Tags

, , , , , , ,

As I have been working on my memoir and revisiting old memories, I have been reminded of times in my life when I felt like I was butting my head against the patriarchy. I am not completely at ease with “being a woman”. I doubt any free-thinking woman is. I can count and recall pivotal times in my life where I’ve thought it would have been so much easier to have been born a boy. Based on societal norms and templates, some major choices a girl confronts as she grows from a child, to a young woman, and into an adult woman greatly differ than those presented to a boy.

At this year’s SXSW, I sat in on a session starring Shirley Manson and found her thoughts on how young girls are raised to think about themselves very powerful. I, like probably every woman on the planet, has contemplated at least once (and probably at length many more times) that her primary purpose on this earth was as a decorative object and how unfair that is. Being assertive does not come naturally to young girls unless, perhaps, you have a mother or other female role model showing you that you are allowed to assert yourself. The term “weaker sex” compounds the problem, perpetuating the myth.

I rediscovered this song by Dido a few days ago, and I was reminded of how much I had loved it when it was released. As I described in the previous Music in Notes post “The Voice (no, not the tv show)”, I experience a bizarre, connective feeling when I sing or listen to certain songs. This is one of them.

Title: ‘Hunter’
Where to find it: ‘No Angel’ (1999, Arista [US], BMG [UK]); single (2001, BMG)
Performed by: Dido
Words by: could be Dido herself, her producer brother Rollo, or the two of them together

Verse 1
With one light on, in one room
I know you’re up when I get home
With one small step upon the stair
I know your look when I get there

Chorus
If you were a king, up there on your throne,
Would you be wise enough to let me go?
For this queen you think you own
Wants to be a hunter again
I want to see the world alone again
To take a chance on life again
So let me go

Verse 2
The unread book and painful look
The TV’s on, the sound is down
One long pause, then you begin
“Oh look what the cat’s brought in”

Chorus
If you were a king, up there on your throne
Would you be wise enough to let me go?
For this queen you think you own
Wants to be a hunter again
I want to see the world alone again
To take a chance on life again
So let me go
Let me leave

Bridge
For the crown you’ve placed upon my head feels too heavy now
And I don’t know what to say to you, but I’ll smile anyhow
And all the time I’m thinking, thinking

Modified chorus and outro
I want to be a hunter again
I want to see the world alone again
To take a chance on life again
So let me go
I want to be a hunter again
I want to see the world alone again
To take a chance on life again
So let me go
Let me leave
Let me go

In verse 1 of ‘Hunter’, Dido paints a very clear picture of herself (or a female protagonist) returning home to a disapproving partner. To make things easier for me in this analysis, I’m going to assume it’s Dido herself. She describes the partner still “up when I get home”, meaning she’s been out late, or later than her partner would have liked, and probably somewhere he did not want her to go. Him coming along with her that night doesn’t seem to have been an option.

For women who had strict fathers, there’s a whiff of that late-night paternal disapproval we can relate to. A father watching the clock angrily when we came in far later than curfew, the shuffling of his feet on his way to bed, the clear displeasure in his body language that we had shirked the house rules but nevertheless, at least our dads were comforted with the fact that we got home safe. Even if you discount the conveyance of this paternal feeling, Dido wants you to know that the man is in a position of power over her. She compares him to “a king, up there on your throne” and begs him to “let her go” and let her “be a hunter again” in the chorus. She believes she is a pawn to be “own”[ed], the lesser queen ‘half’ to him in the relationship.

Dido’s name comes from an ancient Greek queen. I started thinking about the Greek mythology I read in 6th grade and Artemis, sister to Apollo and the famed goddess of the hunt. (There is a separate rabbit hole you can go down if you want to read about the legend of her chastity.) Using the huntress child of Zeus as a analogy here is perfect, as Dido has lost the ability to ‘hunt’, to live life the way she wants to, presumably the way she was living before she entered into the relationship. We don’t have any further background on what their relationship is like. Are they married? Is he abusive? How long have they been unhappy together? We just don’t know. All we are afforded is this late night snapshot where she has returned to their home, he isn’t happy with her, and she says she wants her freedom and to make choices for herself again.

The lyrics in the bridge, though short, are tantalizing in their imagery. Dido sings, “for the crown you’ve placed upon my head feels too heavy now”, repeating the idea of their relationship being of king and subservient queen. It feels to me that he chose her, that he had more say in their relationship than she did. He put the figurative crown on her head and anointed her his queen. I’m imagining a couple who got together when they were stupidly young, the guy took the reins, and they both had this idea that they would have an idyllic life together.

The problem with that thinking is that life is and becomes messy. Life is also rarely linear. We go through experiences and get changed by them. Even for couples who go through a shared experience, each partner comes out the other side changed and in different ways. What worked for you and passed for love when you were a teenager isn’t the same for when you are in your twenties, trying to make your way in the world, nor is it the same after having children and reaching mid-life or later. She’s “thinking” about how things could be different if she was free. She doesn’t “know what to say to you, but I’ll smile anyhow”, pretending to him that they are fine, all the while plotting her escape.

The minor key of the song envelopes the song in a sinister fog. When I first heard ‘Hunter’, I was sure that Dido had been mistreated and was desperately trying to leave her abusive partner. Having been through a few relationships and breakups since, I have changed my position, thinking this is less likely and that the song is simply about how two people who once loved each other inevitably grew apart. She has changed so much that she feels she has to seek her independence and find herself again. She needs this.

I find when I sing this song, which was true before and still now, I am extremely sympathetic to Dido’s character. I can tap into the emotion in the outro, of how badly she wants to leave, how she has reached a breaking point in this relationship. I also want to point out where in the chorus the notes physically soar and just at the right place lyrically: “to take a chance on life again”. If you want to be even more specific, this happens right on the words “a chance”. Incredible. If you don’t believe me, scroll to 48 seconds in the stream below and prepare to be amazed. Overall, a beautifully delivered, powerful song.