Saturday, February 5, 2011

Kisses and Fists: Pop Music and Domestic Abuse

When I first heard Courtney Love's cover of the Crystal's "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss) I thought, "Of course. Who else could take a song so obviously about abuse and makes it sound empowering." I was a college freshman who'd never been in a real relationship and naively assumed it was that easy just to get out. Staying in an abusive relationship -- nay, defending it -- went against everything I was taught.

I'm not saying Courtney's version opened my eyes to something I didn't know existed, but it added texture to what I thought of a woman who staid with someone who clearly mistreated her. It was dark and sinister, but you didn't doubt she'd hit back. In her book A Misfit's Manifesto, Donna Gains said of the song: "It sounds as menacing as when the Crystals sang it. That we can love someone even when he doesn't love us, even when he hits us, is a part of the genius that makes this music at once so compelling and so repulsive."

It was years later that I'd hear the original version. I didn't know it's contentious history of radio programmers withdrawing the song from their stations' playlists. According to She's a Rebel, Gerry Coffin, who co-wrote the song with Carole King, explained that he and King were "inspired" by Little Eva's claim that the black eye from her boyfriend was "proof" that he loved her.

Antony and the Johnson's "Fistful of Love," is an even more nuanced, disturbing variation of the same theme.

A little over a year ago (and for another website where I felt I had little agency when it came to my own opinions, particularly those I felt weren't the "right" opinions), I wrote a post about Florence + the Machine's "A Kiss With a Fist." A lot of what I wrote still holds true, but I'm always curious how other people feel about heavy topics in pop music. A lot times, they seem to be glossed over by the music listening public, or condemned as too controversial for the same audience. Having somewhat of an art background, I'm loathe to tell anyone what she can or can't use in a song; however, that doesn't mean freedom from criticism. I think these things need to be talked about rather than swept under a rug.

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