Bonnie Raitt in "I Can't Make You Love Me"
In The Shadows Of Melancholy With Bonnie Raitt
Welcome to Forgotten Videos. For some, these videos are forgotten, for others just filed away, and for others still, a totally brand-new discovery. Whichever category you fall into, each week we'll feature a video that's possibly been collecting dust when what it really deserves is a fresh look. Or vice-versa. … We're not here to judge, we just want to take you on a little trip down memory lane. Yep, you'll remember when hair was really that big, when drums were that up front in the mix, when video was young(er) and so were you.
"I Can't Make You Love Me"
Conventional wisdom holds that pop music lovers don't much care for mystery and melancholy, but Bonnie Raitt bucked that assumption with her gorgeously yearning 1991 music video for her Top 20 hit "I Can't Make You Love Me."
About as close to impressionist art as music video gets, this classic Raitt clip features gauzy black-and-white images of a couple literally drifting apart, interspersed with Raitt and pianist Bruce Hornsby performing in the shadows. To illustrate the lyrical theme of unrequited love, the video employs footage of fire amid billowing sheets, a sort of bedroom funeral pyre for a perishing love affair.
The video is the handiwork of director Matt Mahurin, who earned fame in 1994 for his controversial Time magazine cover featuring a photo illustration of O.J. Simpson. But years before the Simpson piece transformed him into a multimedia star, Mahurin was best known as a music video pioneer who directed world-famous clips for Tracy Chapman ("Fast Car"), Metallica ("The Unforgiven") and R.E.M. ("Orange Crush"), among others. He applied his shadowy, ghostlike aesthetic philosophy to Raitt's music video.
"People see things in shadows," says Mahurin, who earned a GRAMMY nomination in 1992 for Best Music Video — Short Form for Lyle Lovett's "Church." "Their needs, their wants, their fears — people imbue all those things into shadows. The big part about the way I worked was how shadows moved over things, or brought things into the light. For me it was a way of focusing the viewer's attention on what I wanted them to see."
What Mahurin wanted viewers to see was Raitt's aesthetic vision for the ballad. "It's an incredibly sad song, but also an incredibly honest song," says Mahurin. "Bonnie and I had a lot of talks about what the lyrics meant, her performance and those kinds of things. Some artists leave you alone, but Bonnie really wanted to know how everything came together.
"To me [the video] is about sadness and trying to force something, so there's that playing the fire against the darkness," Mahurin says. "I liked leaving the video open so that I wasn't telling a specific story, but creating something more evocative of the mood of the song."
More than 20 years after its debut, "I Can't Make You Love Me" is a bona fide classic. Composed by Allen Shamblin and former Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Mike Reid, the tune has been covered by everyone from '80s icons such as Prince and George Michael to GRAMMY-winning newcomers such as Adele and Bon Iver. It was originally featured on Raitt's GRAMMY Album Of The Year-nominated Luck Of The Draw, the follow-up to her Album Of The Year-winning smash, 1989's Nick Of Time. Raitt and Hornsby performed "I Can't Make You Love Me" at the 34th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 25, 1992.
Raitt herself has come full circle. On April 10 she released a new studio album, Slipstream, on her own Redwing Records label. She also created her first music video in 14 years, a reggae-inflected interpretation of Gerry Rafferty's 1978 hit single "Right Down The Line."
As for Mahurin, he currently juggles a successful career as a magazine illustrator, documentary filmmaker and self-styled arts educator. Look for his instructional website, the Imagemaker's Handbook, coming soon at www.mattmahurin.com.
"Bonnie was a very irreverent person — kind of brash and honest in her language," says Mahurin. "She was really refreshing that way. I got to see the person behind the art."
(Bruce Britt is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Billboard and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.)