I don’t know why this fragment just came to the surface, but here it is. An older man, writing his memoirs (very possibly Leonard Garment, who began as a hopeful jazz tenor saxophonist and ended up as Richard Nixon’s legal counsel) recalled the friendly mentoring he received from Ellington tenor saxophonist Al Sears in the early Fifties.
Our man (let us call him Leonard until corrected) asked Sears about the latter’s big hit — a funky blues called CASTLE ROCK.
“Mr. Sears, what does the title of that song mean?”
“Well, a rock is an orgasm. And a Castle Rock is a huge orgasm.”
Long pause for imagined responses from our young questioner. Certainly that was a definitive answer.
Years after reading this story, I now wonder if the slang Sears explained had had a long life as an in-group utterance for a hip community.
How far back did that meaning of rock go?
I know that many song titles in the Thirties had subtly naughty connotations. JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE did not entirely refer to aerobic exercise. SWINGIN’ AT THE DAISY CHAIN referred to erotic activities undertaken at a famous New York house of such pleasures. Fats Waller’s VALENTINE STOMP was dedicated to Hazel Valentine, a woman who ran such an establishment. I know that ANYBODY HERE WANT TO TRY MY CABBAGE is not exactly about a tasty bowl of cole slaw.
With this knowledge, I wonder. And I return to rock.
Should I now hear Mildred Bailey’s record of ROCK IT FOR ME with fresh ears? (I am leaving ROCKIN’ CHAIR aside as sacrosanct.) Ellington’s ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM?
I invite informed polite commentary from any swing linguists in my readership.
May your happiness increase.