When I was five I bought my first record. I was at the local K-Mart and my parents – at my contention – purchased the Peter Criss solo album for me. I remember my father asking if I knew any of the songs. I quickly turned the album searching for something convincing. I blurted out that I had heard the last song on the album “I Can’t Stop the Rain”. Over the next few weeks I played that album and particularly that sentimental drivel of a song over and over. In my basement, I would croon maudlin lyrics like “Ain't it sad when the only love I ever had just slips away right through my fingers”.
In retrospect, the song is histrionically schmaltzy and ceases to have any redeemable charm. However, that song was not merely my first experience as a lover of music, but, it would seem, was my first attempt to understand the ideal of love. Of course as the years progressed and my record collection grew the truth is, I learned, or attempted to learn about sexuality and love not from my father, or a family member (I was an only child so the superior knowledge of an older brother was out of the question), but through the over-hyped masculinity of rock n’ roll and the overindulgent sounds of pop music.
Over the next few years I would grab at various songs until in 1983 when I bought Def Leppard’s Pyromania. The overt sexuality of “Photograph” and “Rock, Rock til you Drop” teamed up succinctly with a pre-teen just discovering the opposite sex. My almost dutiful commitment to all things Def Leppard eventually led me to AC/DC, the makers of such subtle songs as “Sink the Pink”, “Big Balls” and “Whole Lotta Rosie”.
Yet, it would be a post-high school musical reformation that would most alter my views on love and relationships. Glasgow, Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub broke big in 1991 with their record Bandwagonesque. The overly-poppy-romanticism of Fanclub was infectious. It was not about the corny passion of overwrought sexuality but was about the basic simplicity of romance. On songs like “December” they painstakingly declared “She don't even care but I would die for her love”. Just out of high school and desperately trying to figure out what it meant to be on the threshold of a perceived adulthood (little did I know that adulthood was still years away), the sound of 90s power pop offered me a view of the man I wanted to be. Previous to this, I had put together a band with friends equally as lost in the world of the early nineties. The last thing we wished to discuss with our parents was love and sex. However, it seemed it was all we wanted to talk about with friends and sing about on stage. Despite Teenage Fanclub’s pleas that I should have “never looked for answers in a song” I did just that, and in doing so recast myself as a new romantic.
With my heart firmly on my sleeve I cultured “fantasies of love and affection” singing about unrequited love and post-high school crushes that seemed altogether adult at the time, but in retrospect were childish and feeble. Fanclub would sing “I'd steal a car to drive you home” or “Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From” and I would declare that “I judge my direction by the place that you call home”. Even in my early twenties I never saw the hyperbole of the romantic pop song, but instead I read it as the genuine artifact. When Paul McCartney sang “A love like ours could never die as long as I have you near me”, I saw it as the truest declaration of love as opposed to a hyperbolic sentimental over-extension that I’m sure in retrospect stuck in Linda McCartney’s craw (the song was written for McCartney’s then girlfriend Jane Asher). But, the reason for that is simple. I was young, and let’s be perfectly honest, ignorant to the complexities of love.
In 1997 I met the woman who would become my wife. In hindsight I attempted to formulate a soundtrack to our burgeoning relationship. It was as if I wanted to create a mixed-tape of devotional hymns to the love that I had always dreamed of. Even on our wedding day we created a CD of songs that spoke of our love for each other ending of course, with Fanclub crooning “It's your love, I dream of and that's all I need to know”. However, the truth is the love that we would share and build upon had only just begun.
Over the next few years mortgage payments, insurance, health concerns, kids and the overbearing reality of the everyday set in and knocked the soundtrack from the turntable. It was not that there still wasn’t love, and music for that matter, but we had entered an era of realism that the songs I had grown up on didn’t address. The truth is that the hyperbole of a pop song only scratches the surface of a real relationship. The problem lies in the music that we hear around us. It is so often created by young people for young people. It rarely reflects on the tenuous nature of adults in love. John Lennon, in the midst of romantic turmoil, reflected on his tumultuous relationship with Yoko Ono singing “our life together is so precious together. We have grown, we have grown”. For Lennon the love he had for Yoko Ono had grown and matured beyond his often glaring sentimentality. More recently Canadian songwriter Ron Sexmsith wrote “A word or two, my friend, there's no telling how the day might end, And we'll never know until we see, that there's gold in them hills”. In those words Sexmsith espouses the nature of real love. The grandiose overstatements of love are gone and have been replaced by the reality of love. The fact is that no matter what your life holds in store, if you truly are in love then you will “see the blessings in disguise”.
It would seem that the soundtrack of our past must remain there, in the past. I would never question the canon of love songs that have helped create who I am, however, it is imperative that the soundtrack from here on out isn’t about me but ultimately about us. Love is about two, not one, for as Teenage Fanclub said on their latest record “what is it I haven't got when I've got you?”
I still listen to a lot of music. In fact I still listen to a lot of young power-pop that still espouses the romantic idealism I too espoused when I was young. However, it is no longer that music that creates me. I have been created not by the music but by the family I now have (perhaps in part to that music). In a song I once wrote for my wife I sang “I wish I could put my heart into something new, if you weren’t taking up all the room”. But truthfully, like Lear before me, my heart was not finite. Truthfully, the love for my kids, my wife as a mother and my wife as a partner have grown from that idealized romance.
This thirty-nine year old has come to understand that love, realistically is about your ability as a couple to not come undone while the threads of passion and romance unravel under the pulls and strains of potty-training, mortgage payments and one’s own occasionally stupidity. Sadly, pop songs don’t include this message. Pop songs don’t tell you that when you are looking for love, look for someone who accepts the fat kid hiding behind the singer, that kid who was raised on bad records and beautiful pop songs. Because the person who can see you for what you truly are knows that you’re not perfect and yet can still wake up every day and declare “My love, you know you are my best friend”. And really that’s what this whole love thing truly is about, isn’t it?
The world of music and media offers us a view of the world like few other arts.