I should tell you that I have a lover, or to be precise I have seven. As you pick up your jaw, let me explain. As an aside, it truly shouldn’t be shocking in the 21st century — my Dad had six girlfriends at one point, and everyone chuckled when he noted that “even the Lord rested on the seventh day” Nevertheless, let me tell you my story.
When I was a teen, I read. I read anything, everything The guys I met on the pages were just as real to me as the pop gods my friends adored. Not to say, I didn’t adore musical men — y’all know I did. Seriously though, Tom Petty was incredible — but I had no clue why B. would have a full size poster over her bed. Once I figured that out, ewwwww. I mean, her call & everything but ewwww. As you can imagine, other than the glorious Gordon Sumner (aka Sting) and the Duke basketball team each year, my tastes were a bit different.
My first true love was Robin Hood — he of the forest and the Merry Men. Dear Will (Shakespeare) introduced my next two dreamboats: Henry V and sweet Mercutio. The hours of dreams I spent talking to Erasmus and Voltaire, and now and again a small dalliance with the deliciously romantic yet ill-fated Keats — repartee as sparkling as a blade. At some point, I “crossed the pond” and discovered adventure with the supposedly mild bookseller Henry Knox — heroes come in all sorts of packages. Finally, the Shawnee chief, freedom fighter, fiery orator, and uniter, Tecumseh showed one person could make an enormous difference.
Daddy, a true southern cavalier in so many ways, had advice about men, as fathers of daughters are wont to do. Not that he was hung up about sex, that was a healthy, joyful expression of intimacy. I think, perhaps, that line comes straight from The Joy of Sex; a volume gave me in my early teens. He wanted me to be aware that any man with whom I contemplated a serious relationship needed to possess three attributes: 1) the ability to converse, 2) the ability to adapt, and 3) enthusiasm for life. Or in Daddy-speak, the young gentleman should be able to talk to the king or the maid with the same respect, I should be able to picture him in both a tux and in jeans, and he would be just as zestful reading a book, climbing a mountain, or plowing a field… Over the years, I’ve found life warrants adding two more: 1) he has to have an intellect bolstered by curiosity and imagination, and 2) he has to be able to laugh with the general absurdity of the world with compassion and not snark.
What did my dream lovers teach me? They all could talk, and write and think with speed and logic — the closest I’ve come in real life, was the night several of us stayed up all night in Timothy Leary’s room. Talking and listening to him was as riveting as watching the back and forth of a championship tennis match. I think that may be why I like Aaron Sorkin so very much — his characters actually talk, and not just to move the action — about ideas, and dreams, and then to move the plot. Fashion-wise I doubt any of my loves, excepting perhaps John Keats, were Savile row kind of guys. Yet I think, I know, my father’s underlying point was that he be comfortable in his own skin. That’s way easier said than done. My mom had me walk around with the proverbial book on my head, and sit spine straight in chairs with ankles crossed, because “a lady doesn’t slouch”. Of course, music flows through and animates each move so that your steps echo that rhythm. I’ve known tall men who walked with a slouch, and portly gentlemen who tried to shrink, “man-spreaders” who wanted to be the biggest in the room, men who dreamed of being women and were over-conscious of their manly presence. My dreamers moved smoothly through their worlds — each having a gait expressive of their lifestyle. Mercutio, Henry, Tecumseh, and Robin Hood moved as lightly and gracefully as panthers in the wild — their bodies tuned to react and respond. Darling Robin and Mercutio would be ever so much fun to partner at a dance, while quiet walks in the deep wood would suit the others. Not that Henry couldn’t dance, before the crown rested so heavily upon him, he was mad Prince Hal — up for any frolic. Of the others, Voltaire moved so quickly — his pace trying to outdistance his thoughts. Erasmus and Mr. Knox were more measured — one slow so as to find laughter and delight in the path he trod, the other decisive yet listening and watching to learn every secret the journey would yield.
One of the tenets my Dad and I shared was a passion to know more, about our disciplines, current events, random topics on the internet…. it never mattered, life always offered opportunities to learn something new and it would be downright rude not to partake. Henry Knox, in some ways, models the best of that concept. A bookseller by trade in simmering Boston he joined the patriot cause early. Like me, reading was utter passion for him and as he sold books and coffee to the British soldiers quartered in the city, he taught himself artillery. Legend has it he also listened to the British conversations about military matters to deepen his knowledge. Whether true or not, he brought the captured guns of Fort Ticonderoga to Washington and the American army had its first artillery. After his stint as Secretary of War, his later life tends to drain some of his majesty — as civilian life often does for the warrior.
Curiosity, intellectual or not, is a hallmark of my dears. Erasmus wrote In Praise of Folly, one of the slyest, kindest skewerings the pomposity of religion has ever received. Considered a humanist manifesto, and the origin of the Reformation (to Erasmus’ dismay) — his compassionate, yet pointed essay fostered critical thinking in a way that hadn’t been encountered by ye olde Renaissance reader. And, my God, Voltaire’s mind — is it any wonder he fell in love with a mathematician? Candide may be one of the greatest of the classics in my opinion, and since he’s one of my dreamboats — it is my opinion. With unfailing wit, he slaughters do-gooders, prosperity gospel proselytizers, xenophobes, and incompetents. It’s better in French, but the translation is brilliant as well (one of my summer projects long ago).
When we were kids — even before we realized that the whole Romeo & Juliet thing was middle school drama run amuck, I never idolized the principals. For me, Mercutio, with his tongue as rapid as a sword was my favorite. The play descends into melodrama without him — and his death scene rife with humor and curiosity, in the best acted versions I’ve seen is a marvel. As Romeo tries to pacify him, my Mercutio answers “No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ’tis enough, ‘twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man.” He looks at his wound bemusedly, curious as to how it has struck him low.
The legends, Henry V and Tecumseh, were more circumspect in their laughter — though if you read both history and fiction, it seems neither was above a bit of play. What I find so appealing in them is their sense of mission — their devotion to their nation, their followers. Neither of them saw their purpose as ending when the battle did, whether to unite a people or create a brand new alliance, they gave all of themselves.
One note about my dream loves — none of them expected me to be a passive recipient of their “incredible-ness”. With Robin and Henry, I was a warrior — handling a bow much better than I did in high school (not shoot the teacher terrible, just not Olympian). In Agincourt and Crecy, I dressed as a boy, à la Mulan, I was very well versed in strategy. — though we all know what happened to Jeanne d’Arc. My philosophers and poets never missed my Wednesday afternoon salons — where music and discussion sparkled and was never ever boring. Once I came to the Americas, I had such adventures as a member of George Washington’s spy network. Reporting to Knox, I brought bits of knowledge dropped in front of a “delicate blonde”, or acts of sabotage just destructive enough for the patriots to have a little advantage. In the old Northwest, I was a healer who met Tecumseh as I sought out Native Americans to learn their herbs and healing. Other than the dearness of the characters — these dreams weren’t unusual as that’s how I learned history. I researched costuming, characters and class notes. I used the information to create stories as I slept making the eras real. Whether Roman Britain or pre-D-day England, I would find people to walk me through their lives — which ended up making tests become inadvertent diaries.
My favorite, of course, has always been Robin. I think I’ve read every folklore, history and legend about his life and adventures — from the color saturated deliciousness of Pyle to the murky labyrinth of Stephen Lawhead’s Hood (the King Raven trilogy). Of course, there are the movies and that disturbingly bouncy TV show. The beauteous Errol Flynn is, of course, the classical model — although Michael Praed and Jonas Armstrong in their respective BBC series make a strong case for a younger Robin. I try ever so hard to love Kevin Costner (with his slippy British accent) and Russell Crowe (who makes Robin Hood look like a boxer) — and there’s good to awesome music (depending on the movie), and Prince of Thieves does have Alan Rickman who improved any movie, and Crowe’s Robin Hood had Cate Blanchett and Ridley Scott — which is just an odd trio. The girls got me small, stuffed versions of the Disney characters — I love the archery contest and Roger Miller’s songs. Oddly enough, one of the versions closest to the folktales is Men in Tights. While that may seem absurd, folktales often tell of those marginalized by society’s strictures reclaiming their power — Brooks does the same thing.
Robin and by extension my other loves, and Sting or Viggo Mortensen or Edward R. Murrow — reflect dreams and values I’ve discovered through the years. Since we just ended Valentine’s month — I thought their lessons appropriate for the season. 1) they taught me love can play, but it isn’t a game; 2) love is not about one upmanship — that’s how both lose; 3) love looks with the heart, not necessarily the eyes (check out some pics of Voltaire); 4) that curiosity about everything — food, politics, sex, travel, books is completely essential to fostering the passion, and finally 5) just be kind, it goes such long way in a world that sometimes forgets.
- God only Knows (the Beach Boys) – I will confess something totally un-American, while I think Brian Wilson is a genius — the Beach Boys were never my go to summer band. Yet this song, covered about a billion times just makes me senselessly happy.
- If I didn’t Have your Love (Leonard Cohen) – Poets don’t die, their words get etched into history — but after listening to Cohen’s last album, damn I will miss him — “And if no leaves were on the tree/And no water in the sea/And the break of day had nothing to reveal/That’s how broken I would be/What my life would seem to me/If I didn’t have your love to make it real”
- Peaceful Easy Feeling (the Eagles) – I had an old love who despised the Eagles, and while we were together I didn’t listen either to them or my beloved Sting as long as he was in earshot. Terribly silly on my part to be that over-accommodating. The only thing that ever made me sad about the Eagles was that the females were all bronzed and well, I can never meet that standard — maybe pink-flushed red, sigh….
- Somebody to Love (George Michael) – technically, I should use Queen’s version, I know “covers” are evil — sometimes one is just beyond compare. George Michael’s rendition of this at the Freddie Mercury tribute — it’s just so raw and emotional.
- Love and Happiness (Al Green) – Teenie Hodges wrote the hook for this song which twists into your veins, mixing that with Green’s growly delivery propels the driving, escalating beat.
- Accidentally in Love (Counting Crows) – Just one of those happy-making songs that there is no explanation other than damn, it’s fun.
- Diamonds and Pearls (Prince) – if “Cream” is vocal sex, then “Diamonds and Pearls” is foreplay. I know Prince had other love songs that are maybe more straightforward but this one just draws you forward like a crooked little finger, bringing you closer and closer still.
- Not the Only One (Bonnie Raitt) – “Then I saw your face, on the edge of my horizon/Whisperin’ that I wasn’t the only one/The lonely one” — one of the sweetest songs ever created, Bonnie Raitt’s husky pleasure comes through in every word.
- Mad Love (Neon Trees) — confession, time → I have a weakness for Neon Trees, since I saw them live down in Baltimore. They are completely fearless & joyous in concert. Plus their opening act was Smallpools — a band that they I met through them and truly appreciate. Random fact → I would love a mash up of this with Belinda Carlisle’s Mad about You,
- I Burn for You (Sting) – there was a point where Sting tried to be an actor. I think he’s probably done enough penance by now. Yet, back in the day when we all gathered at my house and would stay up all night watching movies (way before Netflix) — we rented Brimstone & Treacle. It was my choice for the weekend Brian, Ed, Chris & Tom — I am still sorry! Anyway, suffice it to say by 45 minutes in, I was the only one still watching. For all the movie’s awfulness, this lush romantic song drives an incredibly sexy rhythm.
- Fields of Gold (Sting) — does a song ever take you hook, line and sinker back to a place — so real you can feel the textures, smell the smells, as if the music is a time machine? Years ago, as a single woman, my decor was a mix of funky treasures I’d found and Daddy’s “attic bargain shop”. I remember the couch was a scratchy, eye-burning electric blue from the 70s, much better in the multitude of candles I had lit, stretched against the pillows in the darkness, the candles and the ghostly pillar of cigarette smoke fragrancing the room (it was NC). Wearing a gorgeous aqua kimono Daddy had found for me in Japan — the song was a background for phone calls and dreaming…
- Let My Love open the Door (Pete Townshend) – although he dismissed it as “just a ditty”, this dear little song sounds like the soundtrack to a stroll in a sun splashed meadow — love unshadowed by sorrow.
- Waiting for Somebody (Paul Westerberg) — although The Replacements have the distinction of being a band never receiving a 2nd invite to SNL (allegedly performing drunk does that) — they were one of my punk groups. I think mostly because of Westerberg. Waiting is one of his 1st solo songs, written for the movie Singles, great movie — even better score.
- I’ll Cover You (Rent), If Ever I would leave you (Camelot), Hello Young Lovers (the King & I) — I can probably give you a Broadway lyric as easily as Ben Franklin could drop an aphorism. Of course, love songs are standard fare and you can’t shake a musical without several falling out. Yet these three songs are breathtakingly lovely, and paint love with timelessness.
- I won’t say I’m in Love (Hercules), Tale as Old as Time (Beauty and the Beast), and I See the Light (Tangled) — of course, there are Disney songs in the mix, telling stories of love creeping in unawares, sparkling and hoping for a future.
- Stupid for your Love (Brendan James) – when he starts selling out arenas, it will make me happy that I have adored him for years. This is a silly song about how love can transform an otherwise intelligent person into a blathering ninny.
- Modern Love (David Bowie) – when I first heard this song — show tunes girl that I was, his shout out to My Fair Lady made me smile… as I grew older the fact that Stevie Ray Vaughn plays on the track — is just cool! According to an interview, Bowie said that Little Richard was his inspiration.
- Make you feel my love (Boy George!) – from his 2013 comeback album (This is what I do), BG’s cover is raw and world-weary rendering the song both hopeful and melancholy
- Will you still love me tomorrow (Amy Winehouse) – speaking of raw, this plaint of new love, sounds immediate as waking with a new love and wondering.
- You Can’t Hurry Love (Supremes) – a Motown classic that speaks volumes to the truth of love… Phil Collins’ cover a generation later bounces the song into a realm of complete pleasure.
Love is a canvas furnished by nature and embroidered by imagination –> Voltaire
I find I am jealous of you and your wide set of deserving lovers.
Thanks to the sexism of humanity since…always…, the pickin’s are much slimmer for us guys. I have no doubt of the untold stories filled with powerful and worthy females, but we run something of a shortage in stories told. For, it seems that while women long to hear the stories of men, the opposite is sadly untrue and literature is far poorer for it.
Sure, I can imagine being attracted to the strength of Scarlet O’Hara and whisking her off to Savannah where fresh seafood and salt air might loosen her mood and her bustle. But that’s a weekend tryst at most. What modern man could imagine long enduring her racism and machinations?
Shakespeare did a bit better by women, but not by much. Most were there to decorate or obstruct the men whom the stories were really about. And too many of his stories, like those of Ancient Greece, relied on characters not communicating. A distinctly male weakness.
So what about those tales of Ancient Greece? Most relied upon Dey’s ex machina and such juvenile story devices that they are mostly lost to the general course of study. Of what remains, Sophocles is perhaps the most gifted and, indeed, Antigone is quite strong and every inch the heroine. Right up until she kills herself offstage.
It seems that suicide was quite en vogue and entered into with little hesitation, a pro-tip not to be lost on the Bard of Avon.
But, alas, Antigone was 15 at the most and more likely 12 or 13. Hardly fodder for imagined literary romance.
Ayn Rand wrote strong women of a kind. Certainly Dominique Francon and Dagny Taggert might provide an evening’s kinky entertainment, assuming consent is notarized and includes a ball gag. But really, who would care for breakfast with either?
Indeed, the most intriguing women in literature are a bit…dangerous. Morgan la Fey is far more attractive than the bland adulterer Guinevere, but one does not imagine surviving the briefest encounter with her, let alone binging Netflix and cuddling.
Which means my literary crushes are the women of literature themselves. Dorothy Parker. Sylvia Plath. Anais Nin. Anne Sexton, and, of course, Edith Wharton who gave men everywhere a female character very much worth our time:
Countess Olenska. One of those rare women that, should you be so fortunate to share so much as a weekend with, would haunt you for a lifetime.