Today, we’re classing up the joint and bringing a little taste of academia your way. Dr. Terry Chafeshaft has joined DWH to give music videos the critical eye they truly deserve. He begins his run here with a discerning look at Legs by ZZ Top.
The music video for “Legs” by ZZ Top begins with a shot of the titular, disembodied legs walking through a suburban parking lot in high heels.
What follows is a narrative aboutmobility in which a young woman struggles with her vocation and makes a bold life decision with the help of some mysterious forces.
A smock-wearing woman in her mid-twenties enters a small short-order restaurant and finds
herself in the middle of a hyper-active, ambiguously menacing group of people who taunt her
verbally and physically: A wide-eyed man in a denim vest senselessly tests her with the
ancient ritual of pointing to something on her shirt and then flipping her nose when she looks
down; a heavily made-up woman teases her with a sarcastic greeting, etc. The only relief
from this onslaught is when, after getting a basket of fried food dumped on him by an
unctuous co-worker, a friendlier looking young man in a sleeveless hooded sweat-shirt
competes to take her order. This is her quotidian reality: a macho landscape where sleeves
imply weakness and harassment is dispensed without cause or purpose.
The song begins, and in the corner of the restaurant, three men materialize supernaturally out
of thin air as spirits of some kind. They wear fedoras and (out-of-season) trench-coats, and
two of them have very long beards (implying a long duration between their last appearance on
the material plane and this re-emergence). The ghost in the middle wears a heavy mustache
and a haircut that, while short and neat in front, is actually quite luxurious and substantial in
the back. All of them wear protective sunglasses despite being indoors; implying a severe
sensitivity to light or perhaps even partial blindness. These specters look on with confusion
and humored dismay as the young woman attempts to procure lunch for her co-workers by
reciting items from a list to an unruly, largely indifferent staff. The woman inexplicably sets
down her glasses (which are immediately confiscated by the staff) and leaves with a white
sack of food.
Outside the restaurant, the three spirits are now in the parking lot playing the music that we
have been hearing. The bearded men sway to the music in total synchronicity and play
matching guitars covered in a white fur that imbues them with not only a sense of white-knight
chivalry and valor, but with a raw, untamed, but non-threatening paganism. The beardless
man, paradoxically named “Frank Beard” plays a white drum set in the bed of a stationary
black pick-up tuck; echoing the static yet propulsive rhythmic drive of the heavily sequenced
and processed music. This paradoxical “static-movement” and sense of hindered mobility
does much to drive the central theme of the piece, as we will soon discover…
Back in the restaurant, the friendly young man notices that the young woman has left behind
her large-frame prescription glasses, as well as dropped a piece of cake wrapped in
cellophane. He grabs the items, ignoring the jeers of his brutish co-workers, and leaves to
find the young women.
It is then revealed that the young woman has been procuring lunch for her co-workers at a
shoe and handbag store. Upon returning, she is immediately reprimanded by her supervisor
for being late with the food and for neglecting her duties on the sales floor.
Here is the crucial, decisive moment: The young woman struggles to meet the unrealistic,
over-whelming demands of her co-workers, and just when its seems she is about to
breakdown, a bright-red, antiquated car pulls up and out step three prostitutes. The
prostitutes saunter into the store and immediately dispatch a series of sassy, irreverent
gestures towards the staff, who are stunned by their rebellious fair and total disregard for
social convention. The three spirits then materialize inside the store and laugh heartily at the
upheaval that has taken place; relishing the chaos. After neutralizing the power of her
superiors and leaving them in a catatonic state of shock, the prostitutes take the young
woman and coerce her into approaching the spirits (whom they can all see now), who present
(tempt?) the young woman with a set of car keys and a stylized “ZZ” keychain. The
prostitutes leave with the young woman, who seems relieved and excited to be quitting her
job in such a bold fashion, and they walk next door and commandeer a hair salon in which the
young woman can be made over into a prostitute, too. She is given a new a hair-do and an
animal print dress, effectively returning her to a wild, untamed state. The women win over the
captive staff with their loose charisma, and they all work together to transform the woman into
a convincing streetwalker.
They leave the salon and walk next door (again) to a clothing store and begin to audition
several outfits for the woman to choose from. The outfits are too conservative for
prostitution, so she heads next door (yet again) and begins to try on lingerie after
commandeering a dressing room from a horrified woman in curlers.
Having found an outfit revealing enough for her new vocation, she and the women get into the
anachronistic car and drive around the block (as if back in time) and then park back at the
restaurant from earlier. The prostitutes saunter out of the car, preen for the men and then the
young woman is re-introduced to them as a fully realized hooker. She teases and denies
service to the various men (who are stunned by her rapid transformation), and actively selects
the friendly young man from earlier as her first client. The three spirits (clearly pimps of some
kind of supernatural origin) signal their approval with affirming hand-gestures and then
disappear again. Outside, the new hooker and her “John” jump into a dune-buggy and ride
off, presumably to a place with poor roads. The three prostitutes get in the red car and drive
off, disappearing shortly after departing, implying that they too are from the netherworld. The
three spirits/pimps smile, wave knowingly to the audience, and then disappear.
Obviously there are many fertile notions at play in this video: What of these spectral pimps
and prostitutes who arrive, seemingly from another time and place to tempt a young woman
into a taboo line of work with their titillating music and glamorous, hedonistic accoutrements?
Are they projections of the young woman’s desire to escape the world of menial labor, even if
it means taking on a dangerous, illegal line of work? Are these aged, heavily bearded spirits
and their anachronistic car a representation of the “undying” constancy of the world’s oldest
profession? Clearly there is a scathing critique of capitalism at work here: An innocent young
woman chooses to be a literal whore over the figurative whoring of menial labor. She
chooses open, unfettered capitalism over the hypocritical, hierarchical darwinism of retail.
Let’s examine some of these concerns vis-a-vis the lyrics:
“She’s got legs, she knows how to use them” (for promotion, proft, and self-preservation, no
“She never begs, she knows how to choose them” (She is a profcient and selective worker
who is able to choose from among a pool of potential clients)
“She’s holdin’ legs, wondering’ how to feel them” (Prostitution is a numbing, tiring, and
“Would you get behind them, if you could only fnd them?” (The hidden-ness of prostitution
simultaneously reinforces its own taboo-ness: an unseen, spectral, yet constant threat to
“She’s got a dime, all of the time” (She is not wealthy, but she is never without work)
“Stays out at night, movin’ through time” (Hers is a timeless lot; an archetype perpetuated
throughout human history; A restless, streetwalking “ghost” that haunts desperate women
from all historical periods)
“Oh I want her, sure, I gotta have her, the girl is alright” (The “John” deludes himself and
submits to the wiles of the streetwalker, perpetuating the cycle ad infinitum)
The “Legs” of the young woman are her essential mobility, and her capacity to walk away
from a sadistic townspeople who subject her to the frustrations and power games of wage-slavery,
if only to the shadowy, dangerous, but relatively independent world of hooking.
The three spirit-pimp-musician figures in the video represent the persistence of the world’s
oldest profession, it’s allure to the dis-enfranchised, and it’s promises of self-empowerment
and rebellious glamour. They are the dark, spectral forces that are behind this kind of “self-employment”.
With their totemistic animal-guitars and synchronized movements, they are
pied-piper pagan poltergeists pointing pretty, pitiful people towards a life of risky self-reliance.
Dr. Terry Chafeshaft