Finding love but not letting love in: Adele’s River Lea
Adele’s River Lea is one of the rare songs where the protagonist talks about herself. It’s not, as most pop songs are, just about her emotions. It’s about her internal choices and what she’s learning about herself.
From the point of view of real relationships, most pop songs have a big flaw. They focus on the other person, and on how the other person causes the singer to feel. The other is loyal – the singer feels happy and concludes the other person is good. The other leaves or cheats – the singer is unhappy, and concludes the other is bad. Sure, that’s one part of life. But with most pop songs it’s all there is. And life contains the VERY important part where you learn about YOURSELF, not the other person.
Life isn’t just about finding love on the outside. It’s about having the courage – oh, it takes courage – that when love is there, you make the choice to open up your vulnerability to let love in.
I’m scared to death if I let you in that you’ll see I’m just a fake
Sometimes I feel lonely in the arms of your touch
But I know that’s just me cause nothing ever is enough [Adele, River Lea]
So this goes on my list of “pop songs with truth” simply because the protagonist is self-responsible enough to realise her inner choices matter. Such songs are rare. Sadly however, there’s only a little pinch of truth, because she doesn’t make the next step and make a different choice. This singer has found love, but she is not letting love in to the very place inside her that needs love.
And of course, that is understandable. The vulnerable place is each one of us is extremely tender, extremely shy of risking yet more hurt. I don’t know if “feeling fake” is one of Adele’s own personal fears, but it is a common fear. I picture “feeling fake” like this.
Imagine someone in a war zone. It is a time of devastation. The person’s family have been killed, their property destroyed, all community and support gone; no shelter, no food, no medicine. No help coming. And, they have to support someone they love – a child, a parent. They are at the final point of survive or die. But they have one, last, final hope: in their pocket they have grandmother’s beautiful gold and diamond earrings, preserved with greatest care. If they can only take these to the Last Pawnbroker on Earth, he will give enough money to get to safety and start a new life.
With immense struggle and hardship the person arrives at the Last Pawnbroker on Earth and with pride and relief gives him the wondrous earrings. He laughs derisively: these are not gold and diamond, he says, they are brass and glass; what a fool you must be to think this dross had value, I won’t give you even a penny for them. Imagine the disappointment and humiliation and despair the person would feel. Well, something like that is at the heart of the feeling “I’m just a fake”. It’s a feeling that there is something in your soul that you deeply long to know is real and is beautiful, but secretly fear is brass and baubles.
It is commonplace that such vulnerabilities are as strong as in my story. That’s because the hurt originates in childhood. For a child, the everyday things that adults do are as powerful and life-shaping as the things that happen to adults only in a war zone. The lover, of course, plays the role of the Last Pawnbroker on Earth. Some people, in relationships, take the risk to open their vulnerability. In my experience, in the end, they always discover that the earrings are real, they always find that their true colours are beautiful (Cindi Lauper.) But it takes time and trust for that to happen; there’s nothing wrong with the closed, fearful place where Adele’s protagonist is. Everybody starts there.
Maybe one day the protagonist of this song will take the risk to let her lover in and find that’s she is not a fake:
I took the risk, I took the step I thought I couldn’t make
I let you see inside me, and wow, I’m not a fake!
It’s worth adding that I think Adele is a wonderful musician with wonderful songs – this post is not intended as any criticism of her.