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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Comment of the Moment: Why Does A Man Need A Maid?

The Comment of the Moment is on the song "The Maid Needs a Maid" by Emily Haines by Roger N.
Great point about the Heart of Gold insertion in the Massey Hall version of this song. (I've thought about that too and how the songs have a cohesion/compatibility to them, even though it may not seem that way on the surface.)

I read a "Man Needs a Maid" as someone (whether it's Neil, who knows -- poets often create alternate personas) trying to convince himself that he needs only material support when, in all actuality, the narrative is that of someone who is truly wounded and needs much more.

In other words, he is trying to convince himself that having a person cook and clean for him is enough. This is a coping mechanism so that he can disengage and not feel wounded from what may be his realization of a failed attempt to engage with another person in the past.

Therefore, the chorus (A Man Needs a Maid) is not the reliable (true) voice of the persona Neil has created in the tune. The real voice is the person who says: "To live a love, you have to be part of." That is the epiphany, the realization, and the truism of the tune. Because this truism is painful -- perhaps due to one's failure to live up to this sentiment -- a perfunctory/crude sentiment like "A Man Needs a Maid" (all I need is someone to cook, clean and go away) is merely a coping mechanism for keeping this realization at bay. How do we know which is the true feeling and which sentiment is "all talk"? Look at the phrasing. Neil uses language like "I was thinking that maybe ..." I'll get a maid. Can the language be any less resolute? Meanwhile, the other sentiments ("To live a love") are spoken with so much more certitude.

The song as a whole reflects a struggle between engagement and disengagement. The thought that "all a man needs is a maid" is merely a method for convincing one's self that material support is all one needs, that detachment is the best course for dealing with "relationships," so as not to get hurt, even though what the narrator really knows is that it takes engagement (and giving of one's self) to make the relationship work.

It's a much more complex song than people give Neil credit for -- largely for their failure to see the psychological dynamic that is going on. To read this as a sexist song is to disregard Neil's artistic skill at creating a voice that seems to be saying one thing on the surface, but really means another thing altogether.

Anyone who has gone through a tough time in a relationship will be able to relate to the mood of this piece -- and how it shows the way we try to convince ourselves of one sentiment, even when we know the opposite is true.


Thanks Roger!

More lyrics analysis of Neil Young songs.


At 9/04/2009 12:25:00 AM, Anonymous shittyhorse said...

Great point Roger! A man needs a maid is sooo far from sexist and if you hear people say it is, then they don't know the song nor do they know Neil. "Afraid, A Man Feels Afraid" is how the song went (as he all know) originally!
Neil has so many tunes, so many classics, and so many sounds that some can easily get lost for a moment here and there. This tune, when you haven't heard it in a while and you put it on, you find yourself wondering how? How after so much time, and hours and hours of listening, can Neil still give you shivers down your spine and make the hairs on your arms stand up straight. You marvel at how simplistic and raw and yet so emotionally complicated his sound and his writing are. When its over you sigh and smile to yourself. What an amazing guy! What a great song! How did someone write this? Just Amazing!

Did anyone read the Neil interview in Guitar world? Neil kinda says about Archives Vol.2 That during that period he was very wasteful and that many things were started and never finished, songs, albums, etc. And he talk about Time Fades away 2, anyone hear of that? Its gonna be on Vol.2 I think. Great interview!
Neil very much is, in fact, THE MAN! Rock on brother!

At 9/04/2009 09:33:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Wow, that's a great analysis. It never occurred to me that the song is a lie we tell ourselves when we're hurt and hiding from loneliness, trying to convince ourselves that we don't need "love", only someone to help out around the house, 'cause it's a damn mess.

This has so much more meaning to me now, as I had pretty much the same psychological reaction to a breakup. I guess it's a pretty universal thing, actually.

Anyway, brilliant analysis. I love the idea that when he's singing "maaaaiiiid, a man needs a maid," he's actually wounded and pining for love, but trying to hide from it.

And very perceptive, noting the connection between the unsure voice in one part and the very certain voice in the other.

Best NY song analysis I've read in awhile.

At 9/04/2009 01:26:00 PM, Anonymous Roger N said...

TW: Thanks for featuring this post. Shittyhorse: Good point about the alternate lyrics ("A Man Feels Afraid"), which give a stronger indication of what Neil meant. Thanks, Matthew, for your response as well. I too feel very strongly about this song. Just to cap the thought, in closing: Any song that instructively conveys the struggle men have with being giving partners in a relationship -- whether Neil intended this or not with AMNAM -- is actually the absolute inverse of sexist. Cheers.


At 9/05/2009 03:04:00 PM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

This is one of those songs that has always been simultaneously moving and baffling to me. The singularity of the title of the song doesn’t help, and can really lead you in the wrong direction. Hence the mistake of viewing the song as sexist, as well as the need to look a little further into the lyrics, which everyone here has done so well. I can’t add much to what has already been said in terms of the songs depiction of someone’s attempt to hide a core of loss with diversion, except to point out the like concept of the need to impose normalcy and order in the aftermath of a melt down. The counter point of ambivalence to certitude is a point really well made- the center of the song makes this perfectly clear: “To give a love, you gotta live a love. To live a love, you gotta be part of.” Nothing could be more certain next to the stab in the dark of thinking you need to find a maid.

The superficial introduction of a maid into the household could be viewed as an attempt to establish a temporary order to cleanup the mess, all in the service of a simple interlude. It could be argued that in the end the upshot of the song is the holding out of hope yearning of the last line of the song: “When will I see you again?” A man needs a maid as a coping mechanism- or substitution, a suspension of disbelief that he’s not going to get back together with her again.

I started out this comment to say that while all this makes sense, especially in light of the subtle disclosure from Massey Hall, “Afraid, a man feels afraid”, what always threw me was the last verse about the actress. But as I write, and think about the points everyone has made, even this makes sense to me now. What could be more superficial than an identification with a fictional character to come to grips with a very real life loss? What better than a movie to wallow in the pain? It’s generally understood that the actress was Carrie Snodgrass playing the part of the “mad housewife”, whose world has also fallen apart in the aftermath of a toxic relationship. Neil must have been feeling a little mad himself.

Anyhow, the song means different things to different people, and who knows if I’m anywhere near the truth. It’s just a take. But man, it never gets old, and like shittyhorse said, it still sends chills up my spine. I just remembered another thing- being in the den listening to Harvest over and over after it had just come out. My sister, full into the “tethered to a telephone” preoccupation of a teenage girl, was drawn in during “A Man Needs”, wondering “what is this?” It even got to her.

At 5/23/2012 03:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about "When will I see you again?" I think he is just starting a new relationship and scared of going in too deep and getting hurt (again). And Roger has it spot on.

At 8/12/2012 03:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This song was explained in the book "Shakey" as a response to Neal's break up with actress Carrie Snodgrass. He was reflecting on that failed relationship.

At 8/10/2013 08:03:00 PM, Blogger JosephK said...

It's hard to make sense of criticism that the song is sexist.

If he'd sung 'Just someone to keep my house clean, fix my meals, have sex and go away', that could be construed as sexist. But the guy's not talking about using a woman for sex and housekeeping; he's just talking about hiring someone to look after him while he recovers emotionally.

If you use a woman for sex you're sexist; if you don't use her for sex you're still sexist. You can't win! Perhaps he should have sung 'A man needs a professional cooking and cleaning service while he's getting over his emotional crises', but I doubt that would shut the critics up.

At 12/10/2014 09:55:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think it is an old man's lament for his lost life partner (the heart of gold). The lyric "when will I see you again" are his wishing to die soon and go to heaven to finally be reunited with his love. The lyric "it's hard to make that change ..." refers to him being separated from his love through her death. The chorus is him saying that all he needs to survive what's left of his life is a maid, and to be left alone.

It's such a beautiful song ... makes me cry for my aging dad (a widower) and helps me understand a little better what he might be going through in life.

At 8/08/2016 04:04:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

i was in my hot headed 20's when I heard this song for the first time. In love with a lovely man (I'm a woman), who was at the same time brilliant, flawed, and in the early stages of emotional development. (Maybe me too?) I couldn't understand his explanation of this song, but I loved him desperately and trusted there was a deeper layer than the sexist veneer, even if I couldn't at all see it.

Fast forward 15 years. We are now with other partners. I have two babies. I am a stay at home mom with no family nearby. We have one car. I make 4 different dinners every night. I get to take 3 showers a week. I wake up at 4am everyday. It's a hard time.

We got a babysitter who cleans the house one day a week. All these years later, I get it. It's not just "a man needs a maid". Everybody needs a maid! It's a universal. I "perform" for my husband, my kids. And I'm brought to tears, literally, to have someone wipe my counters. It's like she's giving my soul love. Such a simple thing.

This is my thank you - to that lovely man and the universe for giving me the experience of both sides. The actress, the audience, the maid, the "man".

At 12/02/2016 12:32:00 AM, Blogger John Gutierrez Photography said...

He sings the verse twice: "When will I see you again?" This truly a statement wondering when he will see "love" again. What was had and lost, but he now has the courage to ask to see himself be in love again. The reference of "you" is his vision for "love"—when will I see love again.

At 10/03/2018 07:11:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

"When will I see you again," is so touching, but for years I was angry with it, until I understood where he was coming from. Like all of us, right?

At 9/10/2021 08:49:00 PM, Blogger 'Not a hater' said...

This song shows clearly how you cannot analyze lyrics without reference to the music. It is a song, not a poem. Young's music is so incredibly powerful it is like a raging storm inside of the narrator showing the overwhelming grief and exhaustion he is feeling. I'm a woman and a feminist, but never heard the lyrics as sexist at all. I love 'unknown's' comments about the power of having someone that will take care of you without any emotional demands. I was never a fan of Neil Young when I myself was young, but now I'm in my 50's I feel like I am finally mature enough to understand his music. I was driving home late in a storm last night and nearly went off the road when 'A man needs a maid' came on because it was so raw and true. 'not a hater'


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