Wednesday, March 9, 2016

TMFW 131 - Sarah McLachlan's Stalker Helps (?) Write A Song


Today's TMFW is about the Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan.  If you are like me, you know her for only a few songs that your college girlfriend played a lot in the car - "I Will Remember You," or "Building a Mystery," or "Ice Cream."   So before we get into things, I am compelled to note that (to my surprise) Ms. McLachlan has sold 40 million records.  That's a lot.  Her first six studio albums have all been certified gold or platinum, and the three studio records and one live record she made at the peak of her career are all multi-platinum in both Canada and the U.S.  Respect to Ms. McLachlan.  
Today's fact relates to McLachlan's 1993 song "Possession," which was the lead single on her record Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.  The song sounds (and the video linked above looks) creepy, and when you pay attention to the lyrics it becomes even more so.  The song tells the story of a person obsessed with another, who seems willing to do whatever it takes to be with her. The refrain fantasizes "I would be the one to hold you down, kiss you so hard, I'll take your breath away.  And after, I'd wipe away the tears.  Just close your eyes, dear."  One of the verses ends with the line "'cause nothing stands between us here, and I won't be denied."  Yikes.
Sarah McLachlan had a very personal inspiration for her song about a stalker: when she wrote the track, she had for several years been a victim. 
Though she had more than one, McLachlan's most famous stalker was a fellow Canadian named Uwe Vandrei.  Starting in 1991, Vandrei sent McLachlan "hundreds of letters and e-mails that were alternately impassioned and threatening," and for her own protection McLachlan obtained a restraining order and was forced to hire a bodyguard.  Though she was wisely careful for her safety, McLachlan was said to be "intrigued by the fact that someone could say such things to a complete stranger," and this lead her to write the song from the perspective of the obsessed.
All of that is a pretty good story, but what makes it today's TMFW is what came next: when Fumbling Toward Ecstasy and "Possession" came out, Vandrei thought that he recognized himself (and some of his writing) in McLachlan's song.  So naturally, he did what any wronged lyricist would: he sued McLachlan and her record label for a songwriting credit and $250,000 in royalties.
As it turns out, the "merits" of the case were never heard.  In November 1994, Vandrei committed suicide in the Manitock woods just south of Ottawa.  (At that link, you can see some of Vandrei's writings to McLachlan.)  It was a bizarre end to a bizarre story.
So there's your TMFW for today: Sarah McLachlan wrote a song about a stalker, which caused her own stalker to sue for a songwriting credit.
BONUS FACT:  In 2007, McLachlan appeared in a now-famous commercial for the ASPCA, where her sad music played over footage of sad dogs and she asked for money to help them.  According to the New York Times, the ad was obscenely successful - helping in one year to raise $30 million for an organization with an annual budget of only $50 million.  Since then, McLachlan has poked fun at herself in a Super Bowl commercial for Audi and has said that whenever she sees the ASPCA ad now "I change the channel; I can't take it."
BONUS FACT 2:  McLachlan was the founder of the short-lived-but-very-successful summer concert festival Lilith Fair, which famously focused on women in music.  Part of her inspiration was to stick it to concert promoters and venues that in those days resisted booking acts with women back-to-back for fear that it would not be commercially viable.
BONUS FACT 3:  Despite its blunt lyrics, McLachlan has noted that people often share with her that "Possession" was the song used at their wedding, saying "you wouldn’t believe how many people use that song for their wedding, And I just smile quietly to myself, like ‘oh, that’s nice.'" 
BONUS OBITUARY:  RIP George Martin, a brilliant producer and (one of the principal candidates for) Fifth Beatle.

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