Stevie Wonder – As

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For a song focused on love, it is surprisingly difficult to determine what type of love is described. I’ve previously mused on ambiguous songs that mix the sacred and the profane by presenting the object of love as divine, or which use religious language to describe an ordinary human being.

However, Wonder is presenting something rarer here. I’d say the song is about the Christian virtue of charity, or agape, as it was called in ancient Greece, something more universal, love of everything. It would probably be a stretch to imagine the narrator as a divine being, but at least the love described approaches the notion of divinity. The ambiguity comes from the use of images and assurances that are more common in very human romance.

Yet, the song isn’t usually considered to be gospel either, and even though concepts such as God and hell are used, it doesn’t refer to any particular denomination, nor does it propound faith as an ultimate solution. Rather, it’s all about defining true love, and the background which serves as a contrast is the idea of true love that has been presented in traditional love songs. Romantic love is shown as a beginning or a reference point, one that ultimately has to be transcended.

Transcendence and immanence are complex concepts that are sometimes seen as opposites, sometimes as overlapping. What is outside the human realm, and if we consider the realm of the senses, do we include the concept of the divine in it or restrict its use to the idea of the transcendent? Or is transcendence rather a movement, a permanent state of flux between two states? Etymologically the word comes from the idea of climbing over something. The transcendent may thus mean the abstract realm behind the wall of mundane experience, but it could also mean the act of climbing itself, the place where you have climbed on the wall and try to balance there, seeing both what the senses tell and what exists beyond, the idea of love profane and divine, words and their meanings.

In the context of this song such philosophical musings cease to matter, though the questions are still in the background. What matters is trying to live the best we can without making this world a hell for others, instead embracing this true love that stays certain, no matter what happens. This kind of love is at the same time worldly and divine, blurring the distinction between immanence and transcendence. Love itself becomes the definition of the divine, no matter what deity you might believe in.

But it has to be this love that asks for nothing and is steadfast through the ages. Even while staying very human, becoming unconditional, an ideal that may be difficult to reach, as the Louis Armstrong pastiche in the middle expresses, but which still should remain our goal, even when things look dark or meaningless. And that is still a good point. No matter whether the world has ultimate meaning or not, it is better for all of us to believe in some meaning, to have some goal of unity and charity, even if it were just a construct.

All About Eve – Martha’s Harbour

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Love always entails a paradox, simultaneous peace and restlessness, not only in succession but in the same moment, reaching out toward a person who seems like salvation, but who yet also symbolises perdition. The more desperate we are to find solace, the more vulnerable we become, and more aware of our own helplessness when facing someone who is still a mystery, perhaps always will be.

So we look for a way to sail the stormy seas, the safety to face the waves, whether stormy or peaceful, feeling helpless while doing so. It feels like it’s worth the risk, depending on how we see ourselves, whether we believe ourselves strong enough, should the waves suddenly start to look overwhelming.

The harbour in the song is a place of safety and solitude, but the heart longs for the sea. In contrast, a harbour could also be an image of love itself, the beloved as a place of rest and security. These are not merely metaphors. That is, using a metaphor strengthens our own prejudice and starts to become a reality in itself, the image takes over the original feeling, gets locked into place, until there’s no way for the original feeling to change, be it of hesitation or safety.

The sea is also an image of freedom. If I could sail you out into the open, maybe i could feel free and safe at the same time. That is what love is like at its best, support and encouragement that enables us to venture out, to be ourselves more fully. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that one cannot be oneself being isolated in a small harbour, but surely the more we face different situations, the more we discover in ourselves, at least of our abilities to survive in different environments.

Love gives us that trust in ourselves as well as the partner, enabling us to take the chance. But before that, one has to take the chance alone, to see whether the wave carries us or if we sink into the sea, never to surface again. Yet, human beings are buoyant alone as well. Both solitude and entanglement may feel like freedom or then a prison. Largely it a question of attitude, but much more so when one doesn’t have to consider another person’s wishes and desires.

It can make relationships more frightening. Yet it is all that matters to those who have found the kind of relationship in which it doesn’t feel like anything of importance is sacrificed while life is enhanced by all the support, the little touches, the conversations, the presence of another being with whom to reflect yourself, to share the intimacy and moments of despair as well as joy.

Mojave 3 – Mercy (Strings Version)

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Another dream, another crack in the heart. Mojave 3’s music is oozing melancholy just like that of Slowdive, the previous band of the 3 members. But here Neil Halstead’s solid songwriting is much more obvious when not bathed in a swarm of buzzing and bleeding guitars. The fragility, the sensitivity come to the front, and the very human experience of hopeless love is revealed in its raw essence.

The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous. The song could be about early stages of a relationship, that uncertainty, one person’s hesitation and messes that become an obstacle. However, I’m hearing it more as a lamentation on a relationship already ending, the attempt to hold on to what was good and the inability to keep things together because the other person isn’t trying enough, and the realization that they don’t have enough love. They are more preoccupied with a mess of their own. Perhaps drugs. Maybe I’m reading too much into it because of Slowdive’s reputation with drug use, but the line “You’re taking all my time, you’re taking all the time,” has ambiguity like that; “taking” has dozens of possible meanings, and here it’s possible that the second instance is not referring to time but to drugs, like saying “you’re using all the time”. But it’s just that one line, not enough to lock down the meaning to one interpretation.

Also there’s the tragedy of choices we make, ostensibly innocuous, not intended to hurt anyone, made from the viewpoint of our own needs. But in a relationship those choices may still hurt the other person. A shared life, the clashes of conflicting needs and desires.

Yet there is always beauty, and most of the time it seems worth it, despite the possibility of heartbreak. Even feeling resigned, slowly accepting that the other person will never have enough love, at least not in this relationship. The strength of hope, when we full well know that there should not be need to beg for someone’s affection. It is freely given, and if there’s a need to start bargaining for it, they don’t really care, not enough. Yet you keep wishing. You can’t feel their love, but the impulse is still strong enough to sing out your need.

And even when things are over and you know the relationship is beyond repair, you still keep the memories, hold on to them. They may even seem like the best thing you have, because they become the symbol of all the love the world once had to offer, and all the love you have within. We have so much capacity for loving everything, yet in a relationship one person may become the one focal point without whom it seems that love wouldn’t even exist. Yet love keeps streaming without a beginning, without an end, this ability to reach out and care for each other. Even when it’s not felt to be real at all times. We always have warmth to share, and warmth to look at things together, to choose and see beauty in everything around us, in the person chosen, in ourselves. Mercy.

Charles Aznavour – Tout s’en va

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Another Aznavour song simmering in melancholy, while the arrangement makes it bubble throughout, the beat relentless, giving the impression of time passing. How fast everything fades away, and yet with the hours flying by there’s always hope, the next day is just around the corner, maybe a new love.

The song isn’t about one particular love but several, the loves of the past, and the lamentation of how everything goes away, everything dies. And in classic Aznavour style there’s also clever punning. At the end of each refrain he sings the rhyme to a previous line, which then seems to remind him of yet another woman. Morose… Rose. Realise… Lise… etc.

And the verses describe simply but beautifully little precious moment and hiccups in relationships, arguments that could have been avoided, had the two people been wiser, more forgiving perhaps. Or maybe there wasn’t anything wrong. Things just ended despite all the moments adoring the snow or biting the fruit of love madly.

I especially like the voice acting at the end of the last verse, when he sings “happiness is fragile,” sounding, well, very fragile. Yet at the end is the message of hope. The spring returns. Such is life, he exclaims as the music swells for the final boom.

It makes me think of not only love but the passing of time, the fragility of existence. How much we treasure our little moments when one touch can be everything, one gaze, and yet we might never know what the other person is thinking. What seems like brief glimpse to someone’s soul, the infinite beauty, the shared vision, looking at each other, could be something altogether different for the other person, for example mere curiosity. We may wish that the connection is real, but perhaps dare not ask lest the belief in it proves to be unfounded. Refraining from communication may be the last attempt to hold on to our own dreams of love, and yet it is a silence that destroys the connection we attempt to maintain.

It is sometimes so meaningful it hurts, these little moments, just two seconds of looking at each other when everything else disappears, and then nothingness. Surrounded by the blackness of the universe, other worlds, other obligations. What is true in those brief seconds is yet the meaning of existence, what we live for, this love beyond all the things we say or do. Fragile, and yet, precisely like that, perfect. The hope of having such moments last, connections becoming true, two people wishing the same thing, this happiness in each other lasting until everything else has fallen apart. We live and hope for yet another day, yet another chance. Maybe next time.