I’m glad almost everyone knows that “Every Breath You Take” is a stalker song, not a love song. It came up in conversation this week and I pointed out that while “Every Breath” is creepy, it’s got nothing on “Possession” by Sarah McLachlan. It seems I ruined the song for someone who thought it was a love song by telling him that it was based loosely on two of McLachlan’s stalkers from early in her career.
But even when you don’t know that, it’s pretty clear from the lyrics that it’s not a love song. Here’s the solo piano version that was an unlisted bonus track on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy:
I’m no genius of literary interpretation, but I think this refrain is rather ominous:
And I would be the one
to hold you down
Kiss you so hard
I’ll take your breath away.
And after I wipe away the tears
Just close your eyes dear.
I think it’s clear this is a romanticized description of a rape fantasy, a stalker minimizing what he wishes could be while still clearly giving himself away.
This song is based in part on Uwe Vandrei, who wrote so many letters to McLachlan he caught her attention, but not in the way he had hoped. He didn’t get the message of “Possession” and redoubled his efforts. Vandrei started sharing excerpts from his letters with an Ottawa radio station and would eventually sue McLachlan for plagiarism, claiming the lyrics were directly taken from his letters. The case never went to court as Vandrei committed suicide before the court date. McLachlan has reported she has had no serious stalkers since this time.
Of course, some would say there’s a fine line between stalking and true love. The trope of the persistent suitor whose efforts are rewarded certainly doesn’t help. The fact that “Every Breath you Take” and “Possession” were so widely misunderstood when their meanings should have been so clear shows how stalking is to an extent normalized in popular culture.