Saturday, July 31, 2010

ART: Exegesis - "Look of Love" by ABC


There is so much going on in this song & video that I cannot possibly be comprehensive in my treatment of it. We will have to just go with a “bare bones” exegesis and highlight some of the main points and cite a few examples.

This video is really about illusions, deception, and false pretenses. A number of sayings come to mind as I watch, such as “things are not always as they appear”, and “appearances can be deceiving”, and “you’re putting on a show”, etc. Just to cite a few examples. (1) The clown with the lipstick-kiss on his face. The “sad clown” artistically symbolizes the attempt to conceal one’s depressed mood by appearing happy. Thus Smokey Robinson and the Miracles sung about “The Tears of a Clown”, and Lou Christie sung about concealing his sorrow around his ex in “Two Faces Have I”. (2) The guy with the “chattering teeth” device lip-synchs the lyrics “all I’m saying” but he is trying to make it look like the device is saying it. Likewise, the ventriloquist lip-synchs “all I’m doing” in a similar vein. (3) The funhouse mirrors. These mirrors show various distortions of reality – from thinner to split in two to stilts-for-legs. (x) We could also mention the parrot, the “flying nun”, etc.

Of special note is the fact that the band members appear as Vaudeville actors. Actors, of course, “play a part” – they “act” as though they are someone other than who they really are. Not only this, but the actors also seem to be making a sales pitch – akin to the snake-oil salesman or the used car salesman [or a faith healer or televangelist]. (See Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson in “Say, Say, Say” – although I must say Paul is a rather subdued salesman). And the “sales pitch” in such commercials or presentations always strike us as inauthentic, as seeming “fake”, and rightfully so, because they often are.

Of course, as we can tell by even the title, all this is being applied to the topic of “love”. But note it is called “the 'Look' of Love”. It is the “look” of love because it only “looks” to be or “seems” to be or “appears” to be love, in contrast to it 'really' being love.

This is the lyric that explains what the author is getting at: “if you judge a book by the cover, then you judge a look by the lover". Now there are two possibilities with this verse: (1) the author inverts these two in order to get the stanza to rhyme properly. After all, you would think it should be the surface (the look of the lover) which is deceptive in judging the person (the lover). However, (2) I think the structure is intended that way. If so, this is the meaning: one begins with the knowledge that the other person is in love, has a “significant other”, and that knowledge skews his perception of the “cover”, of the “look”, because he assumes that “that person is in a relationship – therefore he MUST be happy, certainly happier than I, who am single”. And thus whatever expression one has, one’s knowledge of their being in a relationship projects onto that expression a look of happiness which may or may not really be there. But this is an “extreme” – because many who are happy are single, while many who are in relationships are not. The truth, therefore, is somewhere in the middle.

That is why the author says, “you know you’re missing out on something, well 'that something depends on you'”. Happiness is 'a state of mind', even though we sometimes think or feel as though what we are missing out on is “a significant other”. But the singer is “blind” to this truth, which can be seen by his being stabbed in the eye with a violin. He says to the man eating the spaghetti, “your reason for living’s your reason for leaving”, which means that because we live for love and live to give and receive love, the man’s wife has left the relationship because she no longer “feels loved”, she has fallen “out of love”.

However, there is some truth to this. Watch how the man is eating his spaghetti – instead of using the spoon to help him twirl the spaghetti around his fork, he uses them alternately to shovel food into his mouth. The love of man and woman is about complementarities – just like a fork and a spoon – which together “complete” each other and make for each fulfilling its purpose by supplying what is lacking in the other. What is shown here is the “need” – and what a mess we make when the need is left unfulfilled, when the two work as individuals instead of together as a unit, as partners!

To indicate and reinforce this, the author three times says “the one thing, the one thing” – speaking, in other words, of two individuals who have NOT “become one” but “remain one” (as the Spice Girls sang about, or as Ty Herndon sung, “oh the world just lost two lonely people” in “Livin’ In A Moment”).

But on the other hand, he says “my friends ... say ‘maybe one day you’ll find true love’. I say, ‘Maybe, there must be a solution to the one thing, the one thing, 'we can’t find'’”. Notice he doesn’t say “'I' can’t find” but “'We' can’t find”. In other words, none of us can find “true love”, because there is 'always' something lacking in our relationships. In the video, where earlier you saw happy couples, you now see them separated or in crisis (arguments, leaving the other, rejection, etc.).

However, on the other hand, you now see the “single” people from earlier in the video now happy, most of them in company with other single people from before (such as the clown and the Charlie Chaplain impersonator). This is when the singer begins to sing about “sisters and brothers” helping each other. So he seems to indicate that “true love” is not necessarily a “romantic” love, or that one who is lacking that romantic partner need not find that a barrier to giving and receiving love and thus being happy.

It is also interesting to note that his choice of words and manner (like “sisters and brothers” and “heavens above”) of presentation at the end is reminiscent of a revival preacher, which he launches into after saying “the one thing we can’t find”. Now, we can interpret this one of two ways: (1) through religion we can find “true love” because via our religious faith we have access to God and a relationship with Him; or (2) religion too is an “illusion”, a “show”, and thus although religion points us to the Divine as our ultimate source of love, and true love at that, religion too does not get us there, does not really deliver what it promises.

I think that both are true. To synthesize, religion CAN lead a person to God, but some religion is false, is a sham, or is hypocritically lived. Religion like this does not lead one to God. However, religion authentically presented, modeled, and live can. Even if the author does not intend this, that is what I would submit is the truth. Notice it is after the author says “the one thing, the one thing” for the third time that the singer launches into his “preacher” mode. I would say that if the author intended #2, he unconsciously and undeliberately pointed us toward the Trinity by doing so! In many songs – especially country songs – certain things are repeated three times (see “Don’t Take the Girl” by Tim McGraw, for instance). There seems to be this innate draw towards the idea that “great things come in threes”. I think this has something to do with the “Life, Death, Resurrection” cycle of – well everything. All things are created in the image of the Trinity. “Life, Death, Resurrection” is what occurs in the processions of the Trinity – and it is what happens with all things in life, including the Christian faith and the Life of Christ. The solution to the mystery of why “love” always seems lacking is The Trinity. An excellent parallel and I would say the interpretive key to this song/video is the song/video “What is Love” by Howard Jones, who asks “does anybody love anybody anyway?” and profoundly conveys this throughout the song and especially throughout and in a powerful way at the end of the video.

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