Monthly Archives: January 2014

#LoveSongs: To Make You Feel My Love

Here we’ve got perhaps one of the most-covered love songs out there. Bob Dylan knows he loves someone, but they aren’t so sure, so he’s gonna show how good at love he is. Let’s see if he succeeds, but we’re gonna listen to Adele sing it because that’s what YouTube gave me.

It’s a good thing I already like this song, ’cause sheesh have we got some sap here. I hope a real person never tries to say anything like this to me because then we will never see each other again. But in a song it’s pretty okay! Songs are for exaggerating.

The first verse is actually exactly what a nice relationship should be about. You’re having some bad times, and someone who loves you wants to give you a hug! That’s super-nice, Bob Dylan, I would like that a lot. You are even willing to hold me for a million years, which is probably longer than anyone needs a hug. But nice follow-through, I guess?

Unfortunately, from that point, our friend Bob starts getting a little over-promising and, frankly, it makes him sound a little desperate. Claiming that you’ll never do wrong by a person is a pretty common early relationship move, but I prefer honesty. People hurt each other, and what I really want to know from a partner is that they’ve got the sensitivity and skills to work on recovering from our inevitable mis-steps. Someone who thinks you can go a whole lifetime (or a million years!) without ever hurting someone close to you has very little experience with real relationships, and that’s a red flag. More importantly, holding up “never hurt each other” as a relationship standard makes it harder for people involved in real, imperfect relationships to know that there’s nothing wrong with sometimes messing up.

Then we go headfirst into more desperation, where Bob promises that he’ll go hungry and get bruised and otherwise come to harm in order to prove his love, which is just impractical, really. Self-harm doesn’t show me that you care, it just shows me that you can’t think of better ways to get my attention.

I’m not totally sure how the winds of change relate to loving someone a whole lot, other than, hey, it’s Bob Dylan. Let’s skip down to that final verse, where we have one of my biggest love song pet peeves. “I can make you happy” is not a reasonable relationship promise. No one can make anyone else happy. I can feel happy when I spend time with certain people, or when I do certain activities, but, ultimately, my mental state is up to a combination of circumstances, brain chemicals and my own choices. I don’t appreciate anyone telling me they can control my emotions, nor do I want to hear that they can “make [my] dreams come true.”

If you really want to make me feel your love, Bob, give me some space, treat me like a real human, and let me make my own damn choices. Emotional support is great, but it starts to turn to emotional manipulation by the end of the song. Give me time to make up my mind and respect my choice, rather than going to greater and greater lengths to try to make me feel a thing. If you love me, I’ll be able to tell.

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#LoveSongs: She Moves In Her Own Way

One of my hopes for this project is to lift up the love songs that show really solid, healthy relationships, in hopes that we all start putting them on mix tapes and having more realistic standards. This fantastic effort from the Kooks is just such a song.

I love what’s happening in this song. Our protagonist is the kind of norm-defying rebel that features in most rock and roll songs, and he’s gotten himself an equally non-conforming girlfriend. But he’s not trying to force her into being some flat Manic Pixie Dream Girl, nor does he expect her to sacrifice what she’s doing in favor of his rock and roll dreams.

At the start of the song, the singer reminds the girl that “I was hoping someday you’d be on our way to better things.” Like him, though, she doesn’t care for “paper dreams,” and is happily living in the present, in her “mindset.” She’s able to talk to him about her feelings, and he supports her.

My favorite part is the repeated “you don’t pull my strings ’cause I’m a better man.” Without the chorus that reminds us how much he loves her, I might think this was from a break-up songs (“kiss-offs” as Songza calls them), but instead we have a true rarity in a love song: an acknowledgment of the need for romantic partners to maintain separate identities and motivations! The singer is in control of his own life, as is his lover, and they are both excited to share those lives with one another.

He mentions her make-up and her fashion, but that’s not what he’s in it for: “looks are deceiving” he says, and she’s made him believe it. Maybe he thinks her style’s weird, maybe she’s not the kind of girl he would normally go for. It doesn’t matter, though, because he loves how different she is.

The idea that she comes to his show just to hear about his day fascinates me. Is this the only place she can find out what he’s been up to? Is he better at communicating through music than in just talking to her? Lots of people might hate having a partner who didn’t tell them about their day, but this lady seems pretty down with it; she comes to her boyfriend’s show and learns what she needs to learn. She’s meeting him where he is, and he’s doing the same for her.

This isn’t a song about the perfect relationship that everyone should aspire to. Instead, it’s a song about a relationship that is really great for these two specific people, in their specific circumstance. Sorry, Tolstoy, but sometimes every happiness isn’t the same, and that’s a beautiful thing.

#LoveSongs: It Matters to Me

Sometimes I almost prefer writing about songs where the relationship is failing than those first-blush-of-love ones. For one thing, you’re way less likely to have an assault on your hands when you’re falling out of love. But I think you can really see someone’s relationship skills in how they break down or break up. Perhaps that’s why I like to balance my lovey mixtapes with a few breakup ballads. This one from an early Faith Hill is a favorite of mine.

I’m not sure you could start out more heartbreaking than the image of fighting without saying a word. It’s the opposite of that country classic “When You Say Nothing At All:” instead of love in a touch, we’ve got silent, hostile distance. Faith is reaching for something deeper, but her lover remains just beyond her reach, unaffected.

This song isn’t a bad template at all for expressing that the spark has gone out of your relationship. It’s possible that things aren’t even as bad as Faith fears. In all relationships, one person pursues and the other distances, and a balance must be achieved. Clearly, there’s too much distance here for Faith to feel secure and loved, but letting her partner know that may be enough to salvage things.

What permeates this song more than anything else is a lack of knowledge arising from a lack of communication. Faith doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know if her partner even cares about the state of things. She’s out of ideas, but, fortunately, she is not yet alone. Naming the pain the distance brings her may snap her partner out of his fog and bring back the talking, touching, and loving that Faith needs.

And if not, if he’s perfectly content with the situation as it stands and refuses to do more, we can already see Faith accepting that and preparing to move on. In the second verse, she asks how far the distance is, and how her lover can cope, and then acknowledges that she isn’t sure she can. She’s not entirely giving up, but she isn’t willing to stay in a situation that hurts her this much.

One of the best things about this song is that it has no protests that she’ll die for this love, or attempts at emotional blackmail. In far too many songs, the protagonist gives all the power in their emotional life over to their lover. There’s none of that here, just a matter-of-fact statement about Faith’s feelings and needs, which her lover can respond to as he will. It hurts and it matters that Faith feels ignored, but this still isn’t her entire life.

Overall, we have here a song that sounds like words real people might say to one another. There’s a time and a place for whatever terrible relationship habits Taylor Swift is cultivating, but when it’s time to actually interact with another person, I’m glad we’ve got Faith Hill to show us the way.