Tuesday, January 24, 2012

5 Songs on the Topic of Abortion

Whenever the subject of abortion is broached in movies, TV, or music, it is generally not depicted in the most glowing terms. Even when it is endorsed, there is always a certain ambivalence about it, and even when it is considered a necessary evil, it is an "evil" nonetheless. Below I have highlighted what I think are five interesting takes on the topic of abortion from songs that enjoyed tremendous success despite their grim subject matter. Granted, there is a good deal of euphemism in some of these songs, but artistically this is actually quite effective:

5. Papa Don't Preach - Madonna

In the irony of ironies, Madonna was actually chastised by Planned Parenthood for realeasing such an "irresponsible" single and video. After all, they claimed, this was a story about a young girl who "should" be having an abortion, but has decided instead to "keep her baby". Stylistically and lyrically one of her more interesting songs, this 1986 hit depicts a teenage girl who goes out with the type of guy her father "warned her all about" (seems like some good advice, in retrospect). "...But my friends keep telling me to give it up/ Saying I'm too young/ I ought to live it up." In a startling affirmation of life, she not only concludes that she wishes to "keep her baby", but perhaps more impressively, she dismisses the typical arguments that are offered as a justification to do otherwise.

4. What It's Like - Everlast

This is the only song on the list that seeks to justify abortion. Profane in many respects, it does however offer some insight into the rationale of those who would make this "choice." The song consists of three stories that are intended to make the listener consider "what it's like to walk a mile in another man's shoes." In this sense the song is very engaging and even effective in its presentation. Indeed, we should always pause before we go about condemning this or that person, for we have no idea what they have been through. The second of the three stories is about a woman who is betrayed by a man not worthy of that title (his language is more colorful than mine). As a result, the woman feels that she is left with no other option but to abort her child. As she "heads to the clinic", she is apparently harrassed by a group of protestors that; "...call her a sinner, and they call her killer, and they call her a whore". No one should endorse this kind "sidewalk counseling", but neither should they endorse the position that one bad turn deserves another. Nevertheless, this is the argument that Everlast seems to be making. The video ends with a family encased in a glass room presumably laughing because they have it all, while everyone else stands on the outside looking gloomy. The moral of the story? Happy families should think twice about being happy, because it is not fair to be happy while everyone else is miserable.

3. Can I Live? - Nick Canon

Nick Cannon

I'm not a huge fan of Hip Hop and/or R&B, but this particular song approaches the issue from a most interesting angle- the angle of the unborn child. Based on events from his own life, Nick Canon depicts an unwed mother who enters an abortion clinic- only to have her future child plead with her to let him live. Like a spirit, he follows her through the halls of the abortion clinic expressing his fears over what is about to take place. And so as she lies on the table, he touches her womb and then disappears in a gold light as if to suggest that the fetus and he are one. Consequently, just before she has the abortion, she runs out of the clinic and into the street where she comes face to face with a choir of children singing; "Can I Live, Can I Live."

2.  The Freshman - The Verve Pipe

This pseudo-grunge hit from the late 1990s details a young couple in college who ultimately procure an abortion. The story is told from the perspective of the male who is still in a state of denial; "Can't be held responsible... she fell in love in the first place".  Overwhelmed by grief, he cannot fathom how any of this could have happened to them; "For the life of me, I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins we were merely freshman". Perhaps one of the most interesting aspect of the lyrics, at least from a psychological standpoint, is the description of how each one copes with their pain; "His best friend took a weeks vacation to forget her; his girl took a weeks worth of Valium and slept, and now he's guilt ridden sobbing with his head on the floor, thinks about her now and how he never really wept". The woman is overwhelmed to the point of overdosing, while he attempts to avoid the reality altogether- though in the end he too breaks down. The last verse is quite arresting, especially as he describes the lasting effects of the abortion; "Tried to wash our hands of all of this, we never talk of our lacking relationship." Apparently this event has not only crushed his relationship with the girl, but every ensuing relationship as well. The video/song concludes in what appears to be a police station, where a whole slew of men are sitting at interrogation tables- but strangely no one is sitting across from them. It seems their own conscience has become a tribunal unto itself.

1. Brick - Ben Folds Five

Generally a band that is considerably more whimsical, Ben Folds (of Ben Folds Five) wrote this song about how he and his high school girlfriend procured an abortion. Once again, the story is told from the male perspective, and is no less tragic than the former. However, what makes this particular song so compelling is that he is only telling the story. In other words, he is letting the narrative speak for itself. In essence, it picks up where the Verve Pipe left off, describing the different ways in which the couple deals with their grief: "She's a brick, and I'm drowning slowly, off the coast and I'm headed nowhere." Each experiences despair in their own unique way. The music is haunting and beautiful, and the lyrics leave plenty of room for the imagination; "They call her name, at 7:30, I pace around the parking lot. I walk down to buy her flowers, and sell some gifts that I got" (it is the day after Christmas, and so he pawns some Christmas presents in order to pay for the abortion). In the bridge before the last verse, it describes how their decision has subsequently affected both parties; "As weeks went by, it showed that she was not fine, they told me son it's time to tell the truth. And she broke down, and I broke down, 'cause I was tired of lying." The entire song is like a death march. From start to finish the crash seems inevitable- ultimately revealing the strange psychology of a couple that in spite of all of the depressing consequences, are convinced that having the baby is a worse fate.   


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