Songs that have shaped my love life: Sarah McLachlan, Possession

We all know the story of Sarah McLachlan’s song “Possession,” right?

No? Okay, check this out:

While it sounds like a pretty hot love song on the surface, it’s actually a series of increasingly disturbing “love notes” from McLachlan’s real-life stalker.

Yeah, how’s that for 50 shades of fucked up?

The first time I listened to this song, naturally I figured it was a hot love song. I listened to it a lot. It was on one of the first CDs I bought in high school, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. If FTE had been a vinyl record, I would’ve worn the damn thing out, that’s how many times I listened to it on repeat.

Let’s put it this way: I once had a professor who told me he listened to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue so many times that his college roommate had instituted a 10-limit maximum for playing the album whenever he was in the apartment. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was my Kind of Blue.

Anyway, I must have listened to this song at least a hundred times before I fell in with a real, live, honest-to-god Canadian who knew the story behind the song.

He told me about the stalker.

I thought that was creepy as hell. But at the same time, isn’t that what all great artists do? Turn shit into gold?

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is still a great fucking album. Possibly McLachlan’s finest. I still think “Possession” is creepy, and certainly not a song on which I’d like to base my relationships, but I still admire Sarah for turning something dangerous and damaging into something darkly beautiful. It was, perhaps, the musical equivalent of 50 Shades of Gray, in that it’s not the kind of fiction that should be turned into one’s reality, but that poses a lot of interesting questions about love relationships and the lines that people cross because of their attractions and addictions.

It also made me fall in love with Canadians. I guess I’ve been a Canadaphile (if that’s even a word) since the 1990s.

P.S. Wikipedia says the stalker tried to sue McLachlan for using his letters as lyrics. They were going to court in 1994 when he committed suicide. Case closed. But even if the asshole had gone through with it, I think it’s pretty fucking ballsy to sue the person you’re stalking for re-appropriating the creepy shit you wrote to them. You don’t get to claim copyright nor songwriting credits for being a complete and utter creep, with potentially homicidal intentions.

In the words of another infamous Sarah: “You have no power over me.”

Want more pop song insights?

What pop songs make you think about love? How have pop songs influenced your relationships? Check out Everything I Need to Know About Love I Learned From Pop Songs for more essays about love songs by the people who love them.


  • Graham Strong

    Hey Laura,

    The version I heard, the guy sued her only to force her into the court room so he could be close to her again. Of course, she sent her lawyer instead…

    Possession is definitely one of my favourite songs too. Although the story puts a creepy edge on it, I think it also makes it more powerful.

    Have you heard any of the re-mixes? I had a CD of them once — three or four different ones, if I remember rightly. Worth searching them out…


  • Cassie

    That is super creepy! Now I’m doubting my love songs are love songs. Naive is bliss but still ruining the fantasy of relation to a song, well that is just depressing. I think I’m safe with Justin Timberlakes ‘Sexy Back’? Ha!

  • Laura Roberts

    Yes, I had heard that as well, Graham. Ew!

    I used to have that remix CD. I think it was called Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff? I was a pretty big fangirl, back in the Lilith Fair days… I even had the AIM handle “Lilithfaery” of all things. ;D

  • Laura Roberts

    Sorry to ruin this one for you, Cassie! But I think most love songs are really love songs. Or at least “lust” songs. I wonder if anyone’s ever done a survey on the number of love songs written by men vs. women? That’d be interesting.