Songs about Jerks: “Every Step You Take”

There are a lot of songs on the air that refer to Jerks and Jerky behavior. Some continue to romanticize Jerky behavior, some bemoan being in an abusive relationship, some celebrate getting out. I plan to write several blogs about this, but I’ll start with a song that you might not realize is about a big-time, potentially dangerous Jerk.

The first one that comes to mind is “Every Step You Take” by The Police. I want to say up front that this is an amazing song – there is something about the haunting background rhythms and the pacing and selection of instruments that is simply brilliant. I enjoy listening to it for the musical skill and creativity alone. But many people see this as a “love song” and don’t realize this song is about an abusive partner essentially stalking his ex. I will fully acknowledge that it was many years after I first heard this song before I realized what the song is about.

Police lead songwriter Sting, who wrote this song, has been very clear in interviews that the song is about “something sinister.” As he himself said, “…he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow. “One couple told me ‘Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’ I thought, ‘Well, good luck.'”[12]

Looking closer at the lyrics, the themes are pretty clear. The singer is watching every move his ex-lover makes, including “every vow you break, every smile you fake, etc.” It becomes even clearer in the bridge, where he says “Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been lost without a trace,” and ends with the singer pitifully begging, “… baby, baby, please…” This connects strongly with the “Dependent Jerk” theme, where a partner makes it seem that s/he cannot possibly survive without you. This is often portrayed as “romantic” in films and books and songs, but is one of the most dangerous signs an abuser can give off.

It also seems to bypass us when the chorus rings out, “Oh, can’t you see? You belong to me!” This is a very controlling and possessive attitude, especially toward an ex who has departed, and suggests a kind of obsessiveness that is highly associated with stalking and indeed with potentially dangerous and violent behavior on the part of the “abandoned” partner.

To stress again, I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong or bad about this song – it is a brilliant and haunting depiction of an obsessive person stalking his/her ex-lover. What is so interesting is how many people (including me initially as well) sing along with this “love song” and accept these lyrics as representative of someone who is simply in love and pining away for his lost love. I think this lack of awareness reflects how deeply ingrained the theme of the stalker is in the romantic memes of our time. We really need to wake up and be aware of these themes if we want to change the culture that makes it so difficult for us to see the difference between love and dangerous obsession.

December 2017

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