Of all the ways love can hurt, the impossible love might be the worst. Think about it: you have found the person you love, that person loves you back. It would be perfect, but there is something that stands in your way: a spouse, a family feud or other prejudice, maybe physical distance, or the knowledge that the relationship will be destructive. It is no accident that the most celebrated of all love stories falls into this category — Romeo and Juliet. For some, the obstacles are cleared: spouses are left (or one has an affair), or the pair elopes to escape the family, or one moves to the place where one’s love lives. None of these solutions are without risk. If the love dies, one might have lost a family, a family or a home. So one might, for whatever reason, retain the status quo while the love that can’t be consumes the poor devil. Here then are songs about love that can’t, or shouldn’t, be.
Karma – Pachelbel.mp3 (re-uploaded, December 2008)
Perhaps the most heartbreaking song of the lot is this strangely titled song, by South African folk-rocker Karma, former singer of Henry Ate. She is in love with somebody, and that love is reciprocated. His or her arms were close enough for them to kiss, but they don’t. So instead they “talk every now and then about our day-to-day, never saying the things we both planned to say.” Well, she is saying these things now, through the medium of song: “I think I smile a little differently when you’re close by.” So, what’s the state of play? “It’s too late to say goodbye; too early yet to think you can’t be mine.” So she won’t give up yet, even as she knows that this is a love that cannot be. And how can she surrender when there is “pleasure to be had in this sort of pain”?
Jem – Flying High.mp3
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 the previous song. “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 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”.
Sara Bareilles – Gravity.mp3
The highpoint of Sara Bareilles’ fine debut album, “Gravity” implores the person she is in love with to let go of her. The song does not tell us the circumstances of this love, (which rather than can’t probably shouldn’t be), only how it makes the singer feel that he (or she, who knows?) has a hold over her, and it is pulling her down. “Something always brings me back to you; it never takes too long.” Hence the plea: “Set me free, leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity.”
Howie Day – Collide.mp3
Howie Day has a similar problem: he and she keep colliding (the attentive reader may well chide at this moment that the title suggests as much). For whatever reason, this love has little chance of working, possibly because the two are too different in personality. Yet the attraction won’t go away — the old opposites attract cliché applies. The love is inexplicable, and still “I worry I won’t see your face light up again”. Indeed, it seems our boy would be much happier if this love was unrequited: “I’ve found I’m scared to know I’m always on your mind.” And so they’ll keep on colliding till they crash. Another love that shouldn’t be number.
Joseph Arthur – Honey And The Moon.mp3
The song starts hopeful: “If you weren’t real I would make you up now.” So we know, the dude’s in love. And is she who is real and need not be made up in love with him? The fourth line confirms that she is. But you already know that there is a problem, else the song would have appeared in one of last week’s posts. Joseph doesn’t tell us what the problem is. He loves her, she loves him back, they already seem to be together, but “right now, everything you want is wrong. And right now all your dreams are waking up.” He wants to follow her “to the shores of freedom, where no one lives”. I’m not certain, but I have a hunch that the problem here relates to depression, a real obstacle to love. Listen to this gorgeous song and tell me what you think.
Luther Ingram – If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right).mp3
The late soul legend (whose earthy soul is quite in contrast with the more polished stylings of his near-namesakes, Vandross and James) tries to rationalise his bid to have the love that can’t be. It’ll all end in tears, because he is not going to leave his wife, “who needs me just as much”, but he’ll continue his affair. And he doesn’t mind the judgment of others, because…well, look at the title. “If being right means being without you, I’d rather live a wrong-doing life.” Can’t blame the man for falling in love, of course, and when he pleads to know: “am I wrong trying to hold on to the best thing I ever had”, who cannot empathise? The man is torn apart between love and obligation (like the hapless lovers in Billy Paul’s “Me And Mrs Jones” a year later). He has decided he won’t end the affair, for reasons he has explained. Is he right, or is he wrong?