Crazy poets aside, the tradition of burlesque has always included, if not an entire raunchy band for the dancer to move to, at least an organist and drums. Many a twirling tassel has been accentuated by an appropriate chord. Although the rimshot of yesteryear has passed the baton to a stack of high-tech components and ear-splitting speaker systems, some things will never change. Dancers still entertain thousands of straight and gay locals (and lucky visitors) each day, valiantly flashing flesh and shaking booty in the face of our nation's encroaching Newtonia.
But what sort of music awakens the sensibilities of our modern adult theater patron?
Larry B. (Casanova), has been cranking the tunes at the Century Theater on Larkin for "three or four years" now. One of his most popular recent cuts is "I Wanna Do Something Freaky to You," by Leon Hayward.
"Digital Underground never ceases to amaze me! If these guys got paid for every time their song got played in clubs, man -- especially adult clubs -- they'd be multimillionaires." Larry notes in particular "Freaks of the Industry" as a favorite in heavy rotation, as well as "Must Be the Money," by 49er "Neon" Deion Sanders -- no doubt danced by neon bikinis -- and Heavy D.'s "Nuttin' But Love For You, Baby." Barry White is also enjoying a resurgence.
Dancers and deejays divide the responsibility for choosing music at most adult theaters. Almost every genre is exploited, but most theaters shy away from hard-core rap -- "Anything that promotes violence," as a few of them described it.
Tim, who has worked at Centerfolds on Broadway for two years, offers a few trends: "The new Madonna album's pretty popular .... What really seems to be coming back more now is the hard rock, not necessarily like Metallica, but stuff like Kiss and Van Halen. Mstley CrYe. A lot of the '80s stuff is starting to come back around. Also disco's really getting bigger ... 'White Horse,' 'Funky Town,' Rick James' 'Super Freak.' You know what's really popular with the girls -- it was like number one in 1979 -- is 'I Was Made for Lovin' You' by Kiss. The girls have really grabbed onto that one a lot. Aerosmith has always been really strong, the older stuff and the newer stuff."
If there were a Billboard category of "classic stripper rock," Tim's playlist would be tacked up in deejay booths in strip clubs around the country.
Betsy has worked at the Crazy Horse on Market since the beginning of the year, and her playlist indicates not only a predilection for slower, more romantic songs, but also a heavy leaning toward hip motion-picture soundtracks. Maybe the building was once a movie theater.
"Let me see the Pulp Fiction CD," Betsy says as she chooses discs. "I forgot the name of the song. I know it's the Pulp Fiction CD, number four. A lot of girls like that for a slow song ... Natural Born Killers, they use number five."
"Cool World, number four, I think it was, which is 'The Future Sounds of London.' A lot of reggae, too."
In the background, somebody hollers over the din: "Yo, what's up, dude?"
If the girls don't bring their own music, what does Betsy play for them?
"Like Sonic Youth, Cool World, Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction, Lenny Kravitz. Some girls use Bob Marley."
Another reference to reggae music. Can this affinity be attributed to all those Deadheads camped out in front of the Warfield for Jerry Garcia concerts?
There is no deejay at North Beach's female-owned and operated Lusty Lady. Rather, the employees simply program the CD jukebox for the girls dancing in the mirrored room.
"I'm really into subculture," admits counterperson Mark C, "so most of the things I put on there are not things that are on a lot."
After a brief consultation with a fellow employee named Octopussy, Mark returns with the theater's hit list: Laika, Marimba Songs. Tito Puente, "Baila Como Es." Me'Shell Ndegeocello, "Step Into the Projects." "Life of Leisure" by Luscious Jackson. US3, "Cantaloop."
Mark also reveals a side of acid jazz that you don't hear much about: "Acid Jazz Test Part I, we've been using that full CD a lot. There's a local label, Luv N Haight, the What It Is compilation we also use a lot."
The answering machine at the all-male Nob Hill Cinema on Bush playfully taunts the Bay Area: "Raw-boned and rugged and friendly as the states themselves ... Dakota, a 28-year-old, long silken-haired exhibitionist, but all real, hard man. And hard is what you'll get when you see him buck naked. And when he fires that load, you just know that it ain't the OK Corral. Good-looking, with ripped abs, perfect torso, long sturdy legs, a butt from heaven and the lodestar ... prick. A perfect dick, eight and a half inches, hard and ready for you ...."
Yes, but what does Dakota dance to?
"I'm tired of Madonna!" declares Darryl, working the counter on the afternoon shift.
"Everybody who comes in and wants to put music together real quick, they always reach for Madonna! Because people equate her with sex, you know, and some of her songs work well with what the performers do here," he says.
"It's their responsibility to provide music, so we just do whatever they bring in. There's a wide variety. There really is. Not much juice for your story. It's hard to say, because the point of the performers' music is that it be erotic, and everyone is so different, you know? Are you familiar with Berlin? We have a 19-year-old who performs to that, and that really works out well."
Dakota's official playlist remains a secret, as does that of the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater.
"In our place, the girls bring their own music in," says Vince, the tapes already cued. The staying power of institutions such as the O'Farrell and the Nob Hill seems to be a penchant for self-reliance.
"Over the whole 12 hours I'm sure there's some repetition," he adds, "but the crowds change."
One thing that never changes is the dance. Theaters are listed here only as a representative sample. Music may vary, depending on mileage.
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By Jack Boulware