February 15th, and as Billy Bragg says, Valentine’s Day is over. Hope you enjoyed yours, but in a gesture of inclusion toward those who didn’t I offer this anti-love song.
If you were to encounter this song cold on the radio (unlikely), your reaction might, justifiably, necessarily, be something along the lines of, “What an asshole.” The song is a screed against feminists and feminism, a series of accusations against a working woman:
Welcome to the jungle, baby
You’re been in the dungeon
You look cute in that three-piece suit at the two-martini luncheon
The song is five minutes long, but it’s sung in a painfully slow folky drawl that makes it seem like it lasts a half hour, as this smug bastard enjoys every syllable of every one of his cheap jokes at the expense of this poor woman. She can’t even do a workout without pissing him off:
Feel the burn, you powerhouse
One day you might stumble on
The cure for menstruation
By the time he’s talking about her “using her curves and cleavage to her advantage” you are, if you’re a normal person, rolling your eyes and punching the dial on the radio to get away from this creep.
In context, though: the album this is from, “More Love Songs,” is one of those albums whose songs form a meta-narrative. We have a guy in his mid-thirties, divorced, living in London. He has at least one kid he doesn’t see as much as he’d like; he has a girlfriend back in the States, but the relationship is tenuous. He spends a lot of time alone, and he spends a lot of time thinking about what a wreck his life is and how it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get much better for either him or the world at large as he enters what he calls, on two different songs, “the home stretch” and “the back nine.” In the song immediately preceding this one, “Unhappy Anniversary,” he thinks of that ex-wife, regretfully: he “cannot count the days and nights he’s thought of her” in the year since they split up, he tells himself to forget her but his “heart disobeys.”
So think of this song as coming later that unhappy anniversary night, soon after the guy’s opened the second bottle of wine. He’s watching television, alone of course, and there’s an interview with a successful woman: this was 1986, so maybe someone like Jane Fonda. She’s talking about how hard it is to succeed as a woman in the business world, talking about the difficulties of balancing work and family. His reaction is visceral and vile. Perhaps one of the reasons he and his ex split was she was more successful than him, or his feeling the way she balanced work and family wasn’t adequate. So regret becomes anger, and he vents all of it on this woman on TV, trying to re-establish his superiority and sense of self worth by tossing pathetic insults at someone who can’t even hear them. He’s ranting at a door that’s already closed, shadow boxing and losing. Heard this way there’s something poignant in the song, as a portrait of the depths to which the end of love can plunge you.
Is this what Loudon intended? Don’t know, don’t care. Can you stay with your initial “What an asshole” reaction? Absolutely! Loudon would probably stick his hand out and say hello, since being an asshole is a big part of his schtick. Thankfully, though, not the only part.