27 December 2008

Nobody's Girl -- Bonnie Raitt

I've been trying to figure out how to approach the subject of borderline personality disorder in more detail, and I got sidetracked, then illuminated, by a discussion of the "Twilight" series on someone else's blog. Folks there are properly [IMO] horrified at much of the message conveyed by the books, such as the idea that true love begins as cold disdain.

Reading the reviews and comments started me thinking about the extent to which questionable attitudes and behaviors are romanticized in our culture, which led me right into popular music as one vehicle through which these attitudes are taught. That eventually brought this song to mind... and I realized that it's a classic, romanticized portrayal of BPD.

For the record, I am a confirmed and incurable Bonnie Raitt fan, and I intend to stay that way. And I happen to love this song. Still. Can sing it and play it on the gee-tar, can sing it even without a gee-tar in an emergency. But even the first time I heard it, I knew that the girl in this song... wasn't entirely well.

The behavior described here is mildly borderline. Here we see primarily the self-absorption, plus some instability and just the tiniest hint of hypersensitivity. We don't - quite - see the most important feature, the rage, the devastating outbursts over nothing, the incredible ability some borderlines have to rave and fulminate in one setting while quietly sipping afternoon tea in another... sometimes simultaneously.

But then, the portrayal has to be mild; this is a song about thwarted love. If the full scope of borderline behavior were accurately portrayed here, the song would lose much of its poignance.

And notice, please, that the poignance comes from two main sources:

[1] the impossibility of the man in her life ever having a stable relationship with this lady. When we're 20+, this behavior is 'free spirited', 'elusive', 'mysterious', 'alluring'; when we're 30+, it's 'commitment shy'; when we're 40+, it's 'attachment disordered'. Actually, the only thing that has changed is our degree of understanding. We're taught, oh how we're taught, to yearn after precisely those things that we know we cannot have. It takes years to understand that these may be fortunate lacks.

[2] pity, not only for the sporadically abandoned and yearning lover, but for the girl portrayed here. If you read [or listen] between the lines, she causes him [and others] a lot of pain... but the song's about pitying her as much as the people she hurts. The narrator [someone who knows them both] realizes that she hurts herself at least as much as she hurts anyone else; which is another reason why this behavior is mildly borderline.

OK, enough buildup. Here goes:

Nobody's Girl

She don't need anybody to tell her she's pretty.
She's heard it every single day of her life.
He's got to wonder what she sees in him
When there's so many others standing in line.

And she gives herself to him,
But he's still on the other side.
She's a-lone in this world,
She's nobody's girl.
She's nobody's girl.

She shows up on his doorstep in the middle of the night,
And then she disappears for weeks at a time.
And she gives him just enough to keep him wanting more,
But never is he satisfied.

And he's left to pick up the pieces,
Wondering what does he do this for.
She's off in her own little world,
She's nobody's girl.
She's nobody's girl.

He says "Before I met her, I didn't love nothin.'
I could take it or leave it, that was okay,
She brings out a want in me
For things I didn't even know that I need."

She does anything she wants,
Anytime she wants to,
With anyone she wants at all;
Yet she'll get so upset over the least little thing,
And when you hurt her, makes you feel so small.

She's a walking contradiction,
But I ache for her inside.
She's fragile like a string of pearls;
She's nobody's girl.

She's fragile like a string of pearls;
She's nobody's girl,
She's nobody's girl,
She's nobody's girl.

~~~

It's a beautiful song. The accompaniment is spare, lyrical, absolutely perfect; and Raitt puts it across in a way that nobody else ever could. Hear it once, and you'll never forget it.

It's also one of the saddest songs I've ever heard. She's not 'free'; she's not 'her own person'; she really is 'nobody's girl'. And nobody but herself will ever be able to change that.

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