New York, London, Paris, Munich

New York, London, Paris, Munich

by Jeffrey Brooks

In 1957 pop star Nat King Cole had a hit with his song “When I Fall In Love.” The younger brothers and sisters of the World War II generation were growing up and falling in love and learning how to make their way to adulthood.

He sang

When I fall in love it will be forever
Or I’ll never fall in love
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended before it’s begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun

When I give my heart it will be completely
Or I’ll never give my heart
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you.

(All these performances are on You Tube. It’s hard to get what’s happening in the song just from the lyrics so you might want to check them out.)

The poetic couplet about the moonlight kisses, corny as it might seem now, shows that in the convention of this kind of song the intelligence and artfulness and tenderness of the singer matters.  With this, and through each verse, the lyric conducts a romantic persuasion beyond just yearning. The intention is a lifetime of committed love.

“The Way You Look Tonight” was written in 1936, but it was covered dozens of times by everyone from Frank Sinatra to the collegiate vocal quartet the Lettermen, who had a hit with it in 1961. This was the year of the Berkeley Free Speech movement, the post-beat, pre-hippie moment of Jack Kerouac and the Red menace.

But for most of the pop music-buying public this retro cover captured how they felt about love. In this song, still popular in the early 60’s, he rapture of romantic love was expressed as an appreciation of the qualities of a specific individual person.

They sang:

Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight.

Yes you’re lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
And the way you look tonight.

With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart.

Lovely, never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won’t you please arrange it?
Cause I love you, just the way you look tonight.

(The Lettermen’s version is not close to the best but the fact that it was popular in 1961 matters here.  There are plenty of elegant versions to listen to.)

In 1967, one of the most popular songs of the year was the Motown hit “I Second That Emotion,” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. No need to take the pun in the title too seriously, because it was just for fun even then.

But if you are inclined you can see that the song is about following the rules and the title is a reference to Robert’s Rules of Order, one of the most beloved manuals of parliamentary procedure ever created.  (Debate could be halted by a motion from the floor requiring a vote on the matter at hand, only if the motion was seconded from the floor.  That was a way to prevent a lone individual from undermining the deliberations.) The reference would have been clear to citizens, students organizing student government or clubs, or anyone who had learned some of the ways in which human beings learned to work together even when they disagreed, instead of screaming or killing each other, like thugs.

This was just as the Great Society welfare programs were about to gut the family, depreciate men, valorize (and fund) multi-generational single motherhood; it was four years before Roe v. Wade, and it communicated a man’s right to choose, at least to take the responsibility to do the right thing. And it communicated the importance of self-restraint and a committed relationship to the kids who listened to it. And this was no prudish self-restraint. You watch Smokey Robinson sing this and you will see that he understands the suffering that inevitably follows the withdrawal of pleasurable experience. And he builds his insight into the hurt that comes from sloppy self indulgence and the psychology that produces it, verse by verse:

Maybe you want to give me kisses sweet
But only for one night with no repeat
Maybe you’d go away and never call
And a taste of honey is worse than none at all

Oh little girl, in that case I don’t want no part
That would only break my heart
Oh, but if you feel like loving me
If you got the notion
I second that emotion
Said, if you feel like giving me
A lifetime of devotion
I second that emotion

Maybe you think that love would tie you down
You ain’t got the time to hang around
Maybe you think that love was made for fools
So it makes you wise to break the rules

Oh little girl, in that case I don’t want no part
That would only break my heart
Oh, but if you feel like loving me
If you got the notion
I second that emotion
Said, if you feel like giving me
A lifetime of devotion
I second that emotion

And he mentions “breaking the rules” and he is referring to pre-marital sex or one night stands. These were soon quaint rules. There were strains on them.  Soon they ceased to be rules at all.  But for him and his millions of listeners, in 1967, this was a real issue and he had something to teach.

Then the deluge.

For example in 1970 Steven Stills releases “Love The One You’re With.” This was the year after Woodstock, dorms were full of weed, heads were full of acid, the streets were full of war protesters, and the stock market was rising like the morning sun.

It was the 1971 Crosby Stills and Nash version that everyone heard and learned and lived by. (At first it seemed like freedom. Ask anyone.)
Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/s/stephen_stills/love_the_one_youre_with.html ]
If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking too
Concentration slips away
Cause you’re baby is so far away

Well there’s a rose in the fisted glove
And eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love honey
Love the one you’re with

Don’t be angry – don’t be sad
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had
There’s a girl right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do

Turn your heartache right into joy
Cause she’s a girl and you’re a boy
Get it together come on make it nice
You ain’t gonna need anymore advice

In this case the poetic couplet – the rose in the fisted glove, etc. – isn’t coherent and isn’t even English. But it fit within the convention of stoned, Dylanesque obscurity. It was acceptable and it was not the part of the song anyone was paying attention to.

The same year, 1971, Carole King’s song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” was a kind of anthem for listeners who thought it expressed what was in their hearts with utter honesty.

(It was a hit again a few years ago when it was covered by Amy Winehouse in a sincere sounding version she recorded just before she died at 27.)

It is a song full of longing and hope. It is stylish in a tin pan alley sort of way. But there is nothing more than hope in it. No volition. None of Smokey Robinson’s decision-making.  It presumes helplessness, as if there was nothing you could do but hook up and hope for the best. It has the intense yearning every gambler and drunk can relate to.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow

Tonight you’re mine completely,
You give your love so sweetly,
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes,
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure,
Or just a moment’s pleasure,
Can I believe the magic of your sighs,
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Tonight with words unspoken,
You said that I’m the only one,
But will my heart be broken,
When the night
Meets the morning sun.

I’d like to know that your love,
Is love I can be sure of,
So tell me now and I won’t ask again,
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Naïve, self indulgent and without the benefit of either a psychology or social structure that could guide her to a healthy stable romantic relationship and life. If it was a one-time thing maybe she could learn from it. But it does not seem that that is how the song was heard or used.

Then came disco. In 1976 a hit song sung by a porn performer called Andrea True captured the moment: over the top sex, and musical performance with a strange, anesthetized affect. This song and this sound were the soundtrack for an era of cocaine and cruising, Saturday Night Fever and Boogie Nights:  The mention of ardent love for a particular person in pop music was gone. Intoxicated by massive amounts of anonymous sex, partiers had to crank it up with drugs and porn and that is what pop music described:

Ooh, how do you like my love
Ooh, how do you like my love
But if you want to know
How I really feel

Just get the cameras rolling
Get the action going
Baby you know my love for you is real
Take me where you want to

Then my heart you’ll steal
More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like it
More, more, more

How do you like it, how do you like it
More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like it
Ooh, how do you like my love

Ooh, how do you like my love
And if you want to know
What it means to me
Just hear the rhythm grooving

Get your body moving
Baby you know my love for you is true
Any time you want to
Do what you gotta do

More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like it
More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like it

More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like your love
Baby you know my love for you is real
Take me where you want to

Then my heart you steal
More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like it
More, more, more

How do you like it, how do you like it
More, more, more
How do you like it, how do you like your love

A celebration of tab a and slot b. Not a hint of wit, or a gesture of seduction.  Nothing personal.

No need to trace the decline further: the generations that came of age in the 70’s and onwards were relentlessly advised by these values and examples. It is like that now, even more so.

Americans of the early and mid 20th Century lived through economic difficulties. They had to work hard to live and to maintain their dignity. This showed in their love songs, and the ideals they aspired to in their relationships. The songs were sweet at a time when life was hard.

The generations that served in WWII and the conflicts that followed understood that evil spreads if you don’t stop it, and they participated in stopping it.

Since then generations have come and gone who have been crippled by the comforts won by those earlier generations. While many have trained hard, studied hard, worked hard, and behaved with courage and decency, many have lost their way.

Subsequent generations believed they were wealthy enough to bribe their way out of difficulty; to appease tyrants and buy off discontents. They were wrong. Now the money is gone and the difficulties, the tyrants, and the discontents are stronger and more numerous.

People in the past few generations have been exploited by mass media; by producers who know they can pander to our weaknesses and desires – who know that we will pay and they will make money; they do this so they themselves can indulge, on a large scale, the same weaknesses and desires they have encouraged in all of us.

My generation was poisoned by the music we listened to and the values we absorbed. One of my professors, Neil Postman, wrote a book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” We have just about done it.

Contrary to what we were told, it turns out that people like to have a stable family to take care of and which they can depend on to take care of them, out of love, not out of contractual obligation, and not until something better comes along.

It is evident now that people want to have purposeful work, and have that work recognized and rewarded. We want to share our sense of purpose with our community and face the difficulties that arise together with others, and do it with courage and skill.

But to achieve this, good values and skills have to be taught and modeled, and they have to be learned.

If we neglect to create mature individuals, healthy families and communities then people will be unhappy. They will seek some way to overcome their loneliness and their uselessness.

A life of subsidy, pop music, movies, games and computers drain the life out of people, humiliate them, making them paranoid and angry.

They join gangs and become thugs that use violence on people weaker than themselves. They have affairs and become thugs that use sex without regard to others. They trick people and exploit them for money, through scams and advertising, as economic thugs.

As all these thugs, high and low, spread their values, our society declines. The connections between people dissolve. People get lonely.

Their minds fill with malignancy. Some will go looking for a target. Tall buildings. Movie audiences. Cities. Nations. There is no end to it.

Unless we put an end to it.

Let’s prepare now to do right: to act kindly when we can and courageously when we need to.

If decent people stick together, the thugs won’t disappear in a day, but they will never get a chance to take a second shot at stardom.

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