Woke Me Up Inside – 8. TAKING OVER ME and Putting the “Self” in Self Care

I’ll give up everything just to find you

(thanks to my wife Melanie for catching that I’d like left a whole paragraph unwritten in here; oops. she is the Best)

googling for these images is a real journey through stuff that would have fit well alongside my high-school AIM profile

This is part of a series on Evanescence and feminism; you can read the introduction, and use the wokemeupinside category to find the whole series so far.

Fallen is more interesting holistically than it is on a song-by-song basis at this later stage of the album, which I think is fine. This is a major-label debut by a band that (at least in the eyes of that record label) fit into a bit of a strange niche in the market, and so most of the album is spent reiterating and reinforcing their voice and the parameters of “an Evanescence song,” to differentiate them from the non-mainstream gothy rock that preceded them.

All that to say that any of “Taking Over Me”, “My Last Breath”, or “Whisper” all pretty much fall into the solid-B range to my mind, for more or less the same reasons and for musical qualities that we’ve covered in unnecessary depth already with earlier songs in this series.

“Taking Over Me” is particularly unmemorable to me from a musical standpoint, just because it does absolutely nothing novel or intriguing. It’s not bad, but, like, the guitar work here barely rises to the point of “riffs” and is instead to sort of noodle on power chords for the duration. There’s a nice little piano riff in the last movement of the song that might actually have worked better as the song’s backbone a la “Imaginary” in terms of setting a coherent and tone.

Basically it’s left to Amy Lee’s vocals to carry the mix, and just like an Aaron Rodgers-led, last-minute victory in a game that should never have been that close (one of these just happened less than a week before I write this, forgive me my excess), she manages to pull it off well enough that the extended refrain at the end feels almost earned, like this is a song that deserved to have its title hammered into my brain a few more times. Two basic guitar chord progressions out of five.

The lyrics here don’t rise to much more on initial analysis. I’ve played with the “who is the speaker and who is speaking” question before in this series, and we’ll do it again here; before I do so, let me justify it a little. One of the most irritating things I recall about much of the “rock” music of my youth is that the lyrics are infuriatingly vague on questions like “Who are you talking to?” (See again my running joke about Linkin Park’s lyrics working equally well if they’re talking about a girlfriend, a dad, or a best friend). The lyrics are the equivalent of tone poetry, meant more to reflect and refract the aesthetics of the song and band rather than deliver pointed messages. Linkin Park is angsty; Korn is really angsty and also kind of manic; and so on.

Evanescence brings a goth vibe to the table, but all this tends to mean in practice is that the lyrics are flowery and melodramatic in the manner of a theater nerd instead of a more generic gamer/smartypants introverted kid. Evanescence’s lyrics are also far less aggressive; the action they describe is rarely violent or retributive (no “SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU” here) but more often resistive, as in “I see what you’ve been doing and I’m not going to let you do it anymore.” Or else it’s about still being trapped in that cycle, i.e. “I see what you’re doing and can’t help but follow along.”

“Taking Over Me” could fit pretty well into the second category with lyrics like this:

I have to be with you — to live — to breathe
You’re taking over me

Obsession, dependency, assimilation, sure. But the song is sort of weirdly value-neutral about all this, compared to songs like “Going Under” or “Everybody’s Fool” which very explicitly call out and resent the person being spoken to. And then there’s this line:

I look in the mirror and see your face
If I look deep enough

Which you could read metaphorically, as someone seeing the infestation under their skin, or read it literally — when the speaker looks in the mirror, she sees “your face,” if she looks deep enough.

Whose face could she be seeing, though, except her own?

Self-love, body positivity, and empowerment are concepts that have been commodified in recent years (#leanin), as have many mainstream-able feminist notions, but their inherent value and resonance is hard to shake. Part of this might be because they simply mean something to anyone regardless of claimed ideology, and that meaning is simple and positive, especially as RuPaul puts it: “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

Variations of this appear all over our culture, at least in the more empathetic parts; the best dating advice, for one, tends to start at “get your house in order before expecting the world to see your value.” And now, as mentioned, capitalism has seized on the trend of this kind of talking to demand positivity. Commercials for food, beauty care products, clothes, and everything else that can have a price tag stamped on it talk about your physical health, your mental health, staying inspired and #OnYourGrind and feeling like you’re beautiful no matter what.

This is all great in theory, but it’s clouded by the same centering of “personal responsibility” that corrupts pretty much anything that capitalism touches. The implication is always about your failures — failure to practice good behaviors, failure to seek treatment, failure to realize you have friends and loved ones, failure to forgive yourself for failing. If it’s now socially acceptable/embraced to be overweight, now feeling anxiety about your body is your fault, and the solution is to smile more.

(I’m not interested in doing the deeper psychosocialist-focused dive on this right now; suffice it to say that when you’re being sold something, it’s always to fill a hole in your soul, always to make you feel incomplete without the product or without the adherence to brand message — and if no hole exists, one will be burrowed by the messaging.)

Even radical activists get this wrong sometimes, I think. Demands for anything systemic — even something dressed in the guise of self-care — is a demand that someone reach a standard outside themselves, and their failure to do so is something to barrage and harangue. We have to be careful to separate individuals from ideologies in activist spaces and make sure that calls for positivity and recognition aren’t being done at the harm of other marginalized groups. (TERFs come to mind as a good example again here, especially the ones who claim to deny trans identities exactly because they’re positively asserting their own feminine identity.)

That’s not even getting into the soul-destroying process of following the news in the modern age, of being exposed to poisons at all angles of social media, of feeling simultaneously enraged and helpless. The speaker in “Taking Over Me” isn’t looking at commercials or the news or her Twitter feed, though; she’s looking in a mirror. All of her discussion, her awareness of what’s happening, is pointed inward.

Self-care in the modern world is about finding yourself and trusting yourself to do the slow work of easing pain. Christine Meinecke, Ph.D., says it well in a 2010 Psychology Today piece:

Also essential to self-care is learning to self-soothe or calm our physical and emotional distress. Remember your mother teaching you to blow on the scrape on your knee?  This was an early lesson in self-soothing but the majority of adults haven’t the foggiest notion how to constructively soothe themselves.

Self-care and self-love, then, mean what they say on the tin: care and love for yourself, on your own terms. Do not feel beholden to a homogenized image of “positivity”; be yourself, whatever that means to you, and find the confidence to express that and to engage with the world in the most productive and least harmful ways possible. Utilize safe spaces. Support the use of content warnings and use them in turn. Build communities of like-minded people and exist in those communities, finding human connection and love of all kinds. Find the poisons in your ideology, the cruelties you project outward from your anxieties, and hold them close until they close their eyes and settle back down.

I love this stanza in “Taking Over Me”:

Have you forgotten all I know
And all we had?
You saw me mourning my love for you
And touched my hand
I knew you loved me then

It might feel like it today, but the part of ourselves that lived without constant fear and anxiety, even if that part only existed in the solace of dreams (“But who can decide what they dream? / And dream I do”) or the senselessness of infancy — that part might still exist, and could thrive, if we give ourselves the space and find our own ways to reach it.

I’m being delicate here because I am particularly sensitive to the ways that clinical depression and other mental health issues can make hope and improvement feel utterly impossible, and that simply saying “it’s gonna be OK!” means nothing when you’re in a place like that.

Regardless, self-care is an important thing to consider in a feminist context for exactly that quality of individualization. Empathy begins with empathy for the self (the cruelest people are so often the most repressed). We cannot expect people to connect to “other” groups, or to form activist communities within their own identity, unless they are doing some work to attempt to understand and nurture some quantity of self-worth.

There are dangers and pains aplenty in the external world; minimizing the harm done before exposure to the elements can be crucial for the survival of a person, a community, or an ideology.

Start from within, take over your mind and your heart, and move outward from there.

Next time: The one song I didn’t mention in my B-roll list at the beginning is “Hello,” the second piano ballad on the album and probably the song I should have focused on for my “What if the person she’s talking to… is herself???” nonsense.

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