My whole life I’ve been a lover of music. I love the whole process of songwriting so much that I find the story behind a song to be much more fascinating than the song itself. With the backstory behind the music, a song can take on so much more meaning, and it creates a much more intimate experience with the listener. Recently, Nelly Furtado released a new album, The Ride, which is constructed around life at its most basic points. In listening to the album, I couldn’t help but see several parallels between Francesca, the protagonist of The Bridges of Madison County, and Nelly Furtado, the artist and creator behind The Ride.
In The Bridges of Madison County when Francesca and Robert Kincaid first meet, they both feel something emotionally that draws them closer to each other. Their awakened feelings come alive, and the boring repetitiveness of their daily lives receives a kick of interest. Before, they had both been going through the motions, but once they meet, they start to feel again. Furtado captures this feeling in “Flatline” where she encourages someone to come save her; “I don’t feel nothing at all. Come on, resuscitate me, why don’t you come and save me?” Furtado wants to feel again, and be awakened by love and the promise of a relationship. This is the exact feeling Francesca and Robert have for each other.
Throughout The Bridges of Madison County, Francesca hints at how she “settled” for Iowa. In class, we had discussions about if she was actually happy, and if her family could tell that she had “just settled” for Madison County. Furtado explores these feelings in songs such as “Tap Dancing” and “Carnival Games”. Early in the story, Francesca expresses that “Madison County was home now, and she had no longing to go back again.” (Pg. 20) Furtado conveys this same feeling in “Carnival Games,” saying, “I stayed here too long, now it’s in my soul.” Although it may be home, Furtado warns listeners by adding, “But don’t mistake this for an adventure in paradise just because the ride looks so good.” As a reader, I can’t help but believe Francesca feels the same. Throughout the book, she comments that Madison County isn’t what she hoped it would be, such as when people talk about it being a great place to raise kids. To that, Francesca always wanted to respond, “But is it a good place to raise adults?” (Pg. 60) Comments and thoughts such as this establish Francesca’s unhappiness, and the question of her family knowing about her being not fully content with Madison County becomes a much more prominent matter. Furtado dwells on this feeling in “Tap Dancing”, where she sings, “In disguise, I’m tap dancing, making the moves up as I go along, forgetting all the words to my song.” This could very well be how Francesca feels about living in Madison County. It is her home now, but has she lost herself in trying to please her family? Has she lost herself in pretending to be truly happy here?
Francesca struggles with her decision to leave with Robert Kincaid, or stay in Madison County. In talking about their future once their few short days alone come to an end, she states, “As much as I want you and want to be with you and part of you, I can’t tear myself away from the realness of my responsibilities.” (pg. 116) Furtado echos these feelings on “Live” where she states, “I don’t wanna live, I don’t wanna live; getting what I need and never what I want. ‘Cause I don’t want to, but I want you.” If begged by Robert, Francesca would go with him in a heartbeat, but she also knows it is an illogical idea to have. These feelings are also expanded upon in “Pipe Dreams”, where Furtado speaks from the heart about being real. Furtado claims, “Don’t sell me no pipe dreams, I wanna feel the good and bad in everything, even when it hurts.” She goes on to say “Can’t protect me from nothing, can’t save me from the truth. You can’t even save me from you.” In these lines, Furtado talks about wanting realness, and not wanting to pretend or live with any relationship being artificial. With Francesca, that’s how she wants her relationship with Robert Kincaid to be. The thought of forcing him to change in order to stay together is something that she doesn’t view as an option. Francesca doesn’t want to change the person she’s fallen in love with, and as much as she wants to stay with him, she knows that isn’t an option. Instead of pretending their relationship could continue, she wants to make the most of the time they have together.
Furtado also captures what I believe is the perfect description of Francesca’s spirit on “Magic”. When she is young, Francesca settles for a happy and safe life in Madison County, Iowa. She views it as comfortable, but it never seems to satisfy what she wants in life. Furtado speaks of “bending all my lines to fit into a place that feels nice,” but goes on to say she put away her red shoes so “I wouldn’t get the blues thinking ‘bout the time I knew how to dance.” It’s a matter of settling for comfort, but never really knowing if she is truly happy where she landed. Furtado shows her longing feelings in the song, stating “I’ve been waiting on the same love, waiting on the same love again.” In the chorus, she poses the question of “Have you just grown up, and had enough? And you don’t believe in magic anymore. Have you just grown up and given up?” Although “Magic” appears to be directed and inspired by another person, I believe this question is one that Furtado imposes more on herself than she does on others. The same can be said for Francesca, as it seems that she struggles with being stuck in Madison County and not having the option, or even the strength, to try to pursue true happiness in life. Is the magic gone? Is this all that’s left? These are questions that haunt both Furtado and Francesca, but they are questions that receive answers. At the end of the song, Furtado sings gleefully about how “I know you still see me, I know you still believe, I know I’m in your dreams.” This is how Francesca feels after her time with Robert Kincaid. He was able to rejuvenate the fire within Francesca, and make her believe that magic still exists in life. Francesca knows that Robert feels the same about her. Even though they aren’t together, they still believe in the magic and know that they are on each other’s minds.
The parallels between Francesca and Furtado are exceptional, and the lines about their feelings can easily be connected. Even though their stories weren’t inspired by one another, it is incredible to see how much they can relate to each other. The themes between the book and the album speaks for how powerful Furtado’s new record is. I myself find the songs relatable to my own life, in some ways similar to Francesca’s situations, but others in my own individual way. After all, Furtado did construct and name this album about the ride of life, and it resonates perfectly with those who choose to let it.