Ain’t No Way: One of our most misunderstood love songs?
The status of Ain’t No Way as a queer love song has been the subject of debate lately. In 2018, writer Andrew Martone described it as “an undercover LGBT anthem”, highlighting the lyrics “stop trying to be someone you’re not” as a coded message to a secret lesbian lover, their asking to accept their sexuality. The story the song tells is deeply haunting and could be interpreted as representing the realities of millions of gay women around the world who feel they cannot love freely. Other lyrics include the lines “I know a woman’s duty is to help and love a man, and that’s how it was intended / Oh but how can I how can I how can I / Give you all the things I have / If you tie both hands to me “.
It could also have been particularly personal for Carolyn: she told Aretha biographer David Ritz that Erma and Aretha “were chasing boys when I found out that my romantic preference was going in a totally different direction … it took me a long time to find my own identity and voice.” In Ritz’s biography, Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, Erma is quoted as saying of Carolyn, “I consider her a great woman… She went her own way, lived her own life, and found freedom in his individuality.
Still, Detroit bassist Ralphe Armstrong disagreed with Martone’s reading of Ain’t No Way during an interview for The Guardian’s. Carolyn Franklin recent profile, claiming “It’s just a love song about being heartbroken.” Martone tells BBC Culture he still maintains his position. “The beautiful thing is that the music is open to interpretation. Ain’t No Way certainly works at a level where it applies to the deterioration of Aretha’s marriage to Ted White when Aretha sings it. But it also works on another level, and I believe it was by design. I don’t have to be right or wrong, but there is room to see the song through multiple lenses and explore them. “
According to Dr. Uju Anya, a professor at Penn State University who specializes in applied critical linguistics through feminist and queer perspectives, it is possible to overlook the queer elements of Ain’t No Way because it belongs to a gender with predominance. “Troubled woman in love with a man” trope. But, she argues, there is a “deception” in the song. Dr Anya claims that the singer is pleading her case with her lover (another woman) all over the place. throughout the song, the chorus functioning in two ways: the protagonist says to his lover “I want to love you but you will not leave me” and, at the same time, “describing himself: there is no way I will gonna love the way you expect me to. “Ain’t No Way, says Dr Anya, can be” just a heartbroken love song “- and still be a queer love song.