The Most Evil Song of All Time!
Now that I’ve got your attention…. 😉 First, let me tell you what I don’t mean. I don’t mean it’s a poorly-crafted song–it’s quite well done. I’m not saying I dislike Savage Garden–they were a very listenable pop group, and another song of theirs, “To the Moon and Back”, is quite a good song, which I like a lot. I’m certainly not saying the song is evil in the sense that certain people over the decades have claimed that rock is “the Devil’s music”, or that hidden backward messages are planted in songs, or any of that claptrap. So, you may then ask, what the heck do you mean?
In order to do that, I’ll have to quote some of the lyrics, my emphasis. It’s easy enough to Google song lyrics, but if you’re too lazy to do so, they can be found here, among many, many other sites. I provide the link so that you can see the entire context for the lyrics I’m going to quote here. The parts I’m going to quote adequately make my case, I think; but I don’t want anyone to think that I’m cutting out stuff that contradicts my thesis. In fact, I’m also going to quote part of the song that actually does indicate (slightly) the opposite of what I’m arguing for.
All right; to start off, here is the chorus of the song, from which the title is taken:
I knew I loved you before I met you
I think I dreamed you into life
I knew I loved you before I met you
I have been waiting all my life
If I recall correctly, one of the songwriters said he was inspired by reading that Prince had said in some interview, that his beloved (presumably at that time Mayte Garcia) was so perfectly suited to him that it was as if he’d brought her into existence just for him–dreamed her into life, as the song lyrics put it. In any case, this is the part of the song I take issue with. It is an assertion which is–and I say this in all seriousness–outright evil. Why?
I will start by quoting the late British writer Iris Murdoch, from “The Sublime and the Good”, in the Chicago Review, Vol. 13 Issue 3 (Autumn 1959) p. 51 (courtesy of Wikiquote), my emphasis:
Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.
Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows–or should know–this to be the absolute truth. As kids, we often tend to have fantasies of the One True Lover that we hope one day to find. Those of us who watched too many romance movies or read too many romance stories are particularly prone to this. Of course, in fairness, the whole concept of romantic love and companionate marriage has been considered an aberration of Western society, as opposed to most others; and the blame for this has often been handed to the Troubadours. That’s a discussion for a future post. Since I am a 21st Cenutry Westerner who does, for better or worse, buy into romantic love and companionate marriage–though not uncritically–we’ll take them as givens. What I’m considering is a distortion of romantic love.
The point is that all too often we make it about ourselves. We imagine a perfect soulmate for us; someone who will complete us; someone we can have and hold, and the rest of it. We never, it seems imagine the other person in his or her own true individuality. We never imagine us completing them, or that they are the one who dreamed us into life! Sounds quite different when the shoe is on the other foot! It’s all too easy, in short, not to see the Other as truly, completely real. We see ourselves as real enough, true–as Descartes pointed out, whatever else may be false, one, just by thinking, proves one’s own existence and reality. Cogito ergo sum, and all that. It is hard for us to extend that to others, though–“extremely difficult”, as Murdoch says. What do we tend to do instead? Well, observe the following quote from C. S. Lewis. This is from the Preface to the Paperback Edition of his justly famous book, The Screwtape Letters, as always, my emphasis. He is giving an explanation of how and why he portrays the demons as he does:
[The demons’] second motive is a kind of hunger. I feign that devils can, in a spiritual sense, eat one another; and us. Even in human life we have seen the passion to dominate, almost to digest, one’s fellow; to make his whole intellectual and emotional life merely an extension of one’s own—to hate one’s hatreds and resent one’s grievances and indulge one’s egoism through him as well as through oneself. His own little store of passion must of course be suppressed to make room for ours. If he resists this suppression he is being very selfish.On Earth this desire is often called “love.” In Hell I feign that they recognise it as hunger. But there the hunger is more ravenous, and a fuller satisfaction is possible. There, I suggest, the stronger spirit—there are perhaps no bodies to impede the operation—can really and irrevocably suck the weaker into itself and permanently gorge its own being on the weaker’s outraged individuality. It is (I feign) for this that devils desire human souls and the souls of one another. It is for this that Satan desires all his own followers and all the sons of Eve and all the host of Heaven. His dream is of the day when all shall be inside him and all that says “I” can say it only through him. This, I surmise, is the bloated-spider parody, the only imitation he can understand, of that unfathomed bounty whereby God turns tools into servants and servants into sons, so that they may be at last reunited to Him in the perfect freedom of a love offered from the height of the utter individualities which he has liberated them to be.
“On Earth this desire is often called ‘love’.” Wow. Isn’t that painfully true, though? How many relationships are based, not on true love and respect for each other as separate, independent beings–as “utter individualities”–but rather on what each person thinks he or she can get out of the other? How do you fulfill my needs? Do you complete me? What have you done for me lately? And so on. It is too easy for us to turn the Other into a mere screen upon which we project images from our own mind–we “dream them into life”. We make them thereby less than we are–less than human, in fact. Like Lewis’s devils, we want to absorb them, to eat them. I wonder if a vague realization of this underlies the popularity of the zombie genre.
In any case, I don’t for a moment imagine that the members of Savage Garden are intentionally demonic, or that either they or their audience thought the lyric was anything more than typical romantic boilerplate. In fact, it says something about our society that most listeners would not, in fact, see it as anything other than romantic boilerplate. We have tended, over the last century or so, to turn human relationships into commodities, like anything else in late capitalism. Little wonder that we don’t bat an eye at the thought of dreaming a lover into life, or thinking of someone as made for me (better to emphasize it thus: made for me). Now I’m not saying that we’ve completely commodified each other, or that we don’t look at each other as independent human selves at all. Nonetheless, I do think that seeing each other as things, as objects, is far advanced in our society, and even the most well-intentioned and aware of us sometimes slip into it. Lord knows I do, much as I struggle against it. It is something we all must struggle against. I don’t care much for the ethical system of Immanuel Kant, but he was exactly right when he said that people must never be treated as means, but always as ends. If you dream your lover into life, you’re reducing them to nothing but a means–a means of pleasure, fulfillment, etc., for yourself, and their needs be damned. As Lewis accurately saw, this is indeed demonic. There’s no prettier or more accurate word for it.
Now having said all this, I will quote the second verse of the song, for something that redeems it, at least a bit (once more, my emphasis):
There’s just no rhyme or reason
Only the sense of completion
And in your eyes, I see
The missing pieces I’m searching for
I think I’ve found my way home
I know that it might sound
More than a little crazy
But I believe
Romantic boilerplate, again–but not demonic, this time. In fact, perhaps–just perhaps–a bit on the opposite end of the spectrum. Perhaps a bit divine.
Robert Farrar Capon, one of my favorite theological writers, somewhere said that recognizing the Divine is like the feeling of coming home. When we experience a beautiful sunset, or a magnificently prepared meal (Capon also wrote extensively on cooking), or the face of our beloved, we sometimes catch a brief glimpse of the Divine coming through the experience as a fugitive beam of light through a window. That glimpse we experience as a feeling of homecoming. Something about the experience–or the person–reminds us of our true home, which is God. St. Thomas Aquinas expressed this in the hymn O Salutaris Hostia:
Uni trinoque Domino
Sit sempiterna gloria,
Qui vitam sine termino
Nobis donet in patria. Amen.
To thy great name be endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, One in Three.
O grant us endless length of days,
In our true native land with thee. Amen.
Heaven–not silly images of bewinged people with harps sitting on fluffy clouds, or pearly gates and streets of gold, or eternal black tie dinner parties–but union with the Divine, transcending of this world, moksha, ultimate fulfillment, liberation–however we choose to express it in metaphor–is our “true native land”. Even here on Earth, we can see brief snapshots of it–as when, for example, we look at a lover and we “think I’ve found my way home”. The song gets it right on that count. So maybe it’s not the most evil song of all time, after all. It contains an incredibly evil concept–I forcefully maintain that. But it does, nevertheless, contain the antidote to that evil concept, as well. Maybe it manages to break even.
Posted on 19/03/2018, in 90's, music, pop and tagged 90's songs, C. S. Lewis, Iris Murdoch, love, music, pop music, Robert Farrar Capon, Savage Garden, The Screwtape Letters, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.