Cowboy Bebop 03 “Honky Tonk Women” & Iron Faye


[Episode 02 “Stray Dog Strut”]

What we know that’s coming: the hunt will go bad. Spike and Jet will be just as poor as they ever were, but richer in other ways, if I can be so generous to say Faye Valentine enriched their lives. She probably never did, but my she does light up a scene. The irony of Faye Valentine is for all the provocativeness of her visage throughout the show, she’s just had the same amount of sex as most of the show’s viewers.

Faye Valentine is remarkably chaste for someone dressed like a cheap whore. It almost evokes the character of Faye in Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express: forward, willful, passionate, but chaste (played by the actress Faye Wong). Faye Valentine doesn’t come across as lustful, but she’s there to be ogled at for sure.

There is a lot of violence in Cowboy Bebop, but there is to me, an interesting scarcity of sex. None of the main characters get laid during the course of the  show, which is another melancholy note to this funny, sorry tale.

This episode, more than the first two actually goes into a referential rabbit hole. I’ll get into that shortly (it is inescapable), but first let’s talk about what the show does here on the literal level. It is interesting how, without saying much of anything at all, Faye is more properly introduced as a character than either Jet or Spike.

At this point, the bounty presentation is established and is put to good use to assist in introducing Faye as a member of the main cast. Consistent with both Ein and Spike, there is a noticeable lack of deliberateness in Faye’s participation. The cast members are “thrown together,” in a non-meaningful way. I mean this in the sense that there’s no sentimentality or appeal to fate in how they’re thrown together.

As usual, Spike and Jet are no more wealthy by the end of the show as they were at the start of it; just as usual it occurs in some kind of “defeat snatched from the jaws of victory” kind of way. In this case, Jet was on a roll in the casino before Spike had to turn his attention into working for the Bounty. I think this is more telling than the actual lack of payoff directly related to the bounty.

In any case, precious little is revealed about Faye Valentine, as precious little has been revealed about any of the main cast. It’s enough for the show to display them as interesting, cool, and flawed. Their failures are interesting also because of the dynamic between their complex values (oscillating between honorable, petty, depraved, and corrupt), and their bad luck. Faye Valentine is also smoking hot.

The Referential Rabbit Hole of “Honky Tonk Woman”

One of the references concerning this episode and Faye’s character is the legend of Poker Alice.

This was probably the most famous story ever attributed to Poker Alice and, if true, says a lot about the times. In 1913 there were a bunch of soldiers in the house getting pretty unruly and she fired off one rifle shot to quiet them down. Unfortunately, the bullet passed through two of the soldiers, killing one of them. The police closed down the house and took Alice and all six of her girls to jail. At her trial, the shooting was ruled accidental and she was acquitted but forever after, the authorities at Fort Meade were on her case.

She was in her 60’s by then but they kept arresting her for drunkenness and keeping a bawdy house. She always paid her fines and went back to business as usual but eventually, she was sentenced to a term in the state pen for her repeated convictions as a madam. Being 75 years old at the time of her sentencing, she was almost immediately pardoned by the governor.

Alice was a professional gambler, never a “soiled dove”: gamblers enjoyed a much higher social status and pay scale. For the last 20 years of her life, in addition to running the house in Sturgis, she was an often-seen, well-known card player in Deadwood, a town which tolerated gambling and prostitution up until 1987.

It is consistent with the title of the episode, and the Rolling Stones’ song:

I met a gin-soaked barroom queen in memphis,
She tried to take me upstairs for a ride.
She had to heave me right across her shoulder,
Cause I just can’t seem to drink you off my mind.

It’s the honky tonk women,
That gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.
I laid a divorcee in new york city,
I had to put up some kind of a fight.

The lady, then she covered me in roses,
She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.
It’s the honky tonk women,
That gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.

It’s the honky tonk women,
That gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.
It’s the honky tonk women,
That gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.

The irony is, Faye isn’t a whore. She gets just about as much sex in Cowboy Bebop as Faye did in Chungking Express, where the Faye can be both creepily obsessive and charmingly chaste.

faye wong chungking express

That’s mainly why I like calling Ms. Valentine “Iron” Faye. But this isn’t where the rabbit hole ends. Consider this excerpt from W. Hsu’s MA Thesis:

In Session 3 “Honky Tonk Women,” riding in the elevator in a casino, Jet tells Spike about his dream in which Charlie Parker predicted, “Only hands can wash hands. If you want to receive, you must first give.” Spike misses Jet’s point that this may be a clue to finding their bounty and responds, “Do you think Charlie Parker would quote Goethe?” Just when Spike goes on to say that their attempt to find a bounty at the casino will be fruitless, Jet interrupts him by saying that smoking is not allowed in the elevator. Spike quickly swallows his cigarette and wears his signature smile of embarrassment.

Seeing and hearing this scene, my first instinct as a student was to check to see if Goethe actually wrote or said those words. But does it matter? After all, what would happen if Goethe were misquoted? It is a dream (of a cartoon character) anyway. Charlie Parker could, of course, have misquoted Goethe if he wanted to. But my point is that I, too, like Spike, missed the point: my intention to check on the Goethe quote is motivated by my knowledge about Charlie Parker and Goethe and my habits as a student.

I then realized my position, with respect to this scene, as that which straddles two (sub)cultural groups: that of Jazz and of academia. The references to Charlie Parker and Goethe function as cultural signifiers. Unlike the linguistic signifiers, such as Jet’s stirfried dish as described in the previous section, these signifiers can be connected to a multiplicity of meanings. The meaning of Charlie Parker to people not familiar with the Jazz repertoire can merely be a foreign name; or, the sound of Charlie Parker to a non English speaking viewer could simply be an empty signifier of some Anglo-American or Western person, of no particular meaning at all. The problem with a cultural signifier is that the definition of culture is more elusive than language. While it is easier to assume a literal meaning of a linguistic signifier, due to the conventions in everyday practice, cultural signifiers are hard to pin down—they often float as rootless objects in the (global) space until they are registered by an audience of a specific subcultural group.

His points aside he doesn’t bother tracking down the actual source, I actually tracked down the quote from Goethe, though finding a connection with Charlie Parker proved impossible for me. First, the Latin proverb:

Manus manum lavat

“Manus manum lavat” (in German: One hand washes the (other) hand ) is a Latin proverb. It is the Latin translation of a verse of the Greek comic poet Epicharmus by Seneca (Apocolocyntosis, “Verkürbissung “within the meaning of Veräppelung). There is continuing: (..) give something and you get something. .

A translation into German is given by Goethe in his poem “What goes around, comes around” ” is hand washed by hand only, if you want to take, give . ”

Cologne is known in connection with the ” Cologne clique “(They know each other, and it helps it) is another, very loose translation of” Manus manum lavat, “she says” The hand must not know who washes the other “

Here is the actual poem by Goethe and its translation (albeit via Google Translator):

Wie du mir, so ich dir What goes around, comes around
Mann mit zugeknöpften Taschen,Dir tut niemand was zulieb:Hand wird nur von Hand gewaschen;Wenn du nehmen willst, so gib! Man with buttoned pocketsDoes you no sake was:Hand-washed only by hand;If you want to take, give!

Is there anything particularly meaningful about this quote in relation to the events in the episode? Superficially, yes. It sets the tone for Spike and Jet’s relationship with Faye. It is, for the most part antagonistic, with copious amounts of tolerance bought with credit: the promise of favors returned, spoils shared, etc. It isn’t a relationship founded on goodwill, as is difficult among cheaters, gamblers, thieves, and gangsters.

It is certainly more meaningful than how the casino Spiders on Mars remembers love for the Crusade airship from The Vision of Escaflowne:


…and that the very name Spiders from Mars is from David Bowie.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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17 Responses to Cowboy Bebop 03 “Honky Tonk Women” & Iron Faye

  1. hearthesea says:

    Some great research here. (I had no idea someone had actually written their MA thesis on this series…awesome.)

    I particularly liked how you pointed out the strong contrast between Faye’s clothing/the general ‘feel’ around her and her actual behaviour. At first she looks like walking fanservice, but as is usual with this show, reading things on the surface level is utterly misleading. If anything it’s usually more effective to assume the opposite of what these characters say or appear like. I feel like Faye’s clothing and superficial sensuality is her way of gaining power over others — it’s a ‘you can look, but never touch’ sort of thing. (It’s particularly highlighted when she goes walking around in alleys waiting for some attention or a fight in the lovely ‘Jupiter Jazz’.) It all springs from her insecurity.

    On another note, I should really try watching ‘Chungking Express’ someday…I’ve only ever seen a bit of the beginning, never the whole film. It seems to be praised by quite a few people.

    • Thanks, and yeah — a post-graduate thesis on Bebop is indeed remarkable. I’m tempted to think that there are more, but I haven’t found any yet.

      There is sex in the show, but I remember it as some kind of flashback by Spike — he and Julia naked on a bed. But that’s about it. No one ever has sex here. Even so, the show is VERY sexy. That has to do with how cool everything is presented, how dangerous, how adult. You can feel that sex can and does happen — as it must for these adults.

      Chungking Express is 2 stories in one movie. Frankly I don’t care much for the first one. It’s the 2nd one with Tony Leung and Faye Wong that really got me — an ambiguous and quirky kind of romantic comedy.

  2. Joojoobees says:

    Yes, well done. I particularly am glad you tracked down the Goethe quote, because I have watched this episode several times, and each time wonder if Goethe really said something like that. The esoteric (and somewhat bizarre) level of the philosophical discussion in the elevator reminds me of the scenes between John Travolta and Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction, so it is kind of funny that you connect this episode to Chungking Express.

    I’ve never watched CkE, but I think I saw a copy at the public library, so maybe I should do that soon.

    • Thank you. That Goethe quote gave me fits. I just had to find it. I wish I could find a solid relationship with Charlie Parker, but I came up empty.

      The comparison with Chungking Express doesn’t involve the weird Goethe quote, but rather Faye Valentine. The lead character in the 2nd story of CE is also named Faye, and is played by Faye Wong. I simply drew a comparison on how both females are ‘sexy’ in a quirky and weird way (especially Wong), and yet remain particularly chaste throughout the whole narrative.

  3. megaroad1 says:

    You really went into some in depth research there and I applaud you for it! Finding the Goethe quote must have been a time consuming enterprise.My german is enormously rusty, but I believe the second sentence of the poem (dir tut niemand was zu lieb) means something along the lines of ‘your acts are not loved by anyone’. In any case, a seemingly random piece of trivia might actually as you point out, be enormously relevant to the troubled relationship between the crew of the Bebop and Faye Valentine. Specially Faye.

    I’ve seen Escaflowne twice and Bebop countless times, but yet this is the first time I see the similarities between the casino and the airship from Escaflowne. Nice catchy!

    You did not mention the elephant in the room which was the mention of Faye’s age by the casino owner. I assume you’d rather touch on the subject in one of your later posts.

    • Thanks, it did stretch my patience and abilities, this rabbit hole did. I contend that while the quote itself is very meaningful, the appreciation of the dynamic between the three adult leads are not dependent on it. This is like a rare condiment that will take your hamburger to different levels of awesome, but whose absence doesn’t change the fact that the ground beef was grilled well, butchered fresh, and made from the best cows.

      The Spiders on Mars and the Crusade being similar doesn’t easily come to mind. The Jazz Messengers site really deserves the credit for that one. It’s really the rock that seems like a skewered kebab by the fuselage of the craft that makes them look very similar.

      There’s a lot of CB left to go, and Faye will indeed figure more, and give us more opportunities to explore her interesting story.

  4. MarigoldRan says:

    I’m going to eat a cookie now. I like cookies.

    By the way, is there a Five Guys store in the Phillipines? They’re totally awesome. It’s like McDonalds, by 8x better.

  5. Pingback: 5-15-2009 Dream Fragments Connected? « John Jr's WordPress Blog

  6. I don’t think there’s a five guys outside the east coastal area.

    Meant to bring this up while I was there, that it weirded me out that there’s no sex in Cowboy Bebop, but it also occurred to me that had there been, I probably wouldn’t have gotten into the show as much as a kid (sex scared me) and therefor wouldn’t have gotten into anime :O

    • But there’s so much suggestiveness in it that you figured that it had to have happened at some point… then you think about it… it doesn’t! My point is that you had to think about it first before you realize how chaste the whole thing is.

      • megaroad1 says:

        I for one had the feeling that something would happen sooner than later. At least a Spike/Julia flashback? And then not even that. But perhaps in a way, sometimes that can even be more enticing?

  7. Mr. Black says:

    I know this is an old topic; but since you “wish”ed to know the hand mystery and Charlie Parker connection… I’m sure the term Jazz Hands is familiar as a clue; but Charlie really fought to bring one handed Bebop Jazz to the level of an art form in the public’s eye; where the left hand is rootless(the Jazz) and the right hand plays chords… many people find this style extremely hard to learn as you have to be adept at Jazz and Traditional forms then separate both into separate hands using left and right brain to accomplish it… then of course that certain je n’est c’est quoi where instrument and musician resonate becoming one, instead of rote mechanical movements seeking musical perfection of note and time over the feeling of the piece.

  8. Johnny says:

    Thank god I spent forever looking for the source of that quote that knowing you.

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