Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Songs of Evil: Notes on Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You"

A few weeks ago they released the 25th anniversary edition of Whitney Houston's debut album, Whitney Houston.

Whitney is sort of fascinating as a human embodiment of the philosophical conundrum of "Theseus' Ship (props to Jen Dziura's one-woman show for reminder on this).

The Ship of Theseus paradox poses questions of identity and authenticity in the form of a riddle/parable: If a ship leaves the port -- in this case Theseus' ship -- and while out at sea has all its planks replaced over time, piece by piece, when it returns to port with all new parts is it still Theseus' Ship?

Now you may or may not know that some scientists will tell you that our cells are regenerating every 7-10 years. In effect, we all have a little Theseus Paradox in us: our whole bodies are renewed over time, piece by piece, but we stay (in some essential way) the same person.

In the case of the fourth best-selling female artist, the paradox is striking: If when we met Whitney she was a god-fearing, clean-cut, singer from heaven, and then twenty years later all of her cells have changed, and she's a crack-smoking, Bobby Brown f'ing, reality show ghetto diva doing very little singing. Well, is that still Whitney Houston?

I don't know.... But, uh, ANYwhitney, I didn't want to unpack our enigmatic angel in this post, but rather her song, "Saving All My Love For You" which got stuck in my head upon revisiting her debut album.

Have you listened to this song recently? I personally had not, and after being briefly enamored with the parodic possibilities of turning the song into an ode to eye-crust called "Saving All My Crust For You", I realized the song is one of the most purely evil songs I've ever given my attention. It's selfish, obnoxious, and pretty much morally reprehensible. If that proves to be a harsh assessment, then it's at the very least disingenuous. Like some sort of romantic Trojan Horse purporting the spirit of true love, when it's no more than the the deranged fantasy of an intolerably narcissistic lunatic.

The title of this song suggets a paean to waiting, pining, fighting, and willing ones way into someone else's heart. In a different context, perhaps a noble sentiment. But as per the setup of the song, you get a sense of some rather questionable pathology lurking beneath the surface. Some notes on all this after the video below.


A few stolen moments is all that we share
You've got your family, and they need you there
Though I've tried to resist, being last on your list
But no other man's gonna do
So I'm saving all my love for you

1. Ok. First off, on premise alone this song it's clear they just don't make 'em like they used to. This is a pop song! It's like writing a lament for a Chat Roulette stalker and having it be on the radio all the time. Maybe Bob Dylan might have popped something like that off back in the days, but definitely alternative indie material in the 2010.

2. Think of the last year of rampant infidelity news stories, and amidst all the grief and hubbub and backlash the one sentiment no one considered putting out there is a LOVE BALLAD FROM THE MISTRESS (hoes gotta sing love songs too? Say it ain't so! ). Next up: Requiem for a Rapist. Or a woeful Murderer's Malaise ballad. Ok, not those two so much. Sorry. But still, the edgiest pop song material we get these days is Beyonce or Lady Gaga or Ke$ha talking about how dudes want to f 'em in the club. And if you take away the soft porn videos, that's really about as tame a sentiment as you can get. This is like going out with your hottest girlfriend -- not only hot cause she's naturally physically hot, but because she enjoys drawing attention to her hotness, dresses hot, etc -- and she's prattling on and on: All the boys want me in the club. Can you believe all the boys want me in the club? I think all the boys want me in the club. Don't be mad all the boys want me in the club. I think your boy wants me in the club. He has to beat those other boys that want me in the club. I think the DJ wants to see me dancing in the club. Everybody lets start dancing in the club. Me and my girls 'bout to start dancin' in the club, and then comes the chorus about how the boys want me in the club..... so, y'know, its pretty boring and lame without music and visuals of dry-humping. And that's our "edgy" pop stuff. So off the bat this mistress manifesto is treading in dark places we dare not venture.

3. "they need you there": Maybe I'm getting old and soft, but is it not WEIRD to be so brazen about breaking up a family? the subtext of the first two lines are basically: Your son will have daddy issues. Your daughter will have insecurities. And they need you.... They need you to not make the damage worse and flat out abandon them. For a few stolen moments. So don't worry about me.

3.5. And ...THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE SONG. THIS IS HOW WE START THE CONVERSATION? Can I get a drink? How's the weather? Sun shining? Rain falling? Maybe some *ooh la la, I love you* stuff to warm me up? Do we have to cut right to, hi, let's get the issue of the damage you're doing to the people you love for selfish reasons on the table ASAP?

4. "but no other man's gonna do": Really? No other man? Seriously? I mean Whitney is looking impossibly hot rocking the off-the-shoulder sweater (apparently imported direct from 2010 American Apparel catalog). So I think she has options. Are we distinguishing between man and peen here? Is this her soulmate? I'm not getting a sense of that from "a few stolen moments. So if this is just some motherfucker you like, I mean, come on now. Its one thing to have a crush and write a song for someone, but if they're married with a family? And no other man's gonna do? huh?? what??? Shit, I'm going to try that on someone married and hot. Look, Angelina, and, uh, family,-- no other woman's gonna do! THAT'S IT! Tell Brad. And we don't have to, y'know, resolve to live together right this second or whatever, but realize that every drop of love is in fact being saved ... for you. Not just some ideal avatar for a "perfect partner". But you. Yooooouuu.

4.5. If Rachel Uchitel showed up at Tiger's press conference and was like, "Look, no other man's gonna do! Surprise! " Would we be like, awwwww, yay her?

5. Life Truism #1: Being last on the list sucks all around. For listmakers too! But if there's a list, someone has to be last! it's really the list's fault when you think about it. not players, hate the game, etc.

It's not very easy, living all alone
My friends try and tell me, find a man of my own
But each time I try, I just break down and cry
Cause I'd rather be home feeling blue
So I'm saving all my love for you

6. Life Truism #2: everyone lives and dies alone on some level. If you're a sensitive brooder type, that's awesome. I'm one of those too! But it doesn't entitle you (or me) to peen. Or anything, really.

7. The friends: Your friends probably hate you, Miss Myopia. Do you realize this? If you have a crush on your -- let's call him a project manager, or boss; it's not a best friend, or long time confidante, which would be more understandable -- and you like them, but they have a family, and are otherwise unavailable, and your friends are like, girl, you need to find someone who's like, available, and interested. and what do you do? Cry? Really? ... break down and cry?!!? What kind of friend is this? It's such a selfish socially dysfunctional response. Put on a front, at least. You have to at least be able to lie and say, ha ha, just kidding. No, I'm not really sweating him that much. Then cry and stalk him anonymously on the internet like the rest of the world. When your friends act like friends and suggest you act normal, i.e. not like an asshole, you're not allowed break down and cry. Not without needing new friends to hoodwink with your emotional bait-and-switch routine.

8. The Girl: I don't even know about this girl finding a man of her own at this point. This girl is f'd up. What she needs is a break. Some time smacking herself in front of a mirror. Banging her head against the wall. Building houses in Haiti. Anything will be more productive. This sort of OCD possessiveness sows the seeds of discontent in any relationship. All the love being saved here is toxic. let it go and replenish from new supply.

You used to tell me we'd run away together
Love gives you the right to be free
You said be patient, just wait a little longer
But that's just an old fantasy

9. The Guy: ah, now we get a little backdrop. dude sold the "run away" fantasy to get in the drawers. Ha, I don't know how many girls i've told that we'd totally run away to zimbabwe as soon as I get my papers in order ... y'know, as long as we definitely have sex tonight. Oh wait, I do know how many. Zero. Because what f'ing woman would still be listening to me after I suggested "running away together"? This is some humprey bogart white people shit that was never fact-checked before being allowed to run amok in songs and movies and general storytelling. People don't run away together. Because soon after running away together comes followup questions like, "what the fuck are we doing running away?" "Who or what are we running away from?" "why have we left the comforts of our home and familiar lifestyle and environment?" "Do you not see this is f'ing retarded?"

Now poor people might be like, do you want to share this rent together? Ok. That's practical. Romantics might want to try and find a soulmate. That's very sweet. But running away together? That's just some retarded leftover vestigial tail shit. No one is really pitching a new love interest on that unless they also refer to dinner as "hunter-gathering". I guess when this song came out in the early-80s those people weren't all dead yet. But still.

10. At least we see this isn't strictly Whitney/Songwriter making melodies to emotively underscore this particular brand of mental derangement and disregard for others. Until this point in the song the dude seems like an innocent victim (in the video too he never indicates much interest besides pleasantly smiling.) So, ok. Now we have a glimmer of something that might make sense in terms of reciprocated affections, complicated relationship problems. But just to be clear, this one glimmer of possible rationality is predicated on THE GUY BEING A BIGGER ASSHOLE THAN THE GIRL. So yeah, getting better. Less unequivocally evil. Still pretty bleak.

11. love gives you the right to be free? does it, really? whitney? why are you hitting that line with such warbling gusto? wtf does that even mean? That's definitely some more pretentious white man talking to dumb natives bullshit. Would someone say that during sex? New Rule: If you can't express the sentiment during sex without laughing (not the fun irreverent laughing, but contemptuous sneering, judgmental laughing), then it's not love.

I've got to get ready, just a few minutes more
Gonna get that old feeling when you walk through that door
Cause tonight is the night, for feeling alright
We'll be making love the whole night through
So I'm saving all my love
Yes I'm saving all my love
Yes I'm saving all my love for you

12. The glimmer of goodness that appeared to shine through in the last refrain has been shut out. Old feeling? Oh, ok... the cheating that was speculative fantasy in the beginning has already popped off. Those lines about the family were apparently just some casually callous role playing? Ok. Well, unless maybe this narrative has a timeline and divorce been settled in between verses? Doubtful. Sounds like these two just don't give a fuck. Maybe they are made for each other?

(13. Aside: this is also the "get busy" verse. I remember blushing when i heard things like "make love the all night through" when i was little. now, y'know, i just think much like "running away together" and "love gives you the right to be free" who are the people who say such things? I do have surrealist fantasies about someone saying that to me, but never have any notion of what the person saying it looks like.)

No other woman, is gonna love you more
Cause tonight is the night, that I'm feeling alright
We'll be making love the whole night through
So I'm saving all my love
Yeah I'm saving all my lovin
Yes I'm saving all my love for you
For you, for you...

14. How to Love More, by Miss Selfish & Evil: Interesting assertion, about no one loving more. How does one, exactly, enhance the qualitative nature of love? Or even assess how much one individual loves another? Is it more, like, more physically tangible? Like more backrubs and BJ's? Is it more concerned with his failings, like snatching hoagies out of his hand before he continues to fatten himself up? Is it more emotionally available? Like when he's tormented about leaving his family for a long night of making love the whole night through? There are questions for another song i guess ... because I know the girl in this song hasn't thought about any of this.

15. I don't know if this is Whitney Houston, but if you told me that in twenty years, the clean-cut girl inhabiting this song and video would be a crack-smoking, bobby brown f'ing, reality show ghetto diva doing very little singing. Well, I don't know, I guess I wouldn't be shocked. The sensibility of this song and that lifestyle seems to be the same ship with different planks. Or something.

Previously in Deconstructed Song Lyrics:
My Conversation with Biz Markie


  1. This is hilariously deliciously intellectually stimulating.


  2. freckles2/24/2010

    tan i want to make love the all night through. with youuuu.

  3. ha. i kind of like "saving all my freckles" for you. cute dating spoof premise.

  4. HA, I used to listen to this all the time when I was seeing a married man (they decided on their split long before I came into the picture).

    When his exes father died, he needed to be there for his stepson, and I understood that, but I am sure that he was playing us all from every angle possible. Even when he was living with me.

    I finished with him shortly after. Never again.

    Don't ever go there ladies, it's not worth the hassle.

    No man who is married is worth "saving" anything for, except the door!

  5. A playlist of similar dysfunction would have to include Ann Peebles' (I Feel Like) Breaking Up Somebody's Home or perhaps some Millie Jackson (although Millie was always funny even when willful).

    Come to think of it, my man Kalamu did a whole playlist about the other woman.

  6. Brillant.

    I wonder what her Facebook relationship status would be?

  7. Complicated. Of course....

  8. I don't believe this song is more reprehensible than Usher's new joint with Nicky Minaj.

    They about even.

  9. Anonymous3/17/2010

    Have you thought that “run away together”, might mean run away from the child support payment and start a brand new life under an assumed name and ss #.LMAO

  10. I liked Whitney much better when she was clean, you know, back when she could actually sing.

  11. I totally didn't know American Apparel has been around for so long!

  12. Anonymous3/18/2010

    I am glad TAN is feeling nostalgic. Although you are A , you are still N and that's the most important thing.

  13. Ditto Luna. This is very similar to the preachifying I'm always doing to my young nieces about today's songs - we should stop calling them "love" songs. I used to love this song, but you're right. It is SOO wrong. The difference is that back then this sort of sociopathy wasn't being crooned by 80% of the songs on the radio.

  14. Anna Karenina tried that running away together thing and ended up throwing herself under a train.

    Similar actions will lead to similar results.

  15. What a nice song :) Saving all my love for you :P

  16. I liked Whitney much better when she was clean, you know, back when she could actually sing.

  17. I liked Whitney much better when she was clean his exes father died, he needed to be there for his stepson, and I understood that, but I am sure that he was playing us all from every angle possible.

  18. I am sure that he was playing us all from every angle possible. Even when he was living with me.

  19. Very nice article. He needed to be there for his stepson, and I understood that, but I am sure

  20. I totally didn't know American Apparel has been around for so long!

  21. Whitney is a great singer, her songs live in our hearts, my favorite is "Nobody Loves Me Like You Do" it was the first song I dance with my husband.


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