I’ve calculated that if I could get all the time back I spent listening to the Tori Amos song “Tear in Your Hand” on chronic repeat, I could probably extend my life by two-and-a-half months. Though it would be nice to live longer, I doubt I would be as mentally healthy had I not been able to wail “And I think there’s pieces of me you’ve never seen. Maybe she’s just pieces of me you’ve never seen well” at the top of my lungs. (Thank you, Tori!)
If you have never heard that song or you are feeling at all bruised by the ways of love, I urge you to stop reading this and go listen to it RIGHT NOW. But come back please.
I shouldn’t have been surprised back then when things didn’t go my way because from the time I was a toddler my father used to sing The Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” to me. I love that song and I believe there have never been truer lyrics written. I can’t bring myself to sing it to my own children though, because I think that is one of those lessons you have to learn for yourself.
Sometimes songwriters give us profound insight into our lives. Once upon a time I drank a very strong drink called Purple Haze at a local dive bar as a good guy friend explained to me why he thought we might make a better couple. I wasn’t entirely convinced but in the background somewhere Alanis Morissette sang, “I’ve never felt this healthy before. I’ve never wanted something rational. I am aware now.” I didn’t give my answer right away, but I was listening to it all.
And then sometimes it’s the way a singer delivers a line. There’s no way that Freddie Mercury and David Bowie were phoning it in when they sang “Under Pressure.” About half way through the song, they implore “Can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love, love one more chance?” with so much conviction they really sell it. I have often imagined those two in the studio recognizing the power of that concept. They made me feel it, too. I dare you to listen to that song and not want to give love, give love, give love.
Or maybe it’s just a sound or a scat. That guy friend from two paragraphs back became a boyfriend and then a husband (confirmed, Mick was right: You get what you need!). He loves this little noise Warren Zevon makes on the song “Werewolves of London.” It’s a simple “dut” -– barely a syllable -- that only exists as a sound in that song. It brings him so much joy. I have often wanted to create a loop of it to counteract those times when I don’t feel I am living up to the promise of that boozy 22-year-old.
But one of the most influential lyrics that changed my life comes from the silly song “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe. I am an old and this song came out when I was a sophomore in a Long Island high school. I heard the warning “Never trust a big butt and smile” and something really clicked.
I had (have) BOTH a big butt and a big smile and at that time I was doing my best to keep them under wraps. They were often objects of ridicule. But I started thinking that if the formidable members of the “East Coast Family” were powerless against a shapely posterior and a happy mouth, one day I just might be able to stop grimacing and undo the sweatshirt or cardigan that I religiously tied around my hips each morning.
I had hope that in my future I would be far away from the strip malls and the cliques and the mean girls and find lyrics for songs I didn’t even know existed. And that knowledge got me through the next two years until I found out I was right. (Thank you BBD!)
What lyrics changed your life? And, any part of yourself that you consider poison?