The Creepiest Love Trope: The Philosopher Kings, “All To Myself” (1994)

Loving eyes
This is not exactly a neglected topic, but you know how it is: you hear a song you really like and it starts you thinking again.

Concerning the nature of creepiness in love, for my opening move I’ll suggest that the two primary modes are Dependence and Domination, and that they are intertwined: obsession with Domination is a form of Dependence and infantile Dependence is a potent form of Domination.

In music we have an obvious place to start in “Every Breath You Take” by The Police (1983), a song that occasioned a major cultural event of missing the point. What Sting presented as an exposé of controlling obsession, the world embraced as classic romance—which shows that we have some pretty scary assumptions about romance.

. . . Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
I dream at night, I can only see your face
I look around but it’s you I can’t replace
I feel so cold and I long for your embrace
I keep crying, “Baby, baby, please”
Oh, can’t you see you belong to me

How my poor heart aches with every step you take
Every move you make and every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake,
I’ll be watching you

To set things straight,[1] Sting put out another hit song two years later, “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” (1985).

But I want to nominate a quite different and much less famous song, a really good creeper-out in a vein of strong Domination (that nevertheless may be finally indistinguishable from just-me-and-Mama Dependence): “All To Myself” (perfect title) by the one-album wonder of 1994, The Philosopher Kings.

I’d take away the Eiffel tower
I’d take away the port of Spain
I’ll take your yellow coat
No more romantic walks in the pouring rain

Then I’d make washboard, wind-blown
Sea-side, serenading, prep school boys disappear
That flock in the summer like gulls to the beach
And pick at your heart like the garbage on the street

I’ll take away all the things
That make you look away from me
I’d take away everything
Then I’d have you all to myself

The love song is always a con: the music knows how to make us feel good about love’s overbearing propositions. We’re beguiled with a warmly carrying groove, pretty chords, lush sonics—emotional reassurance laid on thick. Unusually, “All To Myself” commits to a funk con, not a smooth con; it goes bravely funky to try to repel the threat of nothingness in a loveworld defined by radical subtraction.[2] If there’s nothing there in the relationship except pretty chords or swelling strings and you can’t get out of it, you’ll perish from boredom even if you manage not to be melted into your lover’s psyche.

This guy who, as we’ve just seen in the lyrics, wants to deprive you of all the people and things in the world, the whole outdoors, what’s he going to provide besides the monotonous reassurance of his doting gaze? Well, there is something else: the interesting tensions of funk are ever-present in the musical current of the song underneath the gestures of devotion. At 2:43 an overt turn is made from the romantic refrain “all to myself” (complete with corny electric piano flourishes) to something much more engaging:

“All To Myself”–the turn

You may have been thinking that the song’s funk is all about the sexual stimulation that the guy intends to provide, and indeed to monopolize. But here he charmingly acknowledges that he needs a band, with other players, to be interesting enough.


[1] From Wikipedia:  “Sting later said he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it’s about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow. ‘One couple told me “Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!” I thought, “Well, good luck.”‘ When asked why he appears angry in the music video Sting told BBC Radio 2, ‘I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite.'”

[2] In a more appealing, healthier loveworld, the lovers enjoy their shared experience of everything around them. I take the term “loveworld” from Robert Solomon’s Love: Emotion, Myth, and Metaphor (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1990), which is a wonderful account, though rather neglectful of the point I am making here.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Passions & Attitudes, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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