At a master class for guitar/songwriting high school students a couple weeks ago, I told them how eventually you run out of interesting things to write about yourself and your broken heart. Eventually, you have to look outside yourself, or let things from the outside in, or… break open something so deep inside yourself that you can honestly say you’ve never seen it before.I started writing my song, Even Now, because of a poem, “Eve Speaks” by Louis Untermeyer. I was barely 14 when I read it in freshman English. In it, Eve speaks back to God, even as she is being kicked out of the Garden. I think wanna-be-rebel-teenage-me liked that bit. The balls on her! Her passionate sensual description of Adam, too—I was experiencing my first unrequited love. This was the closest thing to a romance novel I had ever read. But, like the legend it retells, there was something more subversive in it. Something that took many years to mature. When I reread it years later, it was the poem’s second half that spoke to me, as Eve spoke to the men who followed: “God, thou did'st make a creature out of dust, But I created Man. . . . I was to him A breast, soft shoulders, an impelling brain; I was his spur, his shield, his stirrup-cup; I was his child, his strumpet, and his wife. A world of women have I been to him, To him and all the myriad sons of Adam. And all that they remember is my shame! All times by all men have I been betrayed-- They have belittled and disgraced my deed That made them seek until they found themselves.” A fairly staggering work of feminism to have been written and published by a man in 1916. It’s hardly surprising the publications he worked for tended to “die violent deaths,” according to fellow writer at Marxist journal The Masses, Randolph Bourne. That idea—Eve as the disgraced promethean teacher, denounced by the very men she granted their godhood—became a thorn in the back of my collegiate mind. Don’t we like what she gave us, I thought? Would we really want to be different? Dumber? These were the simple questions pricked forth by my early readings of the blurred purple printed Xerox copy I still have at 35. Flash forward to my late 20s/early 30s. I am struggling with my relationships.
“All my soft heart never came to any good/ and I can’t find a blue-eyed boy to love me like he should.”They love me, but they do not love my depression. They wish the fount of it coming from my mouth could become more of a trickle. Frankly, I do, too.
“Is my heart keeping you awake?/ You prefer my lips a dam and not a garden gate.”I began to experience the other thing Eve was getting at, the knowledge I had to ripen into: That men who loved me also kind of hated me. They hated that I could drive them crazy. That I could make them feel less powerful when they could not help me shut down my fears—all still there, defiant in the morning. They broke their love for me against the rock of my despair, and they were insulted.
“God, please make me a stone/ I don’t want to feel anything anymore”It was some time after when I realized how badly the men who didn’t love me, who didn’t even know me, could hate me. Because I didn’t want to bear children… Because I had hair where they didn’t think it should be, or too short where they thought it should be longer—called a dyke over a parking space… Because I pounded out my passion with my bare hands on an African drum—“You play that drum really angry,” he said. “When was the last time you got laid?” … Called a whore—persistently reminded “but it’s the third date.”
“Centuries, my legacy/ how they curse my name/ I made you like God/ but all you remember is my shame.”Why do we hate women so much...still? God wanted us to eat from the tree, or knew nothing of the very human beings he made. I trust in God too much to think that little of a supreme being. Eve brought us closer to God in many ways, and we hate her for it. When we are aware, we see our weaknesses. We know what fear is, and that it’s real. She held the mirror up to us. And still…you want her. Still, she is beautiful. Her power, even in her punishment, is beyond understanding. She defied God, and he gave her pain...but did not take from her the power expressed in that pain. And so it is with all women, frightening, inscrutable creators we are…even when we choose NOT to create. In those ways, so like God. The bridge of a song is often the ah-ha moment. In my songs, they are typically a place where the narrator makes a choice, sees the “strings” leading to the hands at work and takes ownership. I was not ashamed of Eve’s legacy. I was not ashamed of my choices.
"A woman drove you from the garden/ that’s how a woman made you great What would you be if not for me/ the very woman that you hate? And I have born my punishment/ and I have earned a better fate...”And I believed in God, and that I would meet his eye as Untermeyer’s Eve did: “unafraid.” But the line is repeated, sung a little differently. Because it is God, after all, and I don’t bet for one second that Eve—sure as she spoke—wasn’t afraid. Defiant, perhaps, but still afraid. As we are even now.