Constant Craving: A beginner’s analysis on kd lang’s trademark song

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If you have ever seen kd lang in concert she often jokes “and now…a medley of my hit”. For those who don’t know, she is referring to “Constant Craving”, a song that appeared first (I believe) on her album Ingenue.  I have often wondered what it must be like to be pressured to sing a song for over 20  years, and what kd must be thinking each time she belts it out yet again. Maybe she is thinking about dinner plans after the show, or how she is going to muster up the motivation to sing this song one more time with the same passion she had early on. We’ll never know.

If you follow kd on twitter (@kdlang) inevitably some brave soul garners the chutzpah to actually ask her “What does Constant Craving mean to you?”  Not too long ago, kd graciously replied: “divine dissatisfaction”. OK then, we have a mote of insight. From kd’s point of view (or at least her public party line) “Constant Craving” is still deeply meaningful for her, as it is for most of the rest of us.

What is it about this song that still makes the hair stand up on the back of our collective neck even though so many of us have listened to it over and over; for some, 100s and 1000s of times? There are two reasons that I want to flesh out here. But I want to state, for the record, that I am purposely ignoring any sexual interpretation of these lyrics. It’s been done, and (for me) it is uninteresting.

  • Heavy Heavy on the Repetition Repetition

The lyrics to “Constant Craving” are amazingly sparse. Two stanzas and the phrase “has always been” over and over again. And there is the central reason why this song did so well at the popular level in the early 90s and why it is still a crowd favorite 20 plus years later. Without weighing down this post with too much Post Modern mumbo jumbo, a distinction made by Middleton (1983) is useful in understanding more about why “Constant Craving” is so intoxicating. He defines two basic kinds of repetition “musematic’ and “discursive”.

Simply put,  musematic repetition is that of short riffs, and discursive repetition is that of  a phrase “not too long to be apprehended in the present” (p. 238). In this case “has always been” is our key phrase that we can understand to have meaning about this very moment, and it is repeated over and over again. Without intentionally oversimplifying Middleton’s erudite bifurcations, we can say that “has always been” lends itself to integrating itself with more intonation, phrasing and subtle variation in rhythm. This phrase is narrative in the sense that it actually tells a story, even though “technically” it is only a phrase (not even a complete sentence). This is what discursive repetition does. This is one reason why “Constant Craving” is so alluring.

  • The Human Condition Revealed

Assuming I have not completely botched an application of Middleton’s distinction between musematic and discursive repetition, we can now move forward in discovering the story that kd tells in this song. Given that she has stated the import of “divine dissatisfaction’, we can conclude relatively safely that “has always been”  points us to the excruciating irony of living a human life. On the one hand, all is in flux, and yet on the other “has always been” seems to refer to the ultra-tenacious searching for meaning, truth and authenticity. We all (at some level) seek to live a good life; good in the sense of respecting the divinity of our particular human life. What this divinity actually means remains unclear for most of us and for  the bulk (if not all) of our lives.

We can make further claims about Dharma (the Tibetan Buddhist term that means something like way of living purely) and our souls’ desire to understand, work toward, and integrate it into our actions. “Has always been” appears to make it fairly clear that Dharma is what we all seek. To couch this idea in more “Western” terms, we could say that we all seek the Platonic archetype of Truth and of Being itself. This is what I take to be kd’s major point in mentioning “divine dissatisfaction”.

Of course, kd is pretty much just like the rest of us, struggling to get half a clue about life and its living. But because she has such an exceptional voice, she is able to express things in ways that do carry “more” than some other artists. “Constant Craving” is likely the best example of kd’s ability to do this.

These are the two main reasons why this song is still shockingly meaningful. It is a song that is musically sound and whose topic is perpetually relevant.

Constant Craving Lyrics (Lang/Mink)

Even through the darkest phase
Be it thick or thin
Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin

And constant craving has always been

Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls towards truth
Or maybe it is life itself
Feeds wisdom to its youth

Constant craving has always been

Craving, ah, ha
Constant craving has always been
Has always been

Constant craving has always been
Constant craving has always been

Craving, ah, ha
Constant craving has always been
Has always been
Has always been
Has always been
Has always been
Has always been

Read more: K. D. Lang – Constant Craving Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Reference

Middleton, R. (1983) “Play It Again Sam”: Some Notes on the Productivity of Repetition in Popular Music pp 235-270, Cambridge University Press

6 Comments

  1. Just re-discovered this gem and I find it moving me in a different way than it did upon its release(tears actually). I couldn’t figure out why. Your post explains that and more (why it is so catchy). And also surprisingly, I just watched the MTV award-winning video of the song with its beautiful use of Samuel Becket-like images. That interpretation also speaks volumes about the song’s meaning as Beckett’s plays (like Waiting for Godot) deals with the human condition (and repeats phrases just like Constant Craving’s lyrics).

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  2. brilliant kath … did so enjoy reading this. as a fellow philosopher and historian, it’s a refreshing take on an old but very palatable song as the media interpretations almost always indicated that it was kd’s pining for the elusive individual who rebuffed her long ago and who she never got over. in fact, i believe she moved to california from alberta to be close to the person – alas, only to be dejected again. your analysis forces us out of that paradigm and into the realization that perhaps there is an aspect of kd lang that is far more profound than the mere object of media prowlers. so glad i’ve connected with you …..

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    1. Kath – Without sounding repetitive myself, it’s just plain wonderful to hear your literary voice again. Your words bring me closer to kdl and all that she is to me – part icon, part human – a mysterious, enchanting woman who is in many ways of this earth and other-worldly. Thanks for sharing, Kath. Keep disseminating those thoughts, as your learning path has enlightened mine as well. Best, virginia

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