The Power of Love

For three days in a row, The Power of Love played on the radio on my way home, and I listened to it every time. I am not so cool that I need to pretend that I was never a fan of Huey Lewis and the News. Back in the day, I owned an album, I thought their videos were clever, and Huey himself still seems like a genial fellow even if his era-appropriate suits seem somewhat boxy in retrospect.

But three is a lot of days to subject yourself to The Power of Love; it gives a person a lot of time to think: about life; about love; about whether birds ever resent having to fly everywhere. (Short answer: probably.) It also gives you a lot of time to think about the song and its lyrics, and once you put it under a 3-day microscope it’s hard not to see how this song presents a very strange perspective of love.

Things do get off to an all right start:

“The power of love is a curious thing.”

Indeed. People would not have spent millennia in contemplation of love if it were easy to pin down.

We follow this observation with an example of that curiosity:

“It makes one man weep, another man sing.”

Love affects different people differently: also true.There may also be a joke there, if one considers that at least one man singing about the power of love is Huey himself in this very song.

What else can love do? Well, it can “Change a hawk to a little white dove.”

Unlike myself, Huey Lewis apparently did not spend several years working at a newsstand with a large and varied collection of pornographic magazines, including one particular publication that walked the very fine line between upholding the law and profiting from a person’s aberrant interest in sexualizing minors, and thus does not have the same immediately distasteful association as I do with ‘hawks’ in a romantic context. Although Huey probably has that in common with more people than I do.

Unintentional paedophilia references aside (or were they?), here we start to get a glimpse of the actual power of love:

“It’s more than a feeling,”

This is perhaps a concept that deserves its very own song, but in this song, love is transformative. What distinguishes it from other emotions is that it’s not simply an expression of ourselves; on the contrary, it is the driving force behind changing altogether who we are.

To accomplish this sort of drastic change, love needs to be both strong and flexible. Fortunately, it is “Tougher than diamonds, whips like cream.” Yet, there’s an element of impermanence here, as any dessert chef or lazy dishwasher can tell you. The state of whipped cream is volatile – no matter how much effort you put in at the beginning to produce that cream, if left unattended on the counter instead of properly refrigerated, it will slowly collapse into an undesirable puddle that spills over the edge of the plate and fills the room with an unpleasant sweetness.

Optimistically, the song focuses not on the ever-present threat of reverting to an unloved state, but on the strength of love, which we then find out is “stronger and harder than a bad girl’s dream.” This provocative imagery, though, is immediately undone by the following couplet:

“Make a bad one good, make a wrong one right
The power of love will keep you home at night.”

What’s curious here is the further question this raises about ephemerality: if the bad girl becomes good, what becomes of her dreams? Further, if the full power of love is to make socially acceptable the previously undesirable, what does it offer those who need no such assistance? This vision of love is one that strips you of your negative qualities, but should you want it to? It is well established that in a marriage of true minds, love is not love which alters when it alteration finds; but how true can a mind be if it only through alteration finds acceptability?

This vision of love is not only transformative, it’s homogenizing. It should come as no surprise that it enforces a strict curfew, as that is standard operating procedure for any repressive regime; here we see that love is basically Communism.

This leads into the chorus, which states

“Don’t take money;
Don’t take fame;
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train.”

Obviously the tools of  capitalist oppression – money; fame; and money, again, in the form of credit cards – are not required for love. Instead, love is an empty box-car, waiting for any hobo or drifter with a troubled past to hop aboard and be magically transformed into an acceptable and productive member of society.

Furthermore, love is “strong and it’s sudden, and it’s cruel sometimes.” One might have expected that the greatest cruelty of love is that it be unrequited, but love apparently also has a lot in common with an ambush from the secret police.

Fortunately, there is a potential upside in being ratted out to love: “It might just save your life.”Might. Not the best odds, actually; it might save your life, but then again, there are other ways it could go. For example, “the first time you feel it, it might make you sad.” So, your initial encounter with love could be negative, so much so that it is easily distinguishable from the more pedestrian sadness you feel every day without love.

Should you try again? If you do, you run the risk that “the next time you feel it, it might make you mad.” This was romance in the ‘80s: sad and angry -making. But unlike the kids today, we had no hope at the time that things might get better; accordingly, we would be glad about this negative experience because at least we learned something:

“But you’ll be glad, baby
when you’ve found
that’s the power
that makes the world go round.”

“Glad” is not the same as “happy”, though, and what’s remarkable is how at no point in this song does love lead to happiness. Instead, love teaches you a tough lesson about how the world works. To wit:

“But you know what to do;
when it gets hold of you.
And with a little help from above.
You feel the power of love.”

Again, love “get[ting] a hold of you,” is not the gentlest imagery; love sounds a bit like a thug in this particular scenario.The only positive here is that, thanks to your previous ill-treatment at its hands, you know better than to fight. The true power of love is to encourage you to take an action that will allow love to exercise its power, an action you wouldn’t have undertaken if you hadn’t already felt the power of love. Because the goal of any power is to preserve its own power; thanks to The Power of Love, we know that love is no different.

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