Dude Looks Like a Lady – The Real Story

Content Notes: contains transgender slur

Several years ago, I recall listening to an interview with Desmond Child – a successful songwriter that no one has ever heard of except people who record his music. Desmond is gay.

So anyway, he was describing working with Areosmith on their hit “Dude Looks Like a Lady” and it really caught my attention

Desmond: Yes. Between the three of us (Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora). So I found a way of fitting into bands almost as a fifth or sixth member. Because of my success with Bon Jovi, John Kalodner – the famous John Kalodner, legendary A&R man – asked me if I would go up to Boston and meet Aerosmith. They had never written with an outside writer, and they were not happy to see me. They were going along with it to please John Kalodner, but they were not that happy about it. 

Steven (Tyler) was much more friendly, as he is, and was very generous, really, and showed me a song that they had started called “Cruisin’ for the Ladies.” I listened to that lyric, and I said, “You know what, that’s a very boring title.” And they looked at me like, “How dare you?” And then Steven volunteered, sheepishly, and said that when he first wrote the melody he was singing “Dude Looks like a Lady.” It was kind of a tongue twister that sounded more like scatting. He got the idea because they had gone to a bar and had seen a girl at the end of the bar with ginormous blonde rock hair, and the girl turned around and it ended up being Vince Neil from Motley Crue. So then they started making fun of him and started saying, “That dude looks like a lady, dude looks like a lady, dude looks like a lady.” So that’s how that was born. That’s the true story of how that was born.

So I grabbed onto that and I said, “No, that’s the title of the song.” And they looked at me like, “Are you kidding me?” And then Joe (Perry) stepped in and said, “I don’t want to insult the gay community.” I said, “Okay, I’m gay, and I’m not insulted. Let’s write this song.” So I talked them into the whole scenario of a guy that walks into a strip joint and falls in love with the stripper on stage, goes backstage and finds out it’s a guy. But besides that, he’s gonna go with it. He says, “My funky lady, I like it, like it, like it like that.” And so he doesn’t run out of there, he stays. It’s funny, because they used that song in Mrs. Doubtfire, and then it was like every four or five year old child in America was able to sing that song. It was like; do you realize this is about a tranny? (Laughing).

If you think about how far back that was, it was a very daring song to sing, and everyone went with it. It’s not like the polarized society we have now, because that was before gay people really started fighting for their rights and nobody cared about it and everyone thought that they could make fun of us. So they accepted the lyric, and not only that, went for it. (Laughs) I don’t know if anyone has looked deep enough into the song, but it’s a very accepting song, and it has a moral that says never judge a book by its cover, or who you’re going to love by your lover.

Songfacts: Have you ever talked to Vince Neil about this song?

Desmond: Oh yeah, I told him the story. He had a good laugh. He knows that. He knows that he’s the one that was paid homage to in “Dude Looks Like a Lady.”

This was 1987. So Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Kiss etc were all working with an openly gay songwriter. And it really stuck with me that the band was concerned about not offending their gay audience. Or that they were aware of their gay audience.

Now, Child uses the term “tranny” in the interview – and I remember hearing that and thinking “man, did you have to go there?” I wouldn’t say it destroys the interview but it definitely makes me think less of him because the story was funny without the slur.

So fast forward to Fox News using the song to denigrate Chelsea Manning. As with most attempts to do this, the media gets it completely wrong – the song is not mocking Vince Neil for looking like a lady, it’s describing the sex appeal of the transgender woman. Same old story – they use Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Tim McGraw, Maroon 5 and so forth. They don’t listen to the lyrics. They don’t think. They fall for a good hook, but instead of getting drawn into the music their minds stop there.

“Dude Looks Like a Lady” is not some great homage to the LGBTQ community. It was a late 1980’s rock song co-written by an openly gay man and a band who didn’t want to be offensive. That’s something. Sadly, Aerosmith can’t stop Fox News from abusing their song but they can speak out, like Adam Levine, and I hope that they do. Aerosmith isn’t perfect, but FOX News got this whole song wrong.

Listen to the entire song and decide for yourself. Don’t let FOX News decide for you.

 

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