Religious Imagery in the Music of Meredith Brooks

[In 1997, Meredith Brooks released a song called “Bitch.” The song describes a woman who is caught between opposing extremes. It’s an important song because many women relate to the speaker in the song. It’s also relevant to the current era because people are increasingly realizing the ambiguity that exists in reality.  A critic could take many different approaches to this song, but I choose to focus on the religious language and associated imagery in the song.

Here is the beginning of the song’s lyrics:]

I hate the world today

You’re so good to me

I know but I can’t change

Tried to tell you but you look at me like maybe I’m an angel underneath

Innocent and sweet

[She starts by declaring that she despises the present state of the world. That is my gloss of the seemingly simple statement, “I hate the world today.” Assuming she is addressing her boyfriend, she feels guilty that her boyfriend treats her so well. I believe this is a codependent relationship in which the man seeks validation by rescuing the woman. She says his glances tell her that he thinks she is good deep down in her soul. This idea of an angel disguised as a human is a recurring theme in the Bible and the Quran.  I think God allows angels to assume human form because He wants to preserve the Mystery of the Divine.  But turning back to the song, the speaker considers herself not only bad but irredeemably bad, saying, “I can’t change,” as perhaps a frequently relapsing drug addict might say. Her boyfriend, however, confidently keeps hoping for her salvation with faith that she is good at heart.]

The next part:

Yesterday I cried
You must have been relieved to see the softer side
I can understand how you'd be so confused,
I don't envy you
I'm a little bit of everything all rolled into one

[Tears represent a powerful symbol here. We cry when we feel guilty or when we feel hurt. I think she is arguing that the fact that she cried means there’s still hope for her, that her soul is still alive. But she also acknowledges that it’s uncharacteristic for her to cry. She sees her poor boyfriend baffled by her behavior. One day she seems tough as nails, the next, she cries like a baby.  This part ends with a pithy statement, “I’m a little bit of everything all rolled into one.” In fact, the rest of the song is really a fleshing out of this one statement.  Within herself she sees light and dark, good and evil, sacred and profane. There is a tension here, an overarching paradox. Put bluntly it is this: how can one person be both good and evil?]

(Thanks to letssingit.com for lyrics and thanks to my readers for commenting and subscribing.)

Then:

I'm a bitch
I'm a lover
I'm a child
I'm a mother
I'm a sinner
I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell
I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way

[There are four dualities I see here: 1. Bitch-Lover, 2. Child-Mother, 3.Sinner-Saint, 4. Hell-Dream. Since Brooks (and Shelly Peikin who co-wrote the song) place bitch in opposition to lover, I think they are defining it as “a woman filled with hate.”Maybe fans of the song will argue with this point, but it seems logical to me that if a lover is one filled with love, then its opposite must be one filled with hate.  The next duality is that of child and mother. Then come sinner and saint. In a way, Brooks echoes Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright who said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” http://thinkexist.com/quotation/every_saint_has_a_past_and_every_sinner_has_a/217408.html

Religious people would do well to reflect on the idea that the saint and the sinner are not totally different from one another.  It is very dangerous to presume that a person is so holy that he has never committed a sin or that a person is so wretched that she has never done a good deed. Part of the mystery of the human being is that he or she can sink to such lows but also rise to such heights. Islam has the examples of Qabil (Cain) and Umar ibn al-Khattab (R ). Qabil was the son of Prophet Adham, (A), and offered a sacrifice to Allah to show his faith. Yet one day Qabil would become the first man to commit murder and fratricide. Hadrat Umar (R ) went from one of the most ardent enemies of Islam to Amir-ul-Mu’mineen, Leader of the Believers (Head of the Islamic State).

The speaker also compares herself to both “Hell” and a “dream.” I think dream is code for “heaven” and frankly she chose “dream” to fit the rhyme. She is acknowledging that a woman can turn a man’s world into Heaven or Hell by her behavior. There is a kernel of truth in that but my conception of Heaven and Hell are of perpetual bliss and searing punishment far beyond the power of any mortal to create. Actually, it is quite problematic for a Muslim or a Christian to be so fixated on a spouse that the spouse can turn life into Heaven or Hell.  For Muslims, there is the option of divorce, and while it should never be taken lightly, divorce does mean that the misery of a bad marriage does not need to last forever. ]

 
So take me as I am
This may mean you'll have to be a stronger man
Rest assured that when I start to make you nervous
And I'm going to extremes
Tomorrow I will change and today won't mean a thing

[I like how at the end of this part, the speaker says “Tomorrow I will change.” However, earlier in the song, the speaker said, “I can’t change.” But this is just one of the many contradictions of this character.]

Then:

Just when you think you've got me figured out
The season's already changing
I think it's cool you do what you do and don't try to save me

[She applauds her boyfriend for not trying to save her. I would argue that she means “save” both in the worldly sense and in the spiritual sense of that loaded word. There is a certain smugness that some people have when they think they are saved. She appreciates his freedom from such smugness.]

Finally:

I'm a bitch
I'm a tease
I'm a Goddess on my knees
When you hurt
When you suffer
I'm your angel undercover
I've been numb
I'm revived
Can't say I'm not alive
You know I wouldn't want it any other way

[The line, “I’m a Goddess on my knees” is what inspired me to write this post. I heard the song today and I suddenly felt I understood this line for the first time. There is another duality here: Goddess and devotee. It is the devotee who is supposed to be on her knees, but they flip this by putting the Goddess on her knees.  It reminds me of Al-Hallaj, the mystic who allegedly said, “I am The Truth.” A profound mystical experience occurs here in which the slave and the Master become One. Also, she says, “When you suffer/ I’m your angel undercover.” Earlier in the song, the speaker seemed to deny she was an angel, and now she is declaring it true.  Finally, she comes to terms with all her dualities, saying, “You know I wouldn’t want it any other way.” She revels in her freedom to be anything at any time. Despite all the confusion and conflict that arise from combining so many different traits in one person, she embraces all of it. And that may be a lesson for us all.]

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  1. #1 by asya29insyi on May 28, 2010 - 6:19 pm

    good luck

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