Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Post 2

Two great and famous songs by women, about women, and why the forceful stating of their messages in the lyrics contributes to their greatness:

1. Lucinda Williams, “Passionate Kisses”

I used to dislike the third verse, believing that Lucinda was shouting overtly, in slogan form, what was suggested so beautifully in the details of the rest of the song. That verse seemed like space filler, waiting for further rich and yet unimagined details to take its place. But while the modesty of the song’s opening lines

Is it too much to ask?
I want a comfortable bed that won’t hurt my back.

strikes me as much more evocative than the forcefulness of the last

I shout it out to the night
“Give me what I deserve, ‘cause it’s my right.”

that last verse is in keeping with the progression of the lyrics, the subtle suggestion of multiplying empowerment. In the second verse, Lucinda wants a “full house and a rock ‘n’ roll band,” and by the third she is riding the momentum of her own rock ‘n’ roll song, recognizing her ability to make more than just small demands. She wants the things that Virginia Woolf knew a woman needed—“pens that won’t run out of ink and cool quiet and time to think”—while the song itself, the beauty of her own creation, suggests that she must already have them to a degree.

And still that last verse is more tentative than I have let on. First she asks if she wants too much, and when she shouts out to the night, perhaps no one is listening. She then arrives again at her desire for passionate kisses; she must already know what they feel like, and she sounds not like a woman who lacks anything, but like a woman who is reminding herself why she deserves what she already has. In the end, it is not so much a song of empowerment, but a distinctly American song about deserving happiness.

2. Tori Amos, “Crucify”

I’ve been looking for a savior in these dirty streets
Looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets
I’ve been raising up my hands, drive another nail in
Got enough guilt to start my own religion

I know a lot of people might be repulsed by lyrics like these, and their seeming indulgence, but I would hesitate to call them indulgent. There is a meta element to this song as well. It is not about searching for a savior and feeling victimized, but about a woman defining her sexuality in that context, defining herself as Jesus Christ. Tori convincingly occupies that role through the theatrical performance of these lyrics—she is self-aware, she knows what her project is. She may very easily start her own religion: the song, with its confessional lyrics and meticulous orchestration, is a comforting one to be alone with, and one in which the hand of the author is readily apparent.

Why write about these songs now, you ask, to which I respond, why not? I listen to them still.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you can be critical about something you've been listening to since you were, like, six years old.

I tried listening to Tori Amos last night--I noted only waves of nostalgia...

8:34 PM  
Blogger WMCN Macalester College Radio said...

Now that you mention it, it is sort of weird.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Geoff said...

That was me.

5:10 PM  

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