Roxanne Tellier – When Love Hurts

rox lolas May 2014 3

At a recent jam, a bunch of the players got to talking about songs that had surprised or shocked our sensibilities, either at first listen, or upon reflection. As vocalists or musicians, we had learned the actual lyrics, not just taken the overall gist. It’s different, when you have to memorize lyrics, rather than just bop along to a current song.

You might find it odd to hear that this group of musicians were primarily male; I was the only female in the conversation. But these fellows, most with a career of 40 plus years ‘in the biz,’ were still shaking their heads over songs that had struck a wrong chord, emotionally.

Lyrics have power, especially to young listeners. When you are a teenager and listen to a song over and over, whether it’s because the lyrics somehow resonate with you, or just because you like the beat, your mind can easily misinterpret and absorb a message different to what the writer was trying to say.

One song that came up was The CrystalsHe Hit Me (and It Felt Like A Kiss).” (1962) Although I doubt any of these guys ever actually sang the song, they all knew that the sentiment was wrong. Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote it after finding out that singer Little Eva (Locomotion) was regularly beaten by her boyfriend. When they asked why she allowed this abuse, she replied that his attacks demonstrated his love for her. They wrote this song as a critique of domestic violence, but the minor key, and Phil Spector’s arrangement, along with the backing singers seeming to agree and approve the singer’s words, instead made the song appear more like an exultation of physical violence.

“He hit me and it felt like a kiss, He hit me but it didn’t hurt me
He couldn’t stand to hear me say, That I’d been with someone new
And when I told him I had been untrue”

There are still people who defend this sentiment. One anonymous writer commented:

“he had to care about something to begin with to hit her in the first place, his violence – however negative it is and wrong – is a passionate action of how much he loves her and cares for her. For such a strong emotion to be evoked in a man to the point where he lashes out on her… well he must feel strongly for her.”

That comment was written by a woman, in 2010.

The Phil Spector production received some airplay upon its release, but was the subject of widespread protest and lack of airplay, due to a treatment that appeared to be an approval and endorsement of spousal abuse. The song soon disappeared from the radio, but has since been covered by several artists, including The Motels, Courtney Love, and The Black Eyed Susans. It’s probably not hard to believe that the troubled Amy Winehouse called the song “one of her all-time favourite tracks and biggest influences.” How ironic would it be if Rhianna covered the song?

Most rational people are aware that there is no place for abusive treatment of any kind – physical, verbal, or emotional – in a healthy relationship. But still, it happens, and people of any gender or sexual preference can find themselves caught up in a cycle of abuse.  The relationship begins normally, but as it progresses, the abusive partner weaves a web of alternating love and punishment, confusing the victim’s emotions.

In a nutshell, the abuser feels ignored, threatened, annoyed or wronged, causing the victim to try to reduce the tension by becoming compliant and nurturing. This phase occurs prior to an abusive act, and is characterized by poor communication, passive aggression, rising interpersonal tension, and fear of causing outbursts in one’s partner.

Next comes the ‘acting out’ phase, characterized by outbursts of violent, abusive incidents which may be preceded by verbal abuse and may include psychological abuse.  At this stage the abuser may try to dominate the partner with the use of domestic violence.

To complete the cycle, the abuser will eventually shower the survivor with love and affection, passionate sex, apologies, and a promise that ‘it will never happen again.’   But of course, it does, until the victim finds the strength to leave the relationship.

The roots of anger and aggression usually lie within our childhood, when we see how adults deal with each other and their offspring.  Abused children may grow up to become passive aggressive adults, or victims or abusers themselves. When emotionally exhausted, love and abuse can entangle in our minds, making it difficult to stand back from an unhealthy relationship and see it for what it really is.

In her 1987 autobiography, I, Tina, Tina Turner wrote about her horrific years of spousal abuse and her partner`s many marital infidelities. In July 1976, after a violent physical fight in the back seat of a car in Las Vegas, Tina walked away from then husband, Ike Turner. It was the only time she ever fought back against him. Drawing upon her own emotional strength, she then went on to overcome bankruptcy and her tumultuous marriage to create one of the most amazing comebacks in rock history.

More recently, we’ve heard about Rhianna’s on again/off again relationship with abuser and hip hop star Chris Brown. Brown brutally assaulted Rhianna before the 2009 Grammy Awards, leaving her bloodied, beaten and unconscious in his car. It wasn’t Rhianna who called 911 for help; someone in the area did so after hearing her screams. And Rhianna declined to press charges or help the police with their investigation. Although he was charged with physical assault and making criminal threats, he made a plea deal, and essentially got away with domestic violence counselling, and the loss of some airplay and commercial opportunities. In 2012 Brown won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album.  Despite a five-year restraining order on Brown, which requires him to remain 50 yards away from Rihanna, and 10 yards away from her at public events, Rihanna confirmed In January 2013 that she and Brown had resumed their romantic relationship, saying “We know exactly what we have now, and we don’t want to lose that.”

In 2014, Beyonce seemed to burst out of the feminist closet with her latest album and her article in The Shriver Report entitled “Gender Equality Is A Myth.” (

And yet Beyonce and her husband, Jay-Z, performed their duet Drunk in Love at the 2014 Grammys. The song includes Jay-Z’s lyric “I’m Ike Turner, turn up/Baby know I don’t play/Now eat the cake, Anna Mae”, a reference to a moment of domestic abuse in the Tina Turner biopic “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” Apparently Beyonce wants to have her feminist cake and eat it too.

On Twitter, Bey`s fans are ‘lol’ing at the lyric, tweeting things like, “Eat the cake anna mae?” … jay z is clearly beating on that hoe.”

Maybe part of the reason that we don’t identify abuse between partners as completely wrong is that there has always been a sort of sniggering, `holier than thou` attitude in some reactions to tales of domestic violence.

In 1923, Bessie Smith recorded “Outside of That,” which detailed her conflicting emotions. Though he’s “the meanest man in the land… heartless and also cruel,” she’s so swept up in their passionate love life that she’s willing to forgive him his violent actions. Although he blackens both her eyes, and pawns everything he ever gave her before knocking out her teeth, “he’s alright with me.”

Released in 1946, the calypso duet Stone Cold Dead in the Market (He Had It Coming) by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, was one of the first songs to explicitly deal with abusive relationships. The song implies that both the husband and the wife are in a mutually abusive relationship and are okay with it. The single reached the number one spot on the R&B Juke Box chart, and #7 on the U.S. pop chart.

Even The BeatlesRun For Your Life” is basically 2:16 minutes of threats. The song was written by John Lennon, who took the first line—“I’d rather see you dead, little girl / than to be with another man”—from the Elvis Presley song “Baby, Let’s Play House.”

Elvis Costello seemed to have a string of bad relationships to draw inspiration from during the 80’s. In “Boy With A Problem” he sings “I even slapped your face and made you cry,” before adding “I crept out last night behind your back. The little they know might be the piece I lack. Came home drunk, talking in circles. The spirit is willing but I don’t believe in miracles. I’ve got a problem but let’s go to bed.“

And of course, there`s Sting`s 1983 creepy stalker anthem, “Every Breath You Take.“ He`ll be watching your every step, every move, every breath, every smile, every game, every day.  But that`s eerily justified, in the lyrics, because his lover can`t see that she belongs to him.

I first heard The Dixie Chicks version of “Goodbye Earl” in 2000. It’s a bouncy, happy, revenge tale of a battered woman who fights back against her abuser, finally poisoning him with black eyed peas, and dumping him in a lake to rot. In the song, the police don’t pursue the case since Earl is “a missing person who nobody missed at all.”

Even our own Mr. Segarini wrote and recorded a song in which the girl in the lyric gets hit…and the singer isn’t even sorry!


I could reference many more less well known but similar songs of all genres. It quickly becomes apparent that we rarely take domestic violence very seriously, in entertainment form. Even Rhianna and Chris Brown`s violent relationship was  grist for the television mill in 2013 when the series `Law and Order – SVU` produced a `ripped from the headlines,` barely camouflaged tale of violence between a young singer and her hip hop star boyfriend, entitled “My Funny Valentine,` which ends with her brutal death at his hands.

Domestic abuse is an enormous societal problem. As of 2014, one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.85% of raped women know their attackers. On average, two women a week are murdered by their current or former partners.

As damaging and soul scarring as emotional, verbal or physical abuse can be, in the current culture and virtually anywhere on the planet, the hits just keep on coming …


Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

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DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.


3 Responses to “Roxanne Tellier – When Love Hurts”

  1. excellent piece (yet again), Roxanne. The more sinister of all Beatles tracks was ‘Getting Better’ which had the line “I used to be cruel to my woman/I beat her and kept her apart from the things that I love”.

    • awful yes? even worse is that the words actually say “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved.” The gilded cage syndrome …
      and thanks for the compliment Jaimie .. much appreciated.

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