Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 67
Wed. April 3, 2013
“Possession [piano version]”
I’ve always believed that Sarah McLachlan’s obsessively themed “Possession” has similar lyrical overtones to The Police’s hit single 1983’s “Every Breath You Take.” While some might think of Sting’s most infamous Synchronicity hit as a romantic number play at their wedding, they would be mistaken. Sting’s interpretation of “Every Breath” has always been—” “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle, little love song.” The same can be said for Sarah’s “Possession.” Fumbling Towards Ecstasy’s most famous song is not about love and just like “Every Breath,” “Possession” sounds like Sting’s description of his most infamous song, “I think it’s a nasty little song, really rather evil. It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership.”
When asked by Kathy Silberger, if her life has changed since the very disturbed fan whose obsession with McLachlan was the inspiration behind “Possession,” Sarah replied, “For a while it did. And this one person wasn’t the only guy. Thankfully this is the only fellow who committed suicide, but there were a lot of letters from other people saying the same kind of thing. So for a while there I looked over my shoulder every time I walked out the door. Writing the song “Possession” [about the fan] was very therapeutic. It’s funny, because almost every letter I get these days, the writer says, “I’m not one of those psycho fans.” But ever since then I haven’t gotten any letters that were freaky like that, which is great, because I used to get them all the time.”
And just like Sting’s “Every Breath You Take” what makes “Possession” such a memorable song is that it feels and sings like a love song. When asked by Addicted to Songwriting, if Sarah was trying to write a song from the male perspective, McLachlan talked about how Possession came to life when she explained, “Yes. I tried to put myself into their shoes, into the mind of someone who is so obsessed with another person that they could conceive murdering them. It took me awhile to justify that one. As a woman, living with that fear in the back of your mind every day with the possibility of being raped. And so, it’s kind of weird for me, but then I save myself in the third verse by saying I’d never really act on it, except in my dreams. And maybe that’s putting me into a false sense of reality, but it did help. Not just that, but writing the whole song, was kind of a cleansing thing for me, because I had two people in particular who just became incredibly intense with the fantasy world that they created, and demanded that that was reality and we had to be together. And they went to great lengths to make this happen. It became frightening, but it ticked me off that I had to look over my shoulder every time I walked out the door. There was one point where I was told I’d have to have a bodyguard. It was like, screw that, I don’t want to live in fear. It makes me so angry.”
Imagine, you’re a successful singer/songwriter like Sarah McLachlan and instead of being terrorized by some obsessed fanatic; she channels her fear and creates one of the most memorable songs of her career. One of Sarah’s fans and future Lilith Fair performer Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks was listening to “Possession.” Nicks recounted the story on the first time she heard Sarah’s song in this Interview Magazine piece circa 1995, when she said “So, Sarah McLachlan. First, I have something to tell you. I go to bed very late, and when I finally do go to bed, at about four o’clock in the morning, ifs the only time that I listen to the radio. And lots of times when I’m really asleep, something will pull me out of my sleep. So this past February I’m sound asleep and all of a sudden this [sings] “And I will be the one.” And I’m going, “I love this.” The DJ said, “That was a new, fabulous thing from Sarah that’s called Possession.” So I wrote down: “Sarah. Possession.” The next morning I said to my assistant, “You have to go get this record that’s called Possession. I don’t know if that’s the name of the album or the song. All I know is that this lady’s name is Sarah, which, of course, is my favorite name.” And you have been a total part of my life since. I have to give you the greatest compliment that I could pay to anyone. You remind me so much of the first time that I went to the Fillmore in San Francisco. I was in a band that was the opening act on a show that had about seven acts in it. And there were red-velvet drapes, and you knew that Janis Joplin had sat in this dressing room, and there was something about your music that reminded me of how I had felt about Janis. When I heard your music, I thought, Somehow this woman reminds me of the incredible music that came out of San Francisco when all of us were so knocked out to be alive.”
I remember Fumbling Towards Ecstasy being the only CD my co-workers and I could agree on for in store play at the mall record shop I worked in San Antonio. We used to love that album. Looking back we never knew the harrowing back-story of “Possession.” Imagine going through the horrible experience of being used by the obsessed fans who claims his letters inspired “Possession” to having one of your hero’s tell Sarah McLachlan that same hit song” reminded her of the first time she heard Janis Joplin’s voice? What an evolution of such an amazing song! The fact that it’s 2013 and we’re still talking about maybe Fumbling Towards Ecstasy‘s hit song has a chance to outlast the haunting legacy of obsession, lust; let’s hope the legacy of this “Possession” will finally be set free from the obsession curse inherited by Sting’s glorious “Take.” Recorded ten years after, “Every Breath” was a hit for The Police, Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession” finally deserves to be set free.