drink?
Wolf:         No cabs to be had out there.

Mouse:       I wish I knew how...
Wolf:         Your eyes are like starlight now.
Mouse: break this spell.
Wolf:         I'll take your hat; your hair looks swell.

Mouse:       I ought to say, no, no, no sir.
Wolf:         Mind if I move in closer?
Mouse:       At least I'm gonna say that I tried.
Wolf:         What's the sense in hurtin' my pride?

Mouse:       I really can't stay.  
Wolf:         Oh baby, don't hold out.

Mouse and Wolf:         But baby, it's cold outside.

Mouse:       I simply must go
Wolf:         But baby, it's cold outside.
Mouse:       The answer is no.
Wolf:         But baby, it's cold outside.

Mouse:       Your welcome has been...
Wolf:         How lucky that you dropped in.
Mouse: nice and warm.
Wolf:         Look out the window at this dawn.

Mouse:       My sister will be suspicious.
Wolf:         Gosh, your lips look delicious.
Mouse:       My brother will be there at the door.
Wolf:         Waves upon the tropical shore...

Mouse:       My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious.
Wolf:         Gosh, your lips are delicious.
Mouse:       But maybe just a cigarette more.
Wolf:         Never such a blizzard before.

Mouse:       I've gotta get home.
Wolf:         But baby, you'd freeze out there.
Mouse:       Say lend me a coat.
Wolf:         It's up to your knees out there.

Mouse:       You've really been grand.
Wolf:         I thrill when you touch my hand.
Mouse:       But don't you see?
Wolf:         How can you do this thing to me?

Mouse:       There's bound to be talk tomorrow.
Wolf:         Think of my lifelong sorrow.
Mouse:       At least there will be plenty implied...
Wolf:         ...if you got pneumonia and died.

Mouse:       I really can't stay.
Wolf:         Get over that old out.

Mouse and Wolf:         Baby, it's cold. Baby, it's cold outside

Songwriter: Frank Loesser
Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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