Distortion of Egon Schiele, Seated Couple, 1915

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.

YOU NEVER KNEW ME—HOWARD DEVOTO—MAGAZINE | GET GONE—FIONA APPLE

‘We are always tempted to simplify our emotional lives in order to diminish the constant conflict we are in … We hate intensely where we once loved; our dependence on the person we need, and our inability to control their desire, is unavoidably disclosed to us.’ Adam Phillips, On Kindness (Penguin Books, 2009) p. 61.

Love and hate are inextricable, one is the condition of the other, and they express themselves in multifarious ways. In these two songs, the love affair is over and the ex-lovers adopt different stances to address the fallout.

In ‘You Never Knew Me’, the man, after stating that he doesn’t want to be a fool, admits he still loves the woman. He then switches to a stance of superiority, claiming he knows the truth of their relationship and the woman not only doesn’t, but couldn’t handle it if she did: ‘Do you want the truth or do you want your sanity?’. After deploring the ‘hell’, the ‘mess’ and the ‘deepest unhappiness’ he experienced, he then tries to resolve his ambiguity, his state of love-hate, by declaring: ‘Thank God that I don’t love you’. Next, he asserts his superiority once more: ‘All of that’s behind me now still seems to be above you’. And then comes his verdict on the relationship: ‘I don’t know whether I ever knew you, but I know you never knew me’. But he can’t help adding: ‘Do you want to?’, thus confessing he’d rather give the relationship another go than accept that it’s over. In the last verse, however, he sees through the hollowness of his hope—‘hope doesn’t serve me now’—and then once more reasserts his superiority: ‘You think you’ve understood, you’re ignorant that way’. Then, to stand up for himself and soften his rejection, he lauds his own resistance: ‘I’m sorry I can’t be cancelled out like this’. (The cruelty of love, of course, is that he can.) He then acknowledges the emotional baggage that doomed the relationship: ‘We had to kill too much before we could even kiss’. The song ends with the lover reiterating his verdict on the affair and repeating his request (in fact, his plea): ‘Do you want to (know me)?’.

We see, then, that the lover’s courage vacillates: he can only bear ambiguity for so long before he is compelled to resolve it, choosing a stance of hate before opting, in a pathetic final gesture, for love.

Will it get him anywhere? I don’t think so. I think the dynamics of love are such that second chances rarely overcome the fallout from what went wrong the first time round.

How does ‘Get Gone’ respond to ‘You Never Knew Me’? The opening line makes it clear that for the woman, the answer to ‘Do you want to?’ is an unequivocal ‘No’: ‘How many times do I have to say to get away—get gone!’. All the things the man had to ‘kill before they could kiss’ she dismisses as ‘shit’ that he should now ‘flip past another lass’s humble dwelling’: she’s given him a chance to play his ‘game’ and make his ‘shot’, she even let him ‘get away with a lot’, but she was not ‘turned on’. But what really offends her, what makes her angry, is the lover’s tone of superiority, to which she responds: ‘put away that meat you’re selling’. After having tried to help him—‘I’ve done what I could for you’—she must now watch out for her own interest: ‘I do know what’s good for me’. The lover is obtuse—‘he won’t get with this’, ‘he won’t admit to it’—while the beloved has to ‘heal’ from his abuse. For her, things are clear, there is ‘nothing to figure out’. And then she delivers her verdict on the affair: ‘It’s time the truth was out that he don’t give a shit about me’. Now, even the final threads of what hold the couple together have become a suffocating cage: ‘How many times can it escalate till it elevates to a place I can’t breathe?’. Finally, drawing a line under the relationship, she affirms: ‘it’s no sacrifice… the price is paid… there’s nothing left to grieve’, and then gives the coup de grâce: ‘Fucking go!’.

Comparing the two songs, I won’t choose between Howard’s touching ‘Do you want to?’ and Fiona’s vitriolic ‘Fucking go’: the lyricists are addressing different kinds of debris in the emotional fallout from the relationship’s demise. But I will observe that in both songs, the singer claims to know the truth that the other cannot fathom: either it will drive them insane or they simply will not ‘get it’. This communicative impasse that makes dialogue futile is perhaps the greatest source of despair in a love relationship. The percussive brilliance of Fiona’s diatribe, its emotional intensity, is a measure of the distance the man fell short of the woman’s high hopes, while the lush beauty of Howard’s attempt to salvage his masculine pride, its humble negotiation of ambiguity, is commensurate with the aspiration of the man’s soul. Hope, pride and humility, anger, risk and self-protection: ‘You Never Knew Me’ and ‘Get Gone’.

You Never Knew Me

Howard Devoto—Magazine

I don’t want to turn around and find I’d got it wrong
Or that I should have been laughing all along
You’re what keeps me alive
You’re what’s destroying me
Do you want the truth or do you want your sanity?

You were hell and everything else was just a mess
I found I’d stepped into the deepest unhappiness
We get back, I bleed into you
Thank God that I don’t love you
All of that’s behind me now still seems to be above you

I don’t know
You never knew
I don’t know whether I ever knew you
You never knew
But I know you
I know you never knew me
I don’t know
You never knew
I don’t know whether I ever knew you
You never knew
But I know you
I know you never knew me

Do you want to?

Hope doesn’t serve me now, I don’t move fast at all these days
You think you’ve understood, you’re ignorant that way
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry
I’m sorry I can’t be cancelled out like this
We had to kill too much before we could even kiss

I don’t know
You never knew
I don’t know whether I ever knew you
You never knew
But I know you
I know you never knew me
I don’t know
You never knew
I don’t know whether I ever knew you
You never knew
But I know you
I know you never knew me

Do you want to?
You never knew
Do you want to?

Get Gone

Fiona Apple

How many times do I have to say to get away
Get gone!
Flip your shit past another lass’s humble dwelling
You got your game, made your shot, and you got away with a lot
But I’m not turned-on

So put away that meat you’re selling
Cuz I do know what’s good for me
And I’ve done what I could for you
But you’re not benefiting, and yet I’m sitting
Singing again, sing, sing again

How can I deal with this, if he won’t get with this?
Am I gonna heal from this? He won’t admit to it
Nothing to figure out, I gotta get him out
It’s time the truth was out that he don’t give a shit about me

Cuz I do know what’s good for me
And I’ve done what I could for you
But you’re not benefiting, and yet I’m sitting
Singing again, sing, sing again

How can I deal with this, if he won’t get with this?
Am I gonna heal from this? He won’t admit to it
Nothing to figure out, I gotta get him out
It’s time the truth was out that he don’t give a shit about me

How many times can it escalate
Till it elevates to a place I can’t breathe?
And I must decide, if you must deride
That I’m much obliged to up and go
I’ll idealize and realize that it’s no sacrifice
Because the price is paid, and there’s nothing left to grieve

Fuckin go!
Cuz I’ve done what I could for you
And I do know what’s good for me, and I’m not benefiting
Instead I’m sitting, singing again, singing again, singing again
Sing, sing, sing again

How can I deal with this, if he won’t get with this?
Am I gonna heal from this? He won’t admit to it
Nothing to figure out, I gotta get him out
It’s time the truth was out that he don’t give a shit about me…

Egon Schiele, Seated Couple, 1915

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

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