Thursday, December 06, 2007


My friend listened to "Blush" by Aly & AJ and said "I'd say I thought of you when I heard it, but I think that would make you uncomfortable. So I'll just say, I think you'll like it."

The song is exquisite and I understand what he meant. In the song, the girl longs for a physical relationship with her boyfriend but sets limits because she is not yet ready to sleep with him. But what's truly beautiful in the song is the tension between what she herself wants and what she is willing to allow herself. Despite her longing, the fact that she desires what she cannot have, she forbids herself from going further.

There are certain people, and perhaps you know them, who must live this way. They must always go up to the edge, but it's a dangerous game to play, because they desire more. They stand upon the brink and look down, wanting so much to jump, just to feel that exhilarating rush of air as they fall. There is something exhilarating in that, in permitting oneself what one wants, in grasping at that which is forbidden. There is something nakedly joyous and beautiful in that one leap.

I feel like I am such a person. There's so much I want and that I must consciously forbid myself; it is a kind of self-defeat, the sort that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik describes so poignantly. The beauty of this song lies in its expressing this concept so honestly, so profoundly. The words are so understated, the melody somehow connotes lightness and a kind of eternal understanding, something that I can't adequately express. There's so much meaning behind her one statement, "please." Or as Frank Kogan explains:
    Aly & AJ, "Blush": A couple of people had told me in advance what the lyrics were about: Aly saying to her guy that even though she likes his honesty it won't lead him to her bed. So she's setting rules and limits, he can go ahead and say it, make his play, and he can go further, even ("please take me under with you"), but she'll only let him go so far; yet she wants him to try, likes him brazen, wants to be wanted. So when I'm actually listening to this I'm fully prepared. Nonetheless, suddenly I'm up and pacing back and forth, with tears in my eyes. Aly's been ending each verse with, "If you must, make me blush." On the last one she pauses, goes soft, quietly inserts the word "please": "if you must—please—make me blush." And this quiet word seems to contain all her own desire, welling up within her (which is what this song is really about, finally).

    Most other Aly & AJ songs tumble around with sounds and wordplay and ease of expression. This one is laborious, almost maddening, the restrictions she's putting on her guy actually being the restrictions she puts on herself, the conditions under which she allows herself to feel. (The song doesn't specify why the narrator wants to hold her sex life at bay, doesn't say whether she's simply not ready, is just not ready for him, or feels there's a moral principle involved. Aly herself is an evangelical Christian, but that label covers a lot of territory, and I don't want to project stereotypes onto it or her; possibly she feels a prohibition.) But in a pop-music world that's inundated with sex, the most passionate moment of the year comes from a careful, analytic teenager tortuously asking a guy to make out with her.
It's the understated, the subtleties within this song that make it so achingly beautiful. Here she is, a girl who can allow herself what she wants if she will only permit it. And yet she refuses. But at the same time, she comes so close to the edge, close enough that she says "Please...make me blush." It makes her uncomfortable and yet it doesn't. She's playing with ideas, with expressions, trying to see how different stimuli make her feel, trying to gauge and learn from her own reactions. She's so human. She's so real. She's trying to assess her feelings; she acknowledges that his words make her uncomfortable but paradoxically likes them. There's something so tantalizing and appealing about the forbidden; there's confusion and a sense of immersion, the totality of oneself undone.

There's something frightening about the ability we have to lay ourselves bare, to be that honest with another person, to admit to liking something that one chooses not to take, to admit to mixed feelings and confusion. There's something strong in that honesty, something appealing and human, something that touches me.

It was very perceptive of my friend to see that this is my song. Thank you.

1 comment:

Jew of the Desert said...

Something I came across today in a discussion with one of my friends:
Life is full of struggles. And we, the children of today, think ourselves so old and wise to say that we wish and want and deserve a life where the resolution of our current greatest struggle leads to unequivocal contentment and happiness. People should be happy with themselves; happy for how far they’ve come, the struggles they’ve faced and the direction they are going. But contentment is dangerous, because it beguiles us into believing that we may lay back and let the good times come.

Struggle is the catalyst for growth; its presence in the darkness means there is a step nearby with which we may hoist ourselves to greater heights. This is apparent in the stories of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and most recently as we have been reading in the chronicles of Yosef. Every stage of his life presents itself as a struggle; from his failures he learns and from his triumph he grows, and grows and grows until he literally fulfills his dreams.

We should not make the mistake in believing that each struggle should be our last, or that it is our worst or greatest. It is opportunity knocking at our door.