Lost in Translation

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2007-04-06 22:55:47 (UTC)

"Fumbling Towards Ecstasy"

On or around 1993 you might have known who Sarah McLachlan
was- mainly huge in Canada, her music subtlety crossed over
to American radio waves as one of those songs that sounded
familiar but you couldn’t remember the name or who it was
performed by. The song in question was “Possession”,
originally released in Canada in late ’93, the song was
hugely successful-- but Sarah wasn’t popping any champagne
corks in celebration as there was a severe undertow in the
song’s wave of success.

A few years before the release of “Fumbling Towards
Ecstasy”, Sarah was followed closely by a few over zealous
admirers, but one in particular who took it a step further.
An obsessed fan named Pierre wrote numerous letters
professing his love for her (and her music) and naturally
-being a woman who appreciated her anonymity- Sarah didn’t
respond to any of them. As time went on [the letters] became
more decadent and graphic sexually. Fear became of her and
just like every other obstacle in her young life, she only
knew of one therapy; writing. She wrote Possession from the
view point of her stalker, with haunting lines like, “And I
would be the one / to hold you down / kiss you so hard /
I'll take your breath away” You might ask yourself why she
would even bother to identify with her aggressor’s savage
behavior in this way, especially after hearing the closing
line of the same chorus, “and after, I'd…wipe away the tears
/ just close your eyes dear”. Upon hearing those words
you’ll conclude his need for compulsory gratification at the
expense of his victim is not only callous but neurotically
deranged in nature. The song ends prophetically, “Nothing
stands between us here and I won't be denied"

Luckily, Pierre never acted out any of his disturbing note
pad scenarios, but he did sue Sarah in court over the song,
claiming he legally had a right to a percentage of the
royalties as she used his letters as the inspiration for the
song. After a few snags with his lawsuit, Pierre opted to
settle the matter out of court by committing suicide in late
1994.

I learned of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy in 1996, right around
the time her landmark album “Surfacing” was being recorded,
you know; “Building a Mystery”, “Adia”, and who could forget
‘Angel”, the song the movie “City of Angels” made famous.
And although Surfacing would make a profound impression on
me, I grew a more personal connection to the works on
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.

Track six on the record titled “Elsewhere” would serve as
the primary example of this impression, with reflective
verses like, “I know this love / is passing time, passing
through like liquid / I‘m drunk in my desire” Described in
that way, love had -at last- curried sense to me in the way
I interpreted it. This heart never failed to grant gaping
loyalty and devotion to one girl, at one time and my
“tunnel-vision” as it has been so described—was the only way
I knew how love someone. Later it was explained by a vast
majority of alpha males that my frame of mind was archaic
and off the mark. They would say things like, “At your age,
you must take what you can,” -suggesting my routine was a
waste of time while indicating that I would only get hurt if
I continued to let my heart dictate what I wanted. They’d
also say, “You’ll fall too far, too soon. The minute a girl
sees that, you are history” Later I would incrementally find
out, they were right in predicting the ramifications of my
yearning; I did get hurt, numerous times and in the fashion
they all described. “I believe… / this is heaven to no one
else but me / and I'll defend it as long as I can” -the
valiantly repeated chorus serves as a personal reassurance
the method I have chosen is not wrong- as I have, in my
experience- learned that all people are different and what
is right for one person, may not be right subsequently for
the next. The only instincts I came to rely on were my own,
and a true love will,” try to understand”

"Hold on, hold on to yourself, for this is gonna hurt like
hell” warns Sarah to her companion, perhaps before a painful
treatment. These are the introductory words of the record’s
ninth track, “Hold On”. A powerful and extremely passionate
song written from the point of view of a woman [who] just
months prior to her wedding, had learned her fiancé had
contracted AIDS. The song is a brief account of her struggle
in coping with her new partner’s ailment, “Oh, God - the man
I love is leaving / won’t you take him when he comes to your
door?" she screams in agony and prays to the man upstairs to
grant [him] solace in heaven. She prefaces the line with,
“Oh god if you're out there won't you hear me? / I know that
we've never talked before”, suggesting to the listener her
devout request is accompanied by a desperate plea to make
peace with a Lord she had previously failed to acknowledge,
and might have carried on that way if the situation hadn’t
been so dire. The song ends abruptly and in a non-optimistic
fashion- once again utilizing opening line of the song, but
this time she seems to be referring to herself as the
recipient of the pain. I interpret this as a blanket
statement that AIDS (as well as other terminal diseases)
should be viewed in realistic way [as] the treatments are
only a temporary remedy to illness and merely prolong the
inevitable pain of loss that is soon to follow.

If I had to choose an overly simplistic song to explain the
extreme sophistication of my love for someone, I’d look no
further than the 10th installment of Fumbling Towards
Ecstasy, “Ice Cream”. “Your love is better than ice cream /
better than anything else that I've tried” begins the chorus
laden track, ending with, “everyone here knows how to
fight”, suggesting to her lover that nothings new under the
sun and their relationship, as complex and intricate as it
may seem—simply isn’t as long as there’s love and respect.
The sound of the song is even easier to translate- the
effortless velvety piano, the drums that transcend out of a
low heat popcorn machine and Sarah’s giddy vocals that sound
as if –instead of a studio- she opted to record it in bed,
lying between silky white sheets in her cotton jammies,
basking in the morning light.

Like a true friend, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy has always been
a loyal, in times of trouble, loneliness, and heartache-
songs like “Good Enough”, “Mary” and “Plenty” have always
been a welcome companion in my life. Whether it was outside
on my front porch in Walnut, cautiously performing these
songs for my friend Pearl on my guitar or late at night, in
my room, lying in bed, the music had cast light on a life
that was filled with far too much darkness to survive. And
now, as I look back, I find my appreciation of this record
paying dividends for me today, and for that I owe Sarah
tremendously.


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