Cass King and John Woods can be described by any combination of the words musical, educational, sex, comedy, and apparenly, photogenic. As The Wet Spots, they treat audiences to a musical variety show involving dancing, spankings, audience singalongs, and kinky topics rhymed in low-key language. Their show Sing Your Way To Better Sex has been the hit of various Fringe festivals and was recently held over for an extra run in Vancouver. They chatted with me about their adventures with sex, education and performance.
Why cabaret music? How would other genres be suited to sex education? (Could The Wet Spots ever make a metal album?)
Wet Spots: First of all, we like that kind of music. In the earlier part of the 20th century, popular music used to be geared towards adults. Folks like Cole Porter and Noel Coward were writing lyrics that were witty and urbane and often very suggestive. Many of the songs that remain “standards” in the American songbook contained queer and sexual subtext, and were very risqué for their time (think about “Baby, I'm the bottom, you're the top.”) We were really inspired to take that up in a modern way, and to write some songs that are really risqué for our time.
We have started to write in other genres like funk, folk, and country, and even campfire-singalong style. It's not unreal to imagine a metal song, but we feel that the combination of non-threatening melodies and sexually blunt lyrics really works. We want to invite the audience in to have a good time. We're not interested in being confrontational for its own sake.
You were both performers before The Wet Spots. Did you have any other educational or sex-focussed projects? What motivated you to create The Wet Spots and your educational shows?
WS: Shortly after we met, Cass was recruited by Terminal City weekly to write a sex column that she dubbed “Organ Grinder.” John became a recurring character (The Marvelous J), muse and editor, and occasional guest writer. The process of “coming out” publicly as sexually adventurous was pretty scary and exciting for both of us and it held a few surprises Such as the number of questions that we were asked at parties once people discovered who we were.
When Terminal City folded briefly, and Organ Grinder went on hiatus, we started writing a couple of songs just for fun and lo and behold They were kinky. We played in nightclubs for a couple of years and then we started thinking about writing a show that was a little more basic. More overtly educational. It was a hit! More questions from larger and larger audiences followed, eventually so much so that we folded them into our shows, answering audience questions live. And that's how we started and where we're at today!
What are your favourite sexual topics about which to enlighten audiences? Are you on a special mission to raise awareness of any particular issues or practices?
WS: We're really pro-lube. Sex toys as well. You can have so much fun with the simplest things, but toys and lube still suffer from a stigma of being “crazy, out there, dirty things” which is so often reinforced by the sort of businesses that sell them. Getting people past that idea and encouraging people to go to a place where they feel safe and comfortable and they can ask questions and find the right toy or the right lube that works for them is one of our favorite causes. We're not paid to say this, but Womyn's Ware is the best damned toy store in the business.
Cass: There's also a bit in “Sing Your Way” that is close to our hearts It's a line where I'm describing the urethral sponge (G-Spot) as a “bundle of nerves, glands, and erectile tissue that wraps around the urethra and expands when a woman is aroused. This gives some women the sensation that they have to urinate, so they hold it in, and they never, ever come.” This is a really common experience that very few people seem to talk about and we wonder if it's because as a culture we're kind of pee-phobic. We want to spread the word IT'S NOT PEE! LET 'ER RIP, LADIES!
John: The male G-spot or prostate gland is another favorite subject. Stimulation of this little baby can dramatically increase the intensity of a man's orgasm. But again, it's not widely talked about because ummm a lot of guys are kind of phobic about playing with their bums. (We often advise people to start with external play, pressing on the perenium.)
WS: More generally, John really enjoys being up there as a man who enjoys playing with other men but who is married and primarily sexually interested in women. Even some of the hippest sex writers are still caught in this whole “closet case” paradigm.
And we're really pro-safe sex of course. Just because we don't belabour the point in our shows doesn't mean that we're against it. We just think that people have been hammered with this information and it's time to remind people that sex is fun and goofy and that safe sex is just the starting point.
Education, in theory, can work itself out of existence. If everybody understood the lessons you're offering in Sing Your Way To Better Sex, what would you do instead?
WS: Have lots of sex with lots of attractive people. And invent a new sex toy. And maybe read. Have a bath.
Where did each of you learn about sex? How much of your interest and information came from songs and popular music? Any particular bands or songs that were influential or inspirational to your sexualities?
WS: Annie Lennox in drag and with cropped orange hair was a crazy shock to the system for two small-city kids. Prince had way-out explicit lyrics and again, that sexy androgynous 80's style. We were both pretty attracted to punk/freak culture.
Cass: I did the Rocky Horror Picture Show for my high school air band contest. This was way back, before they even re-released the video. How cool am I?
John: I got “the book” given to me and had a highly uncomfortable discussion with my Dad. Uncomfortable because I didn't want to seem naïve even at 11 or 12 years old! That defensiveness is a hard thing to shake and I think it's why some people are so messed up and react so emotionally towards sex They don't want to seem naïve or inexpert, and the media rams that home with images of sexually naïve people being the butt of jokes or scorn. The fact is, there are no stupid questions when you don't know the answers. That's one of the reasons that we try to portray ourselves as approachable and even sort of goofy, not coming off as hipsters who know so much more than you.
Cass: The costumes we wear in the show are kind of a burlesque of the worldly swingers that John is describing.
I, too got “the book” I think I was 6 or 7. (We refer to “the book” in the show as “The Thing Goes In The Thing How to Make Babies”) My Mum came in and asked me did I have any questions and I said no. Next thing she knows I'm 33 and touring the country with The Wet Spots. Go figure.
I do want to say this: I had to deal with sexual attention from grown men well before I was ready for sex. I completely resented it but I liked the attention even as I was grossed out by the sexual energy. I learned that you could use that attention to manipulate and passive-aggressively control men. That's a hell of a lesson for a teenager. It took years to gain the confidence to un-learn that habit. I think a lot of young women learn about sex in a reactive way We react to the sexuality that is thrust towards us.
I like to collect songs with common rhymes like answer/dancer, and walk/talk. Sex entertainment has a few common rhymes too fuck and suck, hump and pump As sexual songwriters, what are your favourite sex rhymes?
WS: We love the wordplay! We're completely geeky about language. Language makes us high. We like the simple rhymes (finger/linger, climax/imax, information/penetration) for their comic potential and the complex rhymes for their clever rhythm and pseudo-ostentatious tone. We think one of the greatest lyrics ever written was:
“ Come, let's mix where Rockefellers
walk with sticks and umbrellas
in their midst Puttin' on the Ritz. ”
So we wrote,
“ Hard livin' and promiscuous,
she kind of liked the risk, she was
a liquor drinkin', dildo-runnin' rascal
With an electronic phallus
for each housewife up in Dallas,
and a probe for every asshole in El Paso. ”
Your show is partly based on your own adventures, rather than on textbook facts an approach dear to my own heart! What are your motives for including personal declarations like “Hi! We're your kinky neighbours?“
John: I think every performer is exhibitionist to a certain extent.
It's normal for performers and sex radicals to say, “hey look how sexually advanced we are!” and, especially with reference to youth, punk, and gender politics “hey, look how not like you we are.” That's cool; that's what we do when we're young and all fired up. But it intrigues us to write from a place that assumes that everyone is in on the kinky polysexual hootenanny.
Have you run into any censorship trouble? You make a point that you manage to be triple XXX without going far beyond vocabulary that is allowed on the CBC [Canadian public radio]. Has this approach let you access a wider audience?
WS: We think the approach noted above, and the tendency to shy away from profanity for profanity's sake has allowed us access to a wider audience.
We're really lucky in Canada. In the States we said “nipple clamps” on NPR and we caught heck from the station manager. This was a few weeks after Janet Jackson's SuperBowl “nipplegate” and it was explained to us that the FCC was using the Superbowl episode to crack down on small NPR stations. Evil. Not only can you not show the nipple of the female you can't even say it on the radio! What's the big deal with nipples?
Anyway, the intro to the show “Something Very Special,” about most kids' actual experience with sex ed from adults, is pretty tame. The worst thing we say in that song is,
“ We know what you're feeling
and what you're doing too,
and why you use conditioner
more often than shampoo ”
And there's one that will probably never be played on the radio, even though it doesn't have ANY bad words in it. It goes,
“ I'm sweaty and stinky and covered in lube,
His trousers are torn and she's missing a shoe,
There's a stain on my blanket I think that it's poo.
I'm sweaty and stinky and covered in lube ”
But they will sometimes play “Do you take it (in the Ass?)”
It just goes to show you, context is everything.
Which songs are the most fun to perform? What are your favourite things about doing these shows?
John: I think my favorites are The Masturbation Singalong song and Smack my Bottom, just because of the audience participation thing, and the stage craft.
Cass: Of course I like the Masturbation Singalong song too; it's that part of the show where the audience entertains me. I'm also really enjoying branching out. We have recently started taking written questions from the audience, and improvising the answers. Sometimes my explanations turn into little impromptu songs and that's really a surprise and a challenge.
Obviously your lives inspire your art, but have your Wet Spots creations inspired any real life adventures?
WS:Well, the Wet Spots have taken us to a bunch of interesting locations, we have met some amazing people, and we had sex with some of them.
We plan to do more of that.