I have two main ambitions in life: to be the subject of a great love song, and to write a great love song. I have been thinking a lot about why these two things are so enticing.
When you write a song about someone you are doing a few things. In essence it is a compliment. You’re expressing how important that person is to you. But with all songs I think there is an attempt to possess and control whatever feeling, emotion or even person you are writing about. When you put someone in your song you’re defining what they are to you and to the world. Its quite a weird thing to be compelled to do. And its definitely a weird thing to want to be done for you.
How does the lady in red feel, forever stuch cheek to cheek with Chris de Burgh? Maybe she loves it. But I wouldn’t want to be trapped by a song like that. And I suppose I wouldn’t want to define someone as rigidly as that. I suppose the best love songs in my view are ones that acknowledge the uncertainty of love. It is a fragile and robust thing, it is one thing and another,enduring and ephemeral.
For instance, Something by George Harrison is one of my personal favourites. It has that beautiful awareness of the unknown. Harrison does not convey the qualities that inspire his feelings; ‘something’ is all he can say and it is enough. We all understand that inability to express what is at the centre of an all consuming passion.
Another of my favourite love songs, and one that started me thinking about this whole issue recently is Naomi by Neutral Milk Hotel. Mangum’s lyrics so openly acknowledge the way his vision of Naomi is restricting ” One billion angels come and hold her down”. Obviously these lyrics can be interpreted in many ways but I think of the angels as part of Mangum’s own artistic vision. This love song is a violent and beautiful thing. Its awareness of its own limitations stops the song from being restrctive to its subject and allows it, and her, to transcend, becoming a beautiful, perfect love song.
I think I still hold both of those ambitions and I imagine it will take me years to acheive either. But I think its worth thinking about what a love song means and why they are so powerful and why they shouldn’t just be reductive or descriptive but should express the inexpressable and the unbeleivable. I think maybe we’re all afraid to love fully and freely and love songs help us through this process. They need to be honest about what love really is.