Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Musical Musings: Songs In the Key of Abuse

Abuse--whether it's sexual, physical, or emotional--is a serious, serious topic. (And also a huge money-maker for the estate of V.C. Andrews.) I had a few ear worms in my head so I decided I'd make a blog post out of the most annoyingly pervasive ones.

Push by Matchbox 20

Remember when Push wasn't this generation's The Color Purple? At one point, it was a song by Matchbox 20. Feminists criticized "Push" for its chorus. You 90s kids all know it. C'mon, sing along with Rob Thomas. I wanna push you around, yeah I will, yeah I will, I wanna push you down, well I will, well, I will. Because this was the age of Title IX and the decade where at least one women's studies prof viewed Bill Clinton not wanting to sit through a women's basketball game after seeing a men's game as an act of gender violence, you had to know this song wouldn't go over well.

The lady Bic razor burning crew backed off quick when lead singer Rob Thomas explained the song's true meaning: it's sung from the perspective of an abusive girlfriend saying damaging things to her boyfriend. After that, the song was just fine to the Lilith Fair gals and the song's protagonist became a feminist heroine along with Lorena Bobbitt and Medea.

He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss) by the Crystals

This early 60s pop song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and produced by Phil Spector. Its dirge like beat was interpreted as a ringing endorsement, and not an ironic condemnation of, domestic abuse.

With lyrics like He hit me and I knew he loved me / 'Cause if he didn't care for me / I could have never made him mad, how could anyone have been surprised when Phil's gifts to his lovers were things like "a glass coffin for your bullet ridden corpse if you ever leave me" and "a .44 Magnum cartridge"?

Criminal by Fiona Apple

I know this song isn't actually about abuse. But MTV played up Fiona's rape in their press kit and this video basically had the same effect that looking at the American Apparel ads has on me now--I want to hug all the models, feed them sandwiches...and then give them hot showers and some pubic lice medication. It's worse than those manipulative animal shelter ads with Sarah MacLachlan's Angel playing in the background that bring me to tears faster than Lady PMS.

Between the spandex shorts, the stuffed animals, and the disembodied feet, a part of me feels like I'm exploiting someone by just watching the video. Like maybe I need to now make a donation to my local N.O.W. chapter.

Prison Sex by Tool

This is actually a song about how child abuse is cyclical in nature. You can be forgiven for thinking it's a song about weird little alien guys running around. That's kind of what I thought every Tool song was about. Even the one about L.A. dropping off into the ocean.

Despite the fairly deep content of their lyrics, I think the most abusive thing Tool ever did was creating Undertow, a concept album with about seventy two second long tracks in a day and age when people used the shuffle feature on their stereos. In the time before MP3s, that was cold treatment of their fans.

Janie's Got a Gun by Aerosmith

Apparently this one was originally called Danny's Got a Gun but was changed to Janie. (I guess a chick wielding a gun because of sexual abuse was enough to defuse Tipper Gore and her anti-violence entourage.) Writing a song about a Serious Issue like child abuse also lets Steven Tyler get away with wearing pants in the music video that make Olivia Newton John's in Grease look like harem pants by comparison.

Fun fact: in the video, Lesley Ann Warren plays Janie's mom. (Maybe the song should have been called Miss Scarlett's got a lead pipe in the billiards room.)

For all the snark, I loved this one growing up. I have to love any song that was used in evidence as defense for Lyle and Erik Menendez.

Run For Your Life by the Beatles

This John Lennon composition featured lyrics like I'd rather see you dead than in another man's arms, little girl. It somehow escaped banning (until the early 90s in Toronto) over the years. Why did "The Feminists" protest He Hit Me and Push while overlooking this one? Because Beatles can do no wrong!

It makes me think that maybe even the most ardent of feminist would react to an ass cheek pinch from John, Paul, George or Ringo with an, "Oh, you!" and a giggle. (Especially Ringo--I kind of doubt the Shining Time Station has an extensive sexual harassment policy written out.)