“Don’t Speak” — No Doubt

MTV had “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt on heavy rotation during the late 1990s. To say my oldest daughter was obsessed with this song would be a considerable understatement.

She was living with me in the late 90s…her mum and I had split up many years beforehand…and thankfully I liked the song too. Which was just as well — when “Don’t Speak” wasn’t on MTV, it seemed to be on the CD player in her bedroom.

The music video was eye-catching too. It started with No Doubt’s bass player, Tony Kanal picking an orange from a tree…ran through a garage-based performance of the song…a concert performance of the song…an unfortunate photo shoot where the rest of the band were excluded to focus on the photogenic lead singer…and finally putting the orange back on the tree again (actually just the opening sequence in reverse, but let’s not split hairs…).

That’s a lot of metaphors to squeeze into a 3-minute pop song…

Although originally written in a somewhat different vein some time beforehand…with her brother, and ex-No Doubt member, Eric…Gwen Stefani re-wrote the lyrics to “Don’t Speak” as her long-term relationship with No Doubt’s bass player Tony Kanal hit the rocks.

Originally written as a love song, by the time “Don’t Speak” became a massive worldwide hit, it had turned into a break-up song.

We’ve all been there. We might try to talk out the problems in a relationship, but after a while you reach the point where the more you talk, the worse everything gets.

Maybe it’s better for everyone to accept it’s over and move on with their lives. My grandmother used to say “least said, soonest mended”. The older I’ve got, the more I realise she was probably right.

Sometimes things are said in the heat of the moment that can’t be un-said later. You can’t, as it were, pluck an orange from a tree and stick it back on again afterwards, as if nothing had changed.

You might wish you could, but the world doesn’t work like that…

You and me
We used to be together
Everyday together always
I really feel
That’s I’m losing my best friend
I can’t believe
This could be the end
It looks as if you’re letting go
And if it’s real
I don’t want to know

Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal had been together for eight years before the break-up version of “Don’t Speak” went to the top of the charts around the world. I think we can take it Gwen Stefani wasn’t taking their break-up in an entirely positive frame of mind...

This verse means a lot to me because my daughter moved out in less-than-ideal circumstances and I felt like I hadn’t just lost my daughter, I’d lost a friend too.

She’d been there at a difficult time for me, and brought some light into my life when the world was a particularly dark and gloomy place.

Then she was gone.

After my daughter left, “Don’t Speak” was still on heavy rotation on MTV. And while I still loved the song, its opening verse always brought back memories of the times we’d spent sharing laughs and hanging out together.

Although listening to “Don’t Speak” made me sad…and still does…I never switched the song off.

I kept listening because it made me feel, somehow, that she was still there with me even though my house was now eerily empty. We were living apart again and there was nothing I could to do put things back the way they’d been before.

Our memories
Well, they can be inviting
But some are all together
Mighty frightening
As we die, both you and I
With my head in my hands
I sit and cry

I don’t remember any frightening memories of living with my daughter. But I do remember sitting with my head in my hands and crying plenty of times after she moved out.

Break-ups are hard…not just romantic ones…

Don’t speak
I know what you’re thinking
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts

You see, you can’t solve emotional issues with rational thinking. That’s the mistake a lot of businesses make in their customer service operations, for example. And it’s a common mistake families make too.

I was trying to be rational and keep everyone happy, but I realise I’d let my daughter down emotionally. The hardest thing you’ll ever do is confront your own feelings of letting your child down when they needed you.

Although I wasn’t the direct cause of my daughter moving out, I knew almost straight away that I’d let her down by not being there for her when she needed me…as she’d supported me emotionally when I’d needed her.

I’ve carried round those feelings for 20 years now, and I can tell you, despite what you may have heard elsewhere, time does not heal all wounds.

Rationally, I tell myself, I should be over it by now…what’s done is done…I’m sure she understands…and a host of other perspectives which sound logical enough in themselves.

But emotionally, I’ve never recovered from the day she left, and probably never will.

In the years since, my daughter has become a brilliant student and is starting on a doctoral programme this autumn. I know she’s going to change her corner of the world in some very profound ways through the amazing research she’s doing in the field of psychology.

She dug in when challenges have come her way and found her own way through them to get where she is today. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

But every time I hear the melancholic opening chords of the intro to “Don’t Speak”, I immediately think of all the wonderful times I spent with my daughter…and my friend…chilling out in front of MTV all those years ago.

“Don’t Speak” was deservedly a multi-platinum selling Number One record for No Doubt around the world…although curiously, for an American band, not in the US where it wasn’t even released as a single…

Over the years, there may have been more eloquent songs written about relationship break-ups.

But no other break-up song hits me in the gut anything like as hard as “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt.

Every time I hear it, I shed a tear for what I had…and what I lost…

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I know you could have spent your time doing something else, so I’m very grateful that you’ve spent the last few minutes in the company of one of my favourite songs.

The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/7H8zey5My6uNdD2TxeCb9F

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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