Pop music finds a way to safely put into words what we sometimes can’t easily speak.
Yesterday as I was driving home, a song came on the radio that I had never heard before- “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw. I’m the kind of person who always listens carefully to the lyrics of a song; and part of the 2nd verse caught my attention: “We were young and wild; we decided not to have a child. So we did what we did and we tried to forget and we swore up and down there would be no regrets.”
It’s important in songwriting to say something without actually coming out and saying it. In Aerosmith’s 1989 hit, “Janie’s Got a Gun”, the words “rape” and “incest” are never used, but for anyone who has halfway listened to the song before, it’s pretty obvious it’s a story about a girl who is sexually abused by her father and eventually takes revenge by killing him.
Abortion is such a heavy and delicate topic; laced in political, moral, and religious factors. It’s an extreme thing- typically people are either hard-core against or for it, while there are obviously some in the middle who believe abortion is excused from their opposition reasons in the event of rape, incest, certain death of the mother, etc. But to never bring it up in the entertainment genre of music would be odd, given that it’s an event that happens every day- an event that has affected many people, most of whom I am not personally aware of who they are.
So I find it very interesting to see songs become hits that deal with abortion. Aside from “Red Ragtop” which went to #5 on the Country charts, there are two particular songs I want to examine. It was only a few years ago I found out that in these songs the protagonist’s girlfriend gets pregnant and has an abortion. They were both performed by alternative rock artists and were popular while I was in high school. And the songs both have a strong emotional tune to them while straightforwardly telling their stories with lyrics that evoke shame, sadness, and a sense of regret and guilt mixed with the realization of the need to move forward in life, despite their personal choices.
The first of these songs is “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe which rose to #5 in 1997. While this song is officially about a guy dealing with guilt after his girlfriend commits suicide, I can’t deny the fact that some of the lyrics paint the picture of abortion as well- which according to Wikipedia, is the actual story behind the song: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Freshmen_(song). Here are some lyrics from “The Freshmen”.
When I was young I knew everything
And she a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I’m guilt stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor
Stop a baby’s breath and a shoe full of rice
I can’t be held responsible
‘Cause she was touching her face
I won’t be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place
For the life of me I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we’d never compromise
For the life of me I cannot believe we’d ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen
We’ve tried to wash our hands of all of this
We never talk of our lacking relationships
And how we’re guilt stricken sobbing with our heads on the floor
We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip, we’d say
The other song, more surprising for me, is “Brick” by Ben Folds Five, which also was a hit in 1997: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brick_(song). Below are lyrics from the 2nd and 3rd verses. After reading them, the reality of this song becomes much clearer. I had always thought of “Brick” as a decently happy song; at worst, a song about a happy guy and a depressed girlfriend. But it’s obviously much more than that:
They call her name at 7:30
I pace around the parking lot
Then I walk down to buy her flowers
And sell some gifts that I got
Can’t you see?
It’s not me you’re dying for
Now she’s feeling more alone
Than she ever has before
As weeks went by
It showed that she was not fine
They told me son, it’s time to tell the truth
She broke down, and I broke down
Cause I was tired of lying
Driving home to her apartment
For a moment we’re alone
Yeah she’s alone
Now I know it
So beyond our own personal convictions on abortion, the songs mentioned here give us the gravity of it: Even dressed up in a catchy song, the truth is, the subject of abortion itself leaves a feeling of sadness and regret. The narrators of these songs have been deeply affected by their decisions. It appears they’ve learned to forgive themselves, even if under the guise of “we were young and irresponsible”, yet they aren’t able to forget; as consequences resurface.