Distortion of Tracey Emin, Those who suffer love, © 2009

Love in Fourteen Songs

A Spotify playlist. Fourteen songs about love; seven with lyrics by women, seven with lyrics by men. Pair them up, compare and contrast them. Exclude biography, argue only on the evidence of the text. Consider one song a response to the other, consider this an exploration of love. Here goes.

You can listen to the tracks in full with a registered Spotify account, which comes for free.

CREEP—THOM YORKE—RADIOHEAD | MILK—SHIRLEY MANSON—GARBAGE

These bleak songs bear witness to the fact that when it comes to desire, satisfaction is inaccessible except through transgression. In each song, the object of desire is veiled in absence, while the subject of desire pales at the horror of its unrepresentability.

In ‘Creep’, the object of desire, the woman representing the emptiness she harbours, is ‘just like an angel’. Let’s call her the beloved. The subject—let’s call him the lover—‘couldn’t look [her] in the eye’. Moreover, her ‘skin makes [him] cry’, she ‘floats like a feather in a beautiful world’. In a word, she is ‘so fucking special’. Transfigured by a mystery, she is inaccessible, impenetrable, as illusory as the horizon, forever receding. But her spiritualized body is no substitute for the physical one the lover longs to possess. Knowing this, and finding that knowledge unbearable, he rationalizes his rejection and to blistering guitar turns his hate (tails to the heads of his love) against himself: ‘I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo—what the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here’. Emotion can be purged, but desire is obdurate: Ensnared in the toils of his love, confronted with the beloved’s ungovernable excess, the lover declares: ‘I don’t care if it hurts, I want to have control; I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul’. Pathetically, when ‘she’s running out the door’, he brings himself to believe (such are the intricacies of self-delusion) that his happiness is aligned with hers: ‘whatever makes [her] happy, whatever [she] wants’. But of course, in his heart of hearts he knows her happiness is indifferent to both his happiness and his unhappiness; his sense of self-sacrifice, however, allows him to salvage a little dignity: it beats self-pity. Ashamed to say: ‘I only want you to love me’, he says instead: ‘I wish I was special’. Convoluted, dignity’s dance with self-abasement. So what exactly is the song about? ‘Creep’ is a song about the illusions we spin in an attempt to ward off desire’s twin—despair.

‘Milk’ is a dark siren song. Sure of the allure of her emptiness, the lover is adept at feminine wile: ‘I am weak but I am strong, I can use my tears to bring you home’. She is self-aware: ‘I am lost so I am cruel, but I’d be love and sweetness if I had you’. She knows she cannot abolish the abyss that separates human beings, so she is wooing someone with whom she can jointly feel its vertigo (Georges Bataille): ‘I am milk, I am red hot kitchen; and I am cool, cool as the deep blue ocean’. And so she waits, and waits, and aches, and aches, for she knows, like the lover in ‘Creep’, that despair is the twin of desire.

Listening to ‘Milk’, I hear the lover summoning an incubus, calling it to ravish her: She wants to meet a man who, by honouring her fantasy, honours her. In ‘Creep’, on the other hand, the lover is stranded in a no-man’s-land where, in place of ‘Milk’s assumption of desire in the figure of the whore, we have the mother transmuted into an untouchable angel. The songs, then, typify the devious circuits of, respectively, feminine and masculine desire.

Untouchable angel and incubus, ravishment physical and metaphysical : ‘Creep’ and ‘Milk’.

Creep

Thom Yorke—Radiohead

When you were here before
Couldn’t look you in the eye
You’re just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You’re so fucking special

But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here

I don’t care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I’m not around
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special

But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here

Oh-o, oh-o
She’s running out the door
She’s running out
She run, run, run, run
Run

Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special

But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong here

Milk

Shirley Manson—Garbage

I am milk
I am red hot kitchen
And I am cool
Cool as the deep blue ocean

I am lost
So I am cruel
But I’d be love and sweetness
If I had you

I’m waiting
I’m waiting
For you

I am weak
But I am strong
I can use my tears to
Bring you home

I’m waiting
I’m waiting
For you

I am milk
I am red hot kitchen
And I am cool
Cool as the deep blue ocean

I’m waiting
I’m waiting
For you

I’m aching for you
I’m aching for you

Tracey Emin, Those who suffer love, © 2009

By Richard Jonathan | © Mara Marietta Culture Blog, 2017 | All rights reserved

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