Has anybody out there read Hawthorne's short story "Rappaccini's Daughter"? As soon as I heard the first few lines of this song I knew Stevie must have! Quick summary of the story: Rappaccini is this guy who had come up with all these mutated flowers that are incredibly poisonous. He and his daughter Beatrice are immune to the poisons because they've built up a resistance to them. Only problem: they can't leave the garden or else they will die, because now GOOD air is poison to them. Then, an intelligent, handsome young guy named Giovanni comes to stay with their next door neighbor. He sees Miss Rappaccini and thinks she's incredibly gorgeous and sexy, but whenever he tries to visit her, he starts feeling a little light-headed, and so he has to go back home. Eventually, though, he starts feeling less and less light-headed in the garden...and more and more light-headed OUTSIDE of the garden...you can see where this is going. He's becoming like them, building an immunity to the poison, but reacting badly to "good" air.
That's when he finds out that not only are the flowers poisonous, but Rappaccini and his daughter are also poisonous to the "uninitiated." SHE, and not just the flowers, was what was making him light-headed - in a bad way! Rappaccini wanted his daughter to have a man, so he plotted this whole thing where they would get Giovanni to build up an immunity so he could live in the garden with them. However, once he did, like them, he could never leave. Of course Rappaccini couldn't care less about that, but Beatrice truly loves Giovanni and doesn't want that to happen to him. Once he realizes what is happening, Giovanni wants her to come with him out of the garden; she knows she cannot. He claims that if she just takes this anitdote that he's been given, she'll be "cured" and be able to live happily ever after with him. Knowing it will be fatal, she still attempts it out of love for Giovanni, but too much of her essence is part of that poisonous garden. In trying to purge herself of the poison, she destroys herself. She dies in Giovanni's arms.
You can see some of the representative phrasing used in the song in this excerpt from the story: "Whether or no Beatrice possessed those terrible attributes, that fatal breath, the affinity with those so beautiful and deadly flowers which were indicated by what Giovanni had witnessed, she had at least instilled a fierce and subtle poison into his system. It was not love, although her rich beauty was a madness to him; nor horror, even while he fancied her spirit to be imbued with the same baneful essence that seemed to pervade her physical frame; but a wild offspring of both love and horror that had each parent in it, and burned like one and shivered like the other....this lovely woman...had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was so imbued with them that she herself had become the deadliest poison in existence."
Now, after all that, the application to Stevie: she's imprisoned in her lifestyle, it's corrupted her, she can't escape its effects, but she doesn't want to pull her lovers into that corruption as well....still, she winds up doing it sometimes unintentionally. However, she can't stop; rock and roll is too much a part of her for her to give it up, even for love. If she did, like Beatrice, she'd shrivel up and die. Good literary analogy, Stevie!
I was delighted to find out about "Running Through the Garden". Possibly Stevie saw the fairly recent tv movie? For Nathaniel Hawthorne the story was a work of hope concerning his courtship of his wife Sophia, but for his readers, a tale of doom. If you are interested in what Hawthorne was up to, including the difficulty of his wife's drugs, see
"I feel that "Running Through The Garden" can best be interpreted if "life" is exchanged with "garden". For example, with the lines "Until she herself became just as fatal as was her life...", it can be seen that she is becoming as burdensome with her life and others as drugs and bad choices are impeding her. She is attracting so many as she grows older and acquires fame. The other main "garden" reference, and, what I think is the strongest, is her line "Until she herself understood her life...". She is clearly saying here that, until she realizes what she wants, she will have her heart broken and have no future at all. It's a common problem we all face; Stevie is just able to make it more poetic. Finally, with "Until she herself became the toxic life; Always frightened...", she is saying that her life is making her "deadly" (Or more appropriately, "harmful") and unattractive to others. She is fearful this aspect of her life will never disappear. However, it goes full circle to the earlier reference to being "just as fatal as was her "garden".
The next verse better explains her interactions with other people. "And so you run toward what you know is wrong" is a comment on all the fans/admirers she had that came to her, despite the problems she had. Despite the fact that what she was doing was, in fact, wrong, the hundreds of fans every night only wanted to be with her. On a more personal level, it can also be directed at lovers after Lindsey--To all of them who came to her because of her great allure. They all knew there were problems with her and Lindsey and within Fleetwood Mac and, because of that, she even had a great love for them--Both Lindsey & FM and her admirers; however, "there are too many flowers to cut down" can be referring to several of the barriers between her and love at this point. Her drug use. Her constant touring with FM. Perhaps even Lindsey's jealousy. And, of course, the fame. Despite her love for the other men, she was not willing to cut down the flowers (Or, better yet, the barriers) for them. And, with it, she passed many good chances by. By the end, she is telling them to "turn around" and escape before it is too late for them to become involved.
The third verse is her apology to all of the aforementioned individuals who unintentionally (On Stevie's behalf) became tangled in her life. This verse is pretty literal. Again, the "garden" is mentioned, but, replacing it with "life", it is clear that she never intended to "imprison" others "here in [her] life...". It is already too late for her to escape and she must remain in her prison until she can understand her life. Another clear reference to her mention earlier about understanding her "garden".
The rest of the song is pretty much repeated until the end of the song. With two variations. First off, she is "runnin' in brilliant colors". These colors could be the different aspects of "rock stardom". The good and bad sides. The fans. Being on stage every night. But also the drugs. And lack of privacy. And all of the stories about the dissension about the band. They're brilliant because they create such an impact on Stevie. They're "bright" enough to catch her attention, yet, as they do so, she is "runnin' straight towards, straight towards what [they] (They = Other advice givers in her life) know is really wrong." Here, she is saying that, despite the countless attempts to get her to stray away from the "really wrong" aspects of her life and all of the "brilliant colors", she continues to indulge herself in "rock stardom". Whether it was lovers, colleagues, family or even managers who assuredly gave her advice on what to do, she continued to run "straight towards" what everyone else knew to be wrong. In fact, "really wrong". Once more, she only does this because she has yet to understand her "garden".
And while I definitely see a strong connection between this song and "Rappaccini's Daughter", I also feel Stevie is simply explaining the story of her struggle to live her life with all the problems she faced. The drugs, failed romances and bad choices have all led her to (most likely) unintentionally draw unknowing people into her life. She apologizes to them and is saying that she never wanted her decisions to harm others, yet they did and, now she is realizing she could do nothing until she "understood her garden"."
I remember reading the Hawthorne sotry as an undergrad and, too, am inclined to think that Stevie may be borrowing from that narrative. But let's take it a step further - what would draw Stevie to such a fable?
The line of this song that stands out the most to me is that "[t]here are too many flowers to cut down". This is an interesting comment, coming from a gypsy who has spent a lifetime selling paper flowers; it suggests a potential danger associated with beauty and its seductive power. Perhaps Stevie, who surely knows by now the effect that her music - brilliant and dreamy - has had on her fans, is reflecting on her role as a singer-songwriter. She has made us (willing) prisioners in her garden. But is there a danger in becoming so intoxicated by such beauty?
I'm not suggesting that Stevie is about to abandon her career. Nor am I even implying that Stevie does or should feel guilty about the magic that she spins. But perhaps the appeal of the "dangerous garden" concept for Stevie reflects a brave amount of self-awareness on her part.
Stevie did an interview with a British magazine in 2003 where she confirmed that the song was inspired by the story mentioned above. She wrote it in 1985 and recorded it for ROCK A LITTLE. I actually prefer the line, "Don't trust me!" that Stevie sings in the ROCK A LITTLE version instead of "Turn around".
I think 1982-86 was a very sad time for Stevie, even though she was on top of the world. I think she may have been thinking she was destructive to other people perhaps.
Want to speculate about "Running Through the Garden"? E-mail me and I'll post your comments.