Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Song Lyrics About Unintended Pregnancy and Abortion
A film about illegal abortion just won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Abortion and the diverging views about it pervade popular culture, and song lyrics are no exception. I'll be periodically posting lyrics that address abortion or unintended pregnancy. Do you have a favorite song addressing these issues? I'll start with "Lost Woman Song," by Ani DiFranco (from the album "Ani DiFranco"), which addresses the issue unflinchingly. In other songs the reference may be ambiguous, or more obscure.
lost woman song
-for lucille clifton
i opened a bank account
when i was nine years old
i closed it when i was eighteen
i gave them every penny that i'd saved
and they gave my blood and my urine a number
now i'm sitting in the waiting room
playing with the toys
i am here to exercise my freedom of choice
i passed their hand held signs
i went through their picket lines
they gathered when they saw me coming
they shouted when they saw me cross
i said why don't you go home
just leave me alone
i'm just another woman lost
you are like fish in the water
who don't know that they are wet
but as far as i can tell
the world isn't perfect yet
his bored eyes were obscene
on his denimed thighs a magazine
i wish he'd never come here with me
in fact i wish he'd never come near me
i wish his shoulder wasn't touching mine
i am growing older waiting in this line
but some of life's best lessons
are learned at the worst times
under the fierce fluorescent
she offered her hand for me to hold
she offered stability and calm
and i was crushing her palm
through the pinch pull wincing
my smile unconvincing
on the sterile battlefield that sees
my heart hit absolute zero
lucille, your voice still sounds in me
mine was a relatively easy tragedy
the profile of our country
looks a little less hard-nosed
but that picket line persisted
and that clinic has since been closed
they keep pounding their fists on reality
hoping it will break
but i don't think that there's one of them
who leads a life free of mistakes
© 1990 ani difranco / righteous babe music
Read Lucille Clifton's The Lost Baby Poem.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the Loretta Lynn lyrics. I have found there are actually a surprising number of songs addressing these topics, from a variety of perspectives (pro-choice, anti-choice, personal, ambivalent, etc.). I'll be posting these periodically, so stay tuned! :-)
Posted by: Caitlin Borgmann | Jun 3, 2007 4:16:27 PM
You're welcome. There are many songs that deal with these issues "these days", but one thing I have always been curious about is when things changed and more artists began singing about these issues, and how that happened.
I think the turning point was around 1990 with the peaking of the HIV/AIDS crisis, the surge in the anti-choice movement and the battle over a proposed human life amendment in Congress, and the election of Bill Clinton. The artistic community overall rose up around that time and came out with many mobilizing creative works which were effective in many ways to raise consciousness, funds, and mobilize voters for those issues. Domestic violence was another theme addressed back then, which helped build support for the VAWA.
But before then...suprisingly not much, I think! Suprisingly because there was so much support for decriminalization of abortion in the 60s, the birth control pill, the increased availability of OTC contraception after Carey v Pop Services in 1976, etc. But who was singing about it? Besides the few I mentioned above, and some song by the Joy of Cooking which I can't remember, I can't think of any others offhand.
My thought was as above: Various artists from that era talked about the issues person-to-person, but not directly in their work. Perhaps even the ones who were more feminist and radical politically saw abortion and contraception as something that so obviously should be legal and outright free to all that it wasn't something they really needed to sing about, and there was such mainstream support among otherwise straight-looking people for decriminalized abortion and safer, more effective contraception that it wasn't radical *enough* for them to be singing about this.
It was maybe enough to sing about human rights in general, against racism and war and for economic justice in the old folkie tradition (maybe to a different genre's beat). But abortion and contraception -- I can imagine many artists might have reacted as a 60s student antiwar protestor might -- supportive, but they didn't so much care about marching to make abortion legal. As much as I'm sure they might have thought about it, their focus was on more radical causes, while it was more a job for professionals, lawyers, and clergy to work on abortion law reform. Student activists likely knew how to get abortion at least quasi-legally, especially if they knew, for example, how to evade the draft. I think if they had been asked -- imagine asking a follower of Tom Hayden or Jane Fonda back in the late 60s --- they'd look at you with a possibly stoned, startled look, and then laugh and say f*** of course it should be legal, we want to make it FREE, along with a lot of other essential services for everyone!
Posted by: southern students for choice - Athens | Jun 3, 2007 5:27:00 PM
Abortion and abortion rights is such a nuanced, personal, and difficult issue to talk about (not to mention sell records or CDs about) that I'm not surprised that there aren't many songs that directly sing about them in their lyrics.
It also wasn't thought to be something that most strong female lead singers and songwriters from the years of the second wave really needed to sing about (like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and numerous female blues singers), with the sole exception, I think, of Joni Mitchell's "Little Green", a song about unintended pregnancy (a feeling of love, loss, and acceptance on putting the child up for adoption), sung in a way that likely reflected most women's feelings better than an angrier song like the one by Ani above. Various artists from that era did talk about the issues, but I think even the ones who were more feminist and radical politically maybe saw abortion and contraception as something that so obviously should be legal and outright free to all that it wasn't something they really needed to sing about, and there was such mainstream support among otherwise straight-looking people for decriminalized abortion and safer, more effective contraception that it wasn't radical *enough* for them to be singing about this.
The only other songs I can really think of that well reflected women's feelings about these issues were a few songs by Loretta Lynn, like "The Pill", from 1972:
You wined me and denied me when I was you girl
Told me if I'd be your wife you'd show me the world
But all I've seen of this old world is a bed and a doctor bill
I'm tearin' down your brooder house because now I've got the pill
...and Loretta's "Pregnant Again" from 1980:
‘Down in Topeka, the world’s goin’ nowhere?
The corn’s growin’ higher and I should be somewhere?
The three youngest are fightin’ each other and
I’m getting nauseous
The mortgage payment’s late and my husband
Is between jobs and oh yeah…
I’m pregnant again’
When I first heard "Pregnant Again" I wondered if it was the same woman who sang the 1972 song, and had stopped taking "The Pill" due to concerns about side effects maybe sometime in the mid-1970s, and that might be why she was pregnant again. But I think I read things too much sometimes into songs like these.
Today, the music market is so different, we'd probably much more like see songs like Ani's above, directed maybe mostly to the market that reads young feminist magazines. It might be more relavent if someone were to do a song about the anger or frustration of being pushed by parents into having a child and placing it up for adoption, or being a 40-something woman and shooting up nun's urine, desparately "Waiting for Daisy" in the words of Peggy Orenstein. (Maybe to the tune of Lou Reed's "Waiting for The Man"?). It might not sell well, but hey, in today's world of MP3 downloads, it might find a niche market.
I'm a real fan of these songs by the way, ask more questions if you like. :)
Burle, SSC-Athens, GA
Posted by: southern students for choice - Athens | Jun 3, 2007 2:51:19 AM