When I first decided to write about the meanings and stories behind the songs we love, the music of Sophie B. Hawkins was what I had in mind. She is someone who a lot of people know from her song, “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover”. That song was a huge hit for her. It was the very first track on her very first album entitled, Tongues and Tails. I remember hearing this song for the first time as a young adult male and being blown away by it! What I took from the song was that a beautiful, earthy woman was singing about wanting to take care of me and be my lover. The video of her singing barefoot in a flannel shirt seemed sexy as all get out. Like many guys, I was smitten. However, a funny thing happened on the way to growing up and becoming a man…I discovered that “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” wasn’t aimed at guys like me at all. In fact, I learned that Sophie B. Hawkins wrote this song from the perspective of a woman trying to help another woman who was trapped in an abusive relationship. In the song, Hawkins writes about how different this woman’s life would be “if I was your lover”. The lyrics were there all along for anyone who wanted to really listen. But at the time, in 1992, there weren’t many overtly sexual songs written by one woman for another (outside of Madonna). Regardless of how misunderstood “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” was, it announced Sophie B. Hawkins’ arrival on the music scene in a big way. It also showed how fiercely independent she wished to be as an artist.
Sophie B. Hawkins was not the first artist or band to hit a musical home run right out of the gate and she won’t be the last, either. I am sure that if she cared to count, Sophie B. Hawkins would tell you that she performed “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” over a hundred million times. As that first year unfolded, Hawkins gave many concerts. At these concerts she played all of the songs from her debut album and then some. But all that audiences really wanted to hear was that one hit. In every artist’s career, there comes a time when an audience’s excitement at hearing that one big hit starts to transition into a sense of anticipation for the next hit. Record executives feel that, too. So, a second album was bankrolled by her record label and excitement grew out in the music world. However, as many artists will tell you, coming up with the first hit is often easier than following it up with another chart-topper. This is because most artists/bands have been writing and playing their debut songs for years in bars and clubs as they work to gain experience. So, when the time comes to record their first album, they know which songs to go with, having workshopped them so much in front of live audiences. But then, suddenly having to recreate the magic again, along with touring to promote the debut album, conducting interviews with press across the land well, it all becomes a little bit too much for many. The first single from Hawkins’ second album was called, “Right Beside You”. It was a modest hit, cracking the Top 60 in the US. The second single, “Only Love” did not chart at all. Suddenly, the potential for Sophie B. Hawkins to fall into that dreaded category of “One-hit wonder” was beginning to seem very real.
Record executives began to get nervous. Then they began to get frustrated with Hawkins. In an attempt to boost sagging record sales, a plan was made by those at her label to craft an image for her as a sexy siren. There was already a huge market among male twenty-somethings who fantasized about having her for a girlfriend so, it wasn’t a big leap in the minds of record executives to have Hawkins seemingly morph into that fantasy figure. An advertising campaign was devised and photographers were hired to begin the transformation of Sophie the singer into Sophie the object of male fantasies. The only problem with that was that Sophie B. Hawkins balked. She objected to being objectified in that manner. She steadfastly refused to perpetuate the stereotype of females being served up as sexual fodder for men. One of the reasons for that was, at her core, Sophie B. Hawkins didn’t view sexuality in terms of gender. In her mind, that was unnecessarily limiting to all concerned. She came out in the press as being omnisexual. “Omni” comes from the Greek and means, all. To Sophie B. Hawkins, sexual attraction irrespective of gender is where her heart and mind lay. That was not the message that her record label wanted to hear because it played against type when it came to their marketing plan. So, based on the lack of hits from her second album and her growing reputation as being “difficult” to work with, her record label walked away from her. They told her to tour as she pleased and do what she felt was necessary to promote her music but that they would do nothing to help her. In fact, they told her that when her contract expired they were not going to renew it. In short, Sophie B. Hawkins was fired. But, as many new artists will tell you, being able to maintain your own creative vision in the face of the many business decisions that have to be made is one of the biggest challenges new musicians face. What happened to Sophie B. Hawkins is not something unique to her. Many artists come out swinging on their debut album only to find themselves without representation by album number two or three. The music business IS a business after all. The battle between Art and Commerce is real and on-going for many with Sophie B. Hawkins being just one example.
However, many of those same new artists will also tell you that being cast out by the industry machine was the best thing that ever happened to them. Sophie B. Hawkins believed in the music on her second album and decided to tour on her own. Without any formal promotion to help her, she played in concert halls and smaller venues across North America using only a piano for instrumentation. Much like Tori Amos, Hawkins performed acoustically on a stage using only her voice and her skill as a pianist to sing her songs. In this environment, a third single began to emerge. It was a song called “As I Lay Me Down”. It was based upon the old familiar children’s prayer, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep”. That prayer is an ancient prayer created centuries ago when public hygiene wasn’t what it is today, diseases ran rampant and many children actually didn’t wake up after being put to bed by loving parents. In Sophie B. Hawkins’ capable hands, her song touched upon memories she had of her relationship with her father when she was a child and how fleeting and temporary a love can sometimes be. “As I Lay Me Down” sung acoustically, often by candlelight, struck a chord with audiences. In a very organic manner, the song rose through the charts and became a Top Ten hit. For Hawkins, having this hit happen on her own terms felt like a form of vindication.
After her contract with Sony Records expired, Hawkins formed her own record label and has released all subsequent music there since. In the time since “As I Lay Me Down” became a chart topper, Hawkins has appeared in the role of Janis Joplin in a play. She has, also, appeared in a documentary about her life in which she reaffirmed how close she was to her father when she was just a little girl. But mostly, Hawkins has chosen to lend her talents to a variety of causes that run the gamut from environmental issues, to animal rights, the promotion and support of female musicians, as well as a myriad of issues involving her support of the LGBTQ community. While Sophie B. Hawkins never went on to be that big music star that many predicted she would become after the success of “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover”, she feels very fulfilled by her career and how it has all turned out. And in the end, no other reflection exists in the mirror but our own so if you gaze there and feel satisfied with what you see then, you have lived a good life, in my opinion.
A big THANK YOU goes out to my online friend, Jordan for nominating this song. Jordan told me that “As I Lay Me Down” was a song that she uses whenever she finds herself singing karaoke. Just for the record, let it be known that I have never sang karaoke in my life so I have a certain level of admiration for those brave enough to do so. Jordan is also someone who has a broad view of sexuality and gender politics and, as such, is someone from whom I have learned a lot since we became pals on Twitter. Overall, I am thankful that we have come to know each other. I am better for it. Thanks Jordan for your support of my writing. I appreciate that, too.
As I always say at the end of these Reader’s Choice posts, if any of you have a special song that you would like me to write about, feel free to drop me a line in the comment box below. I am happy to write about any song from any era. All genres of music are welcome.
The link to the video for the song, “As I Lay Me Down” by Sophie B. Hawkins can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” by Sophie B. Hawkins can be found here.
The link to the official website for Sophie B. Hawkins can be found here.
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