One of the reasons, I’ve finally discovered, why I love Nellie McKay’s “I Wanna Get Married” so much is that while it operates as a satire, it doesn’t operate as a blatant, overt satire. It’s just a 19-year-old girl reacting to the idea of the 1950s housewife, that’s all—nothing more, nothing less. Young precociousness has a long tradition of successfully regurgitating the world’s own ideas back in its face without trying to color or polarize them with extemporaneous messages. The regurgitation itself is the message.
Here’s Nellie McKay, on The View, singing “I Wanna Get Married”:
I can think of no way Nellie McKay could have written “I Wanna Get Married” without having first heard Gertrude Niesen’s trademark of the same name, although considering McKay is such a dizzying creative force, well, hell, anything’s possible. Niesen’s “I Wanna Get Married” follows a similar meter, and it, too, is vaguely satirical. It comes from her smash role as the stripper Bubbles LaMarr in “Follow the Girls,” opposite Jackie Gleason, among others.
It took me forever to find this record, but click on the cover below to hear Gertrude Niesen, in 1944, singing “I Wanna Get Married”:
The liner notes of the Gertrude Niesen record tell of Niesen’s side career in flipping houses, a story that brings to mind the housing boom of 2002 as much as it recalls 1944: “Gertrude has been successfully dabbling in real estate for a number of years, buying a piece of property here and selling one there—at a substantial profit. People joked about her “white elephant” when Gertrude picked up a 50-room $2,000,000 Newport, RI mansion for $21,000 a few years ago. They laughed even more when the water pipes froze and burst. But Miss Niesen had the last laugh when she sold the estate a short time later for considerably more than she had paid for it.”
After releasing her stunning debut album, Get Away From Me, Nellie McKay, as this week’s Bohemian interview by Joy Lazendorfer points out, soon felt Sony’s enthusiasm for her brazenly inventive tin-pan-alley songwriting dwindle. She got dumped quickly. She’s put out a couple of not-as-good albums since, and she’s been appearing on and writing songs for Broadway. I’ve seen her live twice, and she’s fucking incredible. Go see her when she comes to town on Monday, August 18 at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma.