Demonstrations in Popular Music - Tainted Love

Sometimes when I'm driving in my car a pop song will come on the radio and for whatever reason I'll make the effort to earnestly try and understand what this person is trying to tell me. I mean, think about everything that's gone into making this moment happened. A band got together. They wrote songs they wanted everyone to hear. They toured. Made a name for themselves, and then somehow, either through random chance or enduring effort, got on the radio. This doesn't even take into account all of the incredible technical work that was required, such as someone discovering radio waves, inventing the combustion engine, and building radio towers all over the United States. Thinking about all of the work that's required to deliver this musical message made me bend my ear a little harder and try to figure out, "What is this person trying to tell me?" 

Well, unsurprisingly it seems most people use this format to express their dissatisfaction with their expectations over this thing they call "Love". Often this unhappiness is expressed through metaphor. They take something that's hard to describe and ambiguous "love" and relate it to something a little more physical, a little more understandable, a little less abstract, i.e a river, a home or a rock. 

So being the person I am, I decided to do a short series on the metaphors of pop music that takes a serious look at some of the claims being made about this thing called "Love". Being a 37 year old man I am aware that I have an incredibly outdated notion of popular music (as well people's inclination to still listen to the radio) so taking that into account I'm going to begin by focusing on "Tainted Love" a song written in 1964 by Gloria Jones but reimagined in the early 80's by a band called Soft Cell.  Do you remember this song? If not, you can listen to it here. The song begins:

Sometimes I feel I've got to
Run away, I've got to
Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me

At first glance this sounds like a pretty simple statement. Someone has been hurt by someone else and wants to escape the pain. Here's the catch though. The pain is located in the persons' heart. Before we dive into that little complication, let's take a look at the cliched but highly useful metaphor of the heart as the meaningful/emotional core of a person.

First off cores and hearts share important similarities. They're both central to the survival of the thing itself, whether you're talking about a power plant or a person, and any problems with the core spiderwebs out toward the surface.  This being the case, it makes sense that we are extremely protective of our cores since they present an existential threat to our being.  This is why there are all sorts of sayings about protecting the heart, such as "hardening your heart" or "closing your heart off to the world" or at the very least, to certain people. We don't want our hearts to be broken or damaged and so we take measures to give people selective access.  Our inner personal meaning needs to be protected from people that do not have our best interests in mind, or more aptly, have not taken our best interests to heart.

Now back to the logical conundrum of getting away from "the pain" that they just got through telling us is "in their heart". (Note: Love songs love logical conundrums) Ok. So we can’t get away from our own body, but we can split aspects of our personality into various parts of the body, where the heart represents the loving caring authentic self, "the body" represents our more innate carnal desires and our brain represents our thinking logical self. In this way we can "get away from ourself" by creating distance between "us" and the particular self-part we are running away from and what it represents.  

Doing lots of drugs and having sex also offer us a way to "get away" in that extreme pleasures temporarily relieve us of the difficulty of having a subjective sense of being. We are essentially dissolved in the heightened emotional experience of a body writhing (or nodding out) in pleasure. So these are two possible explanations as to what this person is implying when they say they want to get away from the pain in their heart. 

You'll notice as we go through more of these love songs that they almost always make philosophical claims about the nature of self which corresponds to the specific metaphorical frame of love that's being offered.  In this instance the claim about the self is that it can be divided, and because of that, can leave parts of itself behind.  A possible entailment of this belief, though one that is not dealt with in this song, is that love is a unification of the self.  Love helps us “put ourselves back together again”, “pick up the pieces” or “pull ourselves together”.  The more common use of Love as Unification is that it provides the individual with the missing pieces of themselves, such as a friendship necklace where two broken pieces form one complete heart.  This song however isn’t about any of that.  It’s about the darker more destructive side of love.  Here we don’t have unification; we only have the pain of the divided self.

Also of note is that “the pain” in question is caused by the other person.  It's “driven” into the heart seemingly against the persons' will.  Whether we are talking about a car that has a driver or a nail that's hammered into a board, in each scenario, the person who's in control of the action is considered the responsible party for the resulting emotional pain.  Therefore someone who drives pain into your heart is responsible for the pain being in your heart.  Your inner most personal self has now been infected by another person's actions, which then may give some justification for distancing yourself from that particular part, since the agency you feel over it has lessened, i.e. the pain in my heart is not "me" and so by association "my heart" is no longer myself either. More on this later.

The love we share
Seems to go nowhere
And I've lost my light
For I toss and turn, I can't sleep at night

The word “share” can imply that love is an object that needs to be shared in equal portions, such as if you were sharing a desert, but in this instance it seems to be referring to a bounded space that two people occupy together, because the next sentence uses Love is a Journey, since their love isn’t going anywhere.  The journey metaphor is another incredibly cliche and very useful one and there's really no escaping it. So...where is this relationship going? Well, traditionally relationships head towards marriage, but lately I would say that "the destination" is dictated by the  individual's desire for what they want their relationship to become. Once you have that desire, it can then move closer or further away from that conception. 

The cause for this person's particular love "not going anywhere" is offered in the next line, “I’ve lost my light”, which may either refer to their ability to see, such that the journey is dark and they need a light to see where they're going or it could imply happiness, such as, "You're the light of my life". Further it could be an extension of the metaphor that Heat is Desire such that fire both emits heat and light and so a consequence of the loss of desire (heat) is that you can also no longer see where you're going.  

Once I ran to you (I ran)
Now I'll run from you
This tainted love you've given
I give you all a boy could give you
Take my tears and that's not nearly all
Tainted love (oh)
Tainted love

Here we get Intimacy is Closenss since running toward someone is narrowing the distance and running away is creating a larger gap.  Basically, the closer you are to someone physically, the closer you are meaningfully. The more interesting conception here is related to purity.  Essentially, pure love is real love.  There is nothing else “in it”.  Nothing else that is not "love". Think of a glass of milk.  The glass contains 100% milk and nothing else.  But what if some dirt falls in?  Let’s say for instance you are at a restaurant and you order a glass of milk.  The server sees dirt fall into the glass but it sinks to the bottom.  They still bring it out and present it as “a glass of milk”.  You drink it, but then as you get to the bottom you see the dirt swishing around.  Suddenly the entire glass of milk is not milk.  It's tainted with an outside agent that made it something else and that tainting, since you just ingested it, affects your more vulnerable insides.  Now you're tainted and are equally disgusted at having ingested something you didn’t intend, meaning, that something is inside you that you are not identifying as "you". 

This same conception can be applied to someone who gives us their love.  They bring it to us portraying it as one thing, “pure love” when in fact there are all sorts of things in there that are not love.  When we consume it, it infects everything it touches, especially our hearts (our meaningful cores).  It causes pain, but more importantly makes "our cores" not ourselves.  We desire to leave our body because it's been tainted by a foreign substance thus we try and “run away from ourselves” or remove ourselves from ourselves by splitting into parts.  Our inability to run away coupled with our new conception as a "divided self" causes anxiety and agitation as we navigate around trying to find something that will once again unite our conception of who we are and make us feel whole again. This state causes "tears" which the person openly offers up as ironic gift at the end of the song, meaning, "You've taken everything from me already" (my core conception of who I am) so why not also take my tears.