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3. November 2018

He hit me and it felt like a kiss: Violence and abuse in modern song lyrics

The first song lyrics about violence I ever heard were from Tori Amos:"Me and a gun". A difficult bearable A capella song about Amos' personal rape experience on a parking place.
The lyrics are confusing poetic, the atrocious act described just by some simple lines e.g "As he buttoned down his pants" or "And you're pushed flat on your stomach". The main focus is on Amos' desperate will to survive:"But I haven't seen Barbados, so I must get out of this."
I was devastated cos I had never read lyrics like that before. That somebody would be so brave to write about such an intimate and gruelsome experience was completely new to me.
(On the 1998's album "From the choirgirl hotel" Amos wrote "Black Dove - January" which deals with her childhood abuse through a friend of her family:"She never let on how insane it was, in that tiny kinda scary house.")

Shortly after I discovered Heather Nova's "Blue Black" and Fiona Apple's "Sullen girl".
Both women were new and young to the music industry and wrote about sexual abuse in their childhood.
Heather Nova adresses the violator directly in her lyrics:"You made me a victim in your Christmas kitchen" and "And was it familiar when you touched my sister".
 Apple was attacked by a stranger when she was alone at home. Till today she suffers from this trauma. She writes about this in a very subtle way:"But he washed me 'shore and took my pearl and left an empty shell of me".
Both songs are beautiful ,"Sullen girl" could be a heartbreak ballade if one wouldn't know what it's really about.
Novas interpretation transports anger and contempt, but also pride at the end of the song, cos she survived and kept herself, so the abuser couldn't take her innoncence:"But you never got my virgin heart."
Apple sounds raw and sad, somehow distant, because it's the oblivion that brings salvation:"It's calm under the waves, in the blue of my oblivion."

Then Stone Temple Pilots dropped a song called "Sex Type Thing". The song is written from the point of view of an aggressive macho who thinks sex is about control and power.
Scott Weiland wrote it, after a former girlfriend was raped after a party.
In the lyrics he uses all typical clichees of a rapist's fantasies:"I'm a man,a man, I'll give ya something that ya won't forget," and "I know you want what's in my mind".
It's a pretty straight forward grungerocksong, but Weiland's vocals are harsher than usual. The song ends with Weiland shouting:"Here I come, I come, I come..."
A rather unusal song for 1993,it was successful on the one hand ,but also under great controversy as some people misread the first person narrator in the song as Weiland himself.
More artists wrote and sung about abuse and violence.

Sonic Youth had a song called "Shoot"on their "Dirty" album which is about a pregnant woman who wants to get an abortion, but is afraid of her violent boyfriend:"I won't be asking not to have this baby, please," and " You only hit me when you wanna be pleased."
It's more spoken than sung by Kim Gordon and comes to a hysteric climax, when she visualizes how the female first person narrator shoots her boyfriend.

Pearl Jam wrote two songs about domestic violence "Daughter" and "Rearviewmirror". The main emotions behind these lyrics are anger and rage. The narrator in "Rearviewmirror" seems to be a male teenager who managed to finally escape his violent home:"I guess it was the beatings made me wise," and "Hand on my face,pushed to the ground,enmity gauged,united by fear, forced to endure what I could not forgive."
The song is fast, reminds with its hectic melody that somebody is on the run and gets even faster in the end, while "Daughter" sounds like a acoustic countrysong.
The daughter can't live up to her mother's expectations:"Mother reads aloud,child tries to understand it, tries to make her proud." The daughter fails and the consequence is punishment:"She holds the hand that holds her down." The mother shuts the shades down, so the neighbors won't see or hear what's going on. In the refrain the daughter recalls her horrible memories and says:"Don't call me daughter, not fit to, the picture kept will remind me."

Hole's "Live through this" is a catalogue of abusive relationships and self loath. It deals with physical violation:"Pee girl gets the belt, it only makes me cry" to murder phantasies of a dismembered girl in "Jennifer Body":" He cuts you from the tree, he keeps you in a box by the bed". Love doesn't spare us with nasty pictures and details:"Your milk's in my mouth, it makes me sick."

The Offspring released a song in 1994 called "Self Esteem". Singer Bryan Holland writes about an abusive relationship from the man's point of view. This time it's the girlfriend who cheats on, lies to and humiliates the boyfriend:" When she's saying, oh, that I'm like a disease, then I wonder how much more I can spend." He admits his weakness and awkwardness in this situation:"Now I know I'm being used, but that's okay because I like the abuse." and "The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care..". To that time terms like gaslighting and narcissistic behaviour or verbal and mental abuse in relationships were unknown, while now have become important issues.

Two years later the metal-industrial band Stabbing Westward published a song on their second album called "Sleep". It describes how a little girl waits anxiously in her bedroom at night for her father's steps before her door and how he abuses her:"She stares intently at the door listens for his footsteps," and "Floating high above her head, staring at her father's head, wishing one of them were dead, so thhis hell could finally end." The song is not very subtle or gentle with the lyrics, but it shows the situation simple and straight how it is. The singer Christopher Hall wrote it about his former girlfriend, who was abused by her father as a child.

I want to close this survey with a song that quotes a classic.
Lana del Rey's song "Ultraviolence" uses the phrase "He hit me and it felt like a kiss" which was originally from The Crystals in 1962. Carole King wrote it for the girlgroup when she found out that her babysitter was beaten by her boyfriend, but justified his behaviour, cos it was an evidence of his love.
Del Rey describes a toxic relationship, where the man is the strong and violent part:"He hurt me but it felt like true love." In the refrain she quotes the Crystal line and signals that her female narrator also justifies her lover's abusive behaviour, because it's meant to be this way. She evokes Jim Morrison in her lyrics who was also known as a very impulsive person:"Jim taught me that loving him was never enough." Although it's not quite clear, that Jim himself is the abusive lover she is talking about.
Of course Del Rey was criticized for this song, because of the glorification of an abusive relationship. But I think people must distinguish between the protagonists in a song and the writer. It is not always the same thing! Maybe Del Rey experienced difficult relationships and used this as a sceen for her song. By the way the motif of an older stronger man dominating the younger woman is a red line in Del Rey's lyrics.

There are many many more songs about this issue e.g Eminen's Stan or Siouxsie's Candyman.
These songs can raise more awareness for victims of any abuse. So listen to them, share them and help those who have experienced violence. 

Thank you for reading.