Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Songs We Hate, Part x+1: R.B. Greaves, "Take a Letter, Maria"


I guess maybe this song is kind of low-hanging fruit, but, even though you can definitely find people who'll acknowledge, if pressed, that yeah, it's kinda creepy, that does not remotely seem to be the consensus opinion.  I hear it semi-regularly on the oldies station I listen to when driving, and the DJ always treats it like it's just a normal song to play--like it's not about a guy who finds his wife having an affair, goes into work, makes his secretary type his break-up letter (which was definitely never in her job description) engages in some drunken, self-pitying maundering about how he was just trying to "build a good life" and about what a great secretary she is, and then, in the exciting denouement, starts hitting on her.  Cause, you know, that is what it's about.  God knows pop music has oft been and continues to be responsible for some pretty dubious messages, but there's just something about this song.  It would be one thing if there were any indication that the guy was meant to be a character; if his creepiness was somehow acknowledged.  But no--there's absolutely no indication that Greaves is aware that the song is problematic in any way.  The ending is meant to be romantic in a totally simple, straightforward way.  "He lost his wife, but oh look, there was new love waiting there for him all the time, right under his nose!  Huzzah!"  Gah.  Makes your skin crawl.

Obviously, I'm not spending time here going over specifically why the power imbalances here make this incipient relationship a Bad Thing--I should hope that would be pretty obvious to any reasonably intelligent audience.  It's not actually inconceivable that she's totally into him and there's no feeling of coercion whatsoever and everything's just duck soup.  But the things are: A) that's impossible to know--that's kinda the whole reason why these things are bad; and B) if so, it ought to be arranged toot sweet that the employer/employee relationship is terminated.  I don't see that here.  And in any case, really now…if you're trying to defend this song on those terms, you have moved faaaaar from what it actually is.

It's too bad, too--it's a catchy song with a nice, melancholy chorus that could be compelling if it were about something less repellent.  Maybe if you don't speak English…

(I had to laugh recently when I was listening to the radio and this song was played back-to-back with "Wonderful Tonight." Someone's clearly got it in for me.)

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