Stephen Crippen Therapy

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Archive for the ‘Unhealthy Pop Song Lyrics’ Category

“Unhealthy Pop Song Lyrics” is back!

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Years ago, I ran a little blog series about unhealthy pop-song lyrics. I don’t know why I stopped…maybe because the series was a little corny, or because it felt like shooting fish in a barrel. (So many pop songs encourage unhealthy relationship attachments, I now think that’s their purpose.)

But hey, it’s Friday, the sun’s out in Seattle, and I’m in the mood. I’m also desperately hoping my critique of this song will satisfy the ear-worm god and get it out of my head, where it’s been on a constant loop since seeing an ad the other day for the re-released “Titanic” movie.

That’s right, it’s time to poke some therapeutic fun at that Celine Dion chestnut you love to hate. Here it is, with my, um, reflections below it:

“Every night in my dreams
I see you, I feel you
That is how I know you go on
Far across the distance
And spaces between us
You have come to show you go on
Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you’re here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on
Love can touch us one time
And last for a lifetime
And never let go till we’re gone
Love was when I loved you
One true time I hold to
In my life we’ll always go on
Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you’re here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on
You’re here, there’s nothing I fear
And I know that my heart will go on
We’ll stay forever this way
You are safe in my heart
And my heart will go on and on”

Allrighty then! Let’s see. It’s…not that bad, actually. She loves him, she will always love him, it doesn’t matter that he drowned in the north Atlantic, love is forever. Okay. I remember in the film she went on to have a great life, so I can’t scold her for endlessly pining for the dead Leo and missing out on the richness of life. I think she even married and had kids, right? But I have a couple of complaints about these lyrics.

First, if you’re going to make a boatload of money writing an iconic song for a blockbuster movie, can’t you come up with something better than, “Love was when I loved you”? Really? But my quarrel with this song runs deeper than the vapid lyrics in the later verses, and maybe the song’s flaw is the reason its later verses are so stale: sorry, Rose and Jack, but love doesn’t “go on” forever, at least without changing a great deal.

I believe in loving relationships that last for decades. I don’t have to “believe in” them, actually, because I’ve observed them directly. I have friends approaching their 65th wedding anniversary this summer, and they’re having a delightful ride. I’m also aware that love for someone who died can last a lifetime: I’m closing in on 16 years of love for my departed mother. But love changes. Sorry, but there’s no way Rose can feel the same way for Jack when she’s in her dotage and has lived a full life without him. Grief and love have this in common (which makes sense, because grief is a function of love): they evolve. It’s been a long time since I’ve sobbed with grief about my mother. In some ways I grieve her more deeply now than I did in the months after she died. I’ve had more time to appreciate the tragedy of her not being there for major events in my life, and for the final third of her own. But it’s just a fantasy in James Cameron’s XXL head that human beings could sustain the same breathless love, or the same powerful grief, for someone who has departed from their life.

Oh, and while I understand poor Rose’s need to have Jack “go on” even though he has died, and I wouldn’t want to say this out loud at Jack’s funeral, I’ll say here that the departure of someone from your life—whatever your beliefs about immortality, or notions about people “living on in our hearts”—means that in ways that hit you in the gut, they really are gone. Not “gone.” Gone. And the discovery that you can love again, completely and deeply, is part of a healthy recovery. My mother died, but motherhood didn’t. Jack died, but marital love didn’t. Rose’s love “goes on” for Jack, and that’s sweet. But—sorry, Celine—Rose also moved on.

Dammit, it didn’t work. That song is still in my head.

Both Sides Now

Friday, September 25th, 2009

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at pop-song lyrics from a therapist’s perspective. Here’s an example from over a year ago. Today I’m looking at a song I love. It’s a great song, and I won’t believe you if you tell me you don’t like it! It’s Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” The lyrics are copied below.

First, I want to talk about what I like about the words. I like the way she looks at love–and life–from at least two perspectives. (Of course that’s the whole point of the song.) This song offers a substantially better treatment of these topics than, say, this ridiculous song. It’s a poignant reflection on disillusionment, loss, and regret. Most people I know–both personally and professionally–would do well to reflect on the emotional wounds they’ve suffered, and if they’re in a mood to reflect, I can hardly think of a better companion for them than Joni Mitchell.

But I don’t want this song to be the last word on these matters. I would never want Joni to write a happy verse at the end that wraps it all up in a nice, reassuring bow. That would ruin the song and cheapen the difficult emotional process that is limned by the text. But my wish for anyone who’s facing this kind of sadness is that at some point they would reach a point of integration. They may never fully resolve–much less “get over”–what has happened to them. But I hope they can integrate it into their lives, and move forward with wisdom. When I reach the end of this song, I long for another verse that takes us all further in that direction.

But as I said, it’s a terrific song! Enjoy it, and may you continue moving forward in your own story of life and love.

Both Sides Now, by Joni Mitchell

Rows and flows of angel hair
Ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say I love you right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

Mamma mia, does she have problems!

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Today the film version of the musical Mamma Mia! opens in theaters, and in its honor I’m reviewing the lyrics of the title song as part of my Unhealthy Pop Song Lyrics series.

In this version of the song, as Agnetha sings, her therapist listens with increasing worry, and then makes a carefully considered decision about what to do. Enjoy, and happy Friday!

AGNETHA: I’ve been cheated by you since I don’t know when.
THERAPIST: Right. You told me about him last session.
So I made up my mind it must come to an end.
So far so good! Took her a while but it’s never too late.
Look at me now, will I ever learn?
I don’t know how, but I suddenly lose control.
I know how. Let’s work on that.
There’s a fire within my soul.
Uh oh.
Just one look and I can hear a bell ring.
A bell rings? Is she Pavlov?
One more look and I forget everything. O-o-o-oh…
Don’t! Don’t do it!
Mamma mia! Here I go again!
No! Don’t!
My my, how can I resist you?
I know how! Don’t do it!
Mamma mia! Does it show again?
My my, just how much I’ve missed you?
How could it not show? You’re whipped!
Yes, I’ve been brokenhearted,
blue since the day we parted,
why why did I ever let you go?
I’ll tell you why! You know why! Don’t do it!
Mamma mia! Now I really know
why why I could never let you go.
She did it.
I’ve been angry and sad about things that you do.
Right. Remember that!
I can’t count all the times that I told you we’re through.
I can.
And when you go, when you slam the door,
I think you know that you won’t be away too long.
Why’s that??!
You know that I’m not that strong.
Oh Agnetha. We’ve been through this!
Just one look and I can hear a bell ring,
That damn bell again.
One more look and I forget everything. O-o-o-oh…
Mamma mia! Here I go again…
I give up. Hell, it’s a good song. Might as well dance…

“Wishin’ and Hopin'”

Friday, May 30th, 2008

First: my usual disclaimer: This is a post in the Unhealthy Pop Song Lyrics series. It’s just for fun, intended for your entertainment! So I hope you enjoy it.

I thought I should take on a song that has unhealthy lyrics but is also a song I enjoy. So without further ado, here’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” sung by Ani DiFranco. (And how great is it that it’s sung by Ani DiFranco?!) Below the lyrics you’ll find my critique.

Wishin’, and hopin’, and thinkin’, and prayin’,
plannin’ and dreamin’ each night of his charms.
That won’t get you into his arms.

So if you’re looking to find love you can share,
all you gotta do is hold him, and kiss him, and love him,
and show him that you care.

Show him that you care–just for him.
Do the things that he likes to do.
Wear your hair just for him,
cause you won’t get him thinkin’, and prayin’,
wishin’, and hopin’–

just wishin’, and hopin’, and thinkin’, and prayin’,
plannin’, and dreamin’ his kisses will start–
that won’t get you into his heart!

So if you’re thinking how great true love is,
all you gotta do is hold him, and kiss him,
and squeeze him, and love him…
Just do it! And after you do,
you will be his!


OK. So here’s where I’m supposed to critique this great work of art–whoops I mean this insulting sexist jingle. Except it’s hilarious! It’s the perfect unhealthy pop song because it’s aware of how screwed up it is, and just wallows in it! So as much as this might disappoint you, I’m not going to tear it apart, and I certainly am not going to rewrite the lyrics. They’re perfect just as they are. If you really want to have a healthy relationship, do NOT take this song’s advice. But you knew that already, right? So just enjoy it, and give credit where it’s due to the genius who is Ms. Ani DiFranco.

And Happy Friday!

“Wind Beneath My Wings”

Friday, May 9th, 2008

(First, my usual disclaimer: this is a Friday post, so it’s a little irreverent, and meant for your enjoyment! It’s part of my “Unhealthy Pop Song Lyrics” series.)

Today we’re taking a look at the song, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I decided that since this song was sung by Bette Midler (playing the character “CC”) in the film “Beaches,” just after her character’s best friend died, I would critique the song from the perspective of her departed best friend Hillary, played by Barbara Hershey. So here’s the situation: CC sings the song, and Hillary, having died and found her way to heaven (and wised up a bit), has figured out how screwed up most earth-bound relationships are (or at least most earth-bound pop songs), and keeps interrupting her old friend. So here goes:

CC: It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine; that’s your way.
You always walked a step behind.

HILLARY: What?! I never had sunlight on my face? What, are you kidding? CC, I love you and all, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t cold. I wasn’t hiding in your shadow. Yes, I understood that when we were friends, you were the celebrity. You were the performer. But I have no regrets. Did I let you shine? Meaning, let you shine while I “walked a step behind”? Um, sorry, but no. Get over yourself! Yes, I was an introvert. I didn’t seek the limelight. But that doesn’t mean I sacrificed my life for you. I just had a different style, a different personality. And to tell you the truth, I’m a little bit shocked that you didn’t know that! But–go on. Keep singing your song…

CC: So I was the one with all the glory,
while you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long.
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.

HILLARY: Hold on, CC. You had glory–meaning, I didn’t? And I had strength, meaning, you didn’t?! I know these lyrics sound sweet, but why are glory and strength polar opposites? Why can’t you be famous and strong? Like, oh, you know, not this Hillary, but Hillary Clinton? That woman’s got it goin’ on! (Yes, we’re following the Democratic presidential primary up here. And even though we know who’s going to win, it’s fascinating!) But as I was saying, why do you think I had a beautiful face but no name? Did you forget that I built a career of my own, that our friendship–as lovely as it was, don’t get me wrong–that our friendship wasn’t the whole point of my life? Sorry, CC, I wouldn’t trade our friendship for anything, but I’m proud of my career. I’m happy with all of my life, not just the great times I had with you. And as for my beautiful smile, OK, sure, sometimes I smiled when in fact I felt a little miserable (who doesn’t?), but I like to think that for the most part my smile was just that: my smile. I led a good life. Don’t forget that, my friend.

CC: Did you ever know that you’re my hero,
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
’cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

HILLARY: Oh, CC! All this pressure! I am the wind beneath your wings? Seriously? It’s sweet of you to call me your hero, and I guess I’m flattered that I’m everything you’d like to be, but to be honest, I never saw you that way. I never thought you were unable to have your own great life, to fulfill your own great destiny. I appreciate your praise, but really, you’re flying high all on your own. You don’t need me for that.

CC: It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I’ve got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know the truth; of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.

HILLARY: (sighing) Oh, CC. You know, there wasn’t that much that went unnoticed between us. Not to be snarky or anything, but I was pretty bright when I lived on earth. And you should know it’s not healthy to say you would be “nothing” without me. I miss you–I really do!–but I don’t want you singing that line to me now that I’ve gone. You would be nothing without me? Come on! You don’t have to pretend I made you who you are as a way to honor me or pay me your respects now that I’ve died. (And I don’t want to sound nasty, but it kind of makes my death all about you.) If I’m a true friend, I’m comfortable with you just as you are, not you as an extension of me. Well, CC, I think I better go. But–no kidding–thanks for the song. Really. And I wish you all the best. I’m not the “wind beneath your wings.” I hope you know that. (If not, just ask your therapist!) But I am your biggest fan! xoxox, your friend,


“The Love Boat”: don’t believe it!

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Welcome to my new blog category: Unhealthy Pop Song Lyrics. I’ve heard a lot of bad music in my time, but I’ve heard lyrics that are even worse! In this series I’ll talk about how pop songs often teach us how to have unhealthy, unhappy relationships. Or they tease us with the idea that love is easy. And, because I don’t want to simply tear something apart and leave it at that, I’ll have alternative ideas (if not alternative lyrics!) that help you feel more confident that you can develop relationships that are healthy and passionate and exciting!

(Quick warning: I’m having a lot of fun with this, so if I sound snarky, please know I’m actually smiling and thoroughly enjoying myself!)

My first pop song is not really a pop song, I guess. It’s a TV-show theme song: “The Love Boat.” Here are the lyrics, and I’ve bolded the ones I find particularly silly or unhealthy:

Love, exciting and new.
Come aboard. We’re expecting you!
Love, life’s sweetest reward.
Let it flow; it floats back to you.
The Love Boat soon will be making another run.
The Love Boat promises something for everyone.
Set a course for adventure,
your mind on a new romance.
Love won’t hurt anymore.
It’s an open smile on a friendly shore.
It’s love! Welcome aboard, it’s love!

OK. So let’s start with love being “life’s sweetest reward.” Really? Really?! Because I’m a couples therapist, and in my work (as well as my personal life) I’ve seen that life’s sweetest reward is the satisfaction that comes when people do the heroic, hard work of growth and change. Love is sweet, don’t get me wrong. And true love–the kind of love that people write good poetry about–is sweetest of all. But it takes a lot of work. These lyrics make it sound like all you have to do is pop on a boat, shake hands with the cruise director, and find the lover of your dreams, preferably before the second commercial break.

“Let it flow.” Um, what? Let what flow? Love? Once again, see my comments above re: love as work. I’m all for letting it flow, if by letting it flow you mean relaxing and soothing yourself so that you can stay close to someone and do the hard work of intimacy, the scary (and exhilarating) labor of love. When we’re doing that kind of love/work, it’s good to “let it flow,” meaning, breathe deeply, hang in there, relax, stay with it… But again, this song is messing with us. “Let it flow” in this song means, don’t worry about doing the work of love. Just let it happen. It’ll float back to you. (Um, sorry, but no…)

“[Love]…promises something for everyone.” This is a great example of a child’s view of relationships and love. “Promises something for everyone” sounds like, “If I’m real, real good, Santa will leave me a lover under the Christmas tree! And s/he’ll be my lover forever!” Sorry, but it only works that way on 1970’s television romantic comedies.

“Love won’t hurt anymore.” Well, OK, I guess I agree with that, as long as “Love won’t hurt anymore” means the same thing as “Love is a painful process of excruciating self-confrontation, character-building intimacy, and lifelong adventures that promise dizzying heights of joy–yes, joy–but not without a lot of effort. Like all things that are truly good and truly worthwhile, love hurts.

So, as promised, here are some alternatives. What they lack in poetic flow they make up for in emotional health. Enjoy!

Unhealthy: Love is life’s sweetest reward.
Healthy: The hard work of love leads us further and further into deeply rewarding relationships.

Unhealthy: Let love flow, and it will float back to you.
Healthy: Let yourself flow as you stay close to another person. Let yourself relax, even though you’re feeling scared, challenged, and excited. Stay close, stay in the fray. If you do, your better self–your best self–will lead you into an intense and wonderful connection with your partner.

Unhealthy: Love promises something for everyone.
Healthy: There are no guarantees, no promises. But anything you do that challenges yourself, or brings out the best in yourself, will help you grow, stengthen your relationships, and deepen your attractiveness in the eyes of others.

Unhealthy: Love won’t hurt anymore.
Healthy: Love hurts something awful! But you know it’s worth it! You know it! So jump in!

Next unhealthy pop song: “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” (Bette, get some therapy!)

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