Songs that have shaped my love life: Poe, Hey Pretty

When I first started writing these “Songs That Have Shaped My Love Life” posts, I had a pretty long list of artists in mind that start with the letter P.

Thus far, I’ve only mentioned the worst of these, Pearl Jam.

At this point I’d like to direct your attention to one of my favorite female musicians who, sadly, is no longer performing: Poe.

Poe’s second album, Haunted, came out in The Year 2000 (and yes, back in the day, we half-jokingly wrote it like that, feeling like everything was suddenly super futuristic) – five whole years after her first release, Hello. Fans of the former immediately snatched up the latter, and were surprised to discover it was a concept album, dedicated to her father and posing as the musical accompaniment to her brother’s book, House of Leaves.

If you’ve read House of Leaves, you either loved it or hated it. And if you loved it, you’d better own Haunted.

I read House of Leaves more because of my interest in Haunted, which I suppose is a bit backwards for a writer, but is definitely the correct order given the type of musician that Poe is. This was The Year 2000, remember, and female musicians were all over the scene. There was Shirley Manson growling in front of Garbage, Alanis Morrissette was being all “ironic,” Sheryl Crow was kicking out the jams on K-Rock, and Britney Spears was not yet considered crazy. Sinéad O’Conner declared she was a lesbian, Letters to Cleo broke up, Madonna had a second child with Guy Ritchie… weird shit was happening, like some cosmic shakeup happened when the calendars clicked over to a new century.

Poe’s music is most frequently categorized as trip hop, although it seems most musicians placed in this category loathe the term. (Other examples include Portishead, Massive Attack and Björk – also some of my favorite experimental electronic musicians.) Described on its Wikipedia page as having “an electronic drum kit, downtempo female vocals and a sequential bass pattern,” this kind of music still appeals to me.

Haunted is still a great album, although it’s one of those that I can barely listen to, due to the emotional baggage that it carries for me.

The Year 2000 was momentous for me, as well as the rest of the world. For me, The Year 2000 is pre-9/11 New York, where I was attending Fordham University in pursuit of a Philosophy degree. I was a budding atheist on a Catholic college campus, a feisty feminist in search of a fuck, a young woman who felt mostly misunderstood – whether by lovers or others – and battling obsessions with boys that were no good for me.

Haunted perfectly encapsulates those feelings of love and hate, of obsession and rage.

The song that really struck me then (and now) as representative of my love life was “Hey Pretty.”

Interestingly, this song also suffers from multiple personalities. As Wikipedia notes:

The song ‘Hey Pretty’ was released as a promo single, but Poe’s vocals had been replaced with a chapter reading from her brother, as alternative radio of 2001 was not very willing to play female artists. […] The music video for the song was deemed too racy for MTV (it showed Poe writhing around in mud in nothing but a bra.)

You can find the “alt” version on YouTube, if you so desire. I don’t care for it, myself. There’s something vaguely incestuous about it, what with Poe suggestively wriggling half-naked in the mud while her brother reads a dirty story from his book. Sure, there’s always going to be sex for its own sake, totally animal, but this is like an amateur’s retelling of J.G. Ballard’s Crash with Poe herself cast as the car-loving nymphomaniac purely for shock value.

To me, “Hey Pretty” is more than just a song about a girl who wants sex. She also wants to be seen.

With lyrics that are suggestive (though not as bluntly sexual as “Not A Virgin”), including a repeated phrase “do you get the gist of the song now?” quizzing the listener on its meaning, the line that still hits home is: “You’ve got to follow me, boy, I’m trying to show you where I’m at.”

Isn’t that really what our relationships are all about? We try to connect with others in an effort to be understood, seen, mapped. Where are you? I’m right here. Why can’t you see me? Why can’t you love me the same way that I love you?

My relationships in The Year 2000 were not, looking back, as grandiose as I imagined them to be. But because I was young and in lust, searching for myself as much as someone else, I ascribed meaning to those relationships that did not match up with their reality.

I wrote a short story called “Of Cocks and Existentialism” around that time. It’s probably the most apt summation of that era of my life.

For now, when I listen to Poe’s Haunted, I wonder whatever became of the musician herself. Apparently her record label dumped her shortly after the Depeche Mode tour she opened for in 2001 (which, incidentally, I attended at Jones Beach with one of my Mr. Wrongs), and she was in court for a decade after that trying to get the rights to her own music back. I can’t even imagine that kind of horror; it’s something I hope I never have to face, and part of the reason I wanted to be an independent author to begin with.

Wherever she is, I hope Poe is still making music, even if it’s not for public consumption. In the meantime, you can hear her vocals on Conjure One’s “Center of the Sun”:

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.