Love that cannot be is a vicious thing. Love is reciprocated, happiness is within one’s grasp (the song Pachelbel makes a beautiful reference to that), but something – marital obligation, family or class politics, sexual orientation, age gap, distance, wrong time and place – obstructs the path to bliss. Here’s then to songs (a couple of them recycled from last year’s post on the subject) about impossible love.
Karma – Pachelbel.mp3
I am recycling this incredibly moving song from last year. It seems to have been very popular indeed, even though it was a mere album track from an album that was not a big hit even in Karma-Ann Swanepoel’s home country, South Africa. Karma has found someone with whom to connect on an intimate level. As the alert reader might have predicted, there is something that makes this love impossible. They have been talking a lot, always skirting around their true feelings: “So we’ll talk every now and then about our day-to-day, never saying the things we both planned to say.”
In song, however, she tells the object of her desire how she feels: “Thought it best to let you know, you crept into my mind.” And later, the most beautiful line: “I think I smile a little differently when you’re close by.” There are times when impulses threaten to take over: “Then your arms were close enough to kiss.” But, “it doesn’t happen; never will, I guess. But I can hope.” So she is stuck in a love limbo: “And it’s too late to say goodbye, it’s too early yet to think you can’t be mine.” She is distressed, and yet she finds that “there is pleasure to be found in this kind of pain”.
Rilo Kiley – Does He Love You.mp3
The song reflects the experiences of two female friends who are presently conversing. One has an affair with a married man who promises to leave his wife and join her in California. The other is in a difficult marriage – it seems she married her husband only because she felt her “time was running out”. But now that she is pregnant, she seems to love him (or so she says). “But now you love him and your baby; at last you are complete. But he’s distant and you found him on the phone, pleading, saying: ‘Baby, I love you, and I’ll leave her and I’m coming out to California”. Ooops! Obviously the husband is in love with the first woman, who loves him too. And the geometry of the relationships will be further complicated when the love triangle turns into a square soon. Woman #1 realises what will happen: “And your husband will never leave you. He will never leave you for me.” An impossible love for at least two people here, beautifully dramatised by the gorgeous Jenny Lewis.
Roberta Flack – Our Ages Or Our Hearts.mp3
The obstacle of the age gap was explored by Gary Puckett in his anthem to narrowly but judiciously avoided statutory rape. We don’t know how old Gary was vis-a-vis the young girl, but in Roberta Flack’s lovely song from her 1969 debut album, First Take, the relationship is between two consenting adults. The age difference here seems to be too vast to reconcile. I have difficulty buying into that: she is 21, he is 34. That’s just 13 years (and the 21-year-old girl is probably more mature than the guy). But, as Roberta tells it, “now I find according to society that our ages, they must keep us apart.” She rightly believes that the age difference is immaterial when the two of them are so much in love, “a love too strong for gossip to kill”. But gossip seems to be winning; her man unreasonably a hostage to parochial prejudices. So Roberta has to put an ultimatum to him: “What will it be – our ages or our hearts?”
Marilyn McCoo – Saving All My Love For You.mp3
The 1978 original of Whitney Houston’s 1985 hit by the one-time singer of the 5th Dimension. It is, of course, another adultery song (which I think is used better here than in the cheating songs instalment). Naturally, the arrangement of clandestinely banging a married man is not ideal, but she really seems to love him, and, one suspects, he really loves her too, believing that this in itself would justify ending his marriage. “You used to tell me we’d run away together. Love gives you the right to be free.” But she knows that he doesn’t really believe this to be true, that he cannot sacrifice his marital obligation on the altar of love. “You said be patient, just wait a little longer – but that’s just an old fantasy.” So, is he a cheating cad who is just using Marilyn? Or is he in a desperate situation in which at least two – and if his wife finds out possibly three – hearts are broken?
Erykah Badu – Next Lifetime (live).mp3
Ouch, she fell hard – “You make me feel like a lilting girl. What do you do to me?” – but is trapped in another relationship. “Now what am I supposed to do when I want you in my world? How can I want you for myself when I’m already someone’s girl?” For Erykah, extra-curricular activity, which her object of desire seems to be proposing, is not an option: “I know I’m a lot of woman, but not enough to divide the pie.” So it won’t happen; they cannot be together, ever. Forever ever? Well, the idea of brutal finality might be just a little too much for Erykah to bear, so she makes a deal: they’ll be together in the next lifetime. “I guess I’ll see you next lifetime. I’m going to look for you.” Which must bring modest comfort to the atheist lover.
Snow Patrol feat Martha Wainwright – Set The Fire To The Third Bar.mp3
Here we have two people who are in love, but geographical distance is coming between them. “I find the map and draw a straight line over rivers, farms, and state lines; the distance from A to where you’d be…” He and she, for it is a duet with Loudon’s daughter (ergo Rufus’ sister), are feeling depressed about it all. “I’m miles from where you are, I lay down on the cold ground. I pray that something picks me up, and sets me down in your warm arms.” Unlike many others in the impossible love predicament, our two friends may well activate their love fully when they do get together. And in their imagination, they already are: “After I have travelled so far, we’d set the fire to the third bar. We’d share each other like an island until exhausted close our eyelids.” Can the promise of sweaty sex compensate for the agony of separation?
Morrissey – Driving Your Girlfriend Home.mp3
As the title suggests, Morrissey and his pal’s girlfriend are in a car, but instead of dreaming about double-decker busses, Morrissey is engaged in a conversation punctuated by directions. It turns out that she is not really happy with Morrissey’s pal. “So how did I end up so deeply involved in the very existence I planned on avoiding?” Morrissey has no answer, for he can’t run his mate down in a quest for this girl. She instructs him to drive on, and he does. There is an obvious attraction. Eventually they get to her place. Will she invite him up for “a cup of coffee”? Would he accept such a suggestion? In the event, she doesn’t though she probably was tempted to, and with what seems like profound regret, Morrissey notes: “I’m parking outside her home. And we’re shaking hands ‘Goodnight’, so politely.”
Jem – Flying High.mp3
I’ll cheat and use the same text as I did last year. Welsh songbird Jem usually does the electronica thing, but here she is in ballad mode. And what a sad ballad it is, continuing the close-but-not-close-enough riff of Pachelbel. “I know that we can’t be together, but I just like to dream. It’s so strange the way our paths have crossed, how we were brought together.” The wonder of love desperately seeks physical expression, but even though she’d “love to spend the night”, she “can’t pay the price”, even if they are “so close to giving in”. The realisation arrives: “I know there’s no such thing as painless love…we can never win.” And still, in the next line Jem reiterates just how giddy this impossible love makes her — it makes her “flying high”.