Songs That Soundtracked the AIDS Epidemic: Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay”

“It’s morning, and we slept the night away” that’s how we are introduced to the soft and powerful voice of Shirley Murdock, in the hit song “As We Lay.” Recorded in 1985, “As We Lay” was released on her debut studio album “Shirley Murdock” on February 18, 1986. On the album cover, Shirley is wearing a red dress with fringe and she has an immaculate manicure with red and other colors. This album cover is iconic, it has a beautiful simplicity, but captures her personality so well. Written by Billy Beck and Larry Troutman, “As We Lay” was recorded for Elektra Records and peaked at number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart during the week of March 21, 1987, right under Prince’s “Sign ‘O’ The Times.”

In February 1987, the first panel of the AIDS memorial quilt was created by Activist Cleve Jones for a friend. Ronald Reagan made his first speech acknowledging the AIDS crisis on May 3, 1987, this is after ACT UP held an action on Wall Street on March 24, 1987, demanding the FDA release drugs to combat the virus. It is in this context that “As We Lay” serenades people about the passion and guilt of a one-night stand. Even HIV prevention messages pushed narratives about how HIV is a consequence of cheating.

During the early AIDS pandemic, you seldom heard the stories of women living with HIV. I was reminded of this as I’ve been exploring songs for this series. In 1987 “Women are excluded from HIV trials unless they are on the birth control pill or IUD” according to an article on TheBodyDotCom. The January 1988 edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine (with Cindy Crawford on the cover) dangerously peddled the dangerous narrative that women shouldn’t worry about contracting HIV. This is seven years into the pandemic. 

“As We Lay” is an unconventional pick for this series because it isn’t a song dedicated or about HIV or those we lost to AIDS. I know. I chose this song because it highlights the complexities of relationships “we should have counted up the cost” Murdock sings. The cost of stigma and exclusion has been severe for those not captured and held in care throughout HIV history. It also is a great example of how intimacy brings up pleasure and pain, this song highlights what Personalized Cognitive Counseling outlines as online thinking and offline thinking. In the heat of the moment “we shared each other’s love” but as the morning comes we think about “the pain we’d cause.” How might our lost ones have heard this song in the 80s? That is something I think about.

As we remember those lost to AIDS, we must uplift and center stories of women, often forgotten in our quest to journey through HIV memories. Shoutout to the Positive Women’s Network, Tiffany Marrero and Kia LaBeija for speaking about their experience.

Abdul-Aliy (They/Them) is a Philadelphia born writer, organizer and cofounder of the Black and Brown Workers Co-op. In their work they often trouble ideas of medical surveillance, bodily autonomy and Blackness.Follow them on Twitter at@mxabdulaliy. Cash App: $dulle


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