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Porter, Cole (1891-1964)  
 
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Even some of Porter's performers did not fully understand the significance of the words they sang. Mary Martin was famously reported to be herself so naïve that when she introduced the following stanza in the wonderfully suggestive "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," she had no idea of its import:

If I invite
     A boy, some night
To dine on my fine finnan haddie,
     I just adore
His asking for more,
But my heart belongs to Daddy.

Sponsor Message.

She reportedly did not understand that the meal she offers her suitor is sexual and that the reason she offers for imposing limits on their congress (because "My Daddy treat me so well") suggests that she is a kept woman.

Censors frustrated to have unintentionally let slip by one of Porter's sexual double entendres in the past could render themselves ridiculous in their zeal to suppress any potentially inflammatory meaning in a new work.

Thus, even though the song "All of You" was one of the most popular love songs of the early 1960s and had been adopted by numerous major recording stars before Can-Can was translated into film, Hollywood producers insisted that Porter alter the final phrase of this quatrain: "I like the looks of you, the lure of you, / I'd love to make a tour of you. / The eyes, the arms, the mouth of you, / The east, west, north, and the south of you."

"South," they were certain, was a covert reference to the beloved's genitalia and, thus, suggested cunnilingus or fellatio. Ironically, their anxiety may have been fully justified, the upbeat tempo of the song having prevented the majority of its performers and listeners from recognizing Porter's deviltry.

As Ethan Mordden observes, "What makes Porter the utter one is his disdain for the received values, the morality of a national culture. He didn't care, and he didn't care who knew it. Yet he was working in a medium most intent on preserving those values. It makes for an interesting set of internal contradictions."

Queering the Popular American Song

More than any other composer of his century, Porter "" the popular American song, introducing non-normative values and risqué double entendres into what was one of the most pedestrian and hackneyed of cultural forms. This was true, in large part, because Porter's own philosophy of love was non-normative. Most importantly, he was willing to accept sex, with all its vagaries, as the essential component of romance.

In "Night and Day," for example, the exclamation "oh" disrupts the long line "There's an, oh, such a hungry yearning burning inside of me," miming musically how passion involuntarily shatters the speaker's composure. And while the speaker of "What Is This Thing Called Love?" can easily dismiss love as "a funny thing," he also admits how, inexplicably, it has been able to "make a fool of me."

For Porter love is a mysterious attraction, invariably sexual, which bewilders and unsettles the speaker. It is so illogical that in "It's All Right with Me" the speaker accepts what can only be termed "compensation sex":

It's the wrong time and the wrong place,
Though your face is charming, it's the wrong face,
It's not her face but such a charming face
That it's all right with me.

The speaker, devastated by the failure of another relationship, should by his own admission be impervious to this sudden attraction to somebody new; the attraction, however, is so powerful that it reverses the values of "right" and "wrong."

Contrary to the assertions of the more idealistic Rodgers and Hammerstein, love for Porter is gloriously amoral, and it is hypocritical to pretend otherwise.

Celebrating Betrayal and Disappointment

Having founded love on the ephemeral experience of sexual attraction, Porter was willing, not simply to accept, but even to celebrate, betrayal and disappointment. In Kiss Me, Kate, Lilli (who is still in love with her wayward ex-husband) sings the emotionally dark lines "So taunt me and hurt me, / Deceive me, desert me" just before her voice soars in exultation: "I'm yours till I die, / So in love with you, my love, am I."

Similarly, despite having crafted the image of an insouciant man-about-town, Porter wrote a surprising number of songs about the inability to protect oneself from heartache.

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