Anthem: a second look at “Voices Carry”

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I only learned about the original version of “Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday when I was in the process of writing an article praising the video for an uncompromising glimpse into abuse by a good-looking, together-looking, charming “nice guy.” The first version of the song, as I noted in the article, used the pronoun “she” instead of “he”, implying a lesbian affair rather than a heterosexual one.

It was probably a week later when I was listening to the song in my car and finally really thought about what the words would’ve meant as they were originally written. Originally, it’s about an affair the singer wants to own proudly but that her lover wants to hide. It was, I believe, about staying in the closet (and about being pushed into doing so by a lover who’s not ready to come out).  And the title, “Voices Carry”, would have had a second meaning: that if you choose not to be silenced anymore, your voice will merge with others, and others, until eventually the silencing stops.

Now that’s a message I can relate to, just as well as the message we ended up getting about (heterosexual) abuse (in the video). I know if the song had been released as it was originally written, its message probably would have been effectively silenced by radio stations refusing to play it. But that doesn’t make me any happier. The more I think about it, the worse I feel that this wonderful song and video which put across something everyone was, and still is, afraid to talk about could have been even more powerful and meaningful to another disenfranchised community.

Mostly, I’m just angered that we have to make the choice in the first place – whether to say something that’s revolutionary for women or for the queer community (of which women are a significant part). If it’s true the audience is too self-involved to recognize a meaning applied to someone it can’t instantly relate to, then I’m angry with the audience. And if that’s just an assumption media pimps make, then I’m angry with them. (Personally, I think lots of people would’ve assumed it was about a friendship and related like crazy on that level.)

I still applaud the video for all the reasons I discussed in my first post. But I can’t get it out of my head anymore, what the song originally must’ve meant. The message of silencing speaks louder to me now than the message about abuse, but the anti-silencing anthem got silenced because it dared to appear in a context that was even less mainstream than… well, women.

Comments

  1. says

    If it’s true the audience is too self-involved to recognize a meaning applied to someone it can’t instantly relate to, then I’m angry with the audience.

    You know, I think this is a question that deserves a lot more attention. I’ve been contemplating the question of who we relate to/sympathize with in stories that get media attention, as it connects to the difference in reactions between those who fear false accusation and those who fear assault, among any number of other issues. And I think in some ways it gets to the heart of why some of these conversations are just so damn difficult to have, because based on conversations like that, I actually think it’s true: many, many people seriously struggle to feel sympathy in stories if they can’t see themselves in those roles. And I honestly don’t know how to overcome that, which leaves me, too, with just anger.

  2. says

    It’s high time we had an official release of the song as originally written, and I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Til Tuesday actually did record it that way back in 1985 with Epic Records hoarding the tape for all these years. It was a song about a woman struggling with her need to love freely and openly in a hate-filled, intolerant era, and the absurd irony is that the era in question was so stuffed to the brim with hatred that a simple, direct, and honest song about what was wrong with the sentiments of its own time could not be released as it was meant to be heard. We have come a long way since then, and I feel that a proper re-release of “Voices Carry” as it was meant to be heard could go far in helping to further the social progress that has been made since 1985.

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