Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm Not Gonna Beg / Put the Law On You

I'm Not Gonna Beg (from the album Motherland)

I'm not gonna beg you for nothing
I'm not gonna beg you for your love

Straight talk, give me the straight talk
tell me what's on your mind if it ain't love
I'm not gonna beg you for nothing
I'm not gonna beg you for your love

Scared now, what are you scared of?
afraid I might fall on my knees and break down?
I'm not gonna beg you for nothing
I'm not gonna beg you for your love

Don't you think you can take me for a pretty little ride
I know "once upon a time" and "ever after" is a lie
I'm not gonna beg
I'm not gonna beg
I'm not gonna beg you for nothing at all

There's nothing I want from you
nothing you can say or do
there is nothing I want for you to say anyway

I'm not gonna beg you for nothing
I'm not gonna beg you for your love


Put the Law On You (from the album Motherland)

Do I have to put the law on you baby
for all the wicked things you do?
am I gonna have to put the law on you baby?
that was not what I wanted to do

Do I have to put the law on you baby
to try and make you come out clean for every evil deed?
you're just about the lowest and the dirtiest thing
I've ever seen

Did you really think you could pull it off
the perfect crime, crime of the heart?
do you really think that you'll get away
do the crime and never ever pay?

Do I have to put the law out on you baby
lock you up and throw away the key
for the countless counts of low down double-cross
you've been about have you no decency?

Did you really think that you could pull it off
the perfect crime, crime of the heart?
did you really think that you'll get away
escape my justice until your dying day?

Though you made it clear from the very start
there was no trusting you with my foolish heart
though you maybe made it clear that didn't make it right

Do you really think you'll get away?
you can't escape my justice 'til my dying day

Part of my preparation for writing this blog involved spending time scouring archives of interviews with Natalie Merchant and selecting quotes that I thought were enlightening or entertaining. It sometimes made me feel like a miner panning for gold. I tended to skim these articles, fixing my eyes on quotation marks only. If the quote shed light on Natalie's music in some way, either specifically or generally, I extracted it from the rest and tucked it away until it was the right time to share it.

I am in no way naive enough to think that just because I know Natalie Merchant's music intimately and have read some interviews with her over the years that I know her as a person. I know only the parts of her that she chooses to share with the world at large and I get the feeling she holds back plenty of herself. I respect that. I think being guarded in this way has probably preserved her sanity and humanness in a way that many celebrity burnouts could have benefited from.

But that being said, it is impossible to read these articles and not start to see certain patterns emerging. It's a little like reading someone's life story as it is being written. I love reading statements that Natalie made when she was 25 years old that sound so true to the artist she developed into, even decades later. Sometimes they can almost seem prophetic. But what's equally intriguing to me is the ways in which her (ever decisively-stated) stance on certain things changed dramatically as she aged. Things like, say, music. Here are a pair of quotes I particularly delighted in:

"I don't listen to music with insipid lyrics, apart from R&B. If I could sing like Aretha Franklin, I wouldn't have to worry about my lyrics."*

"I love Etta James, but I could never write a song like the songs Etta James used to sing. They may have been pretty valid to her, but I don't have no man who treats me bad, and I don't go rock n' rolling all night long. I'd have a hard time singing those songs."**

Ha! If only she knew what her future had in store. If the time machine I mentioned a few weeks ago could be used to send back a copy of either of the two songs from this week's post to the Natalie who said the words above, I wonder what her reaction would've been.

The first thing I notice on these two songs is her voice. Her voice changed from album to album during the course of her time with 10,000 Maniacs and into her solo career, but never is the change more noticeable than on Motherland. Her voice is deeper and broader then ever before and perhaps this helped her feel courageous enough to sing songs like Aretha Franklin would sing.

The second thing I notice is, of course, that now she is singing songs that are very similar to the kind that she once claimed she would "have a hard time" singing. I don't know if she ever ended up with a man who treated her bad or if she ever got around to rock 'n rolling all night, but if she didn't, she sure figured out how to evoke the feeling...with her own twist on the theme, which I will get to momentarily.

I'm Not Gonna Beg is pretty darn close to a perfect song. It's in my top ten Natalie tunes for sure. Here's what Natalie has said about the song:

"I wanted to write a song that anyone could understand. Everyone's been rejected and struggled to seem proud. I'd love to hear Aretha Franklin cover this song, just once."***

I second that wholeheartedly. How about it, Aretha? It's not too late...

Regarding Put the Law On You:

"I've never done anything camp before on an album. Put the Law On You is a song that breaks a piece of new ground."***

If you caught Natalie on the Motherland tour, you might recall that she performed this song with a pink feather boa wrapped around her neck. Camp, indeed. She pulled it off quite well, I think, further disproving her youthful assertions.

The thing that I love about the words to both of these songs is that, unlike some of the R&B songs of yesteryear that depicted women as weak and desperate for male attention at any cost, these two songs are full of defiance in the face of betrayal. In fact, one cannot help but wonder what exactly "putting the law" on someone entails. One would hope for the sake of the offending male that putting the law on him does not imply a certain Thin Line Between Love and Hate kind of beat down. She sure does sound threatening, though.

While both of these songs are pretty clearly talking about hurt at the hands of a romantic partner, the song I'm Not Gonna Beg in particular became a song that had a different meaning for me. I was only 20 years old when I first heard this song and still coming to grips with the fact that there were certain people in my life that just didn't care, no matter how much logic and reason kept telling me that they should. I'm Not Gonna Beg became an anthem for me, it helped steel me in the face of disappointment. I suppose it's not at all the kind of song that the twenty-something Natalie would've, or even could've written. But I'm sure glad she eventually got around to it.

Thanks for reading, folks. As always, please feel free to comment below or send me e-mail with your own thoughts. I do enjoy hearing from you.

Proof of the feather boa can be found by watching this live performance of Put the Law On You.

Download I'm Not Gonna Beg on Itunes - I'm Not Gonna Beg - Motherland

Download Put the Law On You on Itunes -
Put the Law On You - Motherland

*Select - February 1991
**Request - July 1989
***Elektra Website

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