Tuesday means Gilmore Girls! I know you were waiting in eager anticipation.
Kill Me Now (original air date: October 19, 2000)
This episode’s plot is seemingly focused on Rory going to play golf with her grandfather, and Lorelai feeling all hinky about it, because Rory might be everything to the senior Gilmores as a granddaughter that Lorelai wasn’t as a daughter. And worse, Rory might be embracing the same things Lorelai rejected. But with cues from the various intertextual references, there’s a bigger struggle than one between the generations of Gilmores and their leisure activities and lifestyles. It’s also a battle of women’s roles in relation to the men around them, in various degrees of conflict and harmony, within a framework of identity. The theme of knowing who women are, and knowing their identities related to their skills and talents, is evident from the beginning, as Emily messes up yet another new maid’s name and Richard can’t differentiate between male and female servants and then discusses his mother, Lorelai the First, all the way through to Rory and Lorelai’s conflict and resolution.
So, next, at the Independence Inn, Michel is at his bitchy best, snarking to Lorelai that “To me, you are the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon.”
Link: Charlie Brown’s teacher
(The teacher’s voice is represented by a musical instrument, btw, not just random noise. Considering how important music is in the show, I’d like to think this can be read in context with articulation, too.) This reference displays a particular power dynamic between them: if Michel like to play the poor, abused Charlie Brown role, he shows he is not powerless or easily fooled, since he does not liken Lorelai to Lucy. Another cartoon character reference pops up later, when Drella refers to Michel as Pepe LePew. The over-sexual rapey Looney Toons skunk is usually the one grabbing females and forcing his attentions on them, but here, Drella flips the sexualized power dynamic, checking out Michel’s ass as he walks away. Michel, as a gay (probably, although the show hadn’t outed him at this point) attractive non-traditional man, occupies a more nebulous social and gender role in this community.
Rory, in the meantime, has gone golfing with Grandpa at the club and, when he asks her what she knows about golf, she says, “That it’s a good walk spoiled?” This quote is sometimes attributed to Twain, and even used as title for a book about the PGA tournament. However, it’s unlikely that Twain actually said it, even though it certainly sounds Twain-esque. Attempts to source the quote can’t find record of Twain using the phrase, much less originating it. But the quote’s uncertainty reflects Rory’s inexperience with golf, the club, her grandfather, society, her role as a Gilmore, all of it. She is repeating someone else’s quote, but needs to come to her own conclusions, find her own definitions. (Plz to note: Twain-like social satire will pop up again in the episode.)
In the meantime, Lorelai is planning a froo-froo double wedding at the Inn, with twin sisters marrying twin brothers. The girls bicker constantly about who gets what, squabbles that have to be settled by their weary mother. Interestingly, multiple references are made to the newlyweds cheating. During a dance rehearsal in preparation for the big day, Miss Patty coaches the two couples to a sultry Latin beat.
It’s you wedding day. Feel each other. Use the thumping of your heart as your metronome, let passion be your choreographer. Be as light on your toes as you are in you hearts. Oh no, no, no, darling, let me show you how it’s done.
Then, after yanking one of the grooms to her, as he protests “Again?” Miss Patty coos, “You know, in some countries if you dance this close you’re cheating on your wife.” The brides are cheerfully oblivious as Miss Patty gets her over-sexed jollies with the young hunks to a tune called “La Casa” by film music composers Graham Preskett and Mauricio Venegas-Astorga. The song is on an album called Sabor Y Salsa (“sabor” = “flavor” en español), a 1996 collection of eleven songs, most of which are only a minute long. No lie, the whole album clocks in at 15:15. They aren’t dancing to well-known or even genuine Cuban salsa music, but rather to adapted, polished, condensed tunes crafted by two artists who score movies. All of the authenticity, all of the true flavor, is smoothed away into nice, neat little song-nuggets. It sounds exactly like the kind of thing the brides and grooms would put on their home sound systems when they have tasteful dinner parties serving “authentic Spanish tapas, everyone!” Whether it’s intentional or not, as Miss Patty emphasizes passion and feeling, everything about the two couples and the music emphasizes a dull kind of homogenization.
Not that this relates to Lorelai’s worries about Rory being drawn into her grandparents’ country club orbit, either, mind. I mean, is Rory going to be polished up and perfected into a neat little Gilmore granddaughter? Is she in some way cheating on her mom by hanging out with Grandpa at the club? It sure does seem like indie little Rory Gilmore really likes the whole country club thing, being fawned over by her grandpa and his old friends, having her golf clubs hauled around by cute caddies, and overhearing gossip about one of the club members, who is, by multiple accounts, “the most odious woman!”
Back at the Inn, Drella the harpist also gets drawn into twin-wedding-related arbitration when Mother-of-the-Brides informs her, “Now Jackie wants Samuel Barber, John Cage and Philip Glass. And Jessica wants Shania Twain’s ‘I Feel Like a Woman.’” The combination of avant-garde (male) classical composers and a chicken-fried down-home girlie anthem does more than individualize the bickering twins. It also allows Drella to lay out some artistic ideology, too, first snarking that she’s “not a jukebox,” and emphasizing, “The music drives me lady. I will play what I feel and you will love it!” But when MOB offers a hundred bucks extra, Drella proclaims herself a jukebox. Artistic identity can only go so far against cold, hard cash, especially for a woman. But in these two scenes, especially, music and sex, music and passion are linked explicitly.
Even more, competition between women — whether it’s mother-daughter tensions, sexual rivalries, or the power balance between buyer and seller — pepper this episode.
Back at the Gilmore Girls’ house, Rory takes a phone call from Richard, and then she and Lorelai have an awkward conversation about it and all sorts of things. “He found this book we were talking about,” Rory tells her mom. “Mencken’s ‘Chrestomathy’.” “Ohhhh, that one,” Lorelai says.
Yes, that one. H. L. Mencken was a prolific social satirist, often rightfully compared to Mark Twain for his biting wit, and was one of the most popular writers and literary figures of the first half of the twentieth century, incredibly quotable. His coverage of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” (the name he coined) in 1925 was scathing about anti-evolutionists and Fundamentalists. His study of American English, The American Language, was a landmark in literary scholarship. He was also an anti-Semite, racist, classist, and is at least partially to blame for championing Ayn Rand’s first novel for publication. A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949) was the last book published in his lifetime, and includes a selection from his earlier works covering subjects from literature, politics, history, religion, even women. Originally published in 1922, “In Defense of Women” was an unflinching look at both women and men, and the power dynamics at play. He writes, “Women are despicable; but women are better than men; therefore, men are very despicable.” Mencken is snobby, patronizing, and problematic, but valuable, insightful, and interesting, all in all a complicated literary figure whom it is impossible to do justice without a year-long course. So yes, it’s totally one of those “Rory Gilmore is way smarter than you” references. But it also alludes to a world of intellectualism, privilege. And flavors the episode’s themes of women’s roles in society and how they are perceived by, defined by, men as well.
But Rory and Lorelai’s awkward conversation is interrupted by Babette, who needs help getting her cat out from under the porch. She didn’t hear him meowing because, as she explains,
Morey was playing some Thelonious on the Steinway and when Morey plays, I go into this trance where all I can see is blue and moon and stars.
I unabashedly love Morey and Babette’s relationship. They so openly admire and adore each other, and their Mutt-and-Jeff physical appearances only makes them cuter. The Thelonius Monk reference is quickie character development for Morey; he is totally a cool cat, a bebop aficionado, complex, relaxed, retro, and, yes, even a gentle parody. Thelonious Monk was considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. Words like “groundbreaking” take on new meaning when you watch Thelonious play. Go on and look up some of his live performances, and just watch how he plays, as well as listening to what he plays. No one had done what he did in quite that way before. (However, I will confess, while I am a massive fan of jazz, Monk doesn’t do it for me. I like my jazz hot and dirty, like my men.) Thelonious played with and influenced everyone. Name a jazz musician from post-WWII, and you’ll find Thelonious Monk there. He was the consummate musician, but he was also quite eccentric, and his increasingly erratic behavior has been since attributed to mental illness. Still, he embodies the idea of the obsessed musical genius, oblivious to little else but the music, possessed. And Babette points out that even just listening to music has the power to take you away someplace else, make you forget everything.
(But do note that it’s the man whose bizarre behavior is a sign of “genius,” not a woman. I’m just saying.)
Anyway, music = passion. So when Morey calls out that the cat is out, Babette calls back to him, “Play me home, baby!” Morey obliges, playing “Teach Me Tonight,” a pop standard written in 1953 by Gene De Paul, the lyrics by Sammy Cahn and recorded by pretty much everyone else you would think it might have been. (Dinah Washington’s was the one my grandma always listened to. I can highly recommend Amy Winehouse’s version.) The lyrics to “Teach Me Tonight” are full of schoolroom imagery, but it is still a slow, sexy, sexy, steamy, super-hot song when done right:
Did you say, I’ve got a lot to learn
Well don’t think I’m trying not to learn
Since this is the perfect spot to learn
Teach me tonight
Originally composed by men, the lyrics sometimes include the following verse, like when Frank Sinatra recorded it:
I’ve played loves scenes in a flick or two
And I’ve also met a chick or two
But I still can learn a trick or two
Hey teach me tonight
Etta James, Dinah Washington, Al Jarreau, and Amy Winehouse all omit that line, but it offers an interesting gender flip with the man asking to be taught by the woman, despite his own experience. He still has room to learn, she still has expertise.
(Note: this is also the name of the episode when Rory tutors Jess, and Jess wrecks Rory’s car… and her wrist. But that’s too much to go into now.)
The musical references in the episode so far have almost stated outright that couples, women, who enjoy music and dancing enjoy sex. But since the song keeps playing through Lorelai and Rory’s fight, it ends up framing their situation, too.
Lorelai starts with “So you know what I was thinking?” Rory responds, “That Madonna and Sean Penn should get remarried?” Yeah, a lot of people have forgotten that long before any Brangelina or Kimye existed, Sean and Madonna were the celebrity couple. Their brief union was mismatched, volatile, abusive, and a total tabloid-frenzy… in many ways, paralleling the dysfunction in the Gilmore family. Sean-and-Madonna also fits with the episode’s issues of jealousy, because at the time, a lot of the tabloid fodder was about each being jealous of the other’s career success or popularity. So this quip sets the stage for Lorelai’s full on passive-aggressive blow-up about Rory’s boobs stretching out her sweaters, which is just so many kinds of fucked up.
All of this builds on the theme of women in competition with each other. Who is more of a woman? Who does society approve of more? From the bickering twin brides to the “odious woman” at the club, to Miss Patty’s flirting with one of the grooms and Drella ogling Michel, it all relates to not just jealousy, but adds a sexual component in relation to the role(s) of women to others. It’s not quite Mad Men, but there is absolutely a hint of how different women on the show negotiate their roles, their power, as girls/women, and that it is in relation to men. It has to be. Because patriarchy.
But the musical references let us know that things are shifting when, at the wedding, we see happy guests and newlyweds dancing to “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” (famously performed by Louis Armstrong, turned into more neat, homogenized white bread by the wedding band here, even with Drella adding harp-y flourishes in between nips from a bottle). Written in 1935 by several songwriters, including one Oscar Hammerstein, the lyrics are:
Give me a kiss to build on and my imagination will thrive upon that kiss
Sweetheart I ask no more than this, a kiss to build a dream on
Give me a kiss before you leave me and my
Imagination will feed my hungry heart
Leave me one thing before we part, a kiss to build a dream on
When I’m alone with my fancies, I’ll be with you
Weaving romances, making believe they’re true
Give me your lips for just a moment and my
Imagination will make that moment live
Give me what you alone can give, a kiss to build a dream on
One of the things I like about Gilmore Girls’ musical references is they often repurpose romantic songs and use them to show other kinds of love, usually between mother and daughter or friends. Either way, this song’s message is decidedly optimistic and forward-looking. Even though it is about “parting” and “making believe,” it doesn’t even seem particularly unhappy. Poignant, but not devastating. Lorelai approaches Rory, and the wedding music shifts to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” a typical wedding song, to be sure, but giving us just a little extra heavy-handedness as Rory and Lorelai make up, and to Lorelai’s commitment to being a good mother. “We Are Family” has also been used in a variety of anthemic situations, emphasizing female solidarity, and used in countless drag performances. We often forget how subversive it can be.
Finally, at the weekly Three Generations of Gilmores Family Dinner, Richard tells Rory, “I have a surprise. Not only did I find that copy of Mencken’s Chrestomathy we discussed, I also found a first edition of his memoirs, as well.” Mencken’s complexities here suggest Rory’s bond with her grandfather, but also allude to the complex roles she’ll play in the family and society, and as mother’s sexual/familial rival. The memoirs, too, resonate: here, Richard provides Rory with a first-hand account of a man’s life, in the form of a monetarily-valuable text. However, the volume is actually titled Thirty-five Years of Newspaper Work: A Memoir by H. L. Mencken, which reflects Rory’s interest in journalism, her own ambitions… and Richard’s validation of them in ways he never validated his daughter’s. And in case we miss this point, everyone ditches Lorelai to hustle off to Richard’s office to look at the books.
Lorelai still hasn’t learned how to negotiate this particular social role as daughter and mother.