I talk honestly and openly about my experiences with mental illness, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome through the lens of feminism, fat acceptance and process theology. I also do recipe and book reviews. My mission is to spread the message that hope is always real for a better life, despite living in a world that is often very harsh.

Friday, August 3, 2012

"What the Water Gave Me" are Some Questionable Lyrics

A few months ago, I bought Florence and The Machine's new album, Ceremonials.  
I like Florence's energetic anthems, but one song has me concerned.  Her song, What the Water Gave Us, with its big chorus and vague lyrics are obviously meant to make it a popular piece and I must admit its catchy-ness has me hooked too.  But even though I like the song's sound, I am always uneasy when I listen to it, because I am afraid that Florence Welch may be glamorizing suicide.  If she is, I don't think it's intentional, but that still doesn't mean that it's not a problem.  Here are the lyrics to the song:

What the Water Gave Us

Time it took us
To where the water was
That’s what the water gave me
And time goes quicker
Between the two of us
Oh, my love, don’t forsake me
Take what the water gave me

Lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow
Pockets full of stones

And oh, poor Atlas
The world’s a beast of a burden
You’ve been holding on a long time
And all this longing
And the ships are left to rust
That’s what the water gave us

So lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow
Pockets full of stones
Lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the overflow

‘Cause they took your loved ones
But returned them in exchange for you
But would you have it any other way?
Would you have it any other way?
You couldn't have it any other way

‘Cause she’s a cruel mistress
And a bargain must be made
But oh, my love, don’t forget me
I let the water take me

Lay me down
Let the only sound
Be the over flow
Pockets full of stones

Watch the video on youtube to hear the song.   (I'm sorry, I tried to post the video here, but failed due to technical difficulty.)
By the way, just in case you don't already know, "pockets full of stones," refers to how Virginia Woolf killed herself.  With that in mind, it seems that this is a glorious song that is basically glamorizing someone killing herself by drowning herself in the ocean.  I have a problem with that. I'm not saying that a person should never sing a song with references to suicide.  In fact, my favorite group, The Indigo Girls, has a song that references the same event.  The song is called, The Fleet of Hope and it is absolutely beautiful.  Here are the lyrics:
The Fleet of Hope
The fisherman comes up 
Puts his two poles in the sand 
He stares out at the sea 
Just exactly like me 
But I've got a book in my hand 
We will have caught on to something by the end of the day 
But mostly we think about the one that got away. 

I've seen like a bird 
What pleasures the surface can bring 
I've lost my best craft 
Going foolishly back 
To where to Sirens sing 
I've stared up at the place where the water meets the sky 
And though I stopped breathing I still believe I should try 
Maybe a boat in search of lost treasures will pass by. 

'Cause the fleet of hope is so pretty 
When she's shining in the port 
And the harbor clings to the jetty 
For protection and support 
Out in the choppy waters the sharks swim and play 
You're all washed up when Poseidon has his day. 

I've walked through the desert 
Climbed over mountains so high 
Through jungles and plains 
I took buses and trains 
And airplanes across the sky 
But none as seductive as ocean before me alone 
And now I know why 
You layered your pockets with stones. 

'Cause the fleet of hope is so pretty 
When she's shining in the port 
And the harbor clings to the jetty 
For protection and support 
Out in the choppy waters the sharks swim and play 
You're all washed up when Poseidon has his day. 

When I was a girl 
All of my fancy took flight 
And I had this dream 
Could outshine anything 
Even the darkest night 
Now I wait like a widow for someone to come back from sea 
I've always known 
I was waiting for me 

'Cause the fleet of hope is so pretty 
When she's shining in the port 
And the harbor clings to the jetty 
For protection and support 
Out in the choppy waters the sharks swim and play 
You're all washed up when Poseidon has his day.

Here is the song: Now here are lyrics that aren't just about creating a mood.  The song is introspective and while the singer comes to understand why Virginia Woolf might have committed suicide by drowning in the ocean, the singer also understands that that feeling is just a part of the seductiveness of the ocean and is not to be followed.  After all, the ocean is not as gentle as she sometimes looks for, "Out in the choppy waters the sharks swim and play/ You're all washed up when Poseidon has his day."  Florence also sings about how the sea can be cruel, i.e., "cause she's a cruel mistress," but even so, the singer wants to be laid down with "pockets full of stones."  Like I said, I have a problem with that.

This is not the first time that Florence Welch has had trouble with her lyrics' interpretations.  Her fun song on her first album, "Kiss with a Fist," with its violent imagery had some feminists up in arms, because unless one knows what Welch's interpretation of the song is, one is going to assume that it is promoting domestic violence.  (Welch maintains that that was not her intent, but that the violent words are about an intense relationship, but not a physically abusive one.)  I am not going to stop listening to either songs, but I do think that Welch should be a little more careful when composing the lyrics to go with her music.

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree with you that the lyrics of "What the water gave me" do seem to romanticize suicide. Florence Welch even said in an interview that she thinks there is a kind of romance in drowning because it isn't bloody or violent. My sister recommended I listen to the song because I'm a big Virginia Woolf fan so she thought I would love it but I was turned off the second I read the lyrics. It is a very pretty song but it really bothers me that she would sing about her suicide and death so romantically. I also want to point out that Virginia drowned in the river Ouse, not in the ocean, so those Indigo Girl lyrics really make no sense, but maybe I'm just being nitpicky.

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