Before she graduated from ‘80s Danceteria artperson prominence to national infamy in 1990 as a member of the so-called “NEA 4,” in what was at the time a boisterous national controversy/idiotic conservative shit-fling about obscenity in the arts, the performance artist Karen Finley made two 12” dance singles of unparalleled vulgarity and shock value, with Madonna collaborator Mark Kamins (RIP 2013).
The first was 1986’s “Tales of Taboo,” an unsparingly profane rant set to dancefloor rhythms, demanding sexual satisfaction in the bluntest terms possible. Madonna could coyly sing “Like a Virgin” all day and rake in huge cash, but Finley’s much more forthright chant of “get me off, suck my nub, suck my tits, suck my clit” freaked people the fuck out. Which was to the point, to a point; Finley’s performance work dealt explicitly with themes of female disempowerment and heavy catharsis, and “Tales” was recorded in response to what she saw as disco’s trivialization and subjugation of women. In Gillian G. Gaar’s She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll, Finley is quoted describing the song as
…extremely radical. I think that in terms of music history it was really the most aggressive in terms of changing the position of the female to a dominant sexual position.
Not safe for work, even less safe for Belgian waffles.
In 1987, Finley released the LP The Truth Is Hard To Swallow, which featured music on side one and her career-defining performance piece “The Constant State of Desire” on side two. If you saw Mondo New York, that was the piece she performed in that doc. (I was fortunate to obtain admission to see her perform it at a festival shortly after the NEA imbroglio made her show an extremely hot ticket; it was powerful stuff.) The Truth LP, alas, did not contain “Tales” (though the CD version had all four cuts from the 12” as bonus material), but side one was largely in a similar vein. Then in 1988, Finley dropped her second 12”, “Lick It.” It’s pretty much exactly what you’re thinking, and its coincidence with the ascendency of acid house helped make it a legit club hit. (Also, “Tales” proved to be tempting sample-bait during that period, and clips from it it featured prominently in the genre-defining “Theme from S’Express.”) Here’s the “Radio Mix”—though I still wouldn’t listen at work if I worked anywhere other than Dangerous Minds.
More tales of taboo, after the jump…