Sunday, July 17, 2016

Elephant's Memory – "Don't Put Me On Trial No More" (1969)

I’ll make you feel like a king
Just give me that ring!

This is the third of four consecutive 2 or 3 lines posts about New York Times wedding announcements.  (You’ll be sorry if you miss number four, which will be published in a couple of days.  Believe you me, it’s a doozy.)

The wedding announcements that are featured in the “Vows” column in the Times are many things.  Mostly, they are parodies of themselves.  

Let’s begin at the beginning:

Christopher Ahnberg cannot quite put his finger on the moment he started identifying as a feminist.  But his appreciation for women who aren’t the shrinking-violet type goes way back, and for the sake of his future happiness, it should probably go way forward, too.

“Growing up, my favorite shows always had strong female leads, like Kate & Allie,” Mr. Ahnberg said.  “In my fifth-grade yearbook, I wrote down Murphy Brown as my favorite show.  Plus, I grew up with two strong older sisters.  So I never saw women as anything but very strong people.”

(You know, I felt much the same way as Mr. Ahnberg when it came to favoring TV shows with strong, independent female characters – for example, Charlie’s Angels.)

The effect Mr. Ahnberg’s sisters and Candice Bergen had on his views of gender roles may help to explain, at least partly, why he fell in love with Cristen Conger, who is part of a duo of “girls-next-door gender experts” who host . . . “Stuff Mom Never Told You,” a weekly podcast that has attracted a loyal audience, mostly of young women.  

Wacky feminist podcaster Cristen Conger
The show, known as SMNTY to its viewers, trains a clear-eyed focus on subjects like fashion, differences between the sexes, and women in the workplace and beyond.  Titles of recent episodes include “Free the Nipple,” “Period Pride” and “Are Women Bigger Whiners?”

(Can you excuse me for just a moment?  I want to subscribe to that podcast before I forget.)

Click here to hear Ahnberg and Conger talk
about women who don't shave their armpits
Ms. Conger describes herself as a “liberal feminist” — one who believes that women should be free to pursue the lives they want.  The recent dust-up over the somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggestion by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that damnation awaits women who fail to vote for Hillary Clinton caused Ms. Conger more frustration than anything.

“I thought it was completely understandable within the context of history, if politically foolish,” she said.  “What upset me the most was that it only spurred more narrow media coverage of feminists being pitted against feminists.”

(What in the world is this discussion doing in a wedding announcement?)

Mr. Ahnberg, 33, met Ms. Conger, 31, when both were students at the University of Georgia in 2004. But it wasn’t until August 2012, when Ms. Conger was in need of someone to go with her to the wedding of a friend, that they began dating. . . .

[D]espite her status as an emerging feminist voice, Ms. Conger had to concede that mustering up the courage to ask Mr. Ahnberg to be her date was a little unsettling.

“I was nervous because I liked him,” she said. “I tried to play it off as a friend-date, like, ‘I have to go to this wedding; can you come with me?’ But I didn’t tell him I had been counting down the days, that it was really such an event for me.”

Conger shows off her engagement
ring on the Great Wall of China
(I know you’ve been waiting for the romantic stuff – here it comes!)

The evening turned out to be less feminist than fairy tale.

“We had a magical night,” said Ms. Conger, who is tall and slim and has a tendency to wave her hands to make a point. “I bought a new dress and had my hair done, and he showed up all dressed up in a suit and sunglasses, and he looked very studly, and the setting was this beautiful home in Marietta with a beautiful garden.”

(Who knew that studliness was the number-one quality that feminists look for in a man?)

Ms. Conger knew early on that Mr. Ahnberg had a sharp, quick sense of humor.  But it was only after a few dates, when she and Mr. Ahnberg were drinking Bloody Marys during brunch on an Atlanta restaurant’s rooftop patio, that she began to realize he had more to offer her than punch lines and someone to be her plus one at events like her friend’s wedding.

“We started talking about feminism, and it was the first conversation I had ever had with a guy my age about feminism that was in-depth and engaging,” she recalled. “And he was not at all nervous about the term.  I just remember sitting there thinking, ‘This is incredible’.”

(I always figured that trying to get a feminist drunk would not be an effective strategy.  Silly me!)

Mr. Ahnberg says that feminism is a factor for him when voting and when he’s choosing which businesses to support.  His feminist umbrage may be most on display when someone suggests that women cannot be funny.

“I’m always shocked when anybody says that,” he said, and understandably so, when you consider that his partner does what, despite her protestations to the contrary, looks and sounds vaguely like a very good Russell Brand imitation.

Not-so-funnyman Russell Brand
(I’m not sure what Russell Brand has to do with being funny, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.  Do you think that the statement that our blushing bride “does what . . . looks and sounds vaguely like a very good Russell Brand imitation” is really a compliment?  Would you consider it a compliment to say that an amateur singer “sounds vaguely like a very good singer,” or praise a young fiction writer by saying that his writing “reads vaguely like that of a very good writer”?) 

[Mr. Ahnberg’s older sister] said he and Ms. Conger can break out into an improv comedy routine at a moment’s notice.

“They make a comedy routine out of everything they do,” she said. “They could be slicing peppers to make fajitas and all of a sudden they’re breaking into a fajita song, trading verses.”

(Sounds hilarious.  Let’s get back to the romantic stuff.)

During that rooftop brunch with Ms. Conger . . . she was not the only one who felt the stirrings of love that day.

By then, something had occurred to Mr. Ahnberg, who usually carries a warm, wide smile atop an athletic frame.  “I realized I had been an idiot the entire time I had known her,” he said, “because we had been on-and-off friends since college, but she was everything I ever looked for in a woman. I wasn’t going to let her slip away.”

(“I realized I had been an idiot the entire time.”  You certainly won’t get any argument from me on that point.) 

He eventually decided to do what one of Ms. Conger’s feminist icons has famously suggested in song: put a ring on it.

Ms. Conger’s love of Beyoncé is no secret. She has praised the singer on the podcast, and last year, she performed a comedy routine she wrote, “The Gospel According to ‘Yonce,” at Song Missing, an Atlanta literary variety show.  In it, she apologizes in advance to Mr. Ahnberg, who may not be fully aware that she is “beysexual.”

(I wonder if she did that comedy routine in her Russell Brand persona?)

At the Ahnberg-Conger nuptials
Ms. Conger has chosen to keep her own name, but both she and Ms. Ervin agree that it is also possible to find power in a woman who takes her husband’s last name, an issue that has been a hot topic among SMNTY listeners since an episode titled “A Practical Wedding” aired in January.

The wedding expert Meg Keene, who was a guest on the show, insisted that brides should keep their names. 

(I don’t understand why Ms. Keene feels so strongly that married women should stick with their fathers’ last names rather than taking their husbands’ last names.  Either way, the woman ends up with a man’s last name.)

Mr. and Mrs. Conger
For Ms. Conger, deciding which elements of a traditional wedding to keep and which to toss in the name of feminism involved careful consideration.

“Ultimately, we’ve moved away from the wedding-industrial complex to do what honors us,” she said.

But some rituals proved trickier to excise than others.

Accepting an engagement ring, for example, required some soul-searching.  “In its historic sense, the ring signified possession rather than partnership,” she explained. “But I also knew it meant a lot to Chris to make the gesture.  And I know that does harken back to old-school gender norms, but I wasn’t going to trivialize something that was important to him.”

(In other words, Ms. Conger agreed to take possession of a pricey 1930s-vintage art-deco engagement ring just so she wouldn’t hurt Mr. Ahnberg’s feelings.  That’s so sweet!)

* * * * *

The obvious choice of a song to feature in this post is “Single Ladies,” by Beyoncé.  After all, Jay-Z's better half is a special favorite of the bride, and the lyrics to that song are very apropos: “If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it!”

But “Single Ladies” was featured in a previous 2 or 3 lines.  (You can click here if you missed it.)  And 2 or 3 lines has a strict policy of not featuring the same song twice . . . except when it does.

So instead we’re featuring “Don’t Put Me On Trial No More,” by Elephant’s Memory.

Elephant’s Memory was a funky, bluesy New York City band with a horn section – think Electric Flag or Big Brother and the Holding Company.  After contributing a couple of songs to the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack and releasing an eponymous debut album, they became John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s backup band. 

Here’s “Don’t Put Me On Trial No More,” which absolutely kicks ass:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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