As I referred to in my comment to my recent post about insomnia , one of the albums I listened to as a high school student to help me sleep was the album Now In A Minute by Donna Lewis. This album had a couple of hit singles (“I Love You Always Forever,” inspired by the novel Love For Lydia, was the biggest hit, and “Without Love” was also a hit). My favorite song from the album, one I like so much I would like to do a cover of it assuming I can find a willing pianist, is the song off that album called “Simone.”
Simone is a deceptively simple song, sung very slowly, with minimal instrumental background, as if it was a lullaby for a very troubled child (which is what its lyrics seem to indicate). I am fond in general of pop lullabies (Billy Joel’s “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)” is another powerful one that springs readily to mind, and Donna Lewis’ gentle performance makes it a song powered by the wide gap between her kindhearted approach to the material and the presumed state of the person receiving the song. I suppose her name is Simone, but I have no idea what the personal story of the song is–though what parts of it can be pieced together from the lyrics suggest a very ugly story that I know all too well.
With that, let us begin. As this is the second obscure pop song with deep personal relevance I have examined , I will follow its form of looking at the chorus and then the two verses of the song to look at what Donna Lewis (the songwriter as well as the singer) was trying to accomplish, and how she succeeded at making a very melodic song about a very dark subject.
The chorus of “Simone” reads as follows: “And you will your mind to sleep. And you will free yourself to weep. And you will free your mind to sleep. And you will free yourself to weep.” Donna Lewis seems in this song to be intentionally writing a song that will help a beloved friend (or family member) sleep easier not only through the gentle, soothing rhythm and piano background music, but through the lyrics of the song. The chorus speaks of freeing the mind to sleep and weep, to escape from the numbness of flattened affect (a common symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and to sleep (insomnia is yet another symptom of PTSD, as well as the depression that often accompanies it). Donna Lewis knows her subject well.
The first verse gives a very clear indication of exactly what subject Donna Lewis is addressing, leaving little room for doubt: “Don’t look back now. Don’t look back over the years gone by. They’re gone and now it’s time to live. Don’t look back now. You have to let your childhood go, and then you’ll find a peace within.” It is hard to read those words, or hear then in a song, without knowing precisely what she is referring to in the most gentle way possible. Looking back, in this context, carries two distinct meanings, and perhaps the ambiguity between them is intentional. Looking back for a historian means trying to examine and piece together the past, to make sense of what happened and how the present came to be through the events of the past. Looking back for someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder means waking up with a horrible nightmare, or having a flashback that leaves one in a panic attack. It’s not a fun place to be–trust me–especially not when things that should be innocuous or even loving become terrifying. The fact that this flashback is related to the need to live (not merely to survive–but to live) and with letting one’s childhood go, and it becomes very clear that Donna Lewis is presumably singing to a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Maybe I’m a little too predisposed to making that connection (due to my own experience) but that’s what this song says to me.
The second verse continues on the theme of overcoming a traumatic past: “Don’t be afraid, you have so many choices. Hold your head up high and say goodbye. No second thoughts, you have a future waiting. Take my hand and I will show the way.” Here the song deals with fear and anxiety (yet another common symptom of PTSD) as well as providing the singer herself as someone to help the subject of the song (presumably “Simone”) with overcoming the trauma. One would like to know more about the story–how does Donna Lewis herself know the way out? Who is Simone? What inspired the song in the first place? Donna Lewis, before she became a pop superstar, was a music teacher in Sussex for a year, and it is possible the song was inspired by one of her students . Without hearing her story, though, it is impossible to say.
Despite not knowing the personal details of the inspiration of the song (and the song has clearly confessional and personal details), it is nonetheless clear that this song ranks as one of the best songs at placing the largely silent scourge of child abuse in a healthy context of recovery–both in the long-term overcoming aspect as well as the short-term treatment aspect. Along with Richard Marx’s “Children of Night” (and, tellingly, the two singers collaborated on the lovely “At The Beginning,” for the soundtrack to an animated movie), it ranks as one of the 1990’s most honest pop treatments of its horrific theme. It is a shame, though, that the song’s obscurity prevents it from being a greater help to many who can relate very well to the struggles of Simone. Hopefully that will not be the case forever.