I came of age while the song “Brandy” by Looking Glass was a major hit on the radio. It came out in 1972 when I was 12. I was biologically mature, and, like all 12 year olds, still a little girl. Despite the fact that the still newborn thing called feminism was doing its level best to empower me and my fellow females, I was still very much at the mercy of the overarching societal dumbass assumptions about heterosexual relationships, and so Brandy just became a part of my indoctrination. Unbeknownst to me.
If you have not heard the song (probably because you are extremely young), you can listen here: “Brandy” by Looking Glass. The lyrics are posted at the bottom of this blog.
The song gets into your head immediately. It is catchy. Very. Though according to my cursory research Looking Glass had four hits, Brandy is the only one I actually remember, and I listened to the radio constantly. Back then, it was either that, or vinyl.
I always felt sorry for Brandy. I mean, she loved a man, and he loved her. But poor Brandy lost him to the sea… which he apparently loved a lot more than he loved her. He didn’t die, or anything. No. He just left her and said, “Sorry. You’re great. You’d be a super fine wife. But I’m married to the ocean, which holds my heart and you basically have no hope of competing, ever.”
The other day this song popped up on one of my more self-indulgent Pandora stations. As per usual, I was singing along as I went about my business. Then something happened. I actually heard the words coming out of my mouth – words I had known by heart for 40 years.
And I got really pissed off. “Wait a god damned minute,” I said to my reflection in the mirror as I held the blow dryer away from my head.
The chorus, sung three whole times, tells Brandy she’d make a “fine wife.” By what criteria and who says? And why does that even MATTER? As if being a “fine wife” is the be all and end all of Brandy’s hopes, dreams, and ambitions.
The song beats us about the head with the blunt, but implicit, message that A. her qualifications as a wife are determined by a bunch of dudes who hang out in a bar and a guy who doesn’t have the balls to commit to her and actually find out and B. that she is a tragic figure because she will not ever be granted the privilege of becoming his wife. That wifehood is the only life path for her… aside from being a barmaid, which is a highly honorable profession that allows her to be self-sufficient, and yet is belittled in the song lyrics as nothing more than “laying whiskey down.” Anyone out there who has bartended or waited tables (like me and Brandy) knows it takes a lot of chutzpah and brains, not to mention organizational and time-management skills. Not to mention people skills.
But that’s not even all. We don’t know what Brandy does in her off hours! What if she paints, or makes dream catchers and sells them on the 1972 equivalent of Etsy, or has a huge garden full of organic veggies and flowers? We don’t know because she is marginalized in the song by the sexist idea that, though she would have done the job of wife just “fine,” she won’t have a chance because she had the misfortune to fall for an asshole. End of story. The narrative is exclusively that of the unnamed sailor whose rejection becomes the END of Brandy’s story.
Maybe I’m being harsh – he might not be an asshole. He might just be a guy trapped in the classic male-defined paradigm. Unfortunately, so is Brandy.
I can only assume that there is a whole back story to Brandy that we don’t know about… and that the sailorman never had a chance to find out before he sped back to his irresistible life at sea.
If Brandy were to write the song, I imagine it would go a little differently. Especially after she got in touch with her empowered kickass self and realized she was a fully actualized person not dependent on the approval of a man, let alone matrimony.
She would write a song about a passionate fling she had one summer with an intense sailor who passed through town, gave her a silver locket, some mindblowing sex, and a few days of laughs and long afternoon naps, bodies entwined. She liked him… a lot. They could have had something, but the guy A. had no interest in living on land, B. used the sea as a cover for his commitment-phobic issues, or C. was overwhelmed by how strong the feelings were with Brandy in just a few days, so he bolted.
In her version of the song, Brandy thinks, “Your loss, sailor man.” And in that version, she is sad for awhile. Then she paints a few erotically charged paintings of her seafaring ex-lover, pulls weeds in her garden and plants a rose bush in his honor, and releases him in a fire ceremony with some of her closest women friends who also, funnily enough, say, “Your loss, sailor man.”
Lyrics to Brandy:
There’s a port on a Western bay
And it serves a hundred ships a day
Lonely sailors pass the time away
And talk about their homes
There’s a girl in this harbor town
And she works laying whiskey down
They say Brandy, fetch another round
She serves them whisky and wine
The sailors say…
Chorus: Brandy, you’re a fine girl
< you’re a fine girl >
What a good wife you would be
Your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea
Brandy wears a braided chain
Made of finest silver from the north of Spain
A locket that bears the name of the man that Brandy loves
He came on a summer’s day – bearing gifts – from far away
But he made it clear he couldn’t stay
The harbor was his home
– Chorus –
Bridge: Brandy used to watch his eyes
As he told his sailor stories
She could feel the ocean fall and rise
She saw its raging glory
But he had always told the truth
Lord he was an honest man
And Brandy does her best to understand
At night when the bars close down
Brandy walks through a silent town
And loves a man who’s not around
She still can hear him say
She hears him say… (Chorus)