As if Chicago’s bad girl Roxie Hart didn’t taint her, the Police’s chart-topping single nearly did her in. Can she regain her rightful place as a culture-spanning classic?
Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Roxana as Name of the Day.
It’s often said that her name derives from words meaning dawn or light or bright, or even shining beauty. But ever since she was discovered by English speakers, we seem determined to cast Roxana as a whore.
Maybe whore is harsh. But there’s long been a sense that Roxana is outside the bounds of respectability.
Sixteenth century Ottoman Emperor Süleiman the Magnificent caused a scandal when he married one of his concubines, known in Europe as Roxelana.
Then in 1724, Daniel Defoe penned Roxana: The Unfortunate Mistress. Defoe’s heroine travels from wealth to prostitution and back again, trading identities as she learns to get by on her moxie.
I couldn’t pin down the plot of a nineteenth century ballet about yet another Roxana, but Defoe’s story has also been adapted to the medium. That second ballet, in turn, recently became the subject of an indie flick.
Then came Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmund Rostand’s enduring 1897 play about an aristocratic soldier with an extra helping o’ schnoz. His Roxane is beyond reproach, as is the Roxanne played by Daryl Hannah in the 1987 film retelling. But they all get tied back together by the 1977 Police single “Roxanne.” Music lore has it that Sting was inspired by the prostitutes milling around their Paris hotel. (This was well before they’d hit it big.) But the name was chosen after he spotted a fading poster for Cyrano de Bergerac in the hotel lobby.
On another musical note, you might remember 1984’s “Roxanne, Roxanne” a hip hop single from UTFO, all about a girl who was not interested in their advances.
Inspired by the hit, Lolita Gooden traded her daring birth name to become Roxanne Shanté and record “Roxanne’s Revenge,” the first in an unprecedented series of answer records.
If all of that is history, Roxie Hart has been quite visible as Chicago returned to Broadway and the big screen. The scheming showgirl was introduced in the original 1920s version of the musical, and Renée Zellwegger’s 2002 movie turn caught everyone’s attention.
Roxy has something of an indie edge, as in:
- Surfwear giant Quiksilver’s women’s line is called Roxy;
- Samuel Rothafel built movie palaces during the 1920s, giving them his nickname – Roxy;
- New York City’s 18th Street roller disco turned into a nightclub, just one of many by the name.
But the venue that puts the capital T in The is Sunset Strip’s The Roxy. The stage of the West Hollywood hot spot has been graced by everyone – Bob Marley to Nirvana to Guns N’ Roses to Jay-Z.
None of the Rox- names are terribly current these days, but that might just be her appeal. Roxie fits in with Sadie’s Sisters. And while Roxanne might be best left to lovesick poets and rappers, Roxana sounds surprisingly at home with modern retro picks like Susannah and Rosalie.